Data Helps Visit Florida Hone Global Targets

Florida saw travel demand and hotel room rates drop in 2008, just like many other markets amid the sour economy, but tourism officials are expressing confidence that they'll weather the storm and emerge stronger.

To that end, Visit Florida has partnered with Visa in a program called Visa View, through which the state tourism bureau can use impersonal billing data to track spending from international visitors. It can also sort aggregate data by state and zip code.

From its findings so far, Visit Florida has been surprised not so much by the size of its international business but by its diversity. "We get visitation from every country in the UN," said Visit Florida president and CEO Bud Nocera. "That's an eye-opener."

In particular, Visit Florida underestimated the travel volume from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Guatemala, as well as South America. While Visit Florida has frequently promoted abroad, the Visa View data has reinforced the potential for marketing internationally and also helped maximize resources.

For example, in November, Nocera brought along the largest contingent of Florida CVB representatives ever to the China International Travel Mart in Shanghai. "Within the next 15 years, as many as 100 million Chinese will be traveling globally, the largest single [market] source in the world," Nocera said, adding that Chinese travelers spend more per visitor ($6,000) than any other demographic. Visit Florida established in October an office in Shanghai.

In December, Visit Florida accompanied some CVBs to the European Incentive, Business Travel, and Meetings Exhibition (EIBTM) in Barcelona (see page 6). It was the first time in several years that Visit Florida participated in the show. At EIBTM, "we got a good response," said Steven Bonda, Visit Florida's meetings and convention sales manager.

The organization is also taking the long-term approach with the economy. "More and more visitors bring more and more visitors," Nocera said. "People have a great time, and they go back and tell their friends."

Originally published Jan. 5, 2009