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Tourism : Innovation + Job News

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Gasparilla Fringe Festival Features Uncommon Arts To Make You Gasp!

As the 2014 Gasparilla festivities wind down, there’s one more opportunity to experience the arts Gasparilla style, but not in the traditional realm.

Gasp! The Gasparilla Fringe Festival presented by Creative Loafing and Tampa Museum of Art promises to enlighten and indulge attendees with multidisciplinary arts experiences not to be found elsewhere.

On March 28 from 6 to 10 p.m., the Museum will be transformed into a performing arts mecca with performances from over 30 local visual and performing artists, including both emerging and established.

"The event speaks to the vibrancy of the culture here, that so many different kinds of performing arts are thriving," says David Warner, editor-in-chief for Creative Loafing. "This is a way to support them and also get a taste of all of them.”

Actors and actresses will perform short plays inside Mini Coopers, affectionately referred to as "Mini Plays."

Post Dinner Conversation will perform improv, while letting the audience call the shots.

Musician Acho Brother will collaborate with a live action artist painting an oil canvas in reaction to the music.  

Graphicstudio will bring a printing press, and Creative Loafing’s Peter Meinke and Erica Dawson will create "chat books" called cordelistas. The studio’s exhibition, Graphicstudio: Uncommon Practices at USF, will also be open exclusively for attendees.

Lynn Waddell, author of Fringe Florida, will present in collaboration with Ward Hall, legendary carnival talker.

The event is designed to be a true reflection of the vitality and diversity of the arts community in Tampa Bay.

"They’re very talented people, making this work here," says Warner. "It reflects the community in ways the community doesn’t always get reflected."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: David Warner, Creative Loafing

BLUE Ocean Film Festival Casts Wide Net For Talent, Technology

The international BLUE Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit, which arrives in the Tampa Bay region for the first time in November 2014, has announced an open call for film submissions. Entries will be accepted through April 28. The early bird deadline is Feb. 28.
 
The week-long festival and summit will be a magnet for filmmakers from around the globe, including emerging talent and amateurs. 
 
Based on previous responses, BLUE Ocean organizers expect to receive 350-370 original submissions. Debbie Kinder, the festival's co-founder and CEO, anticipates an ecosystem of independent entries based on the innovative technologies now widely available.
 
"Cameras like the GoPro are a technology disrupter; they are really changing the way filmmaking's done,'' says Kinder. "I think what we're seeing is a trend of more up-and-coming filmmakers and students that have the ability to get up and tell good stories as technology becomes more affordable.''

These emerging technologies tend to attract young filmmakers. In the past, "we had student films from filmmakers as young as 5th grade,'' says Kinder. The festival will host a separate category for Tampa Bay K-12 students. All students will receive special recognition for participating.
 
The platform of the festival, and the available technologies, make it possible to promote conservation through storytelling. The forward-thinking event will use films, such as Blackfish, to bring up complicated questions, but the dialogue will be focused on finding solutions and encouraging progress.

"We discuss issues, but we also want to highlight success stories. There are great success stories and those need to be heard more,'' says Kinder.
 
In addition to the submissions and summit discussions, the festival has become a hotbed for high-tech unveilings. At the last festival, Google launched its Oceans Street View and the 360-degree underwater camera that would start their work capturing images of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Google has confirmed another product launch for the upcoming festival.

"A lot of people come together at BLUE. There's still a lot of great technology that comes out to the festival in general; whether it's about filmmaking or just communications as a whole,'' says Kinder.
 
The BLUE Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit will take place Nov. 3rd through 9th. BLUE will be headquartered in St. Petersburg at the downtown Hilton, with events taking place at venues in St. Petersburg, Tampa and Sarasota. For more information on submitting your film, visit the festival's 2014 film competiion page.

Writer: Ash Withers
Source: Debbie Kinder, BLUE Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit

Tampa Clothier Scores In Gasparilla Distance Classic

It's been one big year for Black & Denim Apparel Company.

