From the Inside with Evelyn Vazquez, CDMP, CTIS Director of Leisure Sales for the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Evelyn got her start in the tourism industry 34 years ago as a temporary reservation agent for Walt Disney World in Orlando booking hotels, dinner shows and special events. She worked her way through the ranks working in reservations, sales and management for two hotels on International Drive. In 1986, Evelyn relocated to St. Augustine to serve as the General Manager of Beacher’s Lodge.

In the following years, Evelyn would work at Marineland of Florida, the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce, and St. Augustine Scenic Cruise.  When the VCB was established she became the organization’s first Director of Sales.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I, a New Yorker or Yankee as some have called me in the past, would fall in love with this old city and its people,” Evelyn said. “But here I am once again. Six years at the VCB the first go around and back seven years and counting.”

Evelyn has been recognized for her contributions with awards including the St. Augustine Attractions Employee of the Year and ABWA Woman of the Year. In 2011, she earned her Certified Diversity Meeting Professional, (CDMP) designation. At the IITA Summit in February, Evelyn and the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau were awarded the Chairman’s Award for Cooperating with IITA Inbound Tour Operators. This award recognizes an organization for its outstanding support in working with inbound tour operators in accommodating the needs of the international traveler.

  1. What accommodations has St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & the Beaches VCB made to accommodate the international traveler?

Although we are a small destination, we have dedicated staff to work with ITOs to help generate visitation by the international traveler. To attract and serve the international traveler, the attractions, hotels and resorts in our destination are working with the VCB and others to incorporate customer service practices to better accommodate international travelers. As an example, multilingual staff and tour guides are provided when necessary. The city itself is very European, founded by the Spanish, which makes it especially welcoming to the international traveler. In addition to hotels and attractions, shopping options include two outlet centers and the unique shops on pedestrian-only St. George Street. The multicultural history of our city can also be found in our dining scene with restaurants that serve American and international cuisine.

  1. You clearly recognize the special relationship between inbound tour operators and suppliers. What are the keys to making this relationship work?

It is very important to be personally represented at tradeshows, making sales calls, helping with hotel inventory, fam tours, etc. Relationship building is founded on being present. The “out of sight, out of mind” concept is not how we do business. We, of course, cannot be at every international event, but I’m always available to help them work with our hotel partners.

3. Visit Florida is under a lot of scrutiny right now, the IITA supports Visit Florida because travel promotion works. How has travel promotion helped St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & the Beaches VCB? How do you market to international travelers while protecting the interest of inbound tour operators?

We work with Visit Florida quite a bit. I personally go on sales missions. Visit Florida brings international travel agents & media to the destination on fam tours, which exposes us to so many other countries. Through the assistance of Visit Florida, I have had the opportunity to attend WTM and met with several tour operators, which has led to valuable relationships. I prepare a list of inbound tour operators that book our destination and give it to tour operators who would like to book but do not know how.

We also advertise in the Visit Florida International Visitors Guide.

  1. How has IITA helped your international business?

It’s helped me tremendously, especially as a Sustaining member. Wish I’d joined earlier!

I’ve spent more quality time with inbound tour operators now than in all the years I’ve known them because we are at Board events and Summits together.