Routes Americas 2021: Bringing Back Tourism – How to Stimulate Demand?

Roger Dow, President & CEO, U.S. Travel Association; Casandra Matej, CEO Visit Orlando; DT Minich, Chief Executive Officer, Experience Kissimmee; Dana Young, CEO Visit Florida; and Claire Bilby, Senior Vice President, Disney Destinations.

The Routes Americas 2021 conference featured a panel discussion focused on ‘Bringing Back Tourism – How to Stimulate Demand?’ The session was moderated by Roger Dow, President & CEO, U.S. Travel Association, with panellists including Casandra Matej, CEO Visit Orlando; Claire Bilby, Senior Vice President, Disney Destinations; DT Minich, Chief Executive Officer, Experience Kissimmee; and Dana Young, CEO Visit Florida. They discussed:

  • The role of government bodies in developing standard access regimes
  • The role of tourism authorities in promoting the destination
  • How to communicate safety with marketing strategies and best practices
  • How destinations and hospitality businesses can help bring tourists’ confidence back
  • When will consumer confidence return and what will customer behaviour look like?

Visit Florida: using a data-driven approach

Visit Florida put in place strategies for getting back to market using a data-driven approach, focusing very much on traveller and visitor sentiment.

“In August of last year, we entered the market,” said Dana Young, CEO Visit Florida. “Thanks to our great Governor, Florida has been open since April. We were closed for about three weeks to get a handle on the pandemic. But, because our Governor gave us the freedom to use data and science to do what was right for our customers and our visitors, we were able to remain open and give people a tremendous visitor experience here in Florida. Our marketing is unapologetic, because tourism is the backbone of our state economy and it is our job to bring visitors back and help our economy recover. We offer such a wide array of safe outdoor experiences – so, for every traveller’s comfort level, we really have something to offer.”

Disney Destinations: “the number one thing is communication”

Safety has been in Disney’s DNA since Walt started the company. Claire Bilby, Senior Vice President, Disney Destinations, explained that working very closely with state, local and federal governments, the company carefully studied the health and safety protocols. “We really had to reinvent our theme park experience with social distancing. We did something very fun at Disney, we created the Incredi-Crew, which was cast members who would go around helping us enforce the new protocols like wearing face coverings. We were very methodical about how we re-opened and we’re feeling very optimistic about the future.”

Disney Destinations created a whole campaign using the Incredibles characters that it shared in Florida and California around health and safety protocols that everyone needs to follow to keep safe.

“What we all know deep down is that the number one thing is communication – you cannot communicate enough,” Bilby added.

Visit Orlando: communicating how to experience destinations in a safe and healthy way

Over the course of the pandemic, Visit Orlando recognised that destination marketing organisations (DMOs) shifted from being the resource for all things regarding their destination, to making sure consumers understood pandemic protocols and mandates.

“We started to see DMOs in Orlando talking through our PR efforts regarding how to safely experience our destination,” explained Casandra Matej, CEO Visit Orlando. “It’s been part of our conversations and training.”

Indeed, Visit Orlando created a virtual education series. “All through that was a message of safety and how to experience our destination in a healthy manner,” said Matej. “We evolved, initially turning to virtual experiences. We saw via destination websites across the country how people could experience destinations virtually. Obviously, we want people to come and visit our destinations, but the virtual experiences kept our destinations top of mind.”

On 1 January, Visit Orlando launched its Wonder Remains campaign. “The data has been so important during this time, more so than ever. It is telling us that today 90% of people who travel are expecting to take a trip in the next six months – we want them to take their trip to central Florida,” Matej added.

Experience Kissimmee: vacation home segment increasingly popular

At the outset of the pandemic, Experience Kissimmee partnered with a very large health organisation named Advent Health, in order to establish relevant protocols. “That really showed that we were taking forward health and safety,” said DT Minich, Chief Executive Officer, Experience Kissimmee. “Then, we really pumped up our social media to continually post new information about safety and what visitors could expect when they rent a vacation home, and how they are cleaned between visits. We have 60,000 vacation homes, some are two-bedroom, the majority are five to 10-bedroom, and then we have 10 to 18-bedroom ultra-mansions. What happened is the vacation homes took off, as people wanted their own space and own swimming pool in their backyard. We’ve really seen that segment become popular – people have really discovered the vacation home product during the pandemic.”


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