Carol Dover is the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association's (FRLA) President and CEO and has held this position since 1995. As the FRLA’s President/CEO, she works to protect, educate, and promote the diverse interests of Florida’s hospitality industry before the Florida Legislature and lobbying against unfair government regulation. The industry represents a $108.8 billion industry, $11.3 billion in local and state tax revenue, and nearly 1.4 million employees, making it the state’s number one industry. Dover also serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Restaurant Association, Council of State Restaurant Associations, International Society of Hotel Association Executives, VISIT FLORIDA, Florida State University College of Business Board of Governors, Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Agriculture Center and Horse Park. She now leads over 10,000 members at FRLA, while protecting and promoting their interests and needs before legislature. Dover is the greatest advocate of hospitality in the State of Florida, and has been instrumental in the process of the Triumph Fund BP oil spill settlement, working with Senator Gainer and Representative Trumbull to ensure the funds can be used to support the tourism industry.
[GHTM] Who is Carol Dover -the woman leading over ten thousand members- as President and CEO of Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA)?
[Dover] I am so fortunate to lead one of Florida’s finest and largest industries. I’ve served as President and CEO of the FRLA since 1995. My heart has always been in hospitality - I am a Florida State University Dedman School of Hospitality graduate with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked as the Assistant Director of the Beer Industry of Florida, served as the Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Bob Martinez, held positions at the DBPR’s Division of Hotel and Restaurants, was the first female Chief of the Bureau of Fire Prevention and served as the President/CEO of the Outdoor Advertising Association.
[GHTM] Morning or night person?
[Dover] After working in the hospitality industry for so many years, I’ve been inspired to be on my game at all hours of the day. Today, we live in a society where technology allows us to stay connected 24/7. An opportunity or crisis can come at any moment and it’s important to be ready to lead and act quickly.
[GHTM] How does FRLA’s President and CEO spend her free time?
[Dover] A few of my favorite things are family, farm, and my horses. My family keeps me grounded and always puts life into perspective. The farm gives me tranquility and my horses are an outlet from a hectic work schedule. Recently, I was fortunate to be elected as the Chair of the Florida Agricultural Center & Horse Park. I’ve served on the board since its inception and it’s allowed me to combine my two passions - equines and promoting tourism. This is another industry that has grown, with horses generating $6.5 billion per year in gross domestic product in Florida.
[GHTM] What’s the first thing you do when you walk into work every morning?
[Dover] Not only must I start the day with a cup of coffee, I begin each day with the positive mantra that ‘anything is possible.’ My staff often jokes that they catch ideas for a living. As a leader, it’s imperative that I do my best to be creative, innovative and embrace every day as an opportunity.
[GHTM] Who has been your greatest influence?
[Dover] My mom, who always taught me to never give up. I lost my dad when I was young and watching her work to provide, what at times seemed impossible, instilled in me the tenacity and work ethic that I have today.
[GHTM] What’s your biggest passion?
[Dover] Next, to my family and Church, I would have to say the passion I have for this industry.
[GHTM] Bourbon, beer, or wine?
[Dover] Champagne sprinkled with a few raspberries is one of my favorite indulgences.
[GHTM] What’s your favorite travel destination?
[Dover] I’ve traveled quite a bit in my role but nothing beats a nice evening at home, The Dover Farm, alongside family and friends.
[GHTM] What do the words Global Hospitality and Tourism mean to you?
[Dover ] When I think about today’s hospitality industry, we can no longer take a microcosmic view. To be successful, we must realize that as a part of the industry we are all part of something much bigger than ourselves. We’re fortunate in Florida to welcome millions of visitors from all over the globe. This means we must continue to educate ourselves on other cultures and stay well-informed of international affairs. It’s an exciting time to be a part of hospitality that embraces diversity in the workplace and brings together folks from all over the nation, and the world.
[GHTM] Florida is a premier tourism destination. How important is this industry for the State of Florida, and more specifically for the Gulf region?
[Dover] Tourism is the economic engine of the State and a barometer of Florida’s overall economy. With more than 112 million visitors in 2016, Florida’s hospitality industry generated $108.8 billion in economic impact and continues to create jobs and support meaningful employment for 1.4 million employees. The Gulf region is reliant on the tourism industry, with Northwest Florida typically receiving nearly 15% of all Florida visitors. With this large demand that can be cyclical, there’s often a shortage of employees to fill many positions in the region. This is one of the toughest challenges the region faces as the industry continues to grow and support local economies.
[GHTM] What is FRLA and how is it a key element in supporting Hospitality, Travel, and Tourism business owners?
