County tourism marketing return climbs 47%

Ecotourism is one of the niche markets Visit Sarasota County has incorporated into its ‘Go Beyond the Beaches’ campaign. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The return per dollar invested in Sarasota County tourism advertising rose from $18.16 in 2009 to $34.40 in 2011, about 47%, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, told the County Commission during a July 11 report.

Television and online advertising had proven most effective, Haley added during her presentation of the agency’s business plan for the 2013 fiscal year.

(Visit Sarasota County formerly was the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau.)

Two new opportunities in the next fiscal year will build upon the agency’s ongoing initiatives, Haley said.

For the first time, Haley said, the United States has launched a marketing campaign called Brand USA.

In its June 30 edition, The Economist reported that that new travel-promotion effort began in May. “Against a backdrop of majestic landscapes and shots of attractive people having fun, Rosanne Cash (daughter of Johnny) and a multicultural assortment of musicians tell the world that, ‘It’s closer than it seems; come and find your land of dreams.’”

“Having Brand USA is going to be really significant to us,” Haley told the commissioners.

The Economist added that while the U.S. is the second-most-visited country in the world behind France, its share of spending on global travel fell by a third between 2000 and 2010, from 17.2% to 11.6%. Yet, according to McKinsey Global Institute, “global long-haul travel increased by 31% in the decade to 2009 while foreign visitors to America (excluding Canada and Mexico) dropped by 2 [million],” The Economist added.

Haley also reported to the County Commission, “Soon you will see visitor services in the form of a mobile unit” traveling the county.

The 2013 fiscal year business plan says the visitor services vehicle “will assist in providing information to our visitors where they happen to be, from a sporting event to a festival, from [The John and Mable] Ringling Museum [of Art] to Warm Mineral Springs.”

The Visit Sarasota County business plan also calls for an increase in television advertising from six to eight weeks in key Northeast feeder markets during the winter and the launch of a “Sarasota in Shorts” campaign to increase all business.

“I believe we will have to have a Shorts Day in Sarasota County,” Haley interjected with a smile while reviewing the items in the formal presentation.

Her comment drew some chuckles.

Additionally, Haley said, with AmericanStyle Magazine in May having named Sarasota the No. 1 U.S. arts destination among cities with populations below 100,000, she and her staff would be developing logos and campaigns to build upon that recognition.

Among other aspects of the FY 2013 business plan are the following:

• Focus on expanding the number of group meetings in Sarasota during the shoulder (October to December) and slow (June to September) seasons.

• Focus on key out-of-state meeting markets with nonstop airline connections to Sarasota: Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and New York City.

• Increase incentives offered to meeting groups.

• Focus on booking small- to mid-size meetings.

• Expand slowly into the South American markets.

Regarding sports marketing, Haley pointed out that the U.S. Sports Congress would be meeting in Sarasota over three days in December, with about 50 event organizers expected to attend.

That would be a good opportunity to make connections that could lead to future events, she indicated.

Visit Sarasota County also plans to expand on its partnership with the Baltimore Orioles, Haley said, which already had been bringing in more tourists from the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Haley’s FY 2013 business plan won unanimous approval from the commissioners.

Tourist trends

The agency’s report includes the following “Tourism Trends of Note”:

  • From 2009 to 2011, Sarasota County lost 588 hotel units from its inventory, an 8% drop.
  • Leisure travel has recovered better than business travel, which is important for a leisure destination 
such as Sarasota County. Business travel is expected to pick up later this year.
  • In a recent Trip Advisor survey, consumers showed increasing interest in rental properties for their vacations, with 46% planning to rent in 2012 compared to 40% in 2011. Sarasota County has a strong inventory of rental condos.
  • Americans are planning on spending 11% more on vacations in 2012 than in 2011.
  • According to American Express, travelers are increasingly building their trips around festivals (especially culinary events). Just as important are hiking tours, outdoor-active vacations and expedition-type holidays.
  • So far in FY 2012, Sarasota has seen a 16% increase in visits from Europeans, compared to the previous year, largely from the United Kingdom.
  • So far in FY 2012, Sarasota as seen a 10% increase in overall visits, compared to FY 2011.
  • By optimizing the Dr. Beach designation of Siesta as the No. 1 Beach from May 2011 until May 2012, Visit Sarasota County has generated 499 million media impressions — the number of people who have seen advertising regarding the county.