The Governor’s Conference is back.
After last year’s scaled-down program—a condensed, 24-hour affair—the annual gathering returned to its customary three-day format and a full complement of seminars and guest speakers, including Terry Jones, founder of Travelocity.com; Lynne Lancaster, "generational expert" and co-author of When Generations Collide; and Alan Moss, Google’s director of online sales and operations for the Americas.
A longer conference wasn’t the only positive signal of economic recovery in Florida, though.
The state welcomed 80 million visitors in 2009, resulting in $60 billion in sales tax revenue and a million jobs, according to Chris Thompson, president and CEO of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation and coordinators of the annual conference.
"One-fifth of our total economy is tourism," Thompson stressed to an audience of 800 in the International Ballroom at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate.
To that end, the conference theme of "Florida360-Get Connected" was chosen to underscore the importance of tourism industry partners working together, sharing resources and speaking with a united voice.
Unity again became a pressing issue in 2010 following April’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and though the spill’s impact in Florida was primarily confined to the beaches of the northwest region—and then only about 33 miles in—the entire state felt the repercussions of a traveling public who were either too geographically challenged to know the difference between Pensacola and Daytona or who simply were misinformed about the oil spill’s extent.
"Our challenge was oil on millions of TV screens every night," Thompson said. "We knew that marketing alone wouldn’t be enough."
Operating on the old adage that one picture is worth a thousand words, Visit Florida launched the Florida Live microsite (VisitFlorida.com/FloridaLive), which utilized live webcams and real-time information from coastal areas to demonstrate that the beaches were clean and the fish were biting. And as a result, travelers bit the tourism lure.
"Visitors who went to Florida Live were 31 percent more likely to visit Florida this summer," said Will Seccombe, Visit Florida’s chief marketing officer.
However, even though the state has experienced "four consecutive quarters of increased year-over-year business," according to Seccombe. "We still have to clean up our image.
"People thought oil was on all the beaches all over the state, and that seed of doubt jeopardizes our momentum," he continued. "There is a connection between those perceptions and loss of tourism dollars. We have to take matters into our own hands."