Legoland Florida, which opened in Winter Haven last October, has dramatically changed Polk County's tourism industry. (Photo by Dave Raith).
WINTER HAVEN – Legoland Florida may have opened last October, Shannon Serventi said, but that doesn’t mean the theme park in Winter Haven is set in stone and can’t offer anything new or exciting.
In fact, she said, the theme park has a lot of special activities planned this year.
‘’This year has definitely been a busy year for us, and will continue to be,’’ said Serventi, the hospitality and sales representative at the theme park. ”We had our Lego Friends Weekend in February that was geared to girls, and we also hosted the Winter Haven Hospital Foundation Citrus Class 5k run, and I’m happy to say we had 700 people participate.’’
Later this year, she added, the theme park will host its first Independence Day celebration, and ‘We will celebrate it with a big, huge fireworks display.”
Then once summer has come and gone, ‘’We also in the fall will have our Brick or Treat Halloween event, and we will be celebrating our first birthday in October,’’ she said.
Those kinds of special events, noted Kris Keprios, are making a big difference for Polk County’s tourism industry.
”Legoland has been a big change for us,’’ he said.
Keprios is the tourism, sales and marketing manager for the Polk County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and on Thursday he addressed the members of the Central Florida Vacation Renal Managers Association, the trade group representing vacation home managers, those who oversee fully furnished houses marketed on a short term basis to tourists and business travelers. With the advantage of multiple bedrooms, a kitchen, game room and private pool, these homes appeal to families coming here for extended stays, and who want more space than what a hotel or motel room provides.
Kris Keprios, marketing manager for the Polk County Convention and Visitors Bureau, talks to members of the vacation home industry. (Photo by Dave Raith).

The association held its May meeting at Legoland, where Serventi welcomed them to the newest theme park in the region, one modeled after the popular theme parks in Europe and California, and which replaced the former Cypress Gardens attraction in Winter Haven.
Serventi said Legoland Florida was going to continue to expand, with a new water park opening there this summer with unique rides like the Joker Soaker, all built around the Legos themes.
”Really, what makes our park unique is the interaction with the Legos,’’ she said.
With the success of Legoland breathing new life into the county’s tourism industry, Keprios said his agency is now embarking on a long range marketing plan, a research project being handled by the Randall Travel Marketing firm, to see where the CVB should invest its marketing dollars for the strongest possible return. Keprios said he hopes the vacation home managers play a role in that survey.
”We came here today to talk about where we are in our marketing plan process,’’ he said. ”We want you to be a big part of that. You are all the experts. You’re there every day with the visitors.’’
It’s been nearly a decade, he said, since Polk County CVB did a similar survey – and a lot, he added, has changed in recent years.
”If you think about Central Florida and Polk County since 2003, the last time we had a destination analysis done, a lot of things have changed, and you’re standing in one of the biggest changes,’’ Keprios said of Legoland Florida.
Legoland Florida will celebrates its first birthday in the fall. (Photo by Dave Raith).

Other significant advances, he said, include the opening of the Lake Myrtle Sports park, and increased air traffic options at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.
”We’ve had commercial air travel come in to the Lakeland Airport, and that gives more people access to Central Florida,’’ he said. ”So many, many things have changed.’’
Keprios said he hopes the vacation home property managers contact Randall Travel Marketing, and tell them about their own experiences with their guests, and what those visitors are looking for. A lot of the new vacation homes are along U.S. 27 in Northeast Polk County, in the Four Corners area.
”We’re available and we want to take any input you have from the visitors coming into your homes,’’ Keprios said. ”If you have suggestions on how to bring in more visitors, let us know.’’
The vacation home industry has grown so much in the past decade that the CFVRMA now has an online certification program for its members. The concept is simple: certify members so they’re fully knowledgable about state and county rules and regulations governing vacation homes, in the hope that certification brings a higher level of legitimacy to the entire industry.
Colin Young, the association’s past president, noted that ”Last month the certification program was launched, and we just need you to sign up. It’s to guide people in the right direction, so when they do business, they do it correctly.’’
The exam also teaches the property managers about all the rules they need to follow, said An Flamand, president of the CFVRMA.
”If anything, it’s very educational and teaches you a lot,’’ she said.

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