Florida probably has a better chance than most states to convince business travelers to turn into tourists for a couple days, but it will also take more employers to give the thumbs up to this trend.
Florida doesn’t have a problem getting leisure travelers to visit its beaches and theme parks but business travel has been a mixed bag for the state’s tourism industry in recent years.
Visit Florida, the state’s tourism board, plans to capitalize on the state’s world-famous attractions – and a growing bleisure travel trend – to convince business travelers to choose Florida and stick around for a few days before or after their trips.
Business travelers often have more disposable income than some leisure travelers but are more time restricted with vacations, but Florida already has a strong brand for meetings and conventions.
Data from D.K. Shifflet and Associates, a travel research company, show Florida had the second highest number of domestic overnight stays that were specifically for a business convention in 2017, compared to all other U.S. states (California was number one). But business travel spending in Florida fell 0.4 percent year-over-year in 2016, the most recent year that data is available, to $17.2 billion. Leisure travel spending, meanwhile, was up 3.3 percent ($94.4 billion) in 2016.
Florida had more than 116 million domestic and international arrivals in 2017, a record for the state, and the leisure and business travel breakdown hasn’t been released. Last year’s numbers account for an estimated 1.8 million arrivals loss from Hurricane Irma in September, according to Visit Florida, but it’s unclear how much of that was business travel.
Visit Florida recently published its 2018-2019 market plan which makes bleisure travel growth, or the common practice of tacking on a day or two of leisure travel to a business trip, one of its priorities for the coming year.
The organization said a bleisure travel marketing campaign is in the works for the upcoming fiscal year and will target both domestic and international business travelers, but doesn’t yet have a timeline for its launch.
The Florida legislature approved a $76 million budget for Visit Florida for fiscal 2018-2019, which begins July 1. That’s the same amount of funding the organization got the previous year after a heated budget battle.
The sense of urgency to get more business travelers to become tourists is a combination of the dip in business travel and realization that Florida doesn’t rank in the top 15 U.S. bleisure destinations, according to data from Expedia Group Media Solutions and Luth Research.
U.S. cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta, and Dallas all rank higher as a bleisure destination than any place in Florida, data show.
“We need to grow bleisure travel to stay competitive with business travelers,” said Ken Lawson, CEO of Visit Florida. “We don’t want to lose our share to other states.”
The marketing plan states that half of all U.S. millennial workers add on some vacation time to a work trip. Although, recent data from Visit Florida show the average visitor age in the state is about 48.5 and that continues to climb.
Florida currently has 109 hotels and 14,525 rooms under construction across the state and 307 hotels and 48,103 hotel rooms are expected to break ground in the next 12 to 24 months.
Florida’s hotel room inventory is expected to grow 3.4 percent in 2018, and that doesn’t include alternative accommodations growth. The state estimates hotel room inventory will grow 10.9 percent in 2020 – all key figures to hope for if Florida wants to convince business travelers and their families to stick around.
Still, 43 percent of all U.S. business travel trips are bleisure, Expedia and Luth Research data show, and Florida isn’t the only state that would benefit from giving bleisure travel some love. Just think about your last business trip and how many attendees you knew who barely left the convention center or hotel room and were only in town for a day or two to make their next event.
Developments such as the new Miami Beach Convention Center will likely help spur more meetings and conventions to Florida but it’ll take more than that to show business travelers that an extra day or two is worth it.
Photo credit: Visit Florida has made bleisure travel growth a priority in its 2018-2019 marketing plan. Pictured are travelers in Clearwater, Florida. Visit St. Pete/Clearwater