Coronavirus has cost Florida’s number one industry— tourism— billions since March. Visitors have been slow to return to the Sunshine State, a virus epicenter.
To turn the tide, the state's taxpayer-funded tourism bureau has now stepped up with a large ad campaign already underway.
“Frankly— it’s the most important thing, probably, that we have ever done,” said Visit Florida CEO Dana Young.
Visit Florida regularly tracks tourism metrics and Young said the total losses since March have been staggering. Florida’s revenue, which heavily depends on visitor sales tax dollars, is down about $2 billion. Hotels alone missing out on near $4 billion.
“This pandemic has hit our state after 10 consecutive years of record-breaking tourism,” Young said.
To return to those levels, the CEO is investing in a $10-million, four-phase ad campaign.
Visit Florida is already in phase one, which has focused on positive messaging to buoy spirits and keep the state top of mind.
In the coming weeks, the group will begin its first major attempt at bringing visitors back. Visit Florida will launch ads targeting state residents and those within a 700-mile radius of North Florida.
“All of our data and research shows us that during this pandemic and after— in the initial phases— people are going to be more comfortable traveling close to home,” said Young. “People are looking for an opportunity to travel somewhere where they feel safe.”
Safety will be a key message in the campaign, Young said. Albeit a subtle one. Instead of explicitly mentioning virus concerns and protection measures, ads will spotlight outdoor options that reduce COVID-19 transmission risks.
“Here in Florida, fortunately, we have many, many outdoor experiences that are available where people feel safe,” Young said.
Phases three and four will expand ad audiences outward. First, targeting those across the US and Canada. International travelers are to be the last rung.
The timeline for each phase will depend on what the virus does, Young said.
The campaign marks a big moment for Visit Florida, which was at risk of being eliminated in the last two legislative sessions. Lawmakers had been questioning its need and reduced the organization’s funding.
If the bureau wants to stick around, now will be a chance to prove its worth.
"Our mission has never been more important than it is today," said Young. "That is to rebuild our tourism economy and bring people back to Florida to support our budget, our economy, and everything that makes Florida great."