Tourism officials on Wednesday explained their strategies to bring visitors to the Florida Keys year-round, and the research that enables them to target specific travelers.
Stacey Mitchell, director of sales, and Jessica Bennett, director of market research for the Monroe Tourist Development Council, spoke to the Key West Chamber of Commerce about the TDC's planned response to emerging travel trends.
Mitchell discussed both the domestic and international travel market and assured chamber members that "the U.S.-based consumer is ready, willing and able to travel," but she also emphasized that U.S. travelers do not want a sales pitch and don't need "to be sold to" given their access to myriad information portals such as websites, travel blogs and online reviews.
She said that financial indicators in the United States are finally stabilizing, and are allowing travelers to book their trips further in advance, as opposed to the last-minute bookings destinations they have been experiencing in recent.
Mitchell heads up an international team based in the United States and Europe that participates in more than 60 promotional events touting the Florida Keys each year.
In addition to meeting directly with consumers at travel shows, the sales team also meets with travel industry professionals to ensure that they know what they Keys have to offer various types of travelers, Mitchell said.
She also outlined the characteristics that define American travelers from various regions. For example, visitors from the Northeast "tend to mix a visit to friends or family with an extension elsewhere in the state of Florida."
In other words, people from New York and New Jersey will often plan a trip to visit relatives on mainland Florida, but will tack on an extra few days to head down to the Keys. Northeastern travelers also tend to be office workers who are very interested in restaurants and food quality, as well as "trendy" types of activities, such as kiteboarding, active sailing and kayaking.
Midwestern travelers tend to stick more with families, nationally branded hotels, and are more likely to drive to Florida, Mitchell said, adding that those visitors are often more blue-collar type and are interested in fishing and watersports during their vacation.
People from the Southeast region, "will travel to the Keys any time of year," she said, adding, "We love them, because they are able to reason with hurricane season and won't be scared off," whereas travelers from the West Coast will not visit in the summer months "because they can't handle the humidity," Mitchell said.
But the rest of the year, the Keys have become an attractive destination for West Coast residents who have "been there, done that" when it comes to Hawaii, which is the same five-hour flight from Los Angeles as Miami.
Turning to international tourism, Mitchell said that Canada still represents the Keys' largest segment of international visitors, although Germany, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia are also sending many visitors.
"International travel has a lot to do with exchange rates, and unfortunately, with politics," Mitchell said, adding that the Great Britain pound currently is worth $1.60 American, "so it behooves international travelers to travel here because they're getting more bang for their buck," she said, adding that European travelers are most likely to book their annual vacations during a travel show in their country during the cold, winter months. And while they'll do their research online, they'll also usually book their trip through a travel industry professional that provides insurance coverage.
Once Mitchell explained what travelers do, Bennett explained how the TDC learns all the information, which is compiled through a variety of sources.
The goals of a research department is to identify market opportunities and challenges, evaluate the performance of marketing efforts and make quick, precise changes when needed, Bennett said.
She added the TDC this year is increasing its spending on visitor surveys that ask visitors where they're from, what they did while in the Keys, why they came, where they stayed and what they liked and disliked.
"We're doubling the number of Key West surveys this year, so the city will receive reports from 1,400 visitors.
The TDC also buys information from credit card companies that compile information about their cardholders' spending habits.
"It's pretty amazing what you can do with research information," Bennett said, emphasizing the importance of narrowing the focus of marketing efforts to target the right people at the right time to convince them of a Keys vacation.
Bennett also pointed to the TDC's website at www.monroecounty-fl.gov, which publishes all the travel reports the agency receives and compiles, which are all public record.