Skift Take

Early estimates suggest Florida is having a remarkable tourism recovery. The state's promoters said recent ads that highlight the state's lesser-known offerings, such as Michelin-starred restaurants and adventure tourism, contributed to the recovery.

Despite being battered by the pandemic, the tourism industry is slowly recovering in Florida — a state that has marketed aggressively and that drew 69 million visitors this year through June.

The southeastern “sunshine state,” has rapidly recovered from the tourism collapse during the early days of the pandemic, according to data publicized on Thursday at the Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Boca Raton.

The state is now surpassing visitation numbers from 2019 according to estimates by Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency. Last year it notched a domestic visitation record.

Florida benefited from a $16 million media advertising buy to run video for broadcast and online touting the state as a vacation destination. It was the state’s largest cooperative campaign, meaning local destination marketing organizations and other partners participated.

“We want people to know that the vacation experience here goes beyond beaches and theme parks, though we love theme parks,” said Dana Young, president and CEO of Visit Florida.

Promoters sought to broaden people’s perceptions of the state beyond staples such as Disney and golfing. A food-themed campaign with 22 videos highlighted the state’s 15 Michelin-starred restaurants, such as Miami’s L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and its distinctive mom-and-pop offerings, such as Mixed Fillings Pie Shop, in Jacksonville.

“Every decision we make is driven by data,” Young said. “Recently we found that people are nearly two-and-a-half times as likely to travel to Florida after seeing our advertisements.”

Visit Florida has aimed to help smaller cities and counties throughout the state get recognition and attention. The promotion agency said its effort led to an 11 percent increase in visits to rural areas in the past year. Towns included Eatonville, which holds an annual arts festival honoring Zora Neale Hurston and other Black artists.

“In December, we’ll be launching a $10 million cooperative marketing buy with 21 partners under a unified brand,” said Staci Mellman, chief marketing officer.

Florida’s tourism industry last year generated “products, services, and brands,” with a value of $91.9 billion, according to the consultancy Brand Finance. The value of Florida as an attractive “place brand” itself adds a halo of about $14 billion in value, according to the firm.

So far, Florida has outperformed in tourist visitation similarly sized competitors such as California and New York — two states that don’t forecast to surpass 2019 levels this year.

Yet other destinations are ramping up their marketing. So Florida will face increasing competition.

“We’ll expand our marketing efforts to promote destination attributes and experiences to appeal to sets of travelers who might not have otherwise considered Florida,” Mellman said, citing culinary travel and adventure themes.

Bringing international visitation numbers back up to pre-pandemic levels is another goal. The strong U.S. dollar and high airfares have combined to dampen some international travel to U.S. destinations. Targeted country campaigns paid off, officials said, citing how campaigns in Colombia, for instance, led to a record 709,000 Colombians visiting the state last year.

The state’s promoters plan to focus especially on accessible travel for people with physical impairments because that is a demographic it believes will only expand over time as the world’s population ages. The “Limitless Florida” campaign — with six videos and three more to come — has told a story about how people with physical challenges find Florida a great place to thrive in.

“Right now there’s an information gap on accessible accommodations, activities, and so on,” Mellman said. “In the past year, 12 Florida destinations have launched an online content hub with relevant, accessible travel resources.”

The agency received $80 million for this fiscal year, including $30 million in federal stimulus money. In July, the state began disbursing $50 million in recurring funding to Visit Florida.

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Tags: accessible travel, florida, tourism marketing, us travel, visit florida

Photo credit: L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Miami has been recognized by Michelin as a great restaurant. Visit Florida is touting the state's food scene. Source: L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Miami.

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