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Celebrating Travel and Tourism Industry Locals

Submitted by Paula Vann, TDC

Community and Business Leaders Gather to Applaud Travel’s Economic Benefits During National Travel and Tourism Week

Columbia County Tourist Development hosted the 2017 Tourism Awards on Thursday, May 11, 2017 at Westside Community Center. The event was part of the 34th annual National Travel and Tourism Week (May 7-13), which unites communities across the country to celebrate what travel means to American jobs, economic growth, and personal well-being. Columbia County’s theme this year was “The Gateways”, a play on words from the county’s tourism brand “Florida’s Gateway”.

David Dodd, Visit Florida’s Vice President of Visitor Services, was the guest speaker. Dodd shared Visit Florida’s vision for “Welcome Centers of the Future”, and Columbia County’s role with the state’s welcome centers. Additionally, he expanded on the importance of storytelling in welcome centers, and connecting real people’s experiences to potential travelers through social and digital media.

Laura Fowler Goss, a local boutique caterer, provided lunch for the crowd that attended the awards celebration. The 80 guests in attendance included representatives from hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, and community partners in the area. Six awards were presented in five categories.

The winners were:

Outstanding Hotel Employee: Kim Jones, Country Inn and Suites

Outstanding Campground Employee: Courtney Livengood, Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park

Outstanding Hospitality Employee: Jim Ellis, Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park and Stephen

Foster Folk Culture Center State Park

Outstanding Hospitality Employee: Rita McCaskill, Chick-fil-a of Lake City

Best Event of the Year: Infinity Convention

Director’s Award for Excellence: Paddling Adventures of Ichetucknee

Tourism plays a vital role in Columbia County’s economy. The theme of this year’s NTTW, “Faces of Travel,” shines a spotlight on the people that make up the travel industry. Across Columbia County, travel employs a prosperous and diverse workforce, from state parks and hotel employees to restaurant, gas station and retail workers, and supports related sectors such as construction, industrial, and finance. 971 West Duval Street · Suite 145 · Lake City · Florida · 32055
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“Just look at the numbers. Travel supports one in nine American jobs, including 1,900 right here in Columbia County,” said Paula Vann, Columbia County Tourist Development Director. “This week, we celebrated what travel means to our community, and the role everyone plays in this important industry.”

Columbia County numbers:
• $125.5 Million – Direct Spending by Tourists in Columbia County
• $200 Million – Gross Output (Business Sales) from Tourists in Columbia County
• 1,903 – Hospitality and Tourism Jobs in Columbia County
• $4.7 Million – State tax paid by Tourists in Columbia County
• $5.3 Million – Local taxes paid by Tourists in Columbia County

Established by a congressional resolution in 1983, the week’s events serve to champion the power of the tourism industry. Travel and tourism professionals from across the nation work throughout the week to promote the impactful contributions travel markets and organizations make to the economy.
To learn more about tourism and things to do in Columbia County, please visit our page online at:

Paula Vann (Director, Columbia County TDC), David Heringer (Infinity Convention), Ray Hancock (Infinity Convention), Cody Gray (Marketing Project Manager, Columbia County TDC)

Cody Gray (Marketing Project Manager, Columbia County TDC), Paula Vann (Director, Columbia County TDC), Rita McCaskill (Chick-fil-a of Lake City). -Photos: Submitted