Visit Florida chief targets Great White North: “I think we took this market for granted”

Lawson-headshot_editFlush with a renewed bucket of state bucks, Visit Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson is refocusing his efforts on bringing Canadian snowbirds — and their cash — south.

In Toronto this week, Lawson admitted the public-private tourism agency had neglected its neighbors to the north.

“I think we took our eyes off the ball,” Lawson said, in report by Travelweek Group posted yesterday. “I think we took this market for granted.”

Lawson said his agency intends to “double-down” on the land of William Shatner, Bobby Orr and Justin Bieber.

“We have the snowbirds with their Florida vacation homes. They’re kind of like ‘we’ve been there, done that.’ We have new Canadians. And we have the Millennials, and they’re saying ‘we don’t want to do what our grandparents did,’ ” Lawson, in Toronto for meetings with travel industry leaders, was quoted as saying.

“Sure we have Disney, we have the beaches,” Lawson continued. “But are we marketing the rest of Florida? We have craft breweries, bike trails, people can swim with a manatee, we have culture … these things matter, and they connect with Canadians.”

Tourism officials, noting Florida has increased its marketing efforts in Canada, have been blamed declining Canadian visitor numbers on a weaker Canadian dollar.

Canadians accounted for 3.2 million of Florida’s visitors in 2016, down from more than 4 million in 2011.

And while drawing 31.1 million domestic and international visitors during the first three months of this year — the highest number during any quarter in state history — the number of Canadian tourists dropped 2.2 percent, compared to the same period in 2016.

Visit Florida’s goal “is to make sure we’re diverse in our marketing, and that we’re connecting,” Lawson said in the Travelweek Group report. “That’s why I’m here.”

 — Posted by Jim Turner.