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Florida Tourism Hall of Fame

Begun in 2001, the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame acknowledges contemporary and historic figures whose vision, creativity and drive have had a positive and significant impact on the development of Florida as a desirable visitor destination. One individual is chosen annually and announced during the Governor's Conference on Tourism in September. The award is presented on behalf of the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors. For more information, contact Becca Smith at (850) 205-3854.

Past Inductees

Inducted in 2014:

  • A Georgia native and accomplished educator, in 1925 Walter B. Fraser came to St. Augustine where he purchased the celebrated Fountain of Youth. He then embarked on a lifetime of tireless work on behalf of Florida; his three primary achievements for Florida tourism were: the preservation of St. Augustine, the Nation’s Oldest city; the creation of a unified, funded marketing effort for Florida tourism; and the consistent advocacy of the need to develop a tourist-friendly atmosphere in Florida. Fraser saw the value in saving the Oldest City’s decaying historic resources both as a testament to America’s enduring history and as an irresistible tourist attraction. He enlisted the Smithsonian Institution’s help in documenting an amazing Native American burial ground on his Fountain of Youth property. He built his own radio station, WFOY, which possessed the ability to broadcast at phenomenal ranges taking messages about Florida as far as England. Fraser was in the forefront in appealing to tourists, from his efforts to make travel here easier by halting road construction from December through April, to eliminating tolls paid by tourists to use state roadways and bridges. It was Fraser who first convinced Floridians statewide that tourism is “good for us” and “tourist are always welcome.” An eight-term mayor of St. Augustine, in 1940 Fraser launched a campaign for governor. Nearly half his platform was devoted to tourism and he predicted the proper development of the state’s veritable gold mine of treasured attractions would lead to a future where visitors to the Sunshine State would number in the millions, not in the thousands, and on a year-round basis. Although his gubernatorial bid failed, in 1944 he was elected to the state legislature where he immediately set out to create a State Advertising Commission with an annual budget of $1 million, and became the voice of tourism promotion in the state. Today his Fountain of Youth continues to combine indisputable history with fables and romance to create an attraction that is fun and educational. He was the first to see the value in promoting directly to Hispanic audiences not only South Florida but throughout the Americas, and by the 1950s he was working diligently on this aspect of promotion, something that continues today.

Inducted in 2013:

  • Bill and Anne France. Formed by a family’s vision on the Daytona beaches more than 65 years ago, the NASCAR business model continues to be the envy of sports entities around the globe, attracting world-wide attention and a positive shining light on the state. Driven largely by tourism, the economic impact of that vision numbers in the billions and creates tens of thousands of jobs, nearly a billion dollars annually in labor income and hundreds of millions in tax revenue. According to a survey in 2012, 61% of the attendees of the Daytona 500 travel to the Florida event from out of state or out of country; and 40% of the attendees traveled more than 500 miles and stay in Florida for 5 nights or more. In July 2013, new plans to invest in a massive facility and surrounding areas upgrade to the Daytona International Speedway resulted in more jobs, economic impact and construction-related state revenues, on the lead up to even more tourism for the state of Florida.

Inducted in 2012:

  • Chairman of the Board of the AAA Auto Club Group, Robert R. "Bob" Sharp. Utilizing his partnerships with cruise lines, tourist attractions and the CVBs, he spearheaded the creation of a Cruise Ship Task Force formed to encourage the cruise ship industry to use Tampa as a passenger port. Within a short time, the Port of Tampa was the fastest growing cruise ship port in the country. On November 1, 2011, Sharp celebrated his 50th anniversary with AAA Auto Club Group. Under his leadership that company serves more than 3.1 million members in the State of Florida alone and millions more who visit the Sunshine State annually. His commitment to tourism is personal and as an alumnus and former trustee of Florida Southern College, he and his wife, Peggy, contributed a gift to name the Frank Lloyd Wright-design Tourism and Education Center now under construction at FSC's Lakeland campus.

Inducted in 2011:

  • Director Emeritus of the Florida State Park System, Ney C. Landrum. Considered the Father of our modern Florida Park Service, Landrum was responsible for protecting, promoting and preserving Florida's state parks. During his tenure, he exhibited great leadership in directing Florida's Division of Recreation and Parks, expanding the small state park system into one of the largest in the country and being awarded two consecutive National Recreation and Park Association Gold Medal Awards. Even while retired now, he mentors park service employees, is the past president of the Florida Park Service Alumni Association and has even authored a book entitled "The State Park Movement in America" tracing the evolution of the state park movement from its origins to its present status as an essential and established entity.

