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A spark of innovation gets big results

Tampa-based SPARK helped turn around an alarming tourism trend.

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CLIENT: Visit Florida

TASK: Visit Florida is a mainstay among SPARK’s clientele — which is largely made up of companies and organizations in the travel, hospitality and health care industries.

Mark Wemple. SPARK executives Elliott Bedinghaus, left, and Dulani Porter at their headquarters in Tampa.
Mark Wemple. SPARK executives Elliott Bedinghaus, left, and Dulani Porter at their headquarters in Tampa.

But Visit Florida's latest ask was a big one: Reverse 15 consecutive quarters of declining tourism from Canada.

The Great White North has long been a vital source of tourism revenue for Sunshine State businesses, but recent years had seen “Florida fatigue” set in among Canadian travelers, says Elliott Bedinghaus, vice president of creative at SPARK. “The Canadian market has changed dramatically,” he adds. “It’s transformed, as a country, into one that’s younger and far more multicultural, so there are different expectations for travel — but the Florida narrative hadn’t changed.”

Visit Florida felt the campaign needed to emphasize experiential travel and hidden gems — as opposed to the usual suspects, like beaches and sunbathing. So Bedinghaus and his colleague Dulani Porter, SPARK’s executive vice president, got buy-in from officials with convention and visitor bureaus in Ocala, Pensacola, the Treasure Coast and Fort Myers, who agreed to team up for a campaign dubbed “Moments of Sunshine." It included digital billboards and interactive displays at key hubs in downtown Toronto, such as Yonge-Dundas Square and Union Station, both of which are swarmed with pedestrian and vehicle traffic at all times of day.

HIGHLIGHTS: The campaign hit potential tourists in their pocketbooks — but in a good way — with a currency parity program dubbed “Power Play” (get it, hockey fans?) designed to even out the exchange rate between the U.S. and Canadian dollars. “For a destination to do that with an entire country is a pretty special and unique thing,” says Porter.

As part of the program, participating Florida businesses agreed to slash prices by up to 20% for visitors coming from Canada. Another highlight was the opportunity for each CVB to pitch its unique experiences to Canadians. Ocala officials, for example, set up a display emphasizing the joys of kayaking and fishing in its springs and other scenic inland waterways.

OUTCOME: According to Visit Florida statistics, Canadian visitation to Florida increased 4%, rising from 3.35 million in 2016 to 3.48 million in 2017. Additionally, from January to November 2017, Canadian air travel to Florida rose by 5.9%, and ground transportation also increased, at a rate of 1.3%. Not bad, eh?



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