Fort Myers is recovering nicely from Hurricane Ian. California is bursting with visitors. Washington D.C. wants more international travellers. And Philadelphia says like us or get out of town.
Open Jaw was in the audience as nearly a dozen U.S. destinations took to the stage at this year’s U.S. Travel Association/IPW convention in San Antonio to trumpet everything from world class cuisine to mosquito-chomping bats. There was also an actual trumpet player and a wonderfully talented poet laureate from Orlando.
Here are some of the highlights from IPW press conferences this week, including some Canadian visitation information.
FORT MYERS AND BEACHES
Miriam Dotson, communications manager for Fort Myers – Islands, Beaches and Neighborhoods, shared details about the region’s recovery from Hurricane Ian late last September. She also highlighted the debut of new businesses that range from art galleries in downtown Fort Myers to restaurants in Cape Coral.
Brian Ososky, the organization’s director of marketing, said international visitors play an important role in the destination’s recovery. Tourism officials showed a video that talked about how locals pitched in to help after the storm hit, including a couple who used their company’s jet skis to deliver food and supplies during the recovery process.
“We’re ready to welcome visitors and we’re stronger than ever as a community,” Dotson said.
Pennsylvania’s largest city has a cool campaign called “Come for Philadelphia, Stay for Philly.” The campaign focuses on getting visitors to enjoy things that Philly residents love most, including a Southeast Asian market in FDR Square. This year, Michelin published its first Philadelphia destination guide. One chef on a video garnered applause from the media when he said Philly has great food and that people who don’t like it “should get the hell out.”
Brett Laiken, VP Marketing, Visit Florida, said in an interview with Open Jaw that he wants to bring more Canadian advisors to his state so they can see what’s happening first-hand.
He also noted that 2023 visitation numbers for Canadians for the first quarter were 99.8 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
Laiken said he’s encouraged by increased flights from Canada to Florida. The Sunshine State has lost four routes with some 3,100 scheduled seats, but there are seven new routes added since last year with more than 20,400 scheduled seats, Vancouver to both Miami and Orlando, Montreal to Tampa, Hamilton to Orlando, Ottawa to Sanford, Moncton to Orlando and Halifax to Fort Lauderdale.
All told, one in 10 (9.6 per cent) of seats on US bound flights from Canada will be to a Florida airport this year. Only California and New York can boast of more flights from Canada.
One big plus for travellers is that the fast, new Brightline trains, which now operate between Miami and West Palm Beach, will start running to and from MCO later this summer. The trip will take just three hours door to door, with adult tickets priced from USD $79. That sure beats a long drive on the highway, at least for one or two people.
Laiken said nature is a big focus for Visit Florida this year.
“We have more than 4,000 miles of multipurpose trails” for hiking and biking, and 3,000 miles of water trails, he said.
The culinary scene also is heating up, with four new Michelin stars for Florida restaurants this year.
Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, said 2021 was an all-time record year for tourism in Puerto Rico, and that 2022 beat those numbers. On top of that, 2023 is looking to outpace last year.
NEW YORK CITY
Fred Dixon, president and CEO of New York City Tourism and Conventions, said expanding efforts in luxury travel and MICE travel, and also putting more emphasis on travel from Latin America.
“International travel as never been more important” for the Big Apple, he said at a press conference held outside the official IPW convention space.
Dixon said NYC Tourism and Conventions wants to “showcase authentic experiences across all five boroughs.” He also said a new and improved website for consumers and the trade is coming soon.
Dixon said international travel in New York City in 2022 was at 85 per cent of 2018 levels, with 9.4 million international visitors last year. Some 651,000 Canadians visited last year, and the city expects 894,000 in 2023.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of hip hop, and NYC is planning to soon open a hip hop museum in the Bronx.
Popular discount packages such as New York Restaurant Week, Broadway Week and Off-Broadway Week will continue this summer, he said. As well, all NYC-area airports are undergoing major upgrades, and there are new Air Canada gates at Newark-Liberty airport in New Jersey. If you’re more interested in train travel, Dixon said rail service between Montreal and New York City has resumed.
The hottest restaurant ticket in town is for Tatiana, which has been named top dining spot in the city by a number of publications.
New hotels include the AKA Nomad, and new attractions include a Harry Potter exhibition at Herald Square.
New Orleans tourism officials announced a new Virgin Hotel and two hotels fashioned out of former convents; Hotel Peter and Paul and Maison de la Luz. A noteworthy addition to the city's skyline is Vue Orleans, boasting a 360-degree indoor and outdoor observation deck with “breathtaking” views. Officials also mentioned a National Fried Chicken Festival, which runs 30SEP - 01OCT in 2023.
Trumpet player Kermit Ruffins put on a virtuoso performance at the NOLA presentation.
Visit California President and CEO Caroline Beteta said her state is “back in the game” and has recovered faster than expected.
