The Florida Huddle 2010 was a true success for Florida tourism and its host city of Clearwater. Thanks in part to the efforts by D.T. Minich, executive director for the tourism bureau, without whom the annual buyer-seller appointment-driven event would not have been a resounding success.
In our executive talk, Minich elaborated on a positive outlook for 2010 despite a deep recession that has impacted tourism not only in Florida, but throughout the entire US.
Q: What major plans has the so-called Sunshine City have for this year after a successful Superbowl last year?
Minich: Although we are still keeping an eye on our international market for football, there are a lot of events and happenings in the pipeline, such as the opening of the new Dali Museum (opening 1/11/11) with an iconic building in downtown to showcase a couple thousands of his works, the new 250-room the brand new Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort complex (which opened Feb.1st), the new Dale Chihuly museum which will be a permanent display in St. Petersburg, the new Jolly Trolley service moving up and down the beach all the way to the downtown area, the Looper in downtown, the Tradewinds Resort – the largest resort in the county currently under renovation in blocks of 100 rooms, the beautiful transformation that has occurred on Clearwater Beach since the Beachwalk project began, and more.
Q: How have your tourist numbers been affected by the soft market?
Minich: With our international offices in the UK, Germany, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires (sharing in our Tampa Bay office) and Canada, we are just slightly off 4-5% across the board from last year?s numbers. Our UK market is down about 5%, Germany 1%; and domestically we are off about 4%. In the larger scheme of things we?re doing very well with our number, though we have seen single-digit dips in the state of Florida whose overall tourism is down by 16%.
We have increased our Canadian budgets and foresee no cuts in our allocations overseas. We have had an overall budget cut from $16.5 M to $12.5.M last year.
Fluctuation in arrivals is largely due to the currency exchange, more than anything.
We?ve also seen hotel rates gone down; however, spends have gone up.
Q: How much do you support the US Travel Association?s initiatives?
Minich: We are very supportive of the USTA; they?ve been very pro-active in the industry and worked hard this past year at the shows and getting the word out about how important tourism is. Congress and the President underscored the importance of travel to the US economy. We?re not asking for a big hand-out as an industry; we?re just asking them to pass legislation that will allow us to promote the US overseas.
Q: What about the impact of sports tourism to your overall tourism economy? Has this year?s Superbowl given you any spill-over tourists from Miami while you have been the host last year of the event?
Minich: Superbowl is quite important, but there were no tourist spill-overs to our city. None at all! More important to us however are the grass-root sports, amateur and youth sports with whom we currently do 90,000 room nights in amateur sports alone. It is a big part of our business. It is important to us that we go after this business.
Q: Since a lot of Scientologists, I believe, had descended upon Clearwater, how much of an impact has their move been for the tourism industry and conventions business?
Minich: It does not really affect our business because they are tax-exempt. Their activities do not affect our bottom line (no impact to hotels and bed tax); however they buy and dine in the city making income for some. The Church of Scientology owns a hotel ? the historic Fort Harrison in downtown Clearwater ? where they accommodate their folks coming in from out of town.
Q: Has the cold spell up north been an advantage to your city?
Minich: January had always been a rough month. However, the last two weeks of February and the month of March are already looking strong as the folks up north are realizing a cold, harsh winter. I believe we will have a strong spring end of February, through March and April.
In addition, since the Florida Huddle, travel agents and tour operators have been calling for bookings and inquiries. Our phones have been busy and the internet has been buzzing with interests.
The Florida Huddle held recently in Clearwater has been a good tourism stimulus activity. It?s the longest-running travel trade show held in Florida, proudly supporting Florida’s billion-dollar tourism industry through pre-scheduled computer-generated appointments between domestic and international buyers of Florida tourism product, and destination marketing offices, properties, attractions and other suppliers of Florida tourism. This year, 300 suppliers were represented in Huddle’s 182 booths. In attendance were 181 buyers, of which 98% submitted full appointment selection requests. Delegates experienced a tangible excitement on the show floor as valuable contacts were created and renewed.