VISIT FLORIDA and Partners Work to Create Memorable Experiences for Visitors

There really is no other place like Florida! When people think of the Sunshine State, they imagine beaches, springs, trails, campgrounds, theme parks, hotels, shopping and culinary delights, but Florida is about experiences, making connections and memories.

With record numbers of visitors to the state, it is more important than ever that VISIT FLORIDA works together with its partners to help create these experiences. To help make these connections, VISIT FLORIDA relies on its private sector, state agency and trade association partners, like the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. VISIT FLORIDA’s vision is to establish Florida as the No. 1 travel destination in the world and we can accomplish this together.

Tourism supports Florida’s economy, creates jobs for residents, and its economic impact is felt across the state. Year after year, Florida has welcomed a record number of out-of-state visitors, and based on the latest economic impact study, these visitors spent $112 billion and supported 1.4 million Florida jobs. According to the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research, for every $1 the state invests in VISIT FLORIDA, $2.15 in tax revenue is generated.

Each year, Florida Tourism Day gives the industry a chance to come together in Tallahassee to talk with legislators about the impacts of tourism on the state’s economy. Working with FRLA, VISIT FLORIDA looks forward to a successful legislative session for the tourism and hospitality industry. The industry’s hard work makes a difference in the experience visitors have in Florida and keeps them coming back! VISIT FLORIDA’s goal is not just to share sunshine, but to brighten the lives of all.

Some of the benefits of partnering with VISIT FLORIDA include marketing tools, hospitality training, industry contacts, discounts, promotions, partner to partner benefits and increased marketing exposure to visitors. VISIT FLORIDA works to leverage marketing for its partners through a number of creative and affordable co-op opportunities such as digital and print advertising, domestic and internationally targeted social media, video content production and more.

To learn more about the resources available to Florida tourism businesses, go to

Article found in the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Magazine Spring 2019 Edition

Have Your Say on Tourism Day

On March 13th, movers and shakers of the tourism industry are heading to Tallahassee from all over Florida for Tourism Day.

Why it’s important

This yearly event allows industry professionals to let lawmakers know the importance of tourism in our state and in their businesses. Tourism day is dedicated to bringing those in the tourism industry and government officials together. This event is organized by Visit Florida and FRLA, and allows attendees to meet face-to-face with their legislative representative and voice their opinions and concerns.

What to expect

At Tourism Day, attendees can expect to receive lots of information from policy makers and state leaders. This day allows for direct interaction with legislators in a fruitful environment. Outside of connecting with legislators, attendees can network with industry professionals from across the state to share ideas, industry issues, and more with one another. This is an exciting and fun day for those in the tourism and hospitality industry.

Added benefits

This event displays the enormous scope and breadth of the industry. It is alive and well in all corners of the state, from the smallest restauarant to the largest hotel. It can feel as though people often take this industry for granted and discount its importance. We employ millions of people, and we are responsible for billions in sales. This event brings all aspects of the industry together, and there is power in that.

Ready to have your say on Tourism Day? Register here.


First Quarter of 2017 Sets Florida Visitation Record

Florida tourism set another record by welcoming the highest number of quarterly visitors in the state’s history with 31.1 million in the first quarter of 2017. This represents a 2.5 percent increase over the same period in 2016. To add to this great news, during the recent special session called by Governor Scott, the Legislature allocated $76 million to fully fund VISIT FLORIDA to continue to market Florida as a premier vacation destination worldwide.

Governor Scott said, “I called a special session to fight for jobs, tourism and education, and I am proud to announce a major win for Florida families. This special session, we’ve increased the per-pupil spending to an all-time high, we’ve established a flexible, transparent economic development program and we’ve fully funded VISIT FLORIDA so we can continue to break visitation records. We know that the most important things to a family are a good-paying job and a great education for their children, and these major investments will help us continue to create opportunities across our state for generations to come.”

VISIT FLORIDA President & CEO Ken Lawson said, “This victory would not have been possible without the help of the Governor, the Legislature and all of our Industry Partners. Thanks to your dedication and support, VISIT FLORIDA is now fully funded and we can continue aggressively marketing our state to visitors around the world. With Governor Scott leading the way, Partners such as Jungle Island, Sawgrass Recreation Park, Medieval Times, ResortQuest and thousands more can continue attracting record numbers of visitors to businesses across the state. I am forever grateful for your hard work.”

