April 16, 2014

FLORIDA Perception vs. Reality

Competing Images: How Florida sells itself

Florida State Chamber of Commerce
OLD: A 1946 pitch by the Florida Chamber of Commerce touts the state's beaches and sunny weather.[Illustration: Florida State Chamber of Commerce 1946]

Less Beach, More Biz

Today, images of sand and surf are likely to be found only in appeals to prospective tourists. While a recent pitch from Gov. Rick Scott to businesses in New York touted Florida using a reference to "great weather," most economic development websites and marketing brochures these days assume people know about the climate and highlight a Florida that's high-tech, with good transportation and schools and attractive incentives.

• Tampa's economic development agency cites a 2010 KPMG study that ranks Tampa as the most competitive large city in the nation for business operating costs and notes the Tax Foundation chose Florida as the fifth most business-friendly tax system.

• Orlando's economic development agency calls the region a "tech industry hub," noting there are 2,600 tech companies in the area.

• Miami's Beacon Council calls Miami the "global center for international trade." The state's 11 universities and six major medical schools are touted as working "closely with the business community."

Tampa EDC
NEW: The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.'s website uses high-tech images as part of its economic development pitch. [Photo: Tampa EDC]

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Out: Spring Break — In: Spring Vacation

Nowhere is Florida's evolving self-image more on display than in the phenomenon of spring break. Fort Lauderdale, the original spring break destination, began openly discouraging college student spring crowds in the 1980s and catering to a more mature, upscale clientele. Florida communities like Daytona Beach eagerly picked up the spring break mantle, but many have since backed off, citing the nuisances that come with college-age travelers.

Today, only one Florida city aggressively markets itself to college students. Panama City Beach drew 250,000 students for spring break last year, more than 20 times the size of its year-round population. "Economically, it is what makes Panama City Beach go 'round," says Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau President Dan Rowe.

To be sure, spring tourism remains vital to Florida's economy: Hotel occupancy rates, bed tax collections and tourism-related sales taxes reach their highest point in March, according to local tax records and Visit Florida. But while plenty of college students still come for spring break, the state's beachfront communities have reoriented their spring tourism appeals toward groups like the motorcycle enthusiasts who head to Daytona Beach for Bike Week and families who travel to theme parks in Orlando or to the beaches of Fort Lauderdale and St. Pete Beach.

And even in Panama City Beach, many are having second thoughts. The backlash generated by excessive drinking, raucous parties, broken furniture and even accidental deaths is gradually leading the town to market itself more as a vacation destination for both students and families. "The kids come in March and have a great time, but we are not only a spring break destination," Rowe says.

Tourism
Tourism-related sales taxes still peak in the spring, but communities increasingly market to families rather than students. [Photo: iStockphoto]

Tags: Dining & Travel

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