Georgia Turner, Executive Director of West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority, poses with the GBIE Award.
The Florida Scenic Highways Program is excited to announce that Georgia Turner has been selected as recipient of the 2022 Garry Balogh Inspiring Excellence Award – the highest distinction that a member of the Florida Scenic Highway community can receive.
The award, established in 2015, is named for Garry Balogh – the past Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District Five Scenic Highway Coordinator. Each year a member of the byway community who best exemplifies Garry’s passion for Florida’s scenic highway program is selected. Nominees are measured in numerous categories, including leadership skills, innovation, and dedication to excellence.
Dean Stoddart presents the award to Georgia Turner at the ROLHC meeting held in the Enterprise Museum on that byway – the award was a surprise.
Dean Stoddart, FDOT State Scenic Highway Coordinator, presented Georgia’s award in DeLand at the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor meeting in early September. Georgia has been the Executive Director of the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority (WVTAA) since 2016. She serves as a technical advisor to the Florida Black Bear Byway (FBBSB) and the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor (ROLHC) – both designated as National Scenic Byways by the Federal Highway Administration.
Georgia knew Garry Balogh well, having supported the community’s efforts to designate and support byways when he was the coordinator for D5, so this award was especially moving for her.
A Champion of the West Volusia Region
Georgia is highly dedicated to her communities. Those who follow her on social media know that many of her evenings and weekends are dedicated to serving her communities at local events, after “normal working hours.” She is a strategic thinker with a ready smile, and can instantly tell you what’s going on in the community and how it benefits West Volusia.
She brings the professional skills, promotional acumen, relationships with the business community and a lengthy relationship with the Florida Scenic Highways Program to the byway organizations she associates with, especially River of Lakes Heritage Corridor, which flows through the heart of West Volusia.
Her deep roots in the central Florida community inform her as she has assisted the byway organizations she’s involved with, building on the firm foundation set by WVTAA when it helped found ROLHC.
About the West Volusia Tourism & Advertising Authority
The WVTAA’s mission is to develop and support marketing and advertising programs that bring increased tourism to West Volusia County, and to demonstrate the desirability of West Volusia as a tourism destination. They work with area hoteliers, tour providers, attractions, and event promoters to represent the area to vacationers, tour operators, travel and meeting planners, and the media. This organization has been an active member/advisor to the ROLHC byway organization since designation as a Florida Scenic Highway in 2009.
Working with Garry Balogh, the FDOT District Scenic Highway Coordinator at that that time, the WVTAA served as the applicant and led the original Corridor Advocacy Group (CAG) for the ROLHC Byway Organization.
Because of their long-term commitment, leadership, and stewardship to our community and organization, ROLHC (supported by FBBSB) nominated the WVTAA under the leadership of their Executive Director Ms. Georgia Turner for the prestigious Garry Balogh Aspiring Excellence Award.
About Georgia Turner
Ms. Turner has served as an advisor to the ROLHC Board since her start in 2016, and her contributions are also highly regarded by Black Bear Scenic Byway (FBBSB).
Tony Ehrlich, past chair of Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway poses with Georgia. He and other members of Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway came to the ROLHC meeting to surprise her.
Georgia came to her position as Executive Director of WVTAA with a Florida Scenic Highways Program background. When she previously served as VP of Tourism Development with the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, she became an advisor for the Heritage Crossroads Byway Organization
She serves on the Visit Florida Executive Council. Exposure at the statewide level allows Georgia to a better understand the State’s promotional goals, something that she brings back to her byways to assist with work plan strategy development.
Historically, WVTAA emphasized the importance of community education and preservation of the region’s resources and the inherent economic value that a scenic highway designation could bring to the community. Their vision was long range: WVTTA saw that a visitor’s interest in experiencing the byway story could result in benefits for local hotels, rental vehicles, restaurants, and other local businesses.
As the byway organization has matured, WVTAA has transitioned into serving as a technical advisor, mentor, and community resource for the ROLHC Board. Georgia Turner, in her role as the WVTAA’s Executive Director, contributes a broad community-wide vision to the byway organization.
Recent Examples of how Georgia has recently led the West Volusia Tourism in supporting River of Lakes Heritage Corridor include:
The ROLHC byway brochure is one of the most requested of all promotional materials available at the Visit Florida Welcome Centers. Originally produced as part of a federal grant, WVTAA contributed $10,000 in 2022 to the ROLHC Board to update and reprint this navigational/promotional tool for the byway.
The WVTAA website promotes regional highlights connected with byways specifically on a Scenic Byways page that highlights both the ROLHC and Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway.
Georgia has spearheaded the production of an award-winning series of videos highlighting the unique experiences of West Volusia, which cross-promotes key byway sites and features.
Recent Bus Tours
Georgia Turner helped narrate a tour of the byway as part of the Florida Scenic Highways Program’s state workshop in 2019. Second, the WVTAA helped facilitate a byway tour attended by dignitaries from the Florida Department of Transportation in 2019. Both tours brought visitors from around the state to the ROLHC.
Off the Beaten Path
FDOT produced a series of Off the Beaten Path informational brochures highlighting what “locals know and visitors want to experience”. The WVTAA was instrumental in supporting this effort by identifying sites to feature.
Making a Difference
Georgia Turner and her team at WVTAA make a significant contribution to the promotion of River of Lakes Heritage Corridor. WVTAA has social posts, updates and information flowing daily about the region at the heart of ROLHC.
At the May 2022 Tourism Board meeting it was reported that tourist tax revenue has never been higher for WVTAA. For the first 3 months of 2022, tourist tax revenue generated has been at a level not seen since 2015 where revenues for that year were equal to revenues collected so far for the first third of 2022 – helping to meet Authority and byway missions of exposing visitors to the history, heritage, and natural beauty of the region.
Georgia keeps the byways she is connected to in the loop about the success of promotions, and the mutually beneficial partnership between tourism and byways blossoms.
Significant Work in Direct or Indirect Support of Byways
Development of National Scenic Byways Designation Application
In 2021, the ROLHC byway organization received word that they had been selected by the Federal Highway Administration as a national scenic byway. The Authority was instrumental in the development of that application, and in the community celebration of the designation status.
The byway organization has a successful kiosk program underway with interpretive panels strategically located on corridor. The WVTAA has been involved in project planning, and documents the opening of each kiosk installed.
Georgia served on the ROLHC committee tasked with developing a plan to survey the ROLHC region to help establish its economic impact. She also participated in the study’s focus group assessing local impressions of the byway.
WVTAA crafted promotional materials targeting motorcyclists, cyclists, hikers, boaters and “Sunday drivers”, key demographics for ROLHC.
WVTAA distributes byway promotional materials through many of their events, and byway brochures and promotional materials are front and center in in their offices.
Claudia Calzaretta, District Five Scenic Highways Coordinator, Georgia Turner, and Dean Stoddart.
Blazing Paths Forward
Georgia’s leadership through WVTAA (and the groundbreaking involvement WVTAA historically provided to the establishment of ROLHC) provides an example for all tourism agencies of how tourism can develop a “win-win” relationship with the local scenic highways to shine a light on the treasures of “real places” in their regions.
Under Georgia’s term, ROLHC was lifted to National status after only a little over a decade of the byway’s foundation.
Congratulations and thanks to Georgia and WVTAA for exemplary work in support of byways!