Estimates from VISIT FLORIDA show a record 27.1 million domestic visitors traveled to Florida in Q1 2017, reflecting a 3.2 percent increase over the same period last year. Estimates also show that 2.7 million overseas visitors and 1.3 million Canadians came to the Sunshine State in January-March 2017. Total enplanements at Florida’s 18 major airports in Q1 2017 increased 1.6 percent over the same period the previous year, with a record 22.7 million enplaned passengers. For Q1 2017, the number of rooms sold grew by 2.2 percent and the hotel occupancy rate rose 0.7 percent compared to Q1 2016.

Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association President & CEO Carol Dover said, “Florida’s hospitality industry is thrilled our elected leaders coalesced to invest in VISIT FLORIDA. The overall health of Florida’s economy depends on visitors selecting the Sunshine State as their leading destination. With 31.1 million visitors in the first quarter of 2017, this optimal funding builds on the state’s marketing momentum and attracts commerce that benefits local businesses and state revenues.”

Meet VISIT FLORIDA’s New President & CEO Ken Lawson

For this legislative issue of Florida Restaurant and Lodging Magazine, VISIT FLORIDA would like to introduce you to our new President & CEO Ken Lawson.
Ken, who was the unanimous selection of the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors, assumed his new role on January 11.  A native Floridian and former U.S. Marine Corps Judge Advocate General, he has spent 12 years serving and protecting the public in numerous regulatory positions, including his most recent work overseeing—among other divisions—restaurants, hotels and vacation rentals with the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR).  During his six-year tenure with them, he managed a team of 1,600 employees charged with licensing and regulating more than 1 million businesses and professionals throughout the state.
In a message to the industry he sent on his first day, Ken outlined his plan for the near term.
“In the days to come, I will be meeting with each of my new staff individually to hear their ideas for moving forward successfully.  I will be personally reviewing all aspects of the day to day operations of this great organization to ensure we are fully accountable to the Governor, the Legislature and the taxpayers of Florida in all our endeavors.
In the weeks and months ahead, I will be traveling the state to meet with our industry Partners to better understand what they need from VISIT FLORIDA.  I will also be walking the halls of the Florida Capitol to speak directly with legislators about the vital role VISIT FLORIDA plays in growing the state’s economy by increasing tourism revenue.”
He concluded by stating, “VISIT FLORIDA and the entire Florida tourism industry have a great deal to be proud of with five years of record visitation, visitor spending and tourism-related employment.  I want to work closely with you all to take that unprecedented growth to the next level.  I value the input and expertise of our industry leaders and Partners, and would be happy to hear from you at”
Carol Dover, both the President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and a member of the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors, said “Ken will be a tremendous asset to VISIT FLORIDA and ensures the organization will be well-positioned to continue to play a key role in promoting the state to visitors around the globe.  VISIT FLORIDA needs a CEO with his impeccable capabilities and strong sense of responsibility to the public sector, and I am honored and privileged that he has agreed to take this significant leadership role.”

VISIT FLORIDA Puts the Power of Discovery in the User’s Hands

VISIT FLORIDA first launched the Florida Beach Finder online search tool in 2014 as a way to showcase the state’s beaches to visitors from around the globe. Here’s how it works: Visitors can “tune” their preferences in four ranges of beach personalities. Looking for action-packed, secluded or maybe somewhere in between? The Florida Beach Finder immediately delivers visual choices that best match users’ desires. With every tweak of the tuner, the options change before their eyes.

Visit Florida Beach Finder

Next, they can “walk” the Florida beaches they love with immersive Street View imagery in Google Maps. In one of the first partnerships of the Street View Trekker Loan Program, VISIT FLORIDA and Google collaborated to train and equip our local teams with their high-tech, 40-pound, backpack-mounted, 360-degree panoramic camera. Over the four months of the project, these teams took nearly 15 million pictures as they trekked Florida’s 825 miles of beaches. The same technology that lets viewers mouse around their city streets and tour monuments now empowers Florida beach lovers to view the sand, sky and shorelines of the beaches they choose to explore – all in 360-degree panorama. To date, the Florida Beach Finder has attracted more than 260 million views on Google and


Visit Florida Attractions FinderThe success of the Florida Beach Finder prompted VISIT FLORIDA to create another finder on the TripTuner platform which launched in May – this time featuring the state’s unique and diverse attractions. Similar to the Beach Finder, the Florida Attractions Finder has four separate settings that can be adjusted depending on the user’s vacation preferences: from thrill to chill, popular to hidden gem, high-tech to natural, and days to hours.