In 11 short months, the boutique clothier has grown from Kickstarter-funded roots into the official sponsor of all branded merchandise and apparel for the 2014 Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic.

For the past three years, footwear and apparel giant Nike has been the official race sponsor, "so we have big shoes to fill,'' says Black & Denim founder Roberto Torres. "This gives us an audience of over 30,000 people. This project is huge!''

After a local runner and Black & Denim fan suggested the company approach the Gasparilla Distance Classic Association with designs, Torres explains, "It just took off from there.''

Black & Denim is set to provide long- and short-sleeve T-shirts for competitors in the annual race, held Feb. 22-23 in downtown Tampa. The company hopes to expand apparel and merchandise to include hats, thermals, "hoods'' (hooded sweatshirts), and more in 2015.

Fans will be able to pre-purchase branded merchandise on the Black & Denim website the week prior to the race as well as on race weekend. In the company's first year as a race sponsor, they will offer "six kick-ass designs that are edgy and fun -- family-friendly, as well,'' says Torres.

Since opening a boutique storefront in October 2013, the company has rapidly outgrown the space, moving to 1907 East 7th Ave. in Ybor City. Torres also has short-term plans to open a store in Channelside and a long-term goal to bring a store to Tampa International Airport by 2018. The company employs five people in Tampa and will hire two more for the Channelside location.

Every semester, notes Torres, "we have four interns from either the University of Tampa, University of South Florida, or the International Academy of Design and Technology.''

Black & Denim will showcase wares in a booth at the 8 On Your Side Health and Fitness Expo at the Tampa Convention Center during race weekend. The 2014 Expo will feature 99,000 square feet of vendors, says Torres.

"We are very excited about the opportunity, to say the least,'' says Torres. "This race attracts runners from all over the country.''

By: Justine Benstead
Source: Roberto Torres, Black & Denim

Burger 21 Expands, Adds 50+ Jobs in Tampa

Award-winning fast-casual dining chain Burger 21 is expanding to include on-going franchise development, which will create up to 50 new jobs per restaurant. The company is also adding operations as well as research and development positions to support the company’s continued growth.

There's no doubt that Americans love burgers -- especially a better, livelier experience that serves a fresh burger with style. With fast-casual dining and the better burger concept rolling in $75 billion per year within the overall burger industry, fast-casual dining represents less than 3 percent of that number.

Burger 21 serves a variety of high-quality, fresh made-to-order gourmet burgers, fries, salads and shakes to people of all ages in a modern environment.

"It's a very small sliver of the burger business, but it’s growing at a rate of double digits. Clearly, there's enormous potential there. We are capitalizing on the need and desire for consumers to have higher quality burger options. At Burger 21, we focus on variety," says Dan Stone, VP of franchise development.

Founded by the owners of The Melting Pot Restaurants, Inc., Burger 21 opened its first location in Westchase in November 2010 and sold its first franchise in early 2012. The company has since sold more than 20 franchises across nine states and plans to sell 20 new franchises this year.

The Burger 21 brand experienced significant growth in 2013, opening five new franchise restaurants and generating $12.4 million in systemwide revenue. The company’s strategic growth goal also includes the addition of 10 new franchise units this year, which is expected to generate more than $24.5 million in total systemwide revenue.

"The more we sell, it has a trickling effect of us being able to provide increased support to our restaurants. The more we open, the more support we will need at our home office. Much of what will happen this year is a result of activity and sales that happened last year," says Stone.

Since 2010, Burger 21 has added more than 150 new jobs to the Tampa Bay region. The company is targeting expansion in Pinellas County by 2015.

"We definitely have a strong interest in bringing the brand to Pinellas. We are franchising all other areas," says Stone.

The company is hosting a February 13 webinar on franchise development. To register for the live webinar, visit the company’s franchise website. For career development opportunities, visit the company online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Dan Stone, Burger 21

Gulfport's 2Cool Art Show Features Florida Artists

Artists from the Tampa Bay region and across the state have a chance to show and sell their work at the 2Cool Art Show, February 8 and 9 at the historic Gulfport Casino in Gulfport.

