Despite taking a direct blow from Hurricane Irma that caused damage to much of the state, tourism industry officials still believe 2017 will be another record year for Florida tourism.
Through the first six months of this year, the state welcomed 60.7 million tourists and was on pace to break the 120 million visitor mark for the year. Florida had just come off a record-setting year in 2016 with nearly 113 million tourists coming to the Sunshine State.
Confidence was running high.
The industry had weathered a different type of storm in the first half of the year–a political storm–that threatened to drastically cut funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency.
A compromise between Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders averted a potential funding disaster for the industry.
Then came Irma.
The storm made landfall twice in Florida on Sept. 10, devastating the Florida Keys before plowing into the state’s southwest coast near Naples.
Irma wiped out power to 6.7 million electric customers, many of them in South and Central Florida. Just about all of them have since had power restored. As of Thursday morning there were still 36,000 homes and businesses without power with most of them in Collier, Lee and Monroe counties.
“While Hurricane Irma had significant impacts on certain areas of our state, we are a strong, resilient industry and we are working everyday to get the message out that the Sunshine State is open for business,” said Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for Visit Florida.
Officials in the Keys say it will take time for that area to fully recover. Tourism-related businesses in southwest Florida have struggled to reopen their doors.
“Most of our partners outside of the Keys have indicated they are fully or close to fully functional at this point, which is great news,” said Lawson. “We are continuing to work with those who aren’t, particularly in the Keys, to make sure they have every resource they need to recover and rebuild.”
Visit Florida is also working to get the message out that most of Florida is open and ready for business.
Earlier this week, Gov. Scott directed Visit Florida to begin aggressively marketing Florida in the aftermath of Irma.
“While our top focus remains on the recovery of Florida families, especially those in the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida, we cannot forget about the many communities which rely on Florida’s incredible tourism industry and millions of visitors,” said Scott. “With more than 1.4 million Floridians working in the tourism industry, we must aggressively fight to bring visitors back to our communities.”
The Governor’s Office says the marketing campaign will be “multi-phased and include digital, social, broadcast and traditional components in both domestic and international markets.”
The first phase of the plan will involve an immediate response that will employ real time messages that Florida is open for business. It will rely on social media to promote the state, stream live video from various locations, and deploy production teams to develop videos that will be posted on websites such as YouTube and Digital TV.
Phase two of the plan will concentrate on more traditional advertising strategies to keep Florida on the minds of potential visitors as a top global destination.
Funding for the campaign will come from existing Visit Florida revenue sources.
More than a week after Irma paid her own destructive visit to Florida, tourism officials say don’t know how Irma has affected the industry.
“While we don’t have specific estimates or data at this point, as the number one industry in our state, we are continuing to monitor those things moving forward,” Lawson said.
But, he says one thing is clear about Florida tourism.
“The coast is clear, the sun is bright, and we are open for business.”