VISIT FLORIDA funding already appears to be one of biggest impending battles of the 2020 Legislative Session. But leaders for the state’s de facto tourism bureau had plenty to boast about this year.
“As we near the end of 2019, it’s important that we reflect on all of the hard work carried out by the staff at VISIT FLORIDA,” said VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Dana Young.
“We are committed to ensuring that Florida tourism remains strong, so our industry continues to create jobs and raise critical tax revenue that pays for things that are important to Floridians, like transportation, environmental protection and education. Moving forward, we will continue to tell the entire world that Florida is the best place to take a vacation. We appreciate Governor [Ron] DeSantis for his leadership and support of our organization and the entire Florida tourism industry.”
So what were 2019’s highlights?
Young came on in January with the support of DeSantis and the entire organization board. The same month, the organization got sites added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail and hosted a successful Florida Huddle.
The agency in February distributed some $858,000 to help the Panhandle recover from Hurricane Michael, and also shared 2018 numbers showing a record 127 million visitors. Another $229,000 in fresh grants went to Michael-struck regions in March and the organization found success with a Families campaign stressing diversity in the state. Meanwhile, it was clear by March 2019 would also be a successful year. The first quarter of 2019 in the end drew a record 35.7 million visitors to the state. The first six months of the year attracted 69.7 million.
Come the second quarter, VISIT FLORIDA built its list of Targeted Marketing Assistance Program participants by 152 businesses. A new campaign led to a 27% spike in “Adventure” travelers in May. Young accompanied DeSantis on a historic trade mission to Israel and struck an accord there. By July, DeSantis announced nonstop, seasonal travel between Orlando and Tel Aviv.
The agency also served as an ambassador to business in the state and beyond. Officials went to IPW in June and held 175 meetings with top international and domestic tour operators, wholesalers, and trade and consumer media. And Young in August traveled Florida meeting with destination and marketing organizations and more than 500 business leaders relying on tourism’s continued success.
VISIT FLORIDA also kept residents and travelers appraised of conditions as Hurricane Dorian threatened the state. The agency fed live video of major destinations over the internet, both to show people conditions impacted by the storm and destinations that remained running and safe.
The agency in September launched a Hispanic culture section on its website, helping build up international domestic travel. Similarly, DeSantis in November announced a new campaign reaching out to military families.
The state in November held the Florida Tourism Forum to gather more input from industry leaders. Meanwhile, the Florida Encounter trade show organized by the agency saw a 34% increase in confirmed appointments.