Florida’s Basking in its Award

It’s no surprise that destinations around the world worked extra hard to entice visitorship this year, and Florida was no exception, with hotels around the state cutting nightly rates to record lows.

Will Seccombe, chief marketing officer at VISIT FLORIDA, is still optimistic, though. “The good news is, despite the very challenging economy, people are continuing to travel.” In fact, Florida continued to be a very attractive destination in 2009, welcoming nearly 22 million travelers in the first three months of the year. Indeed, Florida was definitely on the travel agent radar, garnering this year’s Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Award for Best Selling Destination in the U.S.A./Canada.

That’s not to say Florida didn’t encounter its own challenges this year. The state showed a 10 percent decrease in visitors during the first quarter of 2009, but, according to VISIT FLORIDA, the number of Floridians who traveled within the state increased by 11 percent to over 4.5 million trips in the first quarter.

“As Florida’s official travel marketing corporation, it is our job to anticipate and respond quickly with sales and marketing programs that speak to the value of Florida as a destination,” says Seccomb.

That said, in May of this year, VISIT FLORIDA launched two extensive marketing campaigns, promoting travel to the state. The 12-week “Share a Little Sunshine” campaign allowed Floridians to send one of three free video invitations and e-mail it to friends and family, inviting them to Florida. Those who sent invitations were entered in the Sunshare Sweepstakes to win one of 12 Florida getaways.

“‘Share a Little Sunshine’ is a very unique marketing campaign,” says Seccombe. “It taps into a huge resource using the most powerful tool in the tourism market—a personal invitation.”

Meanwhile, the state also launched a multi-year, multi-city consumer awareness campaign called “Viva Florida!”, designed to educate audiences and promote cultural and heritage travel throughout the state. The campaign’s website, vivaflorida.org, includes information on Florida’s history, cultural attractions and a calendar of upcoming events.

Travel agents can also find an array of resources to plan their client’s next visit to Florida at visitflorida.com, including group itineraries, e-brochures and pre- and post-cruise information. Agents can even sign up to become a Florida Specialist and earn continuing educations units with The Travel Institute.

And when you send your clients to Florida, you’ll have plenty of new and updated properties to book them into, including a few by Marriott International, Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Award winner for Best Resort/Hotel Chain in the U.S.A/Canada.

“Florida and Marriott both offer a plethora of experiences with various hotel options and locations to satisfy any traveler’s dream vacation,” says Britton Cordill, director of marketing and e-commerce for Marriott in South Florida. “From white sand beaches, championship golf, world-class spas to various theme parks there is something for everyone in Florida and Marriott Hotels & Resorts make sure each guests’ experience is unforgettable.”

In fact, the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Miami will be opening in summer 2010. “Located in the heart of Miami, this 313-room hotel boasts striking views of the city skyline and Biscayne Bay,” says Cordill. “Dining, shopping, art and entertainment venues are all within walking distance.”

Meanwhile, clients visiting Ft. Lauderdale in early 2010 can experience Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa’s new the Sea Level Restaurant and Ocean Bar—a 160-seat oceanfront venue set to open in February 2010. The introduction on Sea Level, your clients will be happy to know, will be the final phase of a $50 million property-wide makeover that also included the renovation of guestrooms and suites, a redesigned oceanfront terrace, an expansion of The Spa at Harbor Beach and the addition of the Harbor Beach Surf Club—a freestanding kids’ clubhouse.

Over on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort recently completed a $200 million renovation, “creating,” says Cordill, “a unique island paradise on stretches of private white sand beaches within the U.S. Here, guests can experience an outstanding island escape and enjoy luxurious Marriott amenities and services without the use of their passport or a long flight.”

getting there And judging from the Readers’ Choice Awards winner for Best Airline for Leisure, many of our readers will be booking their Florida-bound clients on Southwest Airlines, which currently offers 250 daily roundtrip flights in and out of its Florida airports.

“The breadth of service Southwest Airlines offers travelers vacationing in Florida is what makes it the ideal choice,” says Ashley Rogers, Southwest Airlines’ spokesperson. “Southwest serves six airports in Florida with a seventh—Panama City-Bay County International Airport—coming in May 2010.”