Florida set to pass 100 million visitor mark in 2015
After four record-setting years, Florida tourism is poised for yet another. “We’re at the top of the game,” Visit Florida president and CEO Will Seccombe told several hundred business leaders Wednesday at the monthly meeting of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. “The foundation of the Florida economy is strong and we’ve got a tremendous amount of momentum.” Seccombe drew a link between bigger budgets for destination marketing and more people coming to Florida, showing how numbers increased from 81 million visitors in 2009-10, when the budget was $28.4 million, to 98.9 million in 2014-15 with a $74 million budget. “We’ll certainly be in a position to surpass 100 million visitors in the state of Florida this year,” he said during a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce trustee luncheon at Jungle Island.
The state’s official tourism industry marketing corporation is working to “establish Florida as the Number One travel destination in the world,” Seccombe said. He highlighted several efforts, including a campaign aimed at dog lovers using the hashtag #DogsLoveFL. Other marketing efforts target travelers without school-age kids during the still-warm fall season. Yet another highlights Historic Overtown.
In response to a question from the audience, Seccombe said Visit Florida and several partners are “putting together a significant initiative” to drive more business from China, which sent 276,000 visitors last year. “We think there’s huge opportunity there and also extraordinary opportunity in India,” he said. About 50,000 visitors came from India last year, Seccombe said. Florida’s cruise industry shared the spotlight at Wednesday’s meeting, though with a new take on the typical beach-and-buffett trip. Fathom, the newest brand from Doral-based Carnival Corp., launches in April as a company that takes so-called voluntourism to the seas.
Tara Russell, the brand’s president, asked how many attendees had ever written a philanthropic check or donated their time as a volunteer. Many raised their hands. “So that’s telling me that pretty much all of you want to go on a Fathom trip with us,” she said. Russell described the line as fostering “impact travel” to the Dominican Republic and Cuba starting next spring. Carnival announced the brand in June, unveiling plans to sail a 710-passenger ship from Miami to the new port of Amber Cove on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Passengers will be able to participate in educational programs, environmental efforts and economic development initiatives as well as traditional excursions. While hiking and shopping will be options, travelers can also take part in English language classes, reforestation or help with chocolate production. “Fathom is not a typical cruise,” Russell said. “We believe there are travelers who are not cruising today who are looking for a different kind of experience.”
The company announced in July that it had received approval from the U.S. government to operate cruises from Miami to Cuba under authorized forms of travel such as cultural or humanitarian exchanges. Russell said the seven-day sailings to Cuba will include stops at three different ports; itineraries and a full program will be released soon, she said. “You can get your trips today,” she told the group. “We are busy selling trips already.”
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