It’s no secret that Florida’s tourism economy has been decimated from impacts of COVID-19, and Dana Young, president and CEO of Visit Florida, recently detailed tourism losses the state has suffered during a Zoom breakfast meeting with the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.
At the same session, Young outlined efforts that have started to spur a tourism rebound.
“Prior to the pandemic, Florida tourism had just capped off our 10th consecutive year of record visitation. We welcomed over 130 million visitors to our state in 2019,” Young said, during the Oct. 6 meeting.
“And, these folks contributed $91 billion to our economy and supported 1.5 million jobs,” Young added.
In fact, she reported that Florida’s State Economist Amy Baker warned last year that tourism-related revenue losses posed the greatest potential risk to Florida’ economic outlook.
“A little over a year later, that prediction has come true. In the long-range financial outlook released last month to the Legislature, the economists reported that the pandemic’s fiscal impact on tourism accounts for half of Florida’s $2.7 billion budget shortfall,” Young said.
Hotels have been hit hard, Young said, in response to a question from a Zoom listener.
“The latest number I saw was that hotels in Florida had lost over $5 billion, and that was several weeks ago, so I’ve got to think that number is significantly higher,” she said.
But, Young said Visit Florida is ready to meet the challenge.
Speeding up recovery, if only just by a few months, will restore millions of dollars in tax revenues and create thousands of jobs for Floridians, she said.
“Since the pandemic began, Visit Florida and my great research and marketing professionals have been carefully monitoring public health data, travel-related metrics and trends, to guide our decision-making process,” she explained.
When the virus began making news in China, Visit Florida decided to stop advertising in that market.
“When travel essentially ceased to exist in March, Visit Florida pulled out all of our advertising, in preparation for the recovery,” Young said.
Doing that saved $13 million that is now being invested in a recovery campaign, she said.
“The timing of our recovery plan, as in everything at Visit Florida, is driven by data.
“We’ve been monitoring traveler sentiment, destination readiness and all sorts of trends out there — to determine in a data-driven way, when we should start advertising again.
“We want to make sure that people are ready to book travel, or receptive to seeing messages about travel,” she said.
“In these early stages of recovery, we know that people are more likely and more comfortable to travel closer to home. So, in-state travel is absolutely critical to our rebound.
“Floridians hold the key to our recovery, particularly in these early stages.
“In our first round of ads, we’re looking to remind Floridians of why they should be so proud to live here, and live in a state where the world dreams of vacationing.
“We want to take that pride and we want to channel that into getting Floridians to travel within our state, and harness that into supporting our Florida businesses, so many of which are hurting badly right now,” Young said.
“We’re trying to introduce them to maybe a part of Florida that they’ve never seen.
“Maybe they thought they would have to fly to another state or another country to have experiences that they can have right here at home,” she added.
The budget for the in-state marketing campaign is $3.4 million.
Visit Florida also understands how important it is to attract out-of-state visitors, too, Young said.
It launched a new effort last week that focuses on key drive markets to Florida, around the United States, particularly in the Eastern United States.
The tourism organization’s research reveals that people are willing to travel about 700 miles for a Florida vacation, Young said. So domestic marketing focuses on areas such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Birmingham, Nashville and Philadelphia.
The budget for that campaign is around $10 million, Young said.
“While we have heard anecdotally that other states are at a complete standstill about marketing to out-of-state visitors, we at Visit Florida plan to continue to be very aggressive in our approach, to save as much of the winter season and early 2021 as possible,” Young said.
“We want Florida to be the first destination that comes to mind when travelers sit down and plan a vacation, and heavy marketing is the best way to accomplish that goal. So, that is what we are doing,” Young said.
During the pandemic, the North Tampa Bay Chamber has shifted presentations that typically were given at in-person breakfast and luncheon meetings to Zoom sessions instead, allowing members to hear from speakers on a broad range of topics — without risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Published October 14, 2020