The juried event is hosted by the Professional Association of Visual Artists (PAVA), a statewide organization located in Pinellas County. PAVA began 28 years ago to provide a means for artists to exhibit and work together. Programs include educational materials, guest speakers, networking opportunities and other resources to help new and veteran artists further their careers.

The group’s signature event is the Cool Art Show, which takes place each summer in St. Petersburg. Now celebrating 25 years, the event’s success led the City of Gulfport to invite PAVA to Gulfport Casino for the third annual 2Cool Art Show, co-hosted by the City of Gulfport and the Downtown Merchant Association.

Some 37 artists are expected to attend with a variety of mediums – from paintings to ceramics, jewelry and sculpture. James Parziale, a furniture maker from New Port Richey, will be attending for the first time as well as Joyce Curvin, a paper mache artist from Palm Harbor.

"Most of the people there are local artists, so you get to know who in the community is making what kind of art," says Susan Gehring, the event’s co-chair.

While attending the show, patrons can visit the surrounding community and get a taste for what Gulfport has to offer – including unique boutique shops and restaurants. "Make a day of it, come to visit us and the rest of Gulfport," says Gehring.

Admission and parking are free.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Susan Gehring, PAVA

Streamsong Resort Opens, 300 New Jobs In Polk County

Streamsong Resort, a nature-based destination golf resort, will open its main lodge and amenities for business this Saturday, creating more than 300 administrative, sales, marketing, maintenance, technical and culinary jobs in the process.

Streamsong, a creation of Mosaic and touted as "a feast for the senses, a haven for the soul," sits on 16,000 acres of land and features 228 guest rounds, four restaurants, a spa, a lakeside pool, 18,000 square feet of conference space, guided bass fishing, and a host of personal enrichment opportunities.

The golf course and clubhouse opened in January 2013.

The resort was built on reclaimed phosphate mines, previously used in the 1960s. The design re-creates a golfing experience reminiscent of golf venues such as the Links courses in Scotland and the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

Mosaic additionally wants to show what can be done on previously mined land -- something that is both environmentally and economically sustainable.

"It was intended to be an alternative to the typical Florida resort experience. It’s an immersion into natural Florida. No pollution, no traffic, no lines," says Dave Townsend, spokesman. for Mosaic.

Mosaic, the seventh-largest land owner in Florida with 250,000 acres, conceptualized development of the property as much more than a new local resort and conference destination.

"We saw a need for something like this in the area, but we also saw a unique opportunity associated with the setting," says Townsend.

The new development allowed Mosaic to work closely and collaboratively with nearby communities to create new jobs in Polk County and create new business opportunities for local businesses that provide goods and services to the resort.

The project also is expected to increase tourism and generate additional tax dollars by bringing more business and luxury travelers into the Tampa Bay region and central Florida.

"This is cohesively supplementary to what Tampa offers," says Richard Mogensen, Streamson's general manager.

For more information on Streamsong Resort and job opportunities, visit them online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Sources: Dave Townsend, Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC; Richard Mogensen, Streamsong

Salsarita's Plans 500 New Jobs In Tampa Bay

Mexican-inspired Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina is rapidly expanding throughout Florida, and plans to bring up to 500 new jobs to the Tampa Bay region over the next three to five years.

With two locations already existing in Florida, Salsarita’s has more than 80 locations across the United States. The brand has targeted the Tampa and St. Petersburg area as a prime location to plant 20 new locations.

"Growth of the brand is happening in two ways: we are going to continue to build company restaurants in the Carolinas. Outside of the Carolina’s we’re going to be growing through franchising," says Chris Bailey, head of franchise development.

After settling the sale of McAlister’s Deli two years ago, the former owners began to seek out brands having significant growth opportunities. The team identified and purchased Salsarita’s, immediately beginning plans for long-term growth development.

