VISIT FLORIDA’s leader didn’t let the pandemic stop its marketing program. Shortly after INBOUND sat down last month to interview Dana Young, president and CEO of VISIT FLORIDA, to get an update on the condition of the state’s tourism industry during the recent IPW trade show in Orlando, the occasion seemed more like a legal deposition than a casual interview. Anticipating just about any possible query, Young, an exceptionally able attorney, was prepared well in advance to make key points. And she did.
Equipped or, one might suggest, armed with sheaths of data, tables and the presentation points to make that she had in front of her, Young was able to refer to the right material at just the right inflection points in order to highlight and/or emphasize a point. Although INBOUND had heard her speak at an industry function several years beforehand, we didn’t really know that much about the former state senator, lawyer and lifelong Floridian.
Twenty minutes with Young, followed by a review of answers to some follow-up questions, were illuminating. The reams of data and lists of numbers were—and still are—impressive. She cited the kind of numbers that one doesn’t forget throughout our discussion.
But what seemed to INBOUND to matter the most were the emphases she made with those points that counted the most for the woman who heads an organization where both domestic and international visitors to Florida are equally important. Some of them follow.
● “We Didn’t Stop” is what Young told INBOUND most emphatically. After the COVID-19 virus flattened the global tourism industry in the spring of 2020, she still had a budget For FY 2020-21 to deploy and “a marketing team that is second to none” to help her. Young said that VISIT FLORIDA “re-started” its marketing efforts in August of that—well before other DMOs did.
● Work the Domestic Market, which has gotten larger. Traditionally, the domestic market—or drive market—especially the group travel market sector, translates into those travelers or group travel segments within 300 miles of a destination. (While not a hard-and-fast rule, it is a measure that is likely to be around for a while, as 300 miles is roughly the range of a charge for electric automobiles, which are becoming increasingly popular.) Survey data were also telling VISIT FLORIDA that COVID-19 was increasing the range of the Domestic Market to measure up to 700 miles, as motorists seemed to want to put distance between themselves and other, well-traveled and well-known destinations. A longer day trip puts Florida within day trip range from much of the Southeast and Midwest U.S.
● Keeping Florida Top-of-Mind of Buyers Matters. Although the international travel trade show circuit basically shut down for a year-and-half (from April 2020 to October, when the U.S. government announced that it was lifting its ban on EU countries and some other nations), Young and her marketing team managed to make in-country visits to all of its top markets. And even though Europe and Asia’s top markets were essentially closed, Florida was able to take advantage of its proximity to, and long-standing relationship with, South and Central American markets which, for the most part, had less restrictive border measures in place (the data below seem to confirm this notion).
● Keeping It Live and In-Person: While other DMOs in the United States stayed home, VISIT FLORIDA resumed international staff travel in June 2021, traveling to Mexico, Colombia, Canada, Brazil, the UK, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru and Germany—and making a statement to most of its key international markets.
What their numbers tell us—Florida kept its marketing stayed strong: Young shared more data sets than one could possibly imagine in emphasizing its point about working its key markets, a global pandemic notwithstanding. A sampler* follows.
Key Market Stats*
- 2021 Domestic Visitation: 117.4 million (+55.7 percent from 2020 and 0.2 percent from 2019)
- 2022 Q1 Visitation: 34.1 million (up 35.1 percent from 2020 and up 7.2 percent from 2019)
- Market Share: Florida captured the largest share (13.6 percent) of domestic overnight vacation travelers of all the U.S. States in 2021
Florida, VISIT FLORIDA’s Young points out, has shown consistent growth in a wide variety of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), including
- —Hotel demand: exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time in Q1 2022.
- —Rooms sold: grew by 31.4 percent in Q1 2022
- —Average daily rate (ADR): up over 38 percent from Q1 2021
- —Occupancy rate: increased by nearly 24 percent in Q1 2022
- —Over 39 percent of visitors traveled to Florida by plane in Q1 2022, marking the highest share for air travel since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
- —Total enplanements in Florida were up over 70 percent in Q1 2022
Data for 2022 Q1
- A month ago, VISIT FLORIDA released its Q1 visitation estimates that show Florida welcomed 36 million total visitors between January and March 2022.
- This marks a 14 percent increase from Q4 2021, and the third consecutive quarter that overall visitation has surpassed 2019, pre-pandemic levels.
- Over 34 million of these visitors were domestic, which capped off twelve solid months of domestic visitation growth from 2019.
- VISIT FLORIDA is also seeing substantial progress on the international side, with 1.3 million overseas travelers visiting Florida in the first three months of the year.
- This marks an increase of over 169 percent from Q1 2021, and puts Florida’s quarterly overseas visitation 14 percentage points closer to full recovery than the rest of the United States.
- In addition, 578,000 Canadian travelers visited our state in Q1, representing a 955 increase from the same period last year, and making Canada once again our No. 1 international origin market
Top 10 Overseas Countries—Q1 of 2022
* The information was sourced from the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office, Global Agency Pro. and VISIT FLORIDA.
● Finally: Does Dana Young have any specific target goals regarding the number of tourists—both international and domestic—she would like to see visit Florida this year (and in 2023 and 2024) as it works to reach and exceed 2019 levels? “Though VISIT FLORIDA doesn’t make projections,” Young told us, “We are committed to building upon 2021’s record-breaking visitation growth and taking Florida’s tourism industry to new heights both this year and beyond.”