“A big thing that we’re pushing is to go beyond what you know [about Florida],” said Brianna Barnebee, senior public relations account executive for Visit Florida. “We want people to go to Orlando, to the theme parks, and to the places they love. But we also want them to step outside their comfort zone.”
Visit Florida held their seventh annual travel trade show last week (Jan. 8-10) in Daytona Beach, FL. The central message for this year’s show was to encourage agents and international visitors to “go beyond” the major destinations and attractions that tourists return to each year.
The event, known as the Florida Huddle, connects more than 450 suppliers from across the Sunshine State, attracting more than 180 buyers and wholesalers and 28 representatives from domestic and international media outlets in attendance this year.
Attendees had an opportunity to make appointments with suppliers (more than 200 meetings took place in just a couple of days), giving local businesses a chance to promote their products.
“Truly there’s something for everyone,” said Dana Young, Visit Florida’s newly-appointed president and CEO. “You can do a lot for a little, or you can go all out and spend as much as you like.”
Young stressed that visiting Florida doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank. “People can come and have a very affordable vacation here and still have a wonderful time.”
In keeping with their vision, Young said that Visit Florida will work towards “promoting a more authentic experience.” This includes showcasing many of the local counties and smaller cities to emphasize Florida’s diversity between the coasts.
Young, who served in the Florida Senate from 2016 to 2018, intends to use her background as an environmental lawyer to highlight the natural environment as a major draw to the state.
This involves promoting the rise of ecotourism and attractions such as natural springs and the Everglades, beyond major destination hubs.
“There’s so much to see and I think Visit Florida can do a better job of showing the great diversity that we have in the state,” said Young.
Record-breaking tourism numbers
Florida set a new record for hosting 95.8 million total visitors between January and September 2018, marking the highest rate of visitors in any nine-month period for the state.
More than 3.4 million Canadians visited Florida in 2017 with approximately 118.8 million international and domestic visitors overall for the year. Reports from 2018 are scheduled to be released in the coming months and are expected to grow.
The state alone accounts for 17.7 per cent of Canadian tourism to the U.S. with 40 per cent of visitors making their way to Florida in the first quarter. Numbers from 2017 show a Canadian market increase of 3.4 per cent from the previous year. Of this number, 56 per cent of Canadians are Ontarians who make for Florida’s top-priority market.
Where 52 per cent of Canadian visitors are ages 55 and over, hotel and resort suppliers have noted a rise in millennial families between the past two to five years.
“Families used to flock to the theme parks but are now moving towards a more relaxed vacation,” said Jeff Abbaticchio, director of marketing for Sirata Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach, a city set on a barrier island, west of St. Petersburg.
“The beach is a major draw for young families who just want to kick back and enjoy the local vibes.” Abbatichhio noted that his resort offers agents a 10 per cent booking commission.
Daytona Beach development on the rise
With the arrival of Sunwing’s non-stop service between Toronto and Daytona Beach, Canadians can expect to fly direct and relax for longer. Flights are scheduled to operate twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays beginning Jan. 28th.
“Ontario is one of our prime markets for Canadians, so now it is even easier for our Canadian visitors to get here,” said Tonya West, communications coordinator for Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (DBACVB).
The city has undergone a major redevelopment initiative as new hotels and residences are being built along the coast.
Two oceanfront hotels – the Hard Rock Daytona Beach and Delta Hotels by Marriott Daytona Beach Oceanfront – opened their doors in 2018 while the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort and the Shores Resort & Spa both completed major renovations.
A new Marriott Renaissance is also being planned north of the Ocean Center convention center.
“Daytona Beach is a rising destination. There is so much going on here”, says Kate Holcomb, APR for DBACVB. “We now have easy access, affordability, and great mild winter weather. When it’s harsh and cold, it’s a great time to play golf.”
In 2016 the Daytona International Speedway underwent a $400 million dollar upgrade. A new dining and entertainment complex called the ONE Daytona has also opened across from the speedway.
“We are a great base camp,” said Holcomb. “If people think they have done Florida because they have been to Orlando and have done the theme parks, come back and relax. Put your toes in the sand and swim on the beach.”
Travelling off-the-beaten bath
Supplier impressions about this year’s Huddle came with positive reviews.
“This is one of the best huddles that I’ve been to,” said JoNell Modys, PR and communications manager for Florida’s Paradise Coast. “Many of the appointments that I’ve had with journalists have shown a lot of interest in covering the south west coast of Florida, which is great because we are sometimes overshadowed by Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Orlando.”
The Huddle gave Florida’s smaller destinations a chance to shine.
“Florida Huddle is really indispensable for us as a destination within Florida,” said Miles Saunders, media and content manager of Discover Crystal River Florida. “Visit Florida is a really valued partner, especially for a smaller destination like ours.”
“We are not Tampa or Orlando or Miami. We are Crystal River, a smaller county that has a great product – Manatee Capital of the world. But you have to get the word out, and Visit Florida helps us to do just that.”
The 2020 Florida Huddle will be taking place in Jacksonville, FL from Jan. 28th-30th, 2020.