"Must Be the Sunshine" and "Emeril's Florida" Unveiled at FL Governor's Tourism Conference


will seccombe, eileen forrow
Visit Florida's Will Seccombe, chief marketing officer, and Eileen Forrow, executive vice president of sales and marketing, were out and about at the Florida Governor's Conference on Tourism, last week in Orlando. // All photos by Susan J. Young

The debut of a new Visit Florida (www.visitflorida.org) marketing campaign, the launch of a new Emeril Lagasse Florida-focused television show, a statewide brainstorming effort by Visit Florida partners to get tourists to spend just one more day in the Sunshine State, and plans for the upcoming Viva Florida 500 celebration were among notable happenings at the 45th annual Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism late last week in Orlando.

Chris Thompson, Visit Florida's president and CEO, and Will Seccombe, the organization's chief marketing officer, laid out the Sunshine State's marketing and operational vision to hundreds of conference attendees and partners.

Visit Florida, a public-private partnership, is tasked with promoting the state's tourism attractions and destinations. The stakes are high. Tourism is Florida’s number one economic engine. In 2011, Florida welcomed 87.3 million visitors who spent $67.2 billion.

"We’ve had an extraordinary year in the Florida tourism industry,” Thompson told the audience, noting that the high level of tourism visitation created and sustained more than one million jobs in Florida and generated more than 23 percent of the state’s sales tax revenue.

The conference theme was "Be Brilliant." But what does that mean to tourism partners? It's all about “shining together...shining brighter not only as individuals but as a collective group," said Thompson. "We actually build on our shared purpose. We rethink how we do business.”

Thompson also said it also means shifting the paradigm, taking risks and embracing new technologies.

Must Be the Sunshine

More than 38 percent of all Florida visitors say their decision to come to the state was based, in some way, on exposure to one of Visit Florida’s major marketing programs or tools. Thompson stressed that for every dollar of public investment, $268 is returned in economic value to the state’s economy.

A major change for tourism promotion is under way. Visit Florida is introducing a new advertising/marketing campaign that will replace the three-year-old campaign entitled "Your Florida Side is Calling.” Visit Florida’s newest marketing campaign is themed around the slogan, “Must Be the Sunshine.”

Seccombe described the effort as much more than a new advertising campaign. He said it's a totally new marketing platform that reflects a new way of thinking. The ads will tell entertaining stories and, in an experiential way, show that while Florida has great beaches, restaurants, entertainment, attractions, eco-experiences and so on, it has something more that makes a Florida vacation even better – “Must Be the Sunshine.”

Partners took a sneak peek at one new television ad that depicts the happy aftermath of a Florida vacation – a room overflowing with such eclectic items as a beach sand castle, a Disney princess costume, a stuffed animal manatee and more. That new commercial concept allows Visit Florida to showcase myriad partners, rather than just a few, as visually the room is filled to the brim with souvenirs or elements that show the diversity of Florida’s attractions and activities. For example, for the first time ever, the ad includes elements that represent all three major theme park operators in Orlando – Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando.

The new campaign isn’t just a TV spot, it’s also has an interactive, digital component, Seccombe noted. Potential vacationers can go online, scroll over the items in the “room” with their computer mouse and click to view information about the attraction, city or tourism activity portrayed with an object.

For the coming year, Visit Florida also will continue its "Share a Little Sunshine" promotions, designed to push Floridians to ask their family members and friends to visit the state. That effort also includes promotion to sports fans coming to Florida for major college football games. A special television promotion is targeted at the Nov. 24 game between the Florida Gators and the Florida State Seminoles.

Brand USA Internationally

“If Florida is going to continue to be the number one travel destination in the world, we’re going to have to continue grow international visitation and do so in a highly competitive global marketplace,” Thompson told conference participants.

One out of every five international visitors already visits Florida when traveling in the United States, officials said. Participation in Brand USA (www.thebrandusa.com), the new tourism marketing arm of the United States, will certainly help the state promote itself to international audiences, officials said. They stressed that Florida stepped up earlier this year as a family partner in Brand USA, making a one-million-dollar-plus investment.

That said, "Florida has a huge opportunity but also a real challenge,” noted Seccombe. “How to do we protect and grow Florida’s market share, while at the same time helping Brand USA grow the United States’ [visitation].”

Seccombe said Florida's plan is to become even more aggressive with international promotions. Making the point, he then played a new “Land of Dreams” themed commercial designed to entice internatiional travelers to come to Florida.


