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Jim “Jimmy” Hawkinson, chairman of South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau.

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, RGV – The new executive director of the South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau got down to business on Tuesday at a meeting with his marketing committee.

“I am very happy to be here. It is a wonderful opportunity and there is so much good about this destination to build on. It has the finest beach and the finest water on the Texas coast, no question about that,” said Keith Arnold, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.

The correct marketing approach for South Padre Island is vital not just to help Islanders, hotel managers and bed and breakfast owners. Tourism on SPI makes up about 20 percent of the ad valorem tax revenues of Cameron County.

Arnold previously worked for the Corpus Christi Convention & Visitors Bureau. He was there for ten years. Asked what SPI has going for it, marketing, wise, Arnold said: “When we were talking in the interviews, one of the things that came out was, this is the only true resort island in Texas. The other islands are attached to cities. You have got to get through them or you have to deal with them. Here, you can have a true getaway as a family or a couple. It affords some really good opportunities, with a major league theme park (Schlitterbahn), there are great restaurants, there is a wide variety of accommodations to sort out and pick and choose, whether you are going to a meeting or bringing your family down for a weekend.”

The marketing committee meeting was held at SPI Mayor Barry Patel’s Hilton Garden Inn. The committee was established by CVB Chairman Jim “Jimmy” Hawkinson and comprises many of the sales directors for the hotels on the island.

Arnold said what immediately struck him was the level of cooperation between all the stakeholders. “There is such a great spirit here in South Padre Island to move us ahead and focus forward. It is going to take a cooperative effort. It is going to be a team of our staff, our board, the municipal government and the hotels. I am really looking forward to being an important cog in the team but it is going to take a team to really move us forward to where we want to be.”

Asked if he had a new marketing strategy in mind, Arnold said: “One and third days on the job, the strategy has yet to be formulated other than, as Jim said so well, our goal is to hit the best markets and make sure they fully understand what we have to offer and build relations that will bring business to this whole destination that is almost solely dependent of travel and tourism.”

Asked about the concern of some Island leaders that SPI is missing out on tourists from Dallas-Fort Worth because there are no direct flights from the Metroplex, Arnold said: “I do not have all the data in front of me but I do think that one of the things that the CVB can do, collectively, is spend some time with the airlines and see what our opportunities are to regain some of that. I do not know what they are at this moment but what I hear most often is the loss of direct flights. We certainly will go and try to find the right people to talk to and see what it takes to get those back because Dallas is a well-heeled and important market for all of South Texas.”

Asked how he thought his first marketing committee went, Arnold said: “I thought it went really well. The spirit around the table from the hotels that are participating was very, very positive and you could feel that they are sitting, waiting for things to happen. There have been good things in the past but it is time to move on particularly with that Austin market related to conventions and meetings.”

This correspondent was struck by the level of cooperation between hotel sales directors who normally compete with each other for bookings. Arnold said this was an excellent sign.

“I think they have already jumped ahead of what I said a few moments ago. In order for us to really win we have all got to do it together. That Austin market, just take that as a case in point, is so competitive. Everybody in the state is going there to try to bring the vendors out of it. We have to do it together. They realize that. It is great to have that attitude from them.”

Arnold takes over from Dan Quant, who had headed up the SPI CVB for the past 14 years.