Thursday Briefing: New Visit Florida CEO Takes Over Ahead of New Tourism Developments

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Ken Lawson has officially assumed his role as the new CEO of Visit Florida ahead of a host of new tourism developments for the state. 

In a letter provided to travel industry partners, Lawson said that he would spend the next few weeks and months traveling the state to meet with members of the travel industry to better understand what they need from Visit Florida, as well as work with Florida state legislators regarding the role the organization plays in growing the state’s economy. 

“I am excited about the future of Visit Florida and making our state the No. 1 travel destination in the world,” Lawson wrote. 

Lawson takes over from former CEO Will Seccombe, who stepped down in December following the news that the destination marketing organization had paid Miami-based rapper Pitbull $1 million to promote tourism to the state. At issue was the fact that details of the contract had been kept secret, with Visit Florida officials arguing that details of the contract were trade secrets that would be exempt from the state’s public records laws. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes filed suit against Pitbull’s management company to reveal the details of the entertainer’s contract, after which the rapper posted the contract to Twitter. After that Florida Governor Rick Scott called for the resignation of Seccombe and other top Visit Florida executives, as well as a further series of transparency measures. 

According to a survey released today by AAA, destinations in Florida still rank high in the minds of travelers. The state has three of the top five domestic destinations for 2017, according to AAA’s internal booking data, including Orlando at number one and Miami at number 4. Despite last week’s tragic airport shooting, Fort Lauderdale remains at number four. All three destinations’ positions are unchanged from last year. 

This year will see a number of new attractions for the state’s popular theme parks. Most notably, Universal Orlando is opening a major new water park, Universal’s Volcano Bay, in June, with a 200 foot tall volcano that houses an Aqua Coaster, as well as a multi-directional wave pool with sandy beaches, a lazy river and body slides that drop from the top of the volcano. In keeping with the increased interest in the travel industry surrounding wearables, the park will offer guests a TapuTapu-brand wearable that allows them to access virtual lines and trigger special effects around the park. 

Disney recently broke ground on new Star Wars-themed lands, making the largest-ever single-themed land expansions at Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California. Some Star Wars-themed attractions are already open at Hollywood Studios, including a Star Wars-themed courtyard, a video game center, a movie theater showing abridged versions of the movies and a motion simulator. 

Looking farther ahead, Carnival Cruise Line just announced some big new homeport updates for the state in 2018. In September 2018 Carnival Breeze will reposition to Port Canaveral, offering cruises in the Caribbean and Mexico, and Carnival Magic will shift to Miami, offering a year-round schedule of seven-day alternating eastern and western Caribbean cruises departing Sundays from PortMiami

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