The tourism industry is circling the wagons to protect its image in the wake of the hurricanes.
It's a Category 5, according to Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing corporation.
The industry is still tallying its losses for the hurricane season that ends at the close of this month, but some are already comparing the economic impact to that of Sept. 11, 2001 -- except worse for Florida because this crisis is more localized. That means other destinations that compete for leisure, business and convention travelers could actually capitalize on Florida's bad luck, wooing tourists away by assuring they'll be safe from hurricanes. And the state loses $5.4 billion for every 1% drop in market share.
Visit Florida has tapped into its $2-million emergency advertising fund and is proposing a menu of marketing and research tactics that together would add up to almost $30 million if the state took the unlikely road of choosing them all, says Visit Florida spokesman Tom Flanigan. Part of the plan calls for research. Visit Florida is asking potential visitors from key markets such as suburban Washington, D.C., whether the hurricanes have changed their view of traveling to Florida, and the answers will determine advertising and marketing efforts.
TV and print media reports showing disturbing post-hurricane images might as well have been hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of ads telling people to stay away, Visit Florida leaders said in a report titled "Hurricane Rehabilitation: Protecting Market Share."
Airline executives reported drop-offs in bookings before and after each hurricane. Cruise lines rerouted some trips and canceled others altogether. Tourist destinations sat idle during Labor Day as Hurricane Frances took the zip out of the summer's last hurrah.
"We can't just say this was no big deal. It has been a very big deal," Flanigan says. "It varies by geographic location, by industry segment. How do you judge the impact on a big hotel property that was untouched, unscathed, but the electricity and the phones were out? That's just as intense for their business as if they had been leveled."
Tourism leaders are hoping the slump is temporary and that visitors return as soon as the weather improves. After all, Flanigan says, hurricanes don't last all year.
Jumping the Gun
Visit Florida sprung into action after Hurricane Charley, creating a series of three advertisements to appear in USA Today. The ads, worth $108,631, assured potential visitors that all was well in the Sunshine State and invited them to book their vacations with confidence. The last ad in the series never appeared. Visit Florida pulled it just in time for the arrival of Hurricane Frances.
Key West Spin
Ads for the Florida Keys and Key West took a humorous approach to lure back visitors, assuring them the area was "Back to Abnormal." Executives from Tinsley Advertising in Miami came up with the campaign. CEO Sandy Tinsley helped develop strategies from her car while racing to the Keys to board up her vacation home, says Robin Yearwood, a Tinsley spokeswoman.