Visit Florida exec: Agents still dominate sales

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Although the Internet accounts for a growing share of travel sales to Florida, travel agents still dominate the way travel to the state is sold, said Frank "Bud" Nocera, Visit Florida's executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Addressing several hundred executives from private-sector travel partners who support Visit Florida with dues, Nocera said that in spite of impressive growth in Internet travel marketing, much of the business is generated by traditional travel agencies rather than by e-commerce companies.

Nocera, who at one time was a travel agent himself, observed that "a large number of sites thought of as 'e-commerce sites' are really travel agencies that have closed their doors and are taking bookings over the Internet."

Nocera said that with 56% of the U.S. public on line, the importance of printed brochures and collateral materials is declining as consumers turn to the Internet for information.

Addressing fears about the possibility of an economic recession, Nocera voiced the conviction that "Florida would be one of the last destinations to be affected.

"If a recession comes," he said, "people will think about staying close to home and downsizing the length of a stay, while still thinking about taking a vacation."

He added, "We're still doing very well," with Canadian business turning up sharply and other traditional markets continuing strong.

Californians who were introduced to Florida on cruises, are beginning to discover the rest of the state's offerings and represent a new market, he said.

Nocera said it is expected that the state will report that arrivals in 2000 topped Florida's record 59.7 million overnight visitors in 1999.

Visit Florida, as the state's public-private travel marketing organization, also is seeking to expand arrivals by focusing on niche markets, he said,

Citing the state's research into lifestyle trends, Nocera reported that visitors are increasingly turning from "homogenized" to niche products as they seek to indulge specialized interests, much of it on the spur of the moment.

Other trends are "hybrid travel," such as combining business with leisure.

In addition, there is an increasing amount of travel without children.

In contrast, more older adults are traveling with grandchildren.

Visit Florida budget facts

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Visit Florida's $21.6 million basic budget for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2000, came from a share of the daily surcharge on car rental transactions, as authorized by the state leigislature.

On top of that,Visit Florida cleared $43.1 million from a combination of dues payments by private sector partner concerns, contributions for co-op ads, trade show earnings and free advertising space provided by various media.

The total budget for the current fiscal year is not yet available.

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