Viva Florida 500 booth

Viva Florida 500

Florida hopes to spur visitation with Viva Florida 500 (www.vivaflorida.org), a statewide celebration to mark next year's 500th anniversary of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon's arrival on Florida's east coast near St. Augustine.

Viva Florida 500 will promote all of Florida’s cultural and historical sites. Travel Agent covered much about that promotion in its Florida Huddle conference coverage earlier this year at http://www.travelagentcentral.com/conferences/on-site-ponce-de-leon-beckons-conference-goers-2012s-florida-huddle-33514.

Clearly, there are a lot of changes since Ponce de Leon set foot on Florida’s shores, noted Seccombe, who said his organization has been working with the Florida Department of State over the past two years to coordinate efforts for Viva Florida 550. Viva Florida 500 will be included in all Visit Florida marketing efforts across all channels, including a new promotion designed to give away 500 major prizes to the public.

“Clearly, there are a lot of opportunities,” said Seccombe, noting that the promotions will encompass everything from co-op advertising to social networking and events.

Just One More Day

If just 20 percent of travelers visiting Florida could be convinced to stay just one more day, whether for a new cultural twist or immersion in the state’s colorful history for Viva Florida 500, it could generate $1.9 billion in added visitor spending and create 30,000 more jobs, according to Seccombe and Thompson. Therefore, next spring Visit Florida will launch a new marketing co-op program focused on the idea of visitors spending just one more day in the state.

During last week’s conference, attendees were split into marketing/creative teams and spent a “shirtsleeves up” session; they brainstormed about how to get more visitors to stay just one more day. The best ideas then went head-to-head the same day in a second session with elements akin to the entrepreneurial television reality show, “Shark Tank.” The race for the winning idea was said by tourism officials to be too close to call, however, so look for Visit Florida to whittle down the ideas and select a winner later this year during the organization’s annual marketing retreat.

Ultimately, the top idea picked - and designed to keep visitors in the state for just one more day of their vacation - will receive a $1 million promotional budget.


emeril lagasse
Emeril Lagasse made a surprise in-person appearance.

Emeril’s Florida

A surprise guest at the conference on Thursday morning was celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, who soon will launch "Emeril’s Florida" on the Cooking Channel. The chef said his new show will go beyond cooking and will also spotlight Florida’s people and places. Look for Lagasse to reel in fish, explore the state's farms and citrus groves, visit diverse destinations, showcase Florida entertainment and tell the tales of its people.

He'll also, of course, delve into culinary topics. “I’m very excited about this new show, and I’m really looking forward to working with all of you,” Lagasse told the conference attendees.

Lagasse, whose corporate base remains in Louisiana, now resides with his wife and children in Walton County in Florida’s Panhandle. Universal Orlando is also home to two of his many restaurants, Emeril's Orlando and Emeril's Tchoup Chop.

Lagasse has been the signature host of more than 2,000 "Emeril Live” shows on the Food Network. He's also the culinary consultant for ABC’s Good Morning America and the author of dozens of cookbooks.


Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau and JoNell Modys, the CVB's PR and communications manager are shown with one of the awards won by the group at the Florida Governor's Conference on Tourism.

Hall of Fame and The Flaglers

Since 2001, one individual is chosen annually to be inducted into the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame. Presented by Visit Florida’s board of directors, it honors both contemporary and historic figures whose vision, creativity and drive have had a positive and significant impact on the development of Florida as a desirable visitor destination.

This year’s hall of fame inductee was Bob Sharp, chairman, AAA Auto Club Group (www.aaa.com). Utilizing his partnerships with cruise lines, tourist attractions and the CVBs, he spearheaded the creation of a Cruise Ship Task Force formed to encourage the cruise ship industry to use Tampa as a passenger port. Within a short time, the Port of Tampa was the fastest growing cruise ship port in the country. On November 1, 2011, Sharp celebrated his 50th anniversary with AAA Auto Club Group.

In addition, many destinations, attractions and other Florida tourism partners were recognized with “The Flaglers,” tourism marketing awards.

Henry Flagler was an American tycoon, tourism pioneer and railroad baron who developed Florida’s East Coast and founded such destinations as Palm Beach. Agents can check out the complete list of first, second and third place Flagler Award winners at this link: http://media.visitflorida.org/news/news.php?id=239

Florida Tourism Developments

Travel Agent talked with suppliers and learned about many tourism happenings throughout Florida. Here's a sample of what's new across the state.

