'Other' factors could slow Florida's recovery

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Despite a steady recovery since Sept. 11, Florida's travel industry continues to face tough obstacles, according to Barry Pitegoff, vice president of research for Visit Florida.

During the 35th Annual Governor's Conference on Tourism here, he cited some of the obvious hurdles, such as fear of flying; reluctance to drive long distances; and a downturn in foreign visitors, especially in arrivals from Canada during south Florida's peak winter season.

However, two less obvious factors could have long-term effects on domestic travel, he said.

The first is consumers' concern over rudeness in general, making travel less inviting.

Recent surveys show that most people believe that rudeness and disrespect are now a serious problem in the U.S., he said.

Indeed, almost half of those surveyed reported that in the last year they had walked out of a retail establishment because of rudeness.

Rising levels of discourtesy also threaten the repeat business that many destinations have enjoyed, he said.

Travel also could be impacted negatively by the growth of what Pitegoff called "generica," or the commercial homogenization of the landscape from look-alike malls and sights.

"The strategic marketing implication is that if everyplace looks the same, why go anywhere?" Pitegoff said.

As for terrorism and economy-related challenges, Pitegoff said that a national phone survey sponsored by Visit Florida revealed that nearly 60% had no qualms about flying to a vacation destination.

Of the 40% of those who feared flying, about one-quarter said that they were not ready to fly within the next two months. However, many in that group said that they might reconsider if they were offered a good deal.

Travelers also have been turned off by press reports about delays in implementing a new security regime in the nation's airports, he said.

Pitegoff noted that while Florida has benefited from travelers who switched from plane trips to car trips, there is a limit to that benefit, since travelers now are reluctant to drive more than six to eight hours.

Recovery for Florida's travel industry in general also is burdened by a sharp drop in overseas and Canadian visits, Pitegoff said.

He noted, for example, that the Conference Board of Canada in July forecast that the winter of 2002-03 will see the lowest share of Canadians traveling to the U.S. in 11 years, because of the weakness of the Canadian dollar.

Visitors from Latin America and Europe also are "currently less interested in traveling to the U.S." Pitegoff said, "although travel to Florida remains a relatively appealing option."

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