The company’s expansion in Florida is a part of a tailored approach to franchise development that will begin operational investments in Tampa Bay in early 2014. The brand is committed to protecting the market territory of franchisees, adding one or more new locations per franchisee per year.

Each new Salsarita’s location would add between 15 and 22 new positions, including full-time restaurant managers, shift managers and servers.

Franchising has become a source of professional re-birth and a second career investment opportunity for many seasoned professionals seeking solid entrepreneurial opportunities.

"There is a growing appreciation and eagerness to work with franchises. Of all of the areas in industry and business that have been impacted adversely by the last several years of economic challenges, franchising has been the least impacted and the most consistent. It is, by nature, designed to give that go-getter entrepreneurial spirit the engine in which they can execute a good business," says Bailey.

For information on franchising and career opportunities, visit Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Chris Bailey, Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina

Need A Ride? RideCommand App Promises To Get You Where You Need To Go

A new partnership makes it easier to find a taxi service when you need it within the Tampa Bay region.

Tampa-based Cab Plus, an upscale taxi service in the Tampa Bay region recently partnered with mobile app RideCommand  to provide a way to book transportation on demand or up to three months in the future through the web or a mobile phone.

The "ride now" feature lets you request an immediate pick-up from the location of your choice, including airports or places of business. The network identifies the closest car who will get to you in the shortest amount of time. A countdown clock displays within the app, and after 90 seconds if no car is available a message displays to please try again.

The "ride later" feature allows car services to compete for business by placing bids that you can choose from. You can pick the type of car and desired fare from those presented. The information provided also includes the company’s customer rating.

"We call it 'RideCommand' because we’re putting the passenger in command of their fate," says Alan Stapleton, founder and CEO of RideCommand.

The idea came about when Stapleton had a bad car service experience while trying to attend a wedding a few hours away from the airport. Having no idea where to start or what competitive prices should be, he went through a frustrating experience only to end up stranded at the airport. Although the company is based in Maryland, the app launched recently in Tampa based on connections made at a recent limo show in Atlantic City.

"We’re in Tampa because it’s innovation-friendly," says Stapleton.

The app is free and available on Android and iPhone.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Alan Stapleton, RideCommand

Sun Boxes Emit Music, Light For Art Center Sarasota

From the concrete rooftop of the downtown Palm Avenue parking garage to the sandy shores of Siesta and Lido Key beaches, Sarasota is humming with “good vibrations’’ this week, as the melodious, portable “Sun Box’’ sound installations created by artist and musician, Craig Colorusso, travel around the city, launching Art Center Sarasota’s 2013-2014 season.

Presented in collaboration by Art Center Sarasota and the City of Sarasota, Arkansas-based Colorusso’s Sun Boxes make their first tour of the city this week, from November 4-7, and will return on January 1-3, 2014 to appear at city parks and beaches.

The portable outdoor installation is comprised of 20 solar-powered wooden speaker boxes that emit different sounds, each composed on guitar and recorded with looping pedals by Colorusso. When exposed to sunlight, the Sun Boxes produce a melodious hum. Some people simply lay down and linger in the boxes’ meditative drone, while others prefer to interact with the symphony by moving around and in front of the solar panels to adjust the hum.

“Sometimes When I do a gig somewhere and I have a really long drive, I can still hear the sounds for a few days rumbling underneath my thoughts,”  Colorusso says.

“I’ve been hearing the sounds of the Sun Boxes all my life, and for a long time, I didn’t know what to to with them. I think they sound familiar, and yet I never grow tired of hearing them,“ he adds.

Colorusso says he created the first Sun Boxes in 2009, in response to a call for art that incorporates sustainability at the Goldwell Open Air Museum in Nevada.

The Sun Boxes are an outgrowth of Colorusso’s “CUBEMUSIC,” an electric-powered installation of six aluminum cubes that emanate light and musical tones. “CUBEMUSIC” will be on display through January 3 at Art Center Sarasota.

