Most Florida tourism markets look farther away for visitors, bypass state's $16 million potential
By Frank Norton
Though a continued recovery of the state's tourism industry may hinge on its ability to sell to fellow Floridians, only a handful of markets are stepping up efforts to attract backyard neighbors.
Many convention and visitors bureaus throughout the state will this year spend well under 10% of their total consumer advertising dollars on Florida's nearly 16-million-person market.
The St. Petersburg-Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, which pared its consumer advertising budget to $6.5 million from $8 million this year due to lower tourist-tax revenues, has earmarked only about $500,000 or 7.7% of that budget for the in-Florida market, said bureau spokeswoman Zaneta Hubbard. Of that in-state portion, none is aimed at South Florida - the densest market in the state.
"At this point we're not marketing to the South Florida area, but focusing on Orlando, Tampa Bay and northern Florida drive markets," Ms. Hubbard said.
She said Chicago, New York, Detroit and Boston are still St. Petersburg's biggest points of origin.
"If our research shows that's where the bulk of our tourists come from, then that's where we'll continue to plug our dollars."
Ms. Hubbard said the Pensacola Visitor Information Center spends at least 90% of its $300,000 annual consumer-advertising budget on out-of-state markets.
One reason for that, said Ed Schroeder, vice president of Pensacola's visitor center, is "for places like Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, we're a drive-to destination, whereas people in South Florida, for example, have to drive by 500 miles of Florida beach to get to ours.
"Midwesterners, on the other hand, have to drive past us to get to go through Florida. So we try to position ourselves to pluck them off as they come. Basically we're going to go where our dollars give us a return on investment."
Mr. Schroeder said Pensacola's marketing philosophy might in fact be a self-fulfilling prophecy since it educates one market of consumers over another on the benefits of a Panhandle getaway.
Florida International University's Stephen P. Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, this year rated St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, also on the Panhandle, the best beach in the US.
"I guess we could do more to attract people from Florida and South Florida, but right now it's just not in the budget." Mr. Schroeder said.
Throughout Florida, in-state marketing dollars may not be in the budget this year for many counties after sales and tourism-tax revenues fell sharply following 9/11. But according to Visit Florida, the state's official marketing agency, the potential demand is there.
In first quarter 2002, the percentage of Florida residents who took an in-state pleasure trip rose 1.3% to 48.7% compared to the same period last year, Visit Florida reported. Most of those travelers spent two or three nights away from home visiting theme & amusement parks and sightseeing.
"What that says to me is that Florida is the No. 1 tourist destination in the world, yet fewer than half of all Floridians take their vacations here," said Visit Florida spokesman Tom Flannigan.
And he and other industry experts said that since 9/11 more people are looking for getaways closer to home.
Even Pensacola, which does little in-state marketing, reports that Florida rose to be among the top five points of visitor origin, following Midwestern areas, particularly Chicago.
Susan Kelley, president of Kelley Swofford Roy, an advertising agency specializing in tourism and travel, said hotels and tour operators historically target in-state travelers during summer, particularly family-value seekers. She said that seasonal trend is much sharper this year.
"Since 9/11 our whole value system has been shifting. We're looking to re-center, relax, veg-out and spend time with family. And our research shows that people would love to experience a little soft adventure while on a weekend getaway. Now more than ever that's going to be close to home," Ms. Kelley said.
Her Coral Gables-based company, which last week marked its 20th anniversary, runs Collier County's tourism campaign to market Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades to Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties and the Orlando and Tampa Bay regions. Collier County's three TV spots planned for airing in South Florida will focus on the beaches, golf courses and Everglades.
Ms. Kelley and other tourism-marketing experts said their strategy is to create print, radio & TV ads that act as a runway toward a point-of-sale, usually a website or an 800 number.
Walt Disney World, which pulls tourists to the Orlando-Kissimmee area, uses billboards along Interstate 95 near Miami and a 'Florida residents' page on its official website to tailor offers to in-state residents.
Miami, said Denise Godreau, Disney vice president of brands and Florida segment marketing, is one of the four top in-state markets because of its strength in the family-oriented Hispanic segments versus retirement or post-family communities such as Palm Beach. And she said the in-state market has grown since 9/11.
Other destinations are starting to refocus on the in-state, drive-to market. Jacksonville, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale all have signed up for new TV ads featuring their respective mayors and the theme: "We're closer than you think."
That campaign which began running on TV stations across the state this month, was co-developed by Visit Florida and the Florida League of Cities - an advocacy group for municipalities. The campaign was partially funded by the Florida Legislature's $20 million infusion to the tourism industry following 9/11 and designed specifically to raise in-state getaway travel.
His organization, said Peter Cranis, vice president of consumer marketing with the Orlando Convention & Visitors Bureau, has drastically rerouted its $6 million consumer-advertising budget since the 9/11 attacks, increasing domestic and in-state marketing dollars by as much as 50%. And that includes Miami-Dade, where a recent campaign generated 10% more people to travel to Orlando from that region, he said.
"The message we're putting out there is that a two- or three-night getaway is a great way to spend time with family in your own state."