Inducted in 2010:

  • Harris Rosen, whose love and devotion to the hospitality industry, combined with his belief that education can change lives, has led him to be a true industry innovator and a strong hospitality advocate. From championing a referendum in the early 1980s to build the Orange County Convention Center to donating a 20-acre site and $10 million in 1999 to the University of Central Florida for the creation of the School of Hospitality Management which bears his name, VISIT FLORIDA is proud to induct Harris Rosen into the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame.

Inducted in 2009:

  • Russ Kimball was trained in hotel and restaurant management in New York and at Florida State University, and has become a model for our state's hospitality efforts and his many accomplishments include induction into the Florida State Dedman School of Hospitality as a hall of fame member. From his earliest days in management, our inductee has embraced a commitment to help young people achieve career success in hospitality services. Of all of his accomplishments, however, his role in forging international destination RELATIONSHIPS for Florida is his proudest contribution. going back to his management DAYS in the 70's, he became an ambassador for Florida, visiting with international delegations and hosting some of the pioneers in travel sales from Europe and around the world. He is a passionate employer who continually invests in his facility and his staff, enabling them to deliver extraordinary experiences for his hotel's guests. His team consistently earns a top ten ranking in guest satisfaction and has achieved the #1 ranking for meeting planner satisfaction among all Sheraton hotel properties in north America.

Inducted in 2008:

  • Dr. Mark Bonn, Professor of Tourism, Dedman School of Hospitality in the College of Business at Florida State University and CEO of Bonn Marketing Research Group, Inc., is recognized as one of the top 10 tourism researchers internationally. He is frequently called upon to develop marketing plans for resorts and restaurants, service modules for hospitality employees and curriculum models requiring strategic and creative thinking. He has used entrepreneurial spirit and hard work to take a key leadership role in Florida's own green movement to make Florida a premier green visitor destination.

Inducted in 2007:

  • Nicki Grossman, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitor Bureau's President and CEO, has dedicated a lifetime to promoting Florida's tourism industry. Over the past 11 years, Nicki was instrumental in communicating positive messages and keeping media updated on behalf of the entire state. Under her leadership, tourism in the greater Fort Lauderdale area experienced record-breaking growth, which is due in part to her vision, innovation and creativity in directing the marketing of the destination and the positioning of the brand. As Vice Chair of the Super Bowl Host Committee, she was instrumental in bringing the NFL Super Bowl to south Florida in 2007 and its return in 2010. She also helped create the Superior Small Lodging program, which was so successful that it was later adapted by VISIT FLORIDA to market small hotels throughout the state.
  • Ed Litrenta, Corporate Vice President, Marketing Alliances and Synergy for Busch Entertainment Corporation, exemplifies the professionalism and dedication of the men and women who have worked to keep Florida the world's favorite travel destination. In his current role, Litrenta's responsibilities include the development of alliances with organizations in an effort to maximize resources to the benefit of both. Litrenta first joined Busch Entertainment in 1990 as Vice President of Marketing for SeaWorld Orlando. His team developed the marketing plan to launch Discovery Cove in 2000. Formerly, Litrenta was Director of Tourism for the State of Florida. He was also a member of the marketing team that opened Walt Disney World.

Inducted in 2006:

  • Ed Gilbert, Partner at Gilbert & Manjura Marketing, was the youngest-ever director of the Florida Division of Tourism and during his tenure expanded the organization's reach and depth in marketing. After working in state government, Ed focused his energies on areas within the state that needed creative solutions. He also worked in advertising and has been connected with some of the most well-known names in Florida tourism. Later, Ed opened his own advertising agency with Bonnie Manjura, where they specialize in Florida tourism advertising.
  • Richard Gonzmart, President for Columbia Restaurant Group, the great-grandson of the founder of Ybor City's Columbia Restaurant, began his career with high ideals that have continued as the business has grown. As the marketplace evolved, he ensured the business changed as well by securing state-of-the-art waste and water systems, adding specialty prepackaged foods and adjusting the menus to reflect the taste of his customers. Richard has toured Canada as a representative of Florida and is a tireless ambassador for the city of Tampa and the state of Florida.
  • Thomas and Mina Edison, pioneers in southwest Florida tourism. This couple understood the power of Florida's splendor. They were constantly promoting Florida by shipping oranges to their friends, making camping trips into the Everglades and nurturing the biggest collection of orchids in the state. They initiated the Festival of Light parade in Fort Myers, now one of the largest lighted parades in the country. As a parting souvenir, they donated the Edison Estate, a house that gives an average of $90 million to the southwest Florida region.