“As a musician, I was always so envious of my friends who were painters and sculptors because they would make these amazing objects. Music doesn’t really exist as an ‘object.’ Our ears are interpreting vibrations in the air. I make environments,” Colorusso says.

The Sun Box tour schedule for November 4-7, 2013 and January 1-3, 2014 is available here.

Writer: Jessi Smith
Sources: Craig Colorusso; Emma Thurgood, Art Center Sarasota

Valet Boss App Among Hottest Tech Startups In Nation

After lunch one summer afternoon, Susie Steiner stood in the hot sun for "what felt like forever.'' Steiner was waiting for her valet-parked car to be retrieved by an attendant at International Plaza in Tampa.

"It felt like 95 degrees,'' she recalls, "and I was frustrated that there was not a faster way to retrieve my vehicle.''
 
Steiner, who is CEO of ExecuTrans Services in Tampa and organizer and facilitator of Startup Weekend Tampa Bay, is no stranger to the startup community. So when she identified a need for a more streamlined valet retrieval service, she created one herself. The mobile app Valet Boss was born.

At last week's Tech Cocktail Social at Fox Jazz Cafe, Valet Boss competed with four local startups for the title of Hottest Showcasing Startup in the area, and for the opportunity to continue on to a national conference and showcase in Las Vegas.
 
The October 8th demo "went so well that we couldn't demonstrate the product fast enough!'' Steiner says. "Fortunately, we were allotted two minutes to pitch on stage and ended up winning the community vote -- as well as corporate Tech Cocktail's vote.''

Now, the startup will join 24 other companies from around the country to compete for the title of Hottest Showcasing Startup in the Nation at Tech Cocktail Celebrate, held Oct. 24-25 in Las Vegas.

Valet Boss will launch in Tampa in Dec. 2013, in anticipation of the holiday season. With no outside funding to date, the Tampa startup is completely bootstrapped. The app, which is free to the consumer, can be implemented at restaurants, bars, hospitals, casinos, hotels, airports and private events.

Valet Boss provides as a great a benefit to locations that implement the service as it does to consumers, says Steiner.

"Our peers have spoken, and 100 percent of valet users said they would use the app,'' she explains. "Additionally, many stated they would valet park more frequently because of the cashless system Valet Boss offers.''

The startup's public launch will include Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, LA and Minneapolis, Steiner says. To join the queue, visit ValetBoss.com.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Susie Steiner, Valet Boss

Service Design + Tourism Conference Explores Creative Thinking, Sarasota

Design, service, tourism and creative thinking come together in Sarasota November 7 – 9 at the Service Design + Tourism Conference.

Hosted by Ringling College of Art and Design, the 2nd annual event focuses on improving services at every point of contact with customers. A global event, the first conference took place in Innsbruck, Austria in 2012.

Attendees include business leaders, designers, service and tourism providers, faculty and students from across the globe. They will walk away with new ideas and the latest best practices to help create meaningful, engaging customer service experiences.

The three-day experience includes speakers from across the world talking about service innovation in every setting from airports to cruises, theme parks and general service businesses. Luc Mayrand, creative director and senior show producer from Walt Disney Imagineering, will talk about developing an authentically Disney experience in a changing international marketplace. Simon Bradley, vice president of marketing, North America for Virgin Atlantic will discuss how the airlines focuses on the passenger experience to engage customers year round and turn them into brand ambassadors. Jonathan Frolich, vice president-global innovation for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, will talk about how Hyatt is using design thinking to transform the hotel guest experience.

Several local speakers will appear as well, including Paul Wilborn, executive director of the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg who will discuss how thinking local helped transform the theater into a major arts destination.

Thursday a pre-show will feature the first Tourism Service Jam in the United States, led by initiators of the Global Service Jams. Similar to a musical jam, the all-day event brings participants together in a cooperative spirit for a design challenge. Teams will be asked to develop a prototype for a completely new service with a shared theme.

On Saturday afternoon, Lorraine Buck of Marvel Brand of Feld Entertainment will give a preview of Marvel Universe Live.