[Dover] FRLA is Florida’s premier non-profit hospitality industry trade association. Our mission is to ‘Protect, Educate and Promote.’ We are the ultimate resource, for regulatory compliance and food safety training needs, industry-focused career-building high school programs and legislative advocacy. FRLA works tirelessly as a strong advocate for the hospitality industry and I’m extremely proud of all that we’ve accomplished on our members’ behalf. Just this past year, FRLA was instrumental in preserving the state’s investment in VISIT FLORIDA, defending business owners from onerous regulations, and passing legislation that will protect businesses from fraudulent ADA lawsuits. In politics, relationships are everything and at FRLA, we maintain central relationships with key lawmakers to protect hotels, restaurants, and supplier businesses. With a robust FRLA Political Action Committee, our dedicated Government Relations team is engaged with candidates and elected officials across the state. We understand the difficulties facing small and large business owners, to not only make ends meet for their families, but to provide their employees with jobs to support their own.
[GHTM] Regardless of the state of the world’s economy, tourism appears to thrive and grow, creating millions of jobs and billions of dollars in economic impact. What future do you forecast for Hospitality, Travel, and Tourism in Florida?
[Dover] The future Florida’s hospitality industry is stronger than ever. Last year, Florida welcomed in excess of 112 million visitors and continues to break records with more than 60 million visitors in the first two-quarters of 2017. Through the leadership of Governor Rick Scott, our state’s economy continues to outpace the rest of the nation in job growth. Since 2010, travel jobs in Florida have increased by 20%. We anticipate Florida will add more than one million hospitality-related jobs by 2024. Thankfully, we’ve got a fantastic team at VISIT FLORIDA working with our industry partners to market Florida to the nation, and the world. With destinations, all over the globe competing for a piece of this market it’s critical that we continue to invest in destination marketing and work diligently to attract even more visitors to enjoy our incredible state.
[GHTM] What really is the ‘Triumph Fund’ and how should this be used to recover from the damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?
[Dover] The ‘Triumph Funds’ are monies received from BP oil spill settlement. In 2013, the legislature created an entity to deposit the Florida Attorney General’s settlement funds recovered by the Florida attorney general for economic damages to the state that resulted from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In 2017, the Florida Legislature created the ‘The Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc.’ as a mechanism to transfer and distribute the first $300 million payment. The Triumph Gulf Coast is a non-profit corporation organized to oversee 75 percent of these funds and is required to administer the distribution of the funds to be used for the recovery, diversification, and enhancement of the eight Northwest Florida counties disproportionately affected by the oil spill. Those counties include Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, Franklin, and Wakulla. These local economies that rely on tourism were devastated by misperceptions that oil covered Florida’s beaches and contaminated its fresh seafood. These funds are critical to this area’s continuing recovery, supporting the local tourism industry which continues to provide jobs and promote economic development. We continue to work closely with our leaders to ensure that the tourism industry has a seat at the table and is supported by these funds, including workforce development.
[GHTM] The industry is experiencing a lot of disruption. How vital is higher education in our industry in your opinion, and how is it helping to maintain Florida as a premier tourism destination?
[Dover] The partnerships between the hospitality industry and higher education are essential to preparing individuals to excel and lead. We’ve faced several challenges in the recent years, an economic recession, an oil spill, hurricanes, Zika, algae blooms and others that lend themselves to experience. It is important for our hospitality employees to understand the potential impacts of these challenges and to learn how to maintain the sterling reputation of Florida’s hospitality industry. Higher education lends opportunities for student to interact with mentors and receive hands-on training. These partnerships produce better employees and meaningful careers.
[GHTM] What is the most important advice you would give to Florida’s academic institutions that focus on Hospitality and Tourism Management?
[Dover] Keep up the great work! Florida’s hospitality industry is extremely fortunate to have access to some of the nation’s top colleges and universities. These institutions are essential to training future industry leaders who will continue to provide the world-class service that makes Florida competitive as a travel destination. The hospitality industry continues to lead other industries in creating job opportunities and now, more than ever, needs a quality workforce to maintain its position as one of the top visitor destinations in the world.
[GHTM] Our guidance, inspiration and sharing knowledge with future generations is a key ingredient for a bright future. What would you tell high school students considering a degree in Hospitality and Tourism?
[Dover] Hospitality is one of the most rewarding careers in an industry that presents an unlimited array of opportunities. What’s fantastic about these opportunities is that they appeal to a wide-variety of skills, from culinary to management, the possibilities are truly endless. I hear frequent stories from our members who’ve held their very first job in the industry and how it’s miraculously led them down a path into management. This is an industry that rewards dedication and hard work, as well as prides itself in exceptional customer service.
[GHTM] Any final words of wisdom for our audience?
[Dover] Never burn bridges. The world is a much smaller place than you would think. It’s important to always place your best foot forward – you only get one chance to create your reputation. There will be numerous times you cross paths with other professionals in your career. It’s amazing how once you lend yourself to an industry, you will learn quickly that making lasting connections and maintaining relationships are essential to advancing any career.
By Hugo Reyes Duran