MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Nerissa Okiye, 41
When asked what brought her to Florida, Nerissa Okiye quickly answers. “The job.”
Two years ago, she, her husband and two sons moved to Palm City for her to become the manager for the new Martin County Office of Tourism and Marketing.
Since then, she has been organizing the now two-year-old county office all while learning about Martin County.
She has used all that knowledge while working with county staff and others to spearhead the creation of a new brand that has gotten Martin County noticed in magazines like “Coastal Living,” which named Stuart as one of the Happiest Seaside Towns.
The marketing campaign capitalizes on all that Martin County has to offer — sites like the Tuckahoe Mansion and activities like fishing. Slogans include “Naturally Quaint” and “Make Reel Memories.”
“The entire process has been wonderful,” Okiye, 41, said.
Okiye was recently named a member of the Southeast Tourism Society’s board, which has members in 12 states — Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
The group looks at legislative priorities on a national level as well as ways to create a powerful marketing alliance throughout the country.
“My goal as a member of the board is to make sure that the organization is in tune with the needs of the smaller DMOs (destination marketing organizations),” Okiye said.
Martin County’s tourism office is an example of smaller DMO. She said only about $612,000 goes to promotions compared to an area like Fort Myers, which has a $17 million budget.
Despite the small budget, Okiye said Martin County’s tourism efforts are starting to get noticed.
“Country Living” and “House Beautiful” released their list of “50 Most Beautiful Small Towns in America,” and Stuart was No. 9. In August, the office earned the Shining Example Award for Tourism Office of the Year for offices with budgets less than $2 million, and also in August, it received a Flagler Award for tourism advocacy at the 2016 Florida’s Governor’s Conference.
“We have an emphasis on getting our story out there,” Okiye said.
Okiye was born and raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands and grew up watching her dad interact with visitors in his role as a lifeguard and fisherman.
She left for college and returned to the Virgin Islands, where she worked as the special assistant to the governor’s wife.
When the governor lost his bid for re-election, Okiye moved to Atlanta to work for Swissotel then took a position at what became the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
“I was there for 13 years prior to moving to Martin County,” she said. She was the director of research in the tourism department for five years before the move.
Now, she is simply focusing her current role and the success that they are having.
“I’m enjoying learning about the county, falling in love with it and then sharing that,” she said.
Who has been your biggest mentor, and why?
My former Deputy Commissioner Janis Cannon. She was the GM at the hotel and then hired me at Georgia Department of Industry Trade and Tourism. She was extremely passionate and dedicated to the tourism industry.
What is your favorite movie?
Oh, depends on the week. This week its “Bad Moms” — not an Oscar winner by any means, but it makes the point that we need to realize we are all doing the best we can.
What is your favorite book?
Right now it is still “A Land Remembered.”
What super power would you want to have, and why?
Time travel or the ability to see into the future. I am always saying hindsight is 20-20, but to actually be able to see if you are making the best decision that would be incredibly powerful.
What is your favorite sound?
The sound of waves crashing on the beach.
What is your least favorite sound?
Traffic — cars honking
If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?
Leonardo da Vinci
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Treat people the way you want to be treated.
What event in history would you like to have witnessed?
Being in person watching Martin Luther King delivering his “I have a dream” speech.
What is your favorite childhood memory?
Spending the summer on the beach treasure hunting.
Who is your hero or someone who inspires you?
The Dalai Lama
What is something most people wouldn’t know about you?
I was married on the beach where my dad was a lifeguard for 30 years and I think it was actually where my parents met.
What are your hobbies?
Work, work and more work, according to my husband.
What would you do it you were invisible for a day?
Follow my kids around at school to see first-hand the reality they live in at school.
If you were alone on a desert island, what three things could you not live without?
My smartphone with Kindle app. A bed with a mosquito net, fire.