Normally an in-person networking event, this year’s Florida Huddle has gone virtual and is hosting more than 700 attendees taking part in one-on-one meetings, workshops and panel discussions between 08 and 12FEB.
For the first time, travel advisors were invited to participate in the conference, with virtual FAMs and master classes scheduled to take place on Friday.
“It’s great to have travel agents and it’s just a recognition of how important travel agents are to our industry and our state. The virtual format really lends itself to [inviting travel advisors] because you don’t have to deal with travel costs or the logistics of getting an additional 350 travel agents to Florida. It is wonderful to have so many agents with us and I look forward to their part in Huddle,” Visit Florida CEO Dana Young told reporters on the opening day of the Virtual Florida Huddle 2021 Monday.
“Going forward, assuming it’s a success and I believe it will be, we could continue to have some virtual element so that if travel agents couldn’t afford to come in-person, we could include them in a virtual format in a hybrid Huddle event,” she said.
During the opening remarks, it was revealed that Super Bowl LV host city Tampa Bay will be the location for Visit Florida’s in-person 2022 Huddle.
Florida is “Open & Ready” to Welcome Visitors, Despite Relaxed COVID Restrictions
Visit Florida’s Huddle opened only a day after widely-reported scenes of un-masked Superbowl fans celebrating in the streets of Tampa.
It’s just the latest incident that highlights Florida’s markedly different approach to COVID than Canada’s, even as the state still averaged upwards of 8,000 new infections over the past two weeks, has the largest number of COVID-19 variants than any other state, and yet remains without a statewide mask mandate.
In spite of this, Young says the destination’s open-air activities and outdoor recreation will be what draws travellers back.
“I think we are doing everything we can do to make sure our Canadian visitors know we are committed to their health and safety and we are committed to getting them back because we miss them,” said Young.
On the health and safety side, Young says the state stresses “personal responsibility,” including wearing a mask, social distancing when needed and practicing practical hygiene.
“I don’t think we need to be in damage control at all. We have offered something that most, if not all, states in the country cannot offer, and it’s the ability to live your life in an amazing outdoor setting to enjoy wide open spaces, outdoor recreation, fantastic beaches, theme parks, outdoor dining, to be able to do all of these things with a freedom that you’re aren’t seeing in other places right now,” Young said.
Trending for 2021: Pent-Up Demand & Multi-Generational Travel
Tourism is Florida’s main industry and Canada is its largest international market. The sector has taken a significant hit as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Based on the most current data available from Visit Florida, Canadian visitation was down nearly 57 per cent as of Q3 last year. This decline includes Q1, which was not barely impacted by COVID. Canadian visitation in just Q2 and Q3 is registering declines in the 98 to 99 per cent range.
Since the summer, Visit Florida has focused its marketing efforts on in-state and domestic drive markets. When the time is right, Young says the tourism marketing agency will expand its promotional activities on a broader international scale but already, campaigns are underway to target Canadians. Young says Visit Florida partnered with Air Canada and The Weather Network to create a series of “wanderlust Florida” videos showcasing off-the-beaten path activities in the state.
When asked to predict the tourism outlook for this year, Young indicated that Visit Florida’s research shows there is “much pent-up demand” and desire for people to vacation in the state, with multi-generational travel already coming out as a strong trend post-COVID.