Visitation numbers for 2022 were at 93 per cent of 2019 levels and that California expects a full recovery this year.
The Golden State remains the top destination in the U.S. for visitors and celebrates diversity like no other state, Beteta said.
Visit California has developed new sustainable tourism guides and also is developing programs for visitors to learn about Native American culture, such as the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum in Palm Springs.
There’s also a new Road Trip guide for folks who want to roll down famous Highway One in a convertible, or check out some lesser-known parts of the state. Beteta showed a road trip video with Californians speaking the words to the rock tune “Born to be Wild,” which was written by the California-Canadian band Steppenwolf.
Elliott L. Ferguson II was hands-down the best part of the press conference program at IPW. The president and CEO of Visit D.C. showed a professional actor’s timing with a video in which he asked kids and adults how high the Washington Monument is (hint: it’s not as high as 1,000 feet, and it doesn’t reach the clouds).
Ferguson said international tourists only account for seven per cent of visits to D.C., but represent 27 per cent of spending. He said his city wants to do more promotion internationally to improve its visitation numbers.
Washington D.C. has 25 free museums for the public, 17 of which are part of the Smithsonian Institution. There’s also a new Metro line linking Dulles and Reagan airports, and the city is home to 24 Michelin Guide restaurants.
ORLANDO AND KISSIMMEE
Orlando Poet Laureate Shawn Welcome swayed and stepped about on the stage as he read a poem with lines about fireworks “that dilate the eyes of the night sky” and about a place “where your worst day can still feel like your birthday.”
Visit Orlando oficials said the city attracted 74 million visitors in 2022, “solidifying Orlando’s position as the top travel destination in the United States.” The 74 million figure represents a 25 per cent increase over 2021 visitation numbers.
Roughly 4.9 million of those 74 million visitors were from international destinations, with Canada leading the way.
Officials said the Michelin Guide has recognized 46 Orlando restaurants in its latest publication. They also highlighted vibrant neighbourhoods such as Winter Park, with its independent, boutique shops and sidewalk cafes, and the Mills 50 District, home to dozens of top-notch Vietnamese and other Asian restaurants.
Visit Orlando is set to enhance its online training resource, the Orlando Travel Academy (www.orlandotravelacademy.com) next month, as Open Jaw has reported. The E-learning platform serves as a comprehensive tool for travel advisors, offering on-demand sales planning resources that are accessible on any device.
Kissimmee, Florida tourism hosted the final lunch at this year’s IPW and featured a concert by country star Dierks Bentley. Officials said Kissimmee was famous as a cattle town before The Mouse rolled into Florida, and that the city still has the largest professional rodeo east of the Mississippi River.
Kissimmee also is known for its golf courses, resorts and spacious vacation villas, which are a great attraction for family and multi-generational travel.
Austin is home to great music festivals such as South by Southwest and Austin City Limits, as well as fabulous food. Tourism officials noted the city’s appeal to high tech firms and said Samsung was building an $18 billion facility.
Austin also is famous for a massive colony of bats that emerge from under a downtown bridge every evening and feast on mosquitoes and other bugs. There also are new flights from WestJet and Air Canada. Officials said Austin is now the tenth largest city in the U.S. (San Antonio is seventh, by the way.)
L.A. will host the next IPW, slated for 04-07MAY, 2024. The Senior VP Global Comunications for Discover LA, Chris Heywood, outlined a series of changes and new features for the City of Angels, which he said is “one of the most diverse, inclusive and welcoming destinations” in the U.S.
L.A. attracted 46.2 million visitors in 2022, reaching 91 per cent of 2019 visitation levels. Canada accounted for 740,000 of those visits, second only to Mexico (1.79 million). Major projects include Destination Crenshaw, a 1.5 mile-long revitalization project on Crenshaw Avenue that will display Black art and provide much needed park space for area residents.
Heywood said Los Angeles has more museums and performing arts centres than any city in the U.S., including the newly expanded Hammer Museum in Westwood Village.
Not everyone is a big fan of LAX, but Heywood said it’s undergoing a USD $15 billion transformation and will soon be one of the best airports in the States. He also noted that a new people mover will soon link LAX to downtown L.A.
Your Open Jaw correspondent spent three days in L.A. a few years ago and used nothing but the city’s greatly expanded Metro system and a couple of Uber rides. It was easy, and cheap, to get around many parts of the city, including downtown, Hollywood and Santa Monica.
Sports is a big thing in southern California, and Los Angeles will host this year’s U.S. Open golf tournament, as well as games in the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and also the 2028 Summer Olympics.
Los Angeles also has 75 miles of beaches and enormous green space such as Griffith Park and the Santa Monica Mountains.
Heywood noted that 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the Hollywood Sign, Warner Brothers Studios, the Los Angeles Coliseum and the fabled Biltmore Hotel.