The interface then matches the user with an attraction, which could be an internationally recognized theme park or an off-the-beaten path experience. Point-of-view videos send users careening and diving on the newest roller coasters, zip-lining over alligators or skimming the Everglades aboard an airboat. Whether visitors are looking for a first-time Florida experience or wishing to repeat their favorite Florida vacation moment, the Florida Attractions Finder puts the power of discovery in the user’s hands.

The goal of the Finders is two-fold – to give people an immersive and highly-visual sampling of Florida’s diverse offerings and entice them to experience it for themselves by planning the exact vacation they’ve always wanted.

To view for yourself, go to and

Stay tuned, VISIT FLORIDA hopes to create additional Finders that will showcase Florida’s wide array of dining and lodging options.

Get Familiar with A One-Stop Resource for Marketing and Industry Education, unlike, is a website designed exclusively for the Florida tourism industry.  The site was created to provide marketing guidance and education for VISIT FLORIDA Partners and easily showcases ways tourism businesses can enhance their exposure to visitors.
A key feature of the site is the Online Marketing Planner, which serves as a resource for the industry to participate in VISIT FLORIDA officially-sanctioned co-op programs, including advertising, sales, public relations, promotions, welcome centers and industry education.  Since its inception in 2009, the Marketing Planner has proven to be a vital tool for the Florida tourism industry to promote their businesses and take full advantage of all available cost saving opportunities.
With more than 200 programs listed, the Planner makes it easy to create your own customized marketing plan.  As new co-op programs become available, the information is added to the Planner program list, which can be sorted by program type, audience, market and media channel.  The Planner also has a “My Plan” button with shopping cart functionality that allows you to view, save and print a customized plan.  Many of the items on the Planner offer a discount for VISIT FLORIDA Marketing Partners.  To learn more, go to also offers helpful information on a host of other topics, such as:
Crisis Preparation – Includes FAQs and other information about preparing for or responding to specific potential crisis situations that could impact Florida tourism entities
Order FREE Maps and Magazines – Complimentary bulk orders of Official Florida Vacation Guides and Florida Transportation Maps
Research – Includes FAQs about visitation, the Florida Visitor Study, the Power of Florida Tourism infographic and a Florida Tourism by the Numbers PowerPoint presentation that the industry is welcome to use
Education – Participate in FREE Online Hospitality Training and listen to recorded webinars in the Learning Library
About Us – Includes digital versions of VISIT FLORIDA’s Strategic Plan, Marketing Plan and interactive Annual Reports
Additional resources available on the site are exclusive to Marketing Partners, such as image and VISIT FLORIDA logo downloads, the ability to submit images for posts on VISIT FLORIDA consumer-facing social media channels, and the opportunity to share Partner-to-Partner specials.
For more information about becoming a Marketing Partner, go to  To enroll today, call the VISIT FLORIDA industry hotline at 877-435-2872 or email

Meetings Mean Business in the Sunshine State

By: Lily Etemadi


Florida welcomed a record 106.3 million out-of-state and international visitors in 2015. Nearly 6.2 million of them traveled to the Sunshine State to attend a meeting, conference or trade show. Meetings visitors stay an average of 3.3 nights and spend nearly $120 more per day than leisure travelers. This represents an economic impact of $1.2 billion in hotel night stays alone.


To accommodate these visitors, Florida boasts 12 million square feet of hotel meeting space. There are currently 384,000 square feet under construction and another 1.4 million in the planning stages. Clearly, the meetings industry is big business in the Sunshine State and VISIT FLORIDA has created a host of programs to reach this vital market.

Florida Encounter is VISIT FLORIDA’s signature event for the meetings, conventions and incentive travel industry. This highly-regarded appointment-only tradeshow showcasing Florida suppliers is designed to match qualified meeting professionals from target markets with meeting destinations, properties and services. Maintaining a true one-to-one ratio between buyers and suppliers ensures that appointment books are as full as possible for all attendees. To learn more, go to

VISIT FLORIDA’s Meetings & Travel Trade team coordinates and hosts innovative “Very Important Planner” events in top domestic markets where a high concentration of meeting professionals are located or headquartered, such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and New York. These in-market events include up to 12 industry Partners who help co-host unique and memorable networking opportunities that allow attendees to build relationships and share information about their products and services.

Through our partnerships with key meetings industry organizations such as Meeting Professionals International, Professional Convention Management Association, IMEX America and Connect, VISIT FLORIDA is able to offer Partners several participation options and sponsorship-share opportunities at their appointment-based shows and marketplaces targeting meeting professionals. These options include stand sharing, meal sponsorships, in-room gifts, registration bag inserts, e-marketing to planners and even speaking opportunities.

