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Pinellas tourism director leaves for Kissimmee

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— After seven years at the helm of Pinellas County’s tourism promotion arm, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater Executive Director D.T. Minich announced Monday he is moving on.

Minich, who headed the organization through the Great Recession and the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, said he has accepted a job with a Kissimmee area convention and visitors’ bureau.

“It’s been a fantastic run here,” Minich said. “It’s been a really tough decision, but the Kissimmee opportunity is huge for me ... It’s really a great opportunity to do something special in Kissimmee.”

Minich started his career in Lee County as an intern at the Convention and Visitors Bureau there, and worked his way up to executive director, a title he held for seven years before accepting the Pinellas County position, he said.

During his tenure in Pinellas, he oversaw an overhaul of the county’s destination brand and shifted its focus to social media. The organization’s campaigns up north, overseas and in South America — including ice sculptures in Chicago and subway cars wrapped in advertisements in other cities — were executed under his watch.

He also spearheaded several multi-organization efforts to attract international flights from several countries, namely Panama via Copa Airlines, as well as a direct Alaska Airlines route to Seattle, a first for Tampa.

“I think our advertising and marketing programs have been brought up to a new notch,” said Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel, who chairs the county’s Tourist Development Council. “He’s always been out in front of the trends and really aggressively moving in new directions that have been very successful.”

In recent year, Pinellas has seen record tourism numbers, quantified in part by a special tax on hotel rooms that helps fund such things as beach renourishment and attractions such as the Salvador Dali Museum and, formerly, Tropicana Field. Last year, the county collected more $30 million in bed tax dollars, and joined five other counties, including Osceola where Kissimmee is, in becoming a “high tourism impact” county. The others are Broward, Monroe, Orange, and Walton counties.

Minich’s salary, $164,444 a year, has stayed relatively static since the end of the recession despite the county’s recent record years.

Tourism industry leaders have said while it’s difficult to determine the biggest reason for Pinellas’ significant tourism boost since the recession, Minich’s efforts certainly seem to have been a factor.

“We certainly give D.T. a lot of credit for the creativeness and innovation,” said Tim Bogott, CEO of TradeWinds Resorts. “We certainly have seen excellent growth over the last several years.”

It is unclear how the county will conduct its search for Minich’s replacement. Assistant County Administrator Mark Woodard has appointed David Downing, VSPC’s assistant director, to serve as interim director.

“We’re going to keep the ship sailing in the great direction it’s been sailing in,” Downing said.

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