Appeal of Amelia Island Lures Tourists, Rich & Famous

It is the prestigious brand of Amelia Island that draws tourists from around the world and earns accolades from travel publications. Tourism numbers are improving dramatically over last year. And while some come to visit, others come to stay. Famed author John Grisham has reportedly purchased several oceanfront lots.

Old Train Depot, 102 Centre Street houses Amelia Island Tourist Development Office
Amelia Island Tourist Development Council office at Old Train Depot, 102 Centre St., Fernandina

Despite a sluggish U.S. economy and stale consumer confidence, Amelia Island is proving its resiliency. Tourism numbers are improving dramatically over last year, which benefits hotels, restaurants and shops. Also, the appeal of Amelia Island is still luring the rich and famous.

Famed author John Grisham has reportedly purchased several oceanfront lots here, with the intention of building a house. Also, the founders of “5-hour Energy” recently bought an existing home along the Intracoastal Waterway here.

It is the prestigious brand of Amelia Island that draws tourists from around the world and earns accolades from travel publications. And it is a brand that must be protected.

“When we’re selling tourism, Amelia Island is a brand,” says Gil Langley, who heads up the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council.

Despite the ongoing debate over vacation rentals within Fernandina Beach, there is no doubt about the importance of tourism here. Many of the amenities enjoyed by residents would not exist without the financial benefits of tourism.

“Without tourism, Centre Street wouldn’t exist,” says Langley. Neither would the 20 high-end restaurants in downtown, or even hotels like the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island.

Sea Oats Sunrise at the Beach on Amelia Island, June 2011
Sea Oats Sunrise at the Beach on Amelia Island, June 2011

Tourism is critical for our economy. In Nassau County, one out of every four jobs is provided by the hospitality/leisure industry. This is an increase from 2008, when one of five jobs was tied to tourism. In fact, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation is the largest private employer in the county, with the Ritz being in the top five.

In 2010 alone, the hotels on Amelia Island produced $134 million in sales — accounting for $8 million in sales taxes for this area. And when you consider that the average tourist spends $1,800 in the community, you get the idea.

Another area experiencing an increase is corporate conventions and meetings. The emergence of the Plantation from bankruptcy — and the resulting purchase by Omni Hotels — has reinforced the property’s reputation.

Meeting planners are often skeptical about booking events with a property that is mired in bankruptcy. In addition, the prominent “Omni” name has helped matters.
“Meetings and conventions are starting to show life again,” Langley says. The hangover from the AIG financial debacle, when corporate travel ground to a halt, has also started to lift.

Meanwhile, Langley’s group is using additional tax revenues from the bed tax to market even more aggressively, particularly in drive-in locations such as Atlanta. The competition has increased for bookings due to the recovery of the Florida Gulf Coast and the funds pumped into that area by British Petroleum after the oil spill.

People seem willing to take vacations after several years of austerity, and Amelia Island is capitalizing. And while some come to visit, others come to stay.

Steve Nicklas
Steve Nicklas

Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor with a major Wall Street firm who lives on Amelia Island. His financial columns also appear in the Fernandina Beach News-Leader and several other area papers. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or send eMail to [email protected].