In South Florida, the long-delayed, 350-room Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort (www.hollywoodmargaritaville.com) project in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area is much closer to reality. The Hollywood (FL) City Commission earlier this month voted to approve a new funding plan that allows the developer, Lon Tabatchnik, to finalize a deal with Starwood Capital, which had agreed via a letter of intent to invest pending the commission’s approval.

The 87-year-old Daytona Beach Pier has re-opened with Joe’s Crab Shack as its primary tenant. More than $5 million in repairs and renovations have been made to the iconic pier which is open daily for fishing. Visit www.daytonabeach.com.

Along the Space Coast, travelers can now enjoy three new exclusive, behind-the-scenes tours at the Kennedy Space Center (www.kennedyspacecenter.com). For the first time in 30 years, space enthusiasts can take a closer look at Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), Launch Control Center (LCC) and Launch Complex 3.

The Space Coast area also has a Hidden Gems (www.spacecoasthiddengems.com) program that may assist repeat visitors seeking unique experiences. It features self-guided destination adventures.

In hospitality news, the TradeWinds Sandpiper Suites on St. Pete Beach has become the Guy Harvey Outpost – a TradeWinds Beach Resort (www.GuyHarveyOutpostTampaBay.com), making it the first Guy Harvey Outpost in the United States. At an estimated cost of $3 million, the rebranding of the 211-room beachfront property has begun; it should be completed during 2013.

A bit further north in Crystal River, FL, the Plantation on Crystal River (www.PlantationonCrystalRiver.com) recently completed a $3.5 million renovation. Rooms now have a sophisticated Old Florida feel, with new curtains and sheers, fresh upholstered chairs, new mattresses, bedding and wall colors. Flat screen TVs, new refrigerators, classic wicker chairs and new sofa sleepers were added to the junior suites. Air conditioning systems were updated.

Agents might view and experience the updates via the resort's new travel agent rate of $49 per night Sunday through Thursday and $79 on Friday and Saturday through Dec. 31. For your clients, the Plantation’s rates and packages are commissionable at 15 percent.

In the Panhandle, a new Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail, developed by the Florida Department of State’s Underwater Archaeology Team, is attracting divers. The Pensacola Bay area is home to five of the dive trail’s 12 offshore shipwreck destinations along Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast. Visit www.visitpensacola.com.

In the Miami area, many visitors are now enjoying guided culinary walking tours of South Beach (www.miamiculinarytours.com), available through Dec. 15. Visitors view 1930s Art Deco architecture, visit the kitchens of celebrity chefs and ethnic eateries, as well as peruse exotic foods and hear culinary stories.

In Southwest Florida, Collier County has opened public access to the 90-acre Big Corkscrew Island Regional Park Lake. While the park itself is still undeveloped, anglers and paddlers may access the lake from Oil Well Road. Construction of a parking area and boat launch is expected in 2013. Visit www.paradisecoast.com.

Orlando’s CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort is offering multiple discounts through Dec. 25. For example, grandparents and their grandchildren receive 25 percent off the best available rate; kids 6 and under eat free with each adult entrée. The promotional code is GRAND12 when booking. For all the offers, visit www.cocokeyorlando.com.

At Florida’s major theme parks, the Fantasyland expansion is under way at Walt Disney World Resort (www.disneytravelagents.com), and a new Despicable Me ride has opened at Universal Orlando Resort (www.universalorlando.com). SeaWorld Orlando plans to renovate its popular penguin exhibit for 2013, and Busch Gardens Tampa will roll out all-new evening attractions, shows and shopping for its Christmas Town from 6 to 11 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, Nov. 30 through Dec. 23; visit www.seaworldparks.com.

May “The Force” be with your clients as they visit LEGOLAND Florida (www.legolandflorida.com) starting in November. In a park expansion, a new LEGO Star Wars Miniland Cluster will include scenes from six live-action "Star Wars" movies, as well as a scene from the animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” Those scenes will be created from more than 1.5 million LEGO bricks.

For techies, the first interactive nature travel program in the national wildlife refuge system has opened at J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge (www.fws.gov/dingdarling) on Sanibel island. If clients have a smart phone that downloads apps, they can access two components, one for adults and one for kids.

For other new Florida tourism developments, visit www.visitflorida.com.