April 19, 2018


Trial by Oil

Marketing Florida to visitors in messy times

Mike Vogel | 9/1/2010
These are busy times for Chris Thompson, CEO of state tourism marketer Visit Florida. In the year since he's taken over, he's helped shape the new national tourism marketing organization created by Congress and has had to respond to the oil spill.

Chris Thompson
Chris Thompson
Visit Florida

President / CEO / Tallahassee

Accolades: Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International last year included Thompson in its "Top Twenty Five Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales & Marketing."

For fun: Golfing, the beach, travel

A Pennsylvania native who grew up in Atlanta, Thompson came to Florida to attend the University of Florida, met a local girl — they've been married for 28 years — and has been in tourism marketing here for 27 years. He became CEO in May 2009 at Visit Florida, which has a nearly $70-million annual budget, $26.7 million of which comes from the state.

In response to the oil spill, Visit Florida posts the latest tarball sightings on its website and created a "Florida Live" section with videos, webcams, Twitter feeds and photo uplinks of the state's beaches. It aims to provide an accurate idea of where the oil is and isn't. "In the best of times, we're a trusted source for travel planning. In the most challenging times, we need to be that trusted source," Thompson says. Visit Florida has spent $12 million of the $25 million BP turned over to the state for tourism marketing. Thompson also serves on a governor's task force on the spill.

Thompson, 53, bid to be appointed one of the founding board members of the Corporation for Travel Promotion, the nation's first tourism and travel direct marketing organization. He served on a task force that played a major role in shaping the corporation's creation. Patterned in part on Visit Florida, it expects to raise $100 million from a visitors fee to be matched with $100 million from private sector investment in promoting the nation to international visitors.

"It's been a whirlwind. It's hard to believe it's been a year already."

Kim Long
Kim Long
Fantasy of Flight
General manager / Polk City

Kim Long plays a key role in the Florida Attractions Association, taking over as chair of the organization next May. Formerly in special events at Universal, she has been noted for bringing new business to Polk County, particularly by creating Fantasy of Flight's Roar n' Soar festival.

[Photo: Jon Anderson]

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