Take the Road to Recovery in the Florida Keys

There’s something magical about the Florida Keys and Key West, an undisputed haven of laid-back charm where stress falls away like fall leaves and the soothing blue waters surrounding the string of tiny islands bathes away the cares and worries of life.

And considering the state of today’s economy, this is a destination that’s tailor-made for a getaway from reality and the perfect prescription for burnt-out clients, frazzled by the constant assault of bad news. “We’re calling the Overseas Highway the ‘Road to Recovery,’” says Stacey Mitchell, director of sales for the Florida Keys and Key West tourism entity, “because you get in the car, put the top down, put on some really nice music and you automatically begin to exhale and leave your everyday stresses behind. You can’t put a price tag on that.”

And to make it even more stress-free, and, more importantly, to help you sell your clients on the idea of a stress-free getaway, the tourism group and a variety of resorts, restaurants and attractions throughout the Keys have put together a ValuCation program offering value-added benefits that include extra nights, free breakfast, discounts at attractions and a lot more.

“This value-added program actually started last summer. It was added in response to the gas crisis. We saw gas prices nearing four dollars a gallon, we saw consumer credit cards getting maxed out and then there was the slowdown in the economy—so we thought that by creating a value-added program it would take some of the stress off families that deserved a family summer vacation and we wanted to make it easier on them so they could enjoy it. It went over very well,” says Mitchell.

“Then of course come Oct. 1 and the domestic economic meltdown and we said, ‘Uh, oh we’d better do something to ensure our winter season.’ At least in the summer, the majority of our visitors drive down. So even though gas prices were high, it was still less expensive than it would be if they booked airline tickets,” Mitchell explains. “Well, we know that airline prices did not go down, even with the economic slowdown. They cut capacity to keep their prices high and with higher hotel rates—because it is our winter season—we went ahead and instituted the program for our winter season and henceforth we came up with the term ‘valucation.’”

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Mitchell says the general consensus now among the hoteliers in the Keys is to present tangible or perceived value to their customers, but at the same time, avoid lowering the rate to a point where you compromise the stature of your hotel. “In other words, if you have a four- or five-star hotel and you’re going to cut the rate just to get people in the door,” Mitchell points out, you’re going to wind up with a guest who can’t afford to dine in the restaurant, or even afford that piña colada at the pool bar. “You’re putting a head in the bed but the guest isn’t enjoying the resort nor are they enjoying the destination because they can’t afford to do anything,” she adds. “The whole purpose of the ValuCation and the Lodging Association philosophy is to provide them with value—whether it be breakfast for two that’s included in the rate, sunset cocktails and an appetizer, or waive resort or parking fees. Whatever it may be, you’re giving them something in exchange.”

And that, she says, is something that’s extremely important in this economic environment, a reality that’s affecting everyone. “People are scared. They’re scared and they would like more now than ever to escape, just to get away and just close off their mind if only for a few days. And in doing so, I think the Keys are well-suited because for one, you don’t have to go offshore, you can still stay stateside and get that feeling that it’s okay because you’re not going that far. Great weather and outdoor activities—getting back to nature and re-prioritizing that which matters the most. Being with your wife and family—whatever your personal situation is—being with those you love, spending time outdoors and not concentrating on electronic gadgets. There’s a perceived value with that.”