INTERVIEW: Amy Bell
The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) promotes tourism to Manatee County and the communities of Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key, Bradenton, and Lakewood Ranch. As Executive Director of the CVB, Elliott Falcione has overcome countless obstacles during his 10+ years in the role. However, most of those past problems pale in comparison to the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has put a major dent in the tourism industry. Yet even in these uncharted waters, Falcione has risen to the challenge and continues to maintain a positive attitude as the CVB forges ahead.
“During this pandemic, I believe it is really important to communicate with our industry in a manner that helps manage expectations,” Falcione emphasizes. “I am known at times as a spirited individual and an optimistic person, but during these times, we need to really focus on marketplace research and share that consumer mindset with our industry with a more conservative approach.”
He points out that anxiety is high throughout the tourism industry, particularly because there is no known “end date” to this pandemic. “The best thing I can do is stay calm, focus harder than ever before, be transparent and understand that people may get uptight with me at times because they are afraid,” he adds. “I will take on that challenge daily and know we will be a stronger industry at some point in the future.”
In these unprecedented times, the Bradenton Area CVB’s initiatives look quite different than in previous years. “Traveler sentiment studies are guiding our marketing and advertising efforts,” Falcione explains. “We have paused most of our advertising.”
With more people on social media than ever before, these online outlets have become vital to the CVB’s marketing strategy. “We are very blessed to have a strong social media team that is taking advantage of the captive audience the pandemic has created to make sure we stay top of mind for when travelers are ready to vacation,” he says.
The Bradenton Area CVB is currently working on a “Visit Responsibly” campaign, which educates tourists on how to plan a safe vacation to the Bradenton area. “The campaign will include tips on how to visit safely during the pandemic and also how to respect and preserve our beautiful destination and to lessen a carbon footprint in the area,” Falcione explains.
Of course, numerous Bradenton area events have been postponed in light of the pandemic. The World’s Strongest Man competition, originally scheduled to take place in the Bradenton area in May, has been rescheduled for mid-November. “Qualifying rounds will now be held November 11-12 with the finals set for November 14-15,” he says. Due to safety concerns surrounding COVID-19, the competition will prohibit spectators.
However, Bradenton’s tourism industry will still benefit from hosting the associated athletes, coaches, and volunteers in the destination. “The national and international brand exposure during the broadcast will be invaluable during a very difficult time, and the viewership is estimated to be more than 220 million,” Falcione adds.
Additionally, the Labor Day Showcase—a competitive youth soccer tournament for girls and boys between the ages of 7 and 19—ran from September 4-7 at Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch. It brought an estimated 2,100 athletes and an additional 3,500 spectators to the area, mostly from across the state. “It has been incredible to see how the organization has gone above and beyond to keep the athletes and spectators safe at this event,” Falcione says.
Manatee County will continue to benefit from a resurgence in tourists as the airlines ramp up again. In August, Allegiant Air resumed service from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) to three destinations: Allentown, PA (ABE), Flint, MI (FNT), and Fort Wayne, IN (FWA). Delta Air Lines also added a fifth daily nonstop flight to Atlanta, GA (ATL), and United Airlines resumed daily nonstop flights to Newark, NJ (EWR).
“In addition to the increased service in August, more flights and destinations are scheduled to return over the next few months, bringing the number of destinations served at SRQ back to a level close to where it was pre-COVID-19,” he says. Currently, 36 nonstop destinations can be booked out of SRQ Airport. Starting November 19, Allegiant will offer a new nonstop route from SRQ Airport to Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). To celebrate, the company is offering one-way fares on the new route as low as $39.
Falcione has proudly served as Executive Director of the CVB for more than a decade. “The County has given me the opportunity to be in this position for the last 10+ years, and the County Administration, Tourist Development Council, and County Commissioners have trust in me and our department,” he says. “With that trust, we sure don’t ever want to let them down.”
However, Falcione’s career with the Bradenton Area CVB first kicked off back in 1993. “I start my 28th year with the CVB on October 18, 2020, and this employer has given me more than I deserve,” he says. “I never take my job for granted, and I focus daily to maintain a humble, unselfish, other centered mindset.”
While he is known as a confident leader for the area’s hospitality industry, Falcione is a down-to-earth guy who shies away from praises. “I have never been one that likes to receive awards or accolades,” he admits. “Actually, my office is pretty bland with no awards on my walls. That’s just me—I stay away from self-pride since I believe that could lead to a selfish mindset.”
While he now calls Manatee County his home, Falcione was born and raised in Pittsburgh. “I truly love the great city of Pittsburgh, which has given me a blended workstyle of blue and white-collar,” he says. “I have the ‘steel city’ genes in my blood.” Falcione’s grandfather worked as a rigger for Jones & Laughlin Steel for 45 years, and his father was a “tough, yet kind” police officer in the city. “Learning from both of them has helped me manage adversarial occurrences while staying strong-minded,” he reflects.
Falcione started his career working for the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Working in professional sports really gave me a good sample of how to serve professional athletes, celebrities, and sports fans,” he explains. “That experience taught me the importance of consistent communication and how to ‘shift gears’ to get the job done.”
After his six-year career with the Pirates, Falcione landed a full-time position at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in 1993. “From there, the County allowed me to grow within the position I now have been in for the last decade,” he says.
Falcione has enjoyed watching the Bradenton area evolve and reinvent itself over the last three decades. “The neat thing about living in this community is seeing the development and re-development efforts that will continue to attract visitors and new business to the area,” he says. “This community is in a great position geographically—being centrally located on the West Coast of Florida and part of the Tampa Metro area—making it a great place to visit and live.”
Outside of work, Falcione enjoys playing golf, watching hockey, and listening to music. He constantly focuses on his faith, saying, “I believe we are all here for a purpose in life. I do believe this dynamic job that I am blessed to have is providing me the training that will help fulfill my true purpose in life.”
In his role with the CVB, Falcione says Manatee County has been incredibly supportive. “I would not be where I am today without the leadership’s vision to train and focus on succession programs,” he says.
“At the end of the day, I am truly blessed to be where I am today—and I know I am my biggest critic, looking myself in the mirror consistently to make sure I keep a clean heart while serving this beautiful community.”