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St. Augustine wants more Latino tourists

8:09 PM, Oct 22, 2013   |    comments
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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Isabela Alanso has had her store, Isabella's, in downtown St. Augustine for decades.

"I sell cigars, the best cigars," she proclaimed.

In her shop are Cuban cigars, soap from Spain, Hispanic food and Spanish wine.

She also proudly flies her Cuban flag next to her U.S. flag outside, and she says it's like a magnet for Latino tourists.

"They like to see that. They are proud of me being here because there aren't many Spanish people here," Alanso said.

The City of St. Augustine and the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau are targeting Latinos and Hispanic American tourists.

"It's largely an untapped market right now," said Dana Ste. Claire with the City of St. Augustine.

That untapped market would seemingly have reason to visit the area because the St. Augustine area is the birthplace of Spanish heritage in North America.

Ste. Claire said, "We have this wonderful Spanish colonial city with wonderful Spanish colonial history, but there really is a conspicuous absence of Spanish culture."

So events such as the Spanish Food and Wine Festival this week have been created to infuse Spanish culture into the city.  The "batalla de vino" -- or battle of the wine -- is an event in Spain where people literally throw and spray wine on each other.

On Tuesday in St. Augustine, white-clad participants fired the red wine from squirt guns. The city claims it was the first "batalla de vino" in the U.S. Mayor Joe Boles even donned a white suit which quickly turned mauve.

Besides cultural events, a Spanish PR agency has been hired by the Visitors Bureau to drive in more Latino customers to St. Johns County.

There's no word on how many Latino tourists are coming to St. Augustine because there is no way to track the ethnicity of visitors according to Kathy Catron with the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau.

However, there's a general sense among tourism officials and merchants that more Latino guests are discovering and spending their money in a city that was first Spanish.

"Recently, in the last few years, I have seen more Spanish people coming in," Alanso said.

She believes the word is getting out about St. Augustine's character, something she said Latino tourists are looking for.

The Spanish Food and Wine Festival lasts all week. For more information, click here.

----To connect with Jessica Clark, follow her on Twitter at@JessicaFCN or Like her on Facebook.


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