Florida’s tourism industry is in full-on recovery mode after Hurricane Irma struck a paralyzing blow to much of the state last week.

The first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in nearly 12 years, Irma forced some destinations such as the Florida Keys to tell travelers to postpone trips because of damage to key tourism infrastructure. Other cities have already recovered, making the task of marketing to tourists from a statewide perspective complicated.

Executives at Visit Florida, the state’s destination marketing organization, estimate that Florida received some $500 million worth of negative publicity Florida because of the storm and more than 5.5 trillion impressions on and offline – on top of the billions of dollars worth of damage the state received from the storm.

During a Visit Florida committee meeting call on Tuesday, tourism officials said they have a plan to overcome days of photos and video in the media.

The recovery campaign, described by interim chief marketing officer Nelson Mongiovi as a three-phase effort, is already underway across the organization’s social channels, website and traditional TV advertising in domestic and international markets.

The campaign will begin this week and run for approximately one month and will focus on The Keys once Visit Florida’s partners from the area have indicated they’re ready for tourists to come back, according to a statement released yesterday on the organization’s blog.

“Most of you know that as we recover, the tone of our content is critically important,” Mongiovi, speaking to some of the organization’s partners, said during the call. “The first stage of the campaign is a huge social play and basically what we’re trying to do is establish ourselves as a reliable source of information post-storm.”

Visit Florida is sharing a live feed of photos and videos across its platforms to show what the state’s destinations currently look like. While many destinations already do this under normal circumstances, a natural disaster definitely makes this kind of marketing even more essential.

The details of phases two and three are still under wraps, but Mongiovi said the second phase will involve marketing messages that welcome travelers back to the state, which is the United States’ most visited destination and had nearly 113 million domestic and international visitors last year.

Some organizations such as the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau were already sending their own promotions Tuesday, offering “unprecedented special offers” for hotels, restaurants, spas, attractions, shops, and museums with the message that the region  is open for business.

Mongiovi said Visit Florida worked with Nielsen Entertainment to quantify the value of negative media publicity that Florida received from Irma, such as photos and videos showing flooding and other property damage, from before the storm hit through September 15. The organization is also working with ListenFirst to monitor consumer sentiment about Florida post-Irma.

“The final piece of the data we’re collecting is to is quantify the economic impact of Hurricane Irma,” said Mongiovi. “We’re working with research firms now. Research is guiding every step of the way. We’ll definitely be live and back out there within the next few weeks.”

Mongiovi also said there’s been a “great deal of concern out there from international tour operators about Florida” since the storm hit.

Convincing Partners to Come Back

Even before Irma formed, Visit Florida was having a difficult year. The organization has been trying to get back on track after its funding was nearly slashed earlier this year.

Back in June, the Florida Legislature approved a $76 million fiscal 2018 budget for Visit Florida after a heated, four-month battle that led to the departure of three Visit Florida executives and increased scrutiny of the organization’s finances and partnerships.

Visit Florida’s funding was saved but its future remains uncertain and it is subject to more stringent transparency rules. More than a dozen tourism boards across the state including those in Miami, Palm Beach, and Orlando, have since cut ties with Visit Florida due to confusion over how their own operations will be scrutinized if they do business with the state’s tourism board.

Referring to Visit Florida’s current dilemma as the “DMO flight,” Mongiovi said that a number of tourism boards have since restored ties with Visit Florida. “Tampa is back in and the Keys are back in, for instance,” said Mongiovi. “Folks are basically coming to terms with the new law and how it’s relevant to their world. I don’t think it’s going to change that much how we do business.”

But Visit Florida’s presence and strategy for some trade shows will likely be impacted. When some committee members expressed concern over Visit Florida’s presence at national and international trade shows, booth sizes, and partner representations at the tourism board’s booths, Mongiovi said the organization is stressing affordability.

“Obviously, when demand goes down, supply goes up and prices come down, and that’s our mantra right now,” said Mongiovi. “We’re not a corporation and we’re not here to generate robust revenue streams, we’re here to generate robust participation. And if we can get people to participate on the world stage who have never participated before, we want to do that.”

But if enough popular and iconic Floridian destinations aren’t on board with Visit Florida, the state’s tourism industry won’t have a unified marketing approach in international markets which could impact where travelers decide to book trips.

Photo Credit: It's been a tough year for Florida's tourism industry. Pictured are boats littering the shoreline near Naval Air Station Key West on Sept. 15. Coast Guard News / Flickr