"Tampa Bay has so many opportunities to distinguish itself as an important business ally to people from around the world." says Michelle Bauer, president and chief strategist for Common Language and member of the conference production team. "By bringing the heads of firms and universities from across the globe here to see this region for the first time, we have an opportunity to create impressions on them that could ripple in huge ways for our tourism, service, and education industries,"

Event partners and supporters include: RIDG, St. Petersburg Chamber, Visit Florida, WeVue, AIGA Tampa Bay, Spark Growth, BIG, Luxury Hoteliers, atLarge, Inc., Visit Sarasota, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, SRQ Airport, and The Ringling Museum of Art.

83 Degrees readers can get 20 percent off the full conference ticket price by using the code DESIGN when registering by Oct. 30.  

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Michelle Bauer, Common Language

FIVE By FIVE Art Show Returns To Tampa Oct. 18

The Hillsborough County Arts Council is hosting its second annual FIVE by FIVE fundraiser on Friday, October 18, at the Tampa Museum of Art. 

The $10 entrance fee is an excellent deal for catching up on culture and to possibly walk away with a valuable piece of art.

"The Tampa area has great artists both visual and performing,'' says Terri Simons, Director of Programming for the Arts Council. "This is a night you can come to one location and see a variety of visual arts, but you can also see scenes from theater, performances by professional musicians, actors, poets and dancers throughout the evening.''

Benefiting the Arts Council's individual artist grants, the FIVE by FIVE international call-to-artists has brought in more than 700 pieces of original artwork fit concisely to the required five-inch-square surface (artists are also permitted to extend five inches in depth). The individual artist grants program has provided $640,335 to 390 individual artists since 1989. Last year's FIVE by FIVE event raised $9,625. "It's truly small art for a BIG cause,'' says Simons.

This uniquely mosaic exhibit will be displayed in the Tampa Museum of Art's Stephen Dickey Lecture Hall and each piece will be available for sale from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. for a flat price of $25 each. The pieces are displayed anonymously, only after purchase is the artist's name revealed.

The skill levels of participating artists range from beginning student to longtime professional. The organizers hope to encourage patrons to choose their art "democratically'' according to how it appeals to them visually, not by artist name.

Artwork submissions were largely from the greater Tampa Bay region, but a significant contribution came from artists around the nation and the world -- including pieces from as far away as Canada, the Ukraine Europe and Asia. 

Building on its inaugural success last year, which drew in a crowd of nearly 900, the surprisingly multidimensional event includes a powerful array of 38 professional performance artists donating their time, with five-minute performances non-stop throughout the night. Attendees can also avail themselves of the Tampa Museum of Art's current exhibitions during the event, which include the Modern Masters: Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, and Joan Miro as well as Fragile Waters: Photographs from Ansel Adams, Ernest H. Brooks II and Dorothy Kerper Monnelly.

New this year, and highly encouraged, is the availability to purchase tickets in advance to avoid cumbersome lines the night of the event.  Also, the exhibit will be maintained in its entirety until 9 p.m. so that guests will have the opportunity to view it as a whole before those purchasing the artwork will be permitted to leave with it.

Writer: Kendra Langlie
Source: Terri Simon, Hillsborough Arts Council

Tampa Bay Arts Summit Promotes Regional Collaboration

A first-of-its-kind regional arts summit will take place Oct. 25, 2013 at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront, bringing together arts organizations, arts advocates, legislators and administrators from the five counties surrounding Tampa Bay. 

The Regional Arts Summit: Return on Investment aims to promote collaboration between arts organizations of all disciplines to better leverage advertising and marketing dollars, avoid scheduling conflicts and to build and share audiences.  Through interactive presentations and breakout sessions, participants will discuss topics such as cooperative programming, advocacy, regional funding, cultural tourism, and arts in healthcare. 

“To be successful, the arts have to be regionalized,” says attorney Peter Zinober, Chairman of the Arts Council of Hillsborough County and shareholder at the law firm Greenberg Traurig, who came up with the idea of the summit. He envisions the event as a powerful brainstorming and networking session, “Putting people in the same room to develop strategies and ideas, develop more revenue while spending less.”

