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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 3 years ago

What if?

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The statewide boom in tourism, a jobs machine for the region, has to end sometime, right?
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

The Florida tourism industry has been on a five-year growth surge in visitors, the amount of money people spend when they come to the state and several other metrics.

But what about the flip side? What are some threats that can derail the growth pattern? What worries tourism officials for 2017?

The Business Observer checked with five county tourism officials from Polk County to Collier County, and points in between, to get a closer look at what worries stand out this year. One theme: Local tourism leaders want state officials to increase, or at least maintain, the overall marketing budget. A cut in the budget, say officials, would be a disaster.

Santiago Corrada
President and CEO |
Visit Tampa Bay/Hillsborough County

“There are always risks out there,” Corrada says in an interview. “First and foremost is the political climate.”

Corrada says that climate particularly includes the state's budget for tourism marketing. That's been a big priority for Gov. Rick Scott for several years, but Corrada says things can change quickly in politics, which is why he's constantly on high alert. “Colorado, for example, decided not to spend money on tourism marketing a few years ago,” Corrada says, “and they paid the price on that when the tourism numbers fell.”

Other worries for Corrada include a Florida staple — the weather, particularly how Florida fares in the 2017 hurricane season. Something else he thinks about is inventory of hotel rooms, in wanting enough rooms, but not an over supply.

Elliott Falcione
Executive director |
Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau/Manatee County

He projects tourism will grow again in 2017, “but not quite at the level” in the past few years.

“There will always be potential threats that could affect tourism growth,” Falcione says in an email. “Hurricanes, green algae and the Zika virus are just a few examples of potential threats we (saw in 2016) alone. One of the bigger concerns I have with continued success is that I have seen some complacency set in within our industry. If industry complacency continues, we will no doubt struggle during adverse circumstances, while our competitors who are staying engaged in the market will beat us at our own game.”

Falcione's solution to complacency is to “keep creating brand awareness in the market so when a natural disaster or an adverse situation occurs, we will have strong market share.”

Virginia Haley
President |
Visit Sarasota/Sarasota

Haley looks inward for challenges and threats in 2017.

“Sarasota County is facing a unique situation in this region with 700 hotels rooms opening, mostly in the concentrated area of Downtown Sarasota, in a relatively short period of time,” says Haley in an email. “Visit Sarasota County staff has been planning for this expansion for a while and has a strategy in place of increased sales and marketing activities to attract more groups to ensure the successful integration of these new hotels into our lodging inventory.”

Mark Jackson
Director |
Visit Central Florida/Polk County

Jackson is pragmatic about the tourism boom, saying an “adverse impact on Florida's No. 1 industry, tourism, can and will eventually hit home. All businesses experience peaks and troughs.”

On a macro level, Jackson's “what if” list is long. It includes political or economic unrest in Polk's primary foreign markets, which are mostly the U.K., Western Europe, Brazil and Canada. Other factors: employment levels, GDP, inflation and the strength of the U.S. dollar.

And Jackson, like some other tourism officials, says Florida's tourism surge took a major effort — and he worries about what can go wrong if that effort wanes.

“Without professional sales and marketing resources and efforts supporting the attractors, growth will quickly go in the opposite direction,” Jackson says in an email. “There is a great deal of concern about the state's official tourism marketing arm, Visit Florida, which has recently lost its CEO, COO and CMO. There's also concern that some state legislators may try to reduce funding or even eliminate the organization. If successful, this would effectively cripple Florida's No. 1 economic engine and cost the state thousands of jobs. The competition for visitors and tourism dollars is hypercompetitive and driven by experienced and well-funded sales and marketing machines like Las Vegas, California, New York, just to name a few.”

Jack Wert
Executive director |
Naples, Marco Island, Everyglades Convention & Visitors Bureau

From a global standpoint, Wert says a big concern is currency rates and the impact that has on people's travel plans. “That's something we will watch closely,” he says in an interview. “Exchange rates will probably be something of an issue this year.”

Wert adds that the currency issue is even more pronounced in Naples because of its reliance on European visitors. “We compete with the world,” he says. “If people in Europe are considering us versus the Mediterranean coast of Spain, they may chose to not travel as far.”

Wert, closer to home, worries Florida officials could get complacent with success. His approach to that anxiety is to be proactive. Wert says he's already met with some newly elected state officials to tout Florida's tourism industry, and he plans to hold more educational meetings and sessions in early 2017. “We always have new legislators to educate,” Wert says. “I worry about that every year.”

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