NAPLES - During a wide-ranging interview here, Austin Mott III,
president and chief executive officer of Visit Florida, the state's
public-private partnership responsible for tourism promotion, spoke
about the role of travel agents, the recent wildfires and his
organization's goals for the rest of the current fiscal year.
In a rapidly changing and increasingly complicated world, travel
agents are more important than ever, Mott said.
"Our parents and our grandparents were loyal. They would always
go somewhere for three weeks such as the Grand Canyon," he
"Today, people take 10 trips a year. Maybe those trips are only
a few days, but travel agents are extremely important in deciding
where they go," he said.
Mott, who took part in the recent Governor's Conference on
Tourism at the Registry Resort here, said that "travel agents are
involved in all aspects of travel" and that Visit Florida works
closely with them whenever possible as "major partners" in their
"It's getting to be a larger world, and people are looking for
more and more varied adventures," Mott said.
The wildfires that raged through Central Florida recently should
have no lasting impact on tourism statewide, according to Mott,
although Daytona Beach remains affected. "The fires definitely had
an impact on specific areas from St. Augustine to Daytona Beach
down to the Space Coast," he said.
"The hotel folks in Daytona Beach tell me they generally should
be running around 70% to 80% occupancy. They were down to 20% to
30%. They're maybe up to 50% occupancy now. So it has had a high
impact on their business," he said.
Visit Florida officials said it was too early to assess the
fires' economic damage to tourism.
Mott said that special advertising and public relations efforts
of his group during and after the worst of the wildfires should
have blunted any long-range impact.
Future advertising will not address the fires, but Visit Florida
this fiscal year (as of July 1) plans an increased budget of $10.5
million, or $1 million more than the previous year. Up to $16
million in anticipated matching funds from co-op partners of Visit
Florida is expected and will be spent as well on a year-around
Objectives of Visit Florida include attempts to flatten
seasonality, which differs depending on state regions; to increase
visitor spending by attracting more affluent arrivals such as
Brazilians; to boost in-state tourism marketing; to reverse a
downward trend in auto visitors, and to implement marketing
strategies to protect peak season demand.
Although Florida tourism got off to a good start this year,
there were also some reversals, Mott said, all beyond humans'
"We started with the rains in the winter," he said, while the
winter up north was relatively mild [depressing vacation demand].
Then some tornadoes roared across Central Florida," he said. "Then
we had the drought and then the fires. All we need now is a damn
hurricane!" he said.