VCB 2016-2017 Marketing Plan – Who’s Coming to Dinner & Why

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Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau held the Team Tourism Annual Sales & Marketing Summit for 2016-2017 at Westin Cape Coral Resort on Tuesday, November 15. Their efforts, as they define them are: “Together, the sales, marketing, media relations, and visitor services teams work to deliver meaningful messages to the public, and inspire them to choose Lee County as their travel destination.”

The annual event is rich with travel industry vocabulary, buzz words, and research statistics. Here is a brief summary that travelers, residents, and businesses may find of interest when looking at future travel or business plans.

Highlights from fiscal year 2015-2016 indicate another strong season. The recently completed Island Hopper Songwriter Festival brought in 14,000 attendees, and sold 4,000 motel room nights for all locations including Fort Myers Beach. Overall visitor growth flattened over the prior year, but visitors stayed longer, spent more, and traveling in smaller groups – more couples and fewer families. While domestic visitor counts showed little growth, foreign visitors increased nicely to just over 782,333 for the last year. Bed tax revenues enjoyed another record year at just over $39 million, and the hospitality industry accounted for just over 40,000 jobs in Lee County.

Bed tax is 5% paid on short-term accommodations. Expenditures from these funds are allocated approximately with 53% to tourism marketing, 27% to beach and shoreline maintenance and improvements, and 20% to the Lee County Sports Complex for debt associated with Hammond Stadium, City of Palms Park, and JetBlue Park.

Davidson-Petersen Associates research indicates the average visitor is 52 years old with roughly a $100,000 household income, and 74% married with 44% traveling as a couple.   Key observations indicate 3% more couples visited here last year, and 3% fewer families.

The marketing plan for 2016-2017 is based on research again by MMGY Global, an international travel consulting group. Their “travelhorizons” trademarked national survey is the largest annual project to measure traveler awareness, traveler intentions and interests, among other topics. Lee County carries a high destination awareness rating, topped by the description created by the Lee County VCB, “The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel.”

Younger & Wealthier

Repeating previous research, the survey reflected the increased interest levels of younger age brackets. Despite our average traveler data, Millennials born in 1980 or later show 49% were extremely or very interested in visiting our area, followed by Gen Xers born from 1965 to 1979 showing 37% have a desire. This contrasts with the historical perception that Southwest Florida is a senior citizen destination. Baby Boomers born from 1946 to 1954 only carry a 24% interest level, with those older yet dropping to 20%, thus the target market is getting younger and more affluent.

Businesses used to a loyal, older clientele should be aware of this, and adapt their appeal to the younger generation now willing and able to visit. This youthful traveler is the next generation of visitors that research suggests later will be property owners and/or residents.

These data-supported traveler profiles dictate the targeted audience in the 2016-2017 Marketing Plan, and its budget to reach them. Three specific audience profiles identified through the research tools are Active Affluent Families between the ages of 30 and 51; 92% who are married and make travel decisions cooperatively. A second is Active No Kids who are 39% married from the ages of 25 to 39 with primarily male decision makers, and Active Empty Nest with 82% married and primary female decision makers.

Three additional specific behavioral profiles that are good targets for our region are that 48% of our best visitors own a dog, are avid music lovers who favor country and rock, and have a strong association with gardening and wine, meaning that message content and promotions will aim at these profile and behavioral groups.

That World Called Digital

Marketing expenditures reflect the national trend to digital versus broadcast or print media, with focus and placement outside the local market. This means almost no funds are spent on here for things to see and do after the arrival of the visitor. Major metro areas in Florida are a focus, as well as the historical and potential future metro areas nationally, with 16% to the broadcast channels of radio and television and 25% to magazines and newspapers.

That leaves 59% to that world called Digital or email marketing of social media posts, tweets, shares, likes, and buying paid advertising on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, & others. It includes website advertising and search engine ads and marketing via Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. These are the channels that reach that younger audience with a strong interest in visiting, as this is how they locate information to make purchasing decisions.

The 2016-2017 Marketing Plan does contain a campaign aspect for all businesses, communities, and areas to consider incorporating: “That’s Islandology!” This concept permits anyone to describe, share, or communicate any person, place, thing, feeling, or perception that might connect a visitor to our area. In travel circles, this is described as “experienced focused travel” that informs, encourages, and enables the visitor to learn what is unique, interesting, or special about our region as a destination.

This local culture immersion focus requires the visitor to leave the hotel property, condo, or beach near their accommodation, and see as much of all we have to offer as possible. So far the VCB has created 50 steps or lessons in Islandology to share. For example, #50 says that “A get-away should actually get you away!” #19 reads that “A single visit leads to yearly migrations,” and #16 says that “A full day starts with a wide-open schedule.”

This more sophisticated message strategy to travelers may create a more accurate and complete picture of what so many of us here already know: This is really an amazingly beautiful and unique place. For more information on what the Visitor and Convention Bureau has to offer to boost your visitor experience or business, see www.leevcb.gov.

Bob Layfield