Inducted in 2005:

  • Edward W. Bok of Lake Wales, enticed people to the heart of Florida with the promise of experiencing the harmony of nature, music and the arts when he created the Historic Bok Sanctuary, a place where people from around the world come to find peace and happiness,
  • Jack B. Healan, Jr. of Amelia Island, consistently maintained his vision for betterment of tourism in Florida and was a leading advocate to the legislature and the Governor in crafting the laws and funding sources for the organization that has become VISIT FLORIDA,
  • Joseph O. Striska of Tallahassee, was instrumental in the development of VISIT FLORIDA and was one of the Founding Partners. He served in the Florida camping and tourism business for over 30 years, with a consistent work ethic and leadership style that was not only innovative and creative, but also uniquely his own. After his untimely death, a bill was passed by the Florida legislature in 2005 naming the new I-75 Welcome Center as the Joseph O. Striska Florida Welcome Center in honor of his life-long achievements in promoting Florida tourism.

Inducted in 2004:

  • Arthur Hertz of Miami, chairman of the board and CEO of Wometco Enterprises, owner of the Miami Seaquarium and an early proponent of a coordinated private/public effort to market Florida as a destination,
  • Jack Painter of Tampa, former president and board chair of Tampa-based Fahlgren Benito Advertising, tireless promoter of Florida tourism, who oversaw the process of transitioning Florida's tourism marketing from a government agency to an industry-driven corporation (Mr. Painter died this past June).,
  • Donna Ross of Tallahassee, long-time president and CEO of the Florida Attractions Association, who has played a key role in building unified support by the state's various tourism interests for a statewide tourism marketing strategy,
  • Governor Jeb Bush, who has consistently supported the state's tourism industry, particularly in the wake of the 9/11/01 tragedies, when he persuaded state lawmakers to allocate $20 million in public funds to assist statewide tourism recovery and went "on the road" to persuade out-of-state and in-state residents alike to take Florida vacations.

Inducted in 2003:

  • Hal Herman of Miami Lakes, founder and chairman of Worth International, which has produced many ground-breaking publications promoting Florida as a destination for nearly half a century,
  • Austin L. Mott, III, the founding president and CEO for VISIT FLORIDA, which is now recognized throughout the world as the model of a successful private/public tourism marketing organization and,
  • Frank and Betty Usina of St. Augustine, who have long advocated the importance of nature-based tourism in Florida and have been extremely active in promoting, not only their own region, but the entire state as a visitor destination.

Inducted in 2002:

  • Bob and Iris Larson of Kissimmee-St. Cloud, who opened the first hotel property at the entrance to the new Disney World park in the early 1970s and whose Iris Larson Hospitality Endowment has assisted the academic pursuits of deserving hospitality students in Florida for more than a decade,
  • William C. Peeper, president of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, credited with helping make Central Florida a major destination for business meetings and instrumental in the creation of a regional tourism promotion coalition to expand the area's visitor appeal,
  • Tom Waits of Tallahassee, president and CEO of the Florida Hotel & Motel Association, who was a pivotal force in the creation of the Florida Commission on Tourism and its operating company, VISIT FLORIDA, which is now recognized worldwide as the model for a successful private/public tourism marketing partnership.

The three living representatives of the industry inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001 were:

  • Senator Sherman S. Winn, veteran Miami hotelier, former member of the Florida legislature and the Dade County Commission, who has been a strong advocate for Florida tourism for more than 30 years,
  • Robert Gill, builder of several landmark Fort Lauderdale hotels, which helped attract millions of vacationers to Broward County,
  • Tom Staed, longtime Daytona Beach hotel operator who was a vital figure in the establishment of Florida's Tourist Development Tax, as well as the assignment of the state's tourism marketing responsibility to the Florida Commission on Tourism and its operating company VISIT FLORIDA.

Inducted into the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame Founders Club in 2001:

  • Ted Arison, founder of Norwegian-Caribbean Cruise Lines and Carnival Cruise Lines and a primary figure in establishing Florida's multi-billion dollar cruise ship industry,
  • Walt Disney, whose four Florida theme parks are the world's most visited,
  • Henry Flagler, whose East Coast Railroad provided the first convenient access to Florida for vacationers,
  • Bertha Hutchins-Hinshaw, founder of the Chalet Suzanne in Lake Wales, one of the state's most honored restaurants,
  • Robert E. Langford, who provided affordable accommodations to Orlando area visitors in the 1950s, including the area's first air conditioned hotel,
  • Dick Pope, Sr., founder of Cypress Gardens, Florida's first major theme park destination,
  • Henry "Hal" Robinson, pivotal to the creation of "Florida's Nature Coast", a regional coalition of several counties and small towns that was the first successful attempt to market Florida's rural areas to visitors,
  • Juan Trippe, founder of Pan American Airways, which helped position Florida as a major international air destination.

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