Richard Goldman is the president and CEO of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau (VCB). Goldman has lived in Ponte Vedra Beach since 1998 with his artist wife, Sharon. They have three grown daughters.
Can you please briefly tell us about your background?
Prior to joining the Bureau in 2009, I served as the senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Amelia Island Plantation, where I managed a 13-member, in-house advertising and marketing operation. As chairman of VISIT FLORIDA’s (VF) Board of Directors and with company executives, I facilitated the reorganization of VF into a more streamlined marketing company. I continue to serve on VISIT FLORIDA’S Marketing Committee and the Florida Tourism Council of Leaders. I am also past vice chair of the Florida Commission on Tourism and past chair of Florida’s First Coast of Golf, a regional destination marketing organization. A graduate of the University of Florida, I started my career at Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency in New York and spent 17 years working for Ryder & Schild Advertising in Miami, including 10 years as the firm’s vice president for marketing and research.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Two things are particularly rewarding for me. The first is seeing that all of our stakeholders’ employees are busy and earning enough to care for their families. That only happens when my dedicated team at the VCB successfully builds demand for Florida’s Historic Coast® as a vacation and meetings destination. Second, when I see social media posts by past visitors sharing with their friends and relatives the amazing experiences they have had when visiting Ponte Vedra Beach or St. Augustine or Crescent Beach, it gives me a strong sense of pride. This destination has developed so positively in the last 10 years — even with the hurdles of two hurricanes in one year, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and, of course, the Great Recession — that I can’t say enough about the work of my team and the business owners and entrepreneurs who have invested in Florida’s Historic Coast.
What’s the state of the tourism industry in St. Johns County today?
Today, the industry remains strong even as some Florida destinations have begun to decline in visitation. Florida’s Historic Coast now has a buzz that has put us on dozens of top 10 lists. From St. Augustine being named by National Geographic One of the World’s Best Places to See Holiday Lights, to the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa being named a Top Ten Golf Resort in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure Magazine, our destination has earned the attention of the world and our employees deliver the kinds of experiences that keep visitors coming back for more. Last year, that attention helped to generated $1.1 billion in direct spending by visitors to St. Johns County. And we have new hotels coming to St. Augustine and the Beaches after more than eight years without new properties. Those hotels will have parking for their guests, and that’s something we have needed for some time.
What are some of the challenges facing tourism today?
After the ever-increasing competition from other destinations and the need to raise the resources to compete, our biggest challenge is the perception of our business by residents. Tourism is an industry that has delivered such positive economic development and tax revenue for local and state government that residents don’t have an income tax. What’s more, tourism is a clean industry that generated $2.4 billion in economic impact in St. Johns County last year. Visitors came, spent their hard-earned money and went home. Yet, we residents, in some cases, have blamed tourism for the rapid growth of our communities and congestion on our roads. Our industry must reach out to the communities in which we work to demonstrate the value of our visitors, and show that we can be good neighbors, sensitive to the needs of residents, and give back to our communities.
What’s the future look like?
We will see continued improvement in the quality of dining, shopping and entertainment experiences around Ponte Vedra and all of Florida’s Historic Coast because our visitors are becoming more sophisticated. They will demand better quality, and that means we residents will have more and better things to do and to brag about to our friends who live elsewhere.
What do you enjoy most about living in the area?
I love that our kids could attend great schools and that Sharon, my wife, and I can now have a wonderful meal, view renowned artists or attend nationally acclaimed music events all in our own neighborhood. We don’t have to spend hours driving to other towns for those experiences. We’ve loved living here for 20 years, but that wasn’t always true about Ponte Vedra Beach.
What do you like to do in your free time?
In our business, there isn’t a lot of free time, but I have a vintage motorcycle that I can occasionally get Sharon out on for a ride in the country or a trip down to St. Augustine. I love fishing, whether it’s for bass on one of our many lakes around Sawgrass or at the GTM where there are plenty of reds and trout in Guana Lake and out on the Tolomato/ICW. I also spend what Sharon thinks is too much time working in my yard, but I find it relaxing and a great diversion.
Edited by Jon Blauvelt