By John Sprecher | Photography by Milissa Sprecher
Once upon a time not too many years ago, the marketing of a destination such as Lee County wasn’t anywhere as sophisticated or funded as it is today. Even in a tourism haven such as Florida, it was as if county and state governments slowly awoke to realize the employment and tax revenue opportunities a tourism marketing organization could bring to their community.
For more than 25 years, Laura Ruane has chronicled the business of business in Southwest Florida as a reporter for The News-Press — with roughly the last 15 years focusing on what has become the big business of tourism promotion, and the millions of dollars organizations spend to bring visitors here.
Ruane has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia (one of the oldest journalism schools in the world), along with an impressive portfolio of work and a keen eye for the newsworthy. From her earliest days writing obituaries to learning video production and social media today, Laura Ruane has told a lot of stories. Today, Take Five tells her story.
When in your reporting did you notice that tourism marketing had become big business?
Lee County’s Tourist Development Council was established in 1982. I remember that in the late 1980s, a small group of Collier County hotels got together to create the Wanderlust travel auction gala to help fund promotion of their properties and greater Naples. That was before Collier County launched an official convention and visitor bureau. By the early 1990s, you could see more local government involvement in organized tourism promotion. Once it began, that trend spread rapidly. But there was a time when destinations didn’t have multi-million dollar budgets, that’s for sure.
Although you’re a reporter, be an editorialist: what’s your take on the quality of the hospitality industry here?
My take is that the hospitality industry here is always trying to improve. The interest in training is significant, and that to me shows a commitment to being better today than the day before. There are a lot of people here who want to please others, and that’s one of their greatest strengths.
What do the tourists tell you?
Of course they love the weather, they love the beaches, but they also like the less stressful environment here and the people. Generally, we’re more laid back than where they come from, and they like that.
How has your reporting changed over the last 10 years?
My job is to take the pulse of an industry crucial to our economy and quality of life. Now more than ever, I look for the return on investment from publicly funded tourism promotions, and explore what can be done to keep tourism and hospitality businesses sustainable and beneficial to both visitors and locals.
You’ve been reporting a long time. How are you adapting to the many new media outlets you have?
Well, I’ve now done three or four Facebook live events (she laughs), which is my newest accomplishment. Of course, social media and digital media are very important to know and to use. And I’ve learned how to create videos for our digital news source, news-press.com! I never thought I’d be creating videos, let alone that I’d actually be in some of the videos — but whatever it takes to tell the story, I’ll do it.