While Hurricane Ian left its physical mark on a few destinations in Florida, it delivered a media image scar much wider in geographic scope that will be a challenge to overcome.
Visit Florida launched a marketing campaign last week called “Sun’s Shining in Florida” to let visitors know it’s safe and open for tourism. The campaign is an effort to combat the negative media impact of Hurricane Ian.
The campaign shows images and clips of families, beaches, attractions and other features with timestamps from early October at multiple destinations and no sign of the hurricane. In collaboration with other Florida destination marketing organizations (DMOs), the organization is running the campaign on social media, TV, digital banner ads and other channels.
Ian was the deadliest hurricane to hit Florida since 1935, killing at least 119 people. Many victims were at least 60, and dozens died by drowning, according to The New York Times.
Until the hurricane, Florida was undergoing a tourism boom. It has already attracted over 69 million visitors this year. “We are on track to completely exceed 2019 in total visitation this year given our quarterly numbers,” said Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young. “We are hoping those numbers hold.” She expects most visitors to have shifted their trips to other parts of Florida instead of outside of the state.
The hurricane’s damage has been limited to Forty Myers beach, Sanibel Island Captiva, Pine Island and parts of Collier County, all of which are located in the southwest of the large state of Florida. “Except those areas that are hardest hit, you wouldn’t see a difference,” said Young.
Most of Florida is welcoming visitors. St. Augustine, Orlando, Tampa and other destinations are telling tourists they are open for tourism. In fact, some hotels and attractions have reopened in Fort Myers, which saw some of the worst of the hurricane.
In regard to the most damaged spots like Fort Myers Beach, it will take time to rebuild, according to Young. Some hotels have started to lay off staff due to the extent of the damage. In Collier County, the Ritz-Carlton Naples has laid off nearly 600 employees. On Captiva Island, Tour South Seas Island Resort laid off nearly 240 employees across all of its operations for the foreseeable future. In one sign of optimism, the previously damaged Sanibel Causeway reopened 10 days ahead of schedule.
The public, however, isn’t aware of the geographic scope of the hurricane’s impact. Between the end of September and early October, persistent negative media coverage from national segments like 60 Minutes, CNN and others focused on debris, destroyed homes and the wreckage. “All people are seeing over and over is of Fort Myers beach and destruction,” said Young. “We have to counter that.”
The negative coverage will be a large mountain to overcome. The coverage equated to $165 million in negative earned media, according to Nielsen, which calculated the cost for Visit Florida. The destination marketing organization’s annual budget is $50 million.
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Photo credit: St Augustine's Castillo de San Marcos Fort with campaign timestamp Visit Florida / Visit Florida