What’s Up in Florida?

By Lain Ehmann

Based on the footage on the nightly news, it might come as a surprise that Florida not only is still connected to the rest of the continent, but actually is open for business as usual. “All of our main cities are operating as usual,” says Vanessa Welter, director of public relations for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s official travel planning site. “What we have is a perception problem.”

To rectify that problem and safeguard the more than $51 billion the state receives from tourism each year, Florida governor Jeb Bush recently approved approximately $5 million for tourism marketing designed to lure visitors back to the Sunshine State. In addition, VISIT FLORIDA also is appealing to meeting planners directly. The organization is hosting a Florida Encounter conference, “Come See for Yourself,” in Orlando from November 7 to 10. Florida Encounter provides opportunities for Florida’s suppliers, businesses and organizations that serve the meetings market to meet face-to-face with top meeting planners from the United States and abroad and demonstrate that Florida’s hotels and attractions are indeed open for business. Meeting planners who attend Florida Encounter also will be invited to take post-Encounter familiarization tours of select areas throughout the state.

“The key messages of the immediate campaign are: Nearly all major tourist areas are open and welcoming visitors. Attractions are open and hotels in our most popular areas have plenty of rooms,” says VISIT FLORIDA president and CEO Bud Nocera.

Still not convinced? VISIT FLORIDA also is introducing a novel insurance program: Cover Your Event (CYE). The program’s intent is to reassure meeting professionals that Florida is worth the risk. The supplemental business insurance will provide no-cost coverage for new and already scheduled events with a minimum of 100 room nights planned from August through October 2005. Should a named hurricane result in the cancellation of your event, you are covered for the room differential and extra expense of rescheduling your event.

The CYE insurance might be the only bargain available. According to Welter, hotels and other venues aren’t slashing prices to make up for hurricane-induced losses. In fact, says Welter, there were a record number of visitors – 76.8 million – in 2004 despite the hurricanes. She expects the trend to carry through 2005. “All indications are that everybody’s having one of their best years,” Welter says. “Hurricanes are a natural occurrence. What happened last year hadn’t happened in 100 years and probably won’t happen again for another 100.”

For more information, please click on www.visitflorida.org.