DAVENPORT – It remains to be seen whether a decision by Florida lawmakers to boost funding for the state’s tourism marketing agency will mean increased advertising and publicity for this region’s vacation home industry.
“It normally should,” said An Flamand, the president of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association. “But our industry has really not seen a significant amount of funding to increase awareness of vacation homes. I think it’s important that we have specific promotions and campaigns that bring out the vacation home market, because there are still a lot of people who don’t know about vacation homes.”
On Friday, June 22, Gov. Rick Scott touted the increased funding for VISIT Florida, the state’s official tourism marketing agency, during a bill signing ceremony at the University of Central Florida Rosen College of Hospitality Management. In the past legislative session, lawmakers increased VISIT Florida’s budget by 55 percent, from a current total of $34.9 million to $54 million in the fiscal year starting July 1.
Scott said he supports the funding increase, because tourism remains Florida’s No. 1 industry, generates 23 percent of the state’s sales tax revenue, and employs more than one million Floridians. Last year, 86 million visitors came to Florida, and the agency’s Web site, www.VISITFLORIDA.com, remains the No. 1 trafficked state destination marketing organization website in the nation.
Flamand said the funding hike is encouraging, since VISIT Florida is well aware of the role that vacation homes play in the state’s tourism hospitality market.
“We have a very good relationship with them, and there is definitely a significant improvement in the last few years between the association and the Orange County CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau) and the Kissimmee CVB and VISIT Florida,” she said. “They do promote the vacation home industry. If you pull up their Web site, you see they do have a section on there for the vacation home industry.”
On the other hand, Flamand said, VISIT Florida also promotes the state’s hotel industry, and it’s not clear how much of the funding increase will be allocated toward the promotion of either segment of the hospitality field – or if the bulk of the new money will go to something else, such as promoting the region’s theme parks or beaches.
”I think they do consider the hotel industry to be more important than the vacation home industry in the Central Florida area,” Flamand said of VISIT Florida. “It would be nice to see a little bit more specific marketing done for our industry, because we do need it strongly, and we definitely have a lot of tax revenue that comes from our industry. I actually had some conversations with people in the industry today, and a lot of funding has been going to the big convention centers, even Disney. The funding is not coming directly to the vacation home market, and we’re trying to see if we can get that changed.”
David Leather, the association’s past president, said only Polk County is really working to promote the vacation home industry through its marketing campaigns.
“I don’t think we’re getting the right recognition from VISIT Florida,’’ Leather said. “We possibly get the right recognition from Polk County, but I don’t think we get the right recognition from Osceola County. In my personal opinion, from what I see, we don’t seem to be getting a fair shout. The last discussion I had with someone from the Kissimmee CVB, they didn’t feel justified in splitting it between hotels and vacation homes. They just wanted to promote Kissimmee as a tourist destination, and they didn’t feel it was the right way to go, to promote one sector over another one.’’
With theme park giants like Walt Disney World able to effectively market their theme parks, the state should put a focus on directing tourists to places they can stay at, Leather said – including vacation homes.
“What VISIT Florida should be doing is promoting the hospitality side of it,” he said.
Although traditionally rivals for Central Florida tourism dollars, the vacation home and hotel industries came together last year, when the leading hotel association, the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, welcomed a member of the CFVRMA to sit on its board of directors.
In addition, VISIT Florida’s Web site promotes a list of lodging options for visitors, including hotels, inns, motels, resorts, condos, cabins, bed and breakfast spots – and vacation homes.
“It’s really increased our presence in the international market,” said Will Seccombe, VISIT Florida’s chief marketing manager. “The international marketplace has been very strong in the last couple of months.”
VISIT Florida has also been employing special promotional efforts to bring visitors to the Sunshine State. On May 25, the agency launched a social media-based campaign to increase awareness of Florida as a summer vacation destination, with a new campaign featuring “Florida’s Three-for-Free Giveaway.”
These upcoming sweepstakes allow participants to enter to win a grand prize of three personally selected Florida vacation packages, as well as nine single-vacation prizes. Participants are able to enter the contests daily through June 30 through VISIT Florida’s Facebook page.
Chris Thompson, president and CEO of VISIT Florida, said during the launching that “There truly is something for everyone in Florida, and creating a sweepstakes that allows participants to build their own grand prize is a great way to showcase the diverse destinations we are all so proud to share with our visitors.”
The agency will also host its 45th Annual Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism from Sept. 5-7 at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld. This event is considered to be the premier educational conference for the Florida tourism industry, with information on the latest in marketing strategies and a review of up-to-date industry research data.
The agency, Flamand said, has the ability to increase awareness of the region’s vacation homes.
“I think it does have an impact,” she said. “They do bring awareness to us. They have the funding to bring serious awareness to certain markets, like the Brazilian market that they are now targeting.
“But I think there should be a review of what’s being allocated in this market,” she added, “and what’s reallocated into promoting our market. I would love to see that.”
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