VISIT FLORIDA has also created a Cover Your Event insurance program that offers supplemental coverage for costs directly related to re-booking a meeting or convention should it be displaced due to a named hurricane. This ensures your clients can plan their meeting with confidence and take full advantage of Florida’s venues any time of the year. To learn more, go to

To take full advantage of discounts on meetings programs and engage with visitors through VISIT FLORIDA’s multiple marketing channels, join as a Marketing Partner at If your property has designated meeting space, you can have a listing on, a resource for planners looking to book their next meeting in Florida. To enroll today, call the VISIT FLORIDA industry hotline at 877-435-2872 or email
Lily Etemadi, is VISIT FLORIDA’s Manager of Meetings and Travel Trade.

Interact with Visitors at the Official Florida Welcome Centers

Providing fresh citrus juice, clean restrooms and friendly service as you enter the state, the five Official Florida Welcome Centers welcomed more than 2.7 million visitors to Florida in 2015. Located at the state entry lines on I-10, US231, I-75, I-95 and at the State Capitol, these Welcome Centers provide a warm experience for visitors and a unique opportunity for businesses to get their message in front of prospective guests. Did you know that roughly 30% of visitors that stop at the  Welcome  Centers  don’t  have  finalized  vacation  plans as they begin their travels? This stat presents an excellent opportunity for businesses to market themselves to visitors and drive them to book additional nights and new experiences during their stays.

Getting involved at the Official Florida Welcome Centers is  easy.  There  is  truly  something  for  everyone.  Brochure rack space display tops the list as an inexpensive way to get information about your businesses to visitors. On average a guest will pick up 10 to 14 brochures, so having a presence at the entrance to the state becomes very important. In fact, 34% of travelers modified their trip due to the information they received at a Florida Welcome Center. Another cost- effective way to entice visitors is through VISIT FLORIDA’s Transparency Lease Program. Backlit transparency space is available to prominently displayed photos of your business, event or promotion on the Welcome Centers’ walls.  These displays are available for 12 month leases, but special event leases  can  also  be  arranged  with  the Visitor  Services  staff. VISIT FLORIDA Marketing Partners also receive a discount on both of these programs.

For businesses that want a more engaging experience with travelers, there are sponsorship opportunities for a Kids Corner, designed to entertain and educate children while parents seek out  travel  information.  Similarly,  there’s  an  opportunity  to  “Own  a Welcome Center.” Limited only by your company’s imagination, your company  can  display  buildouts  and  banners,  provide  literature  and giveaways, and make a real impact on travelers as they pass into Florida. These opportunities are open to VISIT FLORIDA Marketing Partners only  and  offer  great  exposure  through  an  immersive  experience  for everyone that walks through the Welcome Center’s doors.

VISIT FLORIDA also welcomes you to join us each season for our Welcome Center festivals. These events are open to both Marketing Partners and Web Partners/Non-Partners and allow businesses to share an 8’x2’ table with an industry member and bring giveaways, coupons, brochures, characters and specials to interact directly with visitors! These events are on a first-come, first-served chance at putting your business front and center with guests as they enter the state.

With millions of visitors making the stop on their way into the state at  VISIT  FLORIDA’s  Welcome  Centers,  participating  in  programs to get their attention is a must. As new opportunities are frequently available, it’s a great idea to head over to planner  to  review  available  Welcome  Center  programs.  You’ll  also find  contact  information  and  program  details  for  everything VISIT FLORIDA offers.

To stay connected, follow our corporate blog, Sunshine Matters. Subscribe today at, and connect with our social media channels!

For questions and more information, contact at

VISIT FLORIDA Grant Application Cycle Opens in December

Did you know that VISIT FLORIDA has a program in place which awards grants to help businesses market themselves and promote tourism in the State of Florida? If your hotel or restaurant hosts local events, or engages the community in a way that has significant economic impact in the tourism industry, you may consider applying for a VISIT FLORIDA Small Business Grant.

The Small Business Grant only has two easy-to-meet requirements to apply: Your business must be a Small Business Marketing Partner with VISIT FLORIDA and must not exceed $1.25 million in gross revenue annually. Your hotel or restaurant will also qualify if registered as a 501(c)(3) organization under IRS guidelines. This grant is a dollar for dollar matching grant, awarding up $5000 to a small business for the purpose of publicizing their tourism advantages in the State of Florida. This money can be used for marketing your business to promote tourism to Florida, from revamping your website to advertising