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Plan seeks to bolster tourism marketing

Photo by Done by Alex on Unsplash

By Jim Turner

News Service of Florida

May 31, 2023

TALLAHASSEE --- Visit Florida staff members have crafted a tourism-marketing plan intended to combat increased competition from states that in the past few years imposed tougher COVID-19 restrictions.

With restrictions now lifted nationally and eased internationally, and tourism dollars up in Florida’s proposed budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, the state tourism agency’s Marketing Council rolled out plans Tuesday that, in part, would move up the start of winter and “families” advertising campaigns by a couple of months.

“We have moved these up to launch in October and March respectively, which we feel will position us to enter the travel discussion earlier in the decision process and maximize our traveler visitation,” Brett Laiken, Visit Florida’s vice president of marketing, said during a conference call.

The marketing efforts will continue to highlight beaches and theme parks, but also regional and outdoor activities.

Laiken said the agency focused on Florida’s recovery from COVID-19 last year, and “this year we really want to celebrate the record numbers in the face of increasing competition.”

The proposed state budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, which will start July 1, includes $80 million for Visit Florida, a $30 million increase from the current fiscal year. Gov. Ron DeSantis still needs to sign off on the budget.

The marketing plans must go before the Visit Florida Board of Directors, which will meet Tuesday in St. Augustine.

Participants in this week’s meeting did not mention recent travel advisories that advocacy groups have issued for Black, Hispanic and LGBTQ people as a protest against policies backed by DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature. The meeting also did not include discussion of DeSantis’ clash with The Walt Disney Company over 2022 legislation that restricts instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

Florida drew an estimated 137.6 visitors in 2022, a 12.9 percent increase from 2021 and 5 percent more than in 2019, the last full year of travel before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of Florida’s visitors continue to come from other states, with overseas travel to Florida last year 28 percent below the 2019 total.

The higher Florida tourism estimates come as Visit California also touts spending by tourists, which is expected to hit $154.4 billion this calendar year. The California tourism agency has received $95 million for marketing from lawmakers.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel spending in 2022 hit $122.9 billion in Florida, 9 percent higher than in 2019.

New York hit $100 billion in travel spending last year, 12 percent higher than in 2019. New York City alone had 54 million visitors in 2022, below its 66.6 million visitors in 2019. New York City Tourism + Conventions, the city’s tourism agency, anticipates reaching 63.3 million tourists this year.

Florida’s overall marketing plan will remain heavily focused on U.S. travelers, who have bolstered the state’s tourism numbers since businesses started to reopen in 2020 after a pandemic shutdown. Laiken said the plan will be more regionally focused than a “one-size-fits-all approach.”

“Our storytelling will expand awareness of vacation possibilities in Florida,” Laiken said. “We will reinforce the beaches and theme parks, while encouraging travelers to experience the limitless adventures that await and allow them to see new Florida with each return visit, including adventures such as hiking, biking and kayaking. And additionally, we will continue to recognize Florida as a top origin market and foster greater in-state travel.”

Visit Orlando estimated the Central Florida community drew 74 million visitors last year, most from other parts of Florida.

Laiken said a “significant” amount of Florida’s tourism-marketing dollars will be directed toward attracting international travelers, who in the past on average stayed for longer periods and spent more money. But Laiken said no hard budget figures have been “put down” for international marketing.

Jacob Pewitt Yancey, Visit Florida director of consumer insights and analytics, said the state has seen a slight increase in younger families traveling to Florida since the start of the pandemic, and average trips by people from other states have been extended.

“Throughout 2021 and into 2022, domestic visitors behaved more like international visitors than they typically do,” Pewitt Yancey said. “They increased their average length of stay by a day or two. And they increased the amount of money that they were spending per person per day by up to $100, compared to what it had been prior to the pandemic.”

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