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Editor’s Note: Skift is publishing a series of interviews with CEOs of destination marketing organizations where we discuss the future of their organizations and the evolving strategies for attracting visitors. Read all the interviews as they come out here.
This continues our series of CEO interviews that began with online travel CEOs in Future of Travel Booking (now an e-book), and continued with hotel CEOs in the Future of the Guest Experience series (which is also an e-book).
Between its beaches, luxury restaurants and stores and international culture, Miami has no trouble convincing visitors to come and spend money. Its tourism board, therefore, is less concerned about telling visitors why to come and more focused on getting them to come back and stay longer.
Much like Los Angeles has benefited from the increase in outbound travel from China, Miami has experienced record tourism growth as a result of growing visitation from Latin America. Miami welcomed a record 14.2 million overnight visitors in 2014.
Brazil and other regional markets contributed to the city’s 7.13 million international visitors in 2014, a sector that grew 4.4 percent that year in comparison to nearly no growth from the domestic market.
Skift recently spoke with Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO William Talbert about the importance of the Latin American market, his focus on partnerships and a vision for greater cooperation between Miami and Orlando.
An edited version of our interview can be read below:
Skift: All destinations are focused on attracting more tourists from Brazil. Miami has benefitted greatly from its growing outbound tourism market. What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned about marketing to Brazilian tourists and catering to them once they arrive?
William D. Talbert: We’ve had offices in Brazil for 25 consecutive years, which is possibly longer than any U.S. destination. We’ve learned that it’s all about relationships. We’ve been through good and bad times for both the Brazilians and us. We’ve developed strong relationships with the industry and community and that benefits us in the long term.
It’s less about developing the digital space at this point and more about marketing through travel agents and tour operators. For example, we have strong relationships with the Brazilian Tour Operators Association. We also have a strong presence at tourism shows and have media missions throughout the year.
Skift: The market is obviously evolving. What are some of the trends you’re seeing that destinations have to consider when trying to cater to Brazilian tourists in the future? Are travelers’ habits changing at all?
Talbert: The economy is obviously changing Brazil and we follow that very closely, but travelers habits are not changing. Tour operators and travel agents are still very strong. It’s very slowly working towards more of the digital space; that will evolve over time.
The important piece to talk about is the growing middle class in Brazil. That’s the target for us. While Miami is a bit of a luxury destination, there is an evolving middle class that has more of an ability to travel and we view Miami as the natural place to start a traveling career.
Once again, it’s easy to get to, language friendly, and in many ways cheaper than staying in Brazil. We’re a beach but more than a beach. We’re arts and culture, shopping and dining. We also just announced a $4-billion entertainment retail center right here in Miami. The growth of the middle class in Brazil is a target market for us.
Skift: Many travelers are using Airbnb for a more local travel experience. What are your thoughts on Airbnb and the opportunities that it provides visitors that are looking for a more memorable experience?
Talbert: It does allow travelers to get into neighborhoods, but also provides some challenges. You read about people coming from out of town into neighborhoods where no one knows why they’re there or who they are or what they’re doing.
But I think it’s evolving and it’s here to stay. The genie is out of the bottle and Airbnb can clearly co-exist with hotels. As Airbnb has grown both domestically and internationally, you haven’t seen fewer hotels being built. There are more hotels, more brands and more boutiques. At the end of the day it’s proving, at least to some point, these two models can co-exist and quite nicely.
Skift: Does the tourism board promote Airbnb to visitors?
Talbert: We don’t formally promote it. Airbnb and the Ubers of the world have not approached us. It’s an evolving model. There are discussions around the world on taxation and licensing issues. These are being resolved, but the genie is out of the bottle and we’re supportive of it.
Skift: How closely do you work with Visit Florida?
Talbert: As closely as we can. The tourism board is a founding partner for Visit Florida and I am a member of its executive committee. We work together on a macro and micro level. We have coordinated on some neighborhood issues and the new medical tourism program launched last July.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau will take a dollar and match it with a Visit Florida dollar, a Brand USA dollar and a dollar from another place to make four or five dollars through partnerships. It’s all about partnerships.
Skift: Do you work closely with other Florida cities like Orlando and St. Petersburg or do you view them as competition?
Talbert: The Miami brand is a unique brand globally. We have more competitors globally than we do domestically. However, we have a different set of competitors on the convention side.
We are very supportive of All Aboard Florida, which is a privately funded rail connection between Orlando and Miami with two stops in Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. This will not only connect the region, but two great tourist destinations. We will be marketing Miami in Orlando and marketing Orlando in Miami. Miami is second busiest international gateway in the U.S. and the cruise capital of the world. Tourists come into the U.S. through Miami, go to Miami for the attractions, and then come back to Miami.
All Aboard Florida is a major piece of this Orlando-Miami story that’s evolving just like it is around other great cities of the world in Europe or in Asia. We’ve all taken those wonderful high speed trains to get us between two great cities.
Skift: How closely do you work with Brand USA?
Talbert: We’re a founding partner of Brand USA and partner with them when they go to India, China, the Middle East and South America. Sometimes we partner with just Brand USA and sometimes we partner with Brand USA and Visit Florida.
It’s all about partnerships because one and one is three or four or five. Nobody can do it alone or they’re doomed to fail in this global marketplace if they do. Reach is costly but the payoff is extraordinary in terms of visitors that support jobs.
Skift: How could Brand USA do a better job?
Talbert: Here’s the issue. They’re taking the USA brand and promoting a very diverse country. How do you have one message about America? There are so many opportunities and that’s the essence of the program. There are beaches, mountains, deserts, and national parks.
They had a little bit of a rocky start but I think they’re doing quite well under Chris Thompson’s leadership. It’s a daunting task to sell this great country because of all options from Miami to Seattle to San Diego to all points in between. Let’s face it, Americans haven’t even seen the darnn country.
Skift: Do you see destination marketing organizations’ position in the travel industry changing at all in the next five to 10 years?
Talbert: We’re doing things differently today. Here I am spending all this time on social media. We have a three-legged stool made up of Facebook, Twitter and email.
We’ve spread our wings from a very narrow focus to a broader focus and are more involved in the community, in neighborhoods, in every big event in town. Being the trusted source of information is one of the planks for destination marketing organizations and we’re rock solid on that.
If you’re not the trusted source then what are you?
Skift: Funding is something that a lot of destination marketing organizations struggle with. Is this something that you see getting better any time soon?
Talbert: We’re largely hotel-tax driven and we’ve been adding hotel inventory every year. The new hotels are largely luxury and the average room rates have gone up so our funding stream has gone up. Not as much as we would like, but certainly up is up and down is down. About 85 percent of our funding is from a hotel or restaurant tax so there is 15 percent from our government partners including the airport and seaport.
We’re in sales and always want more marketing. Do we need more dollars? Absolutely. We’re in a competitive marketplace and some of our competitors are funded by national governments for instance. We need to stand on our own here.
Skift: What would you do if you had 10 times more funding?
Talbert: It’s about frequency and reach. I’d have more offices covering more countries and do more digital marketing.