Relationships. That's what makes Greater Fort Lauderdale a leader in attracting socially-conscious African American and Caribbean travelers to the area. Tourism aligns with cultural and economic development to offer memorable experiences for visitors who come for conferences, family reunions, or fun vacations.
The relationship that has evolved between the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau and the city of Miami Gardens around the annual mega-music fest Jazz in the Gardens every March is a prime example.
Miami Gardens, which presents Jazz in the Gardens, is just south of the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County line. It has grown over the past 10 years to become the largest predominantly African American city in Florida and the third largest city in Miami-Dade County. Jazz in the Gardens began eight years ago with just 1,800 people, mostly locals. This year's event drew over 63,000 people from throughout the U.S. and parts of Europe.
They arrived en mass - from small children to grandparents - and flooded Sun Life Stadium for two days. They danced under clear baby blue sky to jazz, pop and soul performers including Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, NeYo, Mary Mary, Fantasia, Charlie Wilson, Najee, Monica, Nicole Henry, New Edition and Earth, Wind and Fire. They braved hour-long lines in 75-degree late winter weather to enjoy trademark conch salad, fritters, and Latin, Haitian and Chinese delicacies. They took pictures and smoozed with No. 1 radio personality and author Michael Baisden, Jazz in the Gardens host for the second year and South Florida resident. And, the largely Black audience mingled, like long lost relatives, turning the gathering into something closely akin to a homecoming - a family reunion.
As Baisden put it, "The festival has grown in power, and it has become ‘our event' for the artists, for the city, and for my listeners in 78 markets. It's an opportunity for the old school picnic atmosphere."
The partnership with the Broward County-based CVB and the city of Miami Gardens for the past four years has helped expand the scope of Jazz in the Gardens, and its economic impact, while also creating a South Florida experience that spans county lines. According to Albert Tucker, Vice President Multicultural Business Development for the CVB, "It creates a bigger and better brand with outreach to our neighbors to expand economic opportunities. The hotels sold out. The money vendors made was as much in two days as a year and we are supporting each other because we have the same common cause."
Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert sees the relationship with the CVB as "a good partnership that makes for a wonderful event. This is not a business venture but a family event. It's tourism and entertainment where people can come and enjoy all of South Florida."
Cultivating relationships that nurture cultural and economic tourism is a major focus of multicultural travel in Greater Fort Lauderdale. That's why Black travel agents and meeting planners for an eclectic array of Black professional organizations, ranging from firefighters and gospel artists to law enforcement and government officials, are so enthusiastic about bringing their groups to the area.
The prestigious, celebrity-studded annual conference of the National Urban League will convene in Fort Lauderdale for the first time in 2015. Groups such as the 100 Black Men of America and the National Association of Black Accountants have also brought their meetings to Fort Lauderdale and plan to return.
They are lured by the promise of oceanfront hotels with scenic views and the exciting cultural revitalization efforts in Fort Lauderdale's historic Black Sistrunk Corridor. Plans are underway to make Fort Lauderdale the permanent home of the American Tennis Association, the country's oldest organization for Black tennis players, as a center for recreational tennis and the training of future professional players, and to establish a Black Tennis Hall of Fame to showcase historical memorabilia. The CVB is partnering with the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in the Black tennis initiative with the ATA.
In addition to attractions in the community such as the African American Research Library and Cultural Center and the Old Dillard Museum, the Urban League Empowerment Center and the emerging Midtown Commerce Center feature arts and community activities where visitors can learn about the history of the Sistrunk area and plans for its future.
According to Tucker, "Everything we do is about community partnerships and relationships that encourage growth. We're bringing tourism off the beach."
Broward County has the greatest diversity outside of New York City - and the area is predicted to be the most diverse county in the U.S. within the next decade. African Americans, Caribbeans and Hispanics now represent over 50% of the population. So, in addition to the Sistrunk Corridor revitalization, multicultural visitors can enjoy sporting events, including cricket and Australian rules football, and performances by major Caribbean artists in communities such as Lauderhill and Miramar in the central and western parts of the county.
Greater Fort Lauderdale's easy airport access and proximity to the Caribbean islands has made it the top destination for family reunions of people of African descent, making the summer vacation months as busy as the winter and spring. People are drawn by the opportunity to build - and renew - relationships. And, that's what Greater Fort Lauderdale is all about.
-DR. KITTY OLIVER