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Florida is on track for its fourth consecutive year of record visitation in 2014, in large part due to an influx of international tourists.
As home to American retirement communities, art deco beach clubs, and every flavor of theme park, Florida attracts a visitor set as diverse as the destination itself. And while great for the economy and travel industry, the diversity also poises a particular challenge for Visit Florida.
As former CMO and current CEO of the destination marketing organization, William Seccombe has build a marketing model that uses cooperation over control to disseminate the brand’s message.
Seccombe, who has led Visit Florida for the past six years, will speak October 9 about building an all-inclusive brand in tourism at the Skift Global Forum on The Future of Travel. Skift caught up with Seccombe for a discussion on Visit Florida’s branding challenges and marketing strategies.
Skift: Florida is made up of so many diverse regions and attracts so many different kinds of tourists. How do you create a brand that casts a wide enough net while also communicating the state’s features to specific groups?
Will Seccombe: To frame it, you have to start with the scale. Last year we had 94.3 million visitors from every state and 185 different countries. There are more people in visiting Florida today than live in 12 U.S. states – that gives you an idea of the scale of the Florida tourism industry.
We’re incredibly blessed to have the best tourism product in the world. I can go through the laundry list: home of American fishing, 700 miles of beaches, art, culture, and the history. Not to mention it’s the theme park capital of the world. There’s no where that has the tourism product that florida has.
Our goal then is to establish florida as the number one tourism product of the world. My goal for my company is to be the number one destination marketing organization in the world.
When you have the diversity of product that we have in Florida, it’s a blessing and a curse.
We have a marketing principle that we can’t be all things to all people. As a destination marketing organization, we can provide marketing programs that allow other stakeholder throughout the state to leverage their dollars to accomplish their goals. I just don’t believe you can be all things to all people.
Skift: What are the primary strategies that Visit Florida uses to raise awareness of the diversity of the destination?
Will Seccombe: At the end of the day, Visit Florida does two things really really well. We do co-op marketing and we do storytelling.
Our success is based on our ability to develop marketing programs that create ad value for partners who use it to leverage their resources and build brand awareness. The program is used by 1,500 partners including hotels, resorts, restaurants, and attractions. It including everything from free partner listings on VisitFlorida.com to partners who spend millions of dollars. They’re all very active and engaged partners.
The storytelling element is fundamental. Two years ago, we hired a gentleman who was a senior editor at St. Petersburg Times and we’ve since developed a really vibrant publishing platform. I don’t think there’s any travel publication in the U.S. that creates as much professional content as we do. We have 100 writers on contract and 12 Florida “insiders” that focus on specific topics and create daily content. The content lives on VisitFlorida.com and is then shared with media partners around the world. We don’t care where these stories are told; we just want to make sure that we’re telling inspiration stories about Florida vacations.
The has taken what I think is a great idea and developed it into a really powerful marketing tool.
Skift: How do you balance the needs of domestic vs international visitors? Does one take precedence?
Will Seccombe: We’re looking at what should be our fourth consecutive year of record visitation. The vast majority of that is domestic, but had it not been for the growth of international visitation then we wouldn’t have reached those record numbers. I think looking ahead a significant amount of our growth will come from abroad.
I’m very encouraged by the work that’s being done by Brand USA and that we now have a destination marketing organization on the national level. It’s a great way for us to leverage our dollars and our work internationally.
According to Visa, something like 20 cents of every international dollar spent in the U.S. is spent in Florida. We have a huge marketshare to defend as the U.S. gets more aggressive in marketing to and attracting international visitors.