Presented by the Hillsborough County Arts Council, the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance and Creative Pinellas, the full-day event will feature keynote speaker Randy Cohen, VP of Research and Policy for Americans for the Arts from Washington DC. Cohen who will speak on the future of the arts in America -- “Where will we be in 10 Years?” He is a noted expert in the field of arts funding, research, policy, and using the arts to address community development issues.

Registration is available online through the Hillsborough Arts, Inc. website

Writer: Kendra Langlie
Source: Peter Zinober, Arts Council of Hillsborough County

Webjet Grows, Adds 15 Jobs In NoHo In Tampa

Tampa-based online travel agency Webjet is adding 15 jobs over the next year. The company is seeking experienced travel agents and customer service staff members to accommodate their bustling growth and growing customer service needs.

In 2009, after building a successful career in sales, travel and global business operations and additionally helping to transform Australia’s Virgin Blue Airlines from low-cost carrier to world carrier, Germany native Mathias Friess partnered with Webjet Australia -- the largest online travel agency in Australia and the Pacific -- to form a joint venture that would bring a division to North America.

For Friess, whose wife Carren Rieger-Friess was a Tampa native, the decision was easy. Webjet opened its North American headquarters in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Tampa in April 2010 and soon became among the top 10 online travel agencies for airfare purchases in the United States.

Coupled with a proprietary technology algorithm and a strategic mix of search engine optimization methods, Webjet's goal is to bring low-cost international travel fares to the Americas while providing pristine customer service and support. And the company’s philosophy is straightforward:

Simple online booking with no surprises.

"We put the price first. Our technology finds airfare that others may not find. We find you a way which is convenient, but most importantly gives you a price advantage," says CEO Friess.

Webjet has also established an innovative customer education platform via Google+ Hangouts, collaborating with students, bloggers and customers to share expert advice to those travelling abroad.

"Everyone is on social media. We may as well have certain topics and customer groups -- talk to them and give them our expertise. We have it, and we’d like to share it. Travel is emotional -- you want to be helped with qualified people," says Friess.

The company recently expanded into Canada and Mexico, both new sites which are managed from the Tampa office, and additionally signed an agreement with Kayak, giving the company more growth.

Within three years of its stateside launch, the Webjet team has grown from 9 to 20, recently relocating its offices to North Howard Avenue.

"We knew there was going to be growth moving forward, and we do expect to see substantial growth in the next year," says Friess.

For information on hiring opportunities and business partnerships, visit Webjet’s website.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Mathias Friess, Webjet

Tampa Begins Mobile Payment Option For Parking

Those who work, live or play in downtown Tampa can now pay for on-street parking through a mobile phone app. Can't find your car? The app will help with that as well.

The City of Tampa recently launched a pay-by-phone option through Parkmobile. Customers register with Parkmobile for free and download the app, available for iPhone, Android, Windows and Blackberry. Drivers can then scan a QR code near their parking space and pay for the amount of time desired. There is also an option to pay with a flip phone using a toll free number.

You can receive text message alerts and reminders when your parking session is near expiration. The app has the added benefit of walking you back to your car if you can’t find it.

Three years ago, the city replaced the traditional coin-only parking meters with networked meters that provide the option to pay with cash or credit card at one of many stations. Use of on-street parking has increased since.

"People are taking advantage of the flexibility they have to a greater degree," says Irvin Lee, public works director for the City of Tampa.

The system came at no cost to the City of Tampa because the infrastructure was already in place. Parkmobile charges users a $.35 convenience fee per transaction, which is waived now through September 30, 2013.

"We think this is a great match with the tech-savvy community that exists in Tampa," says Lee. "We believe folks will like this and it will take off."

Eventually, the City plans to expand the program to all parking garages. Parkmobile is also currently available in St. Petersburg.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Irvin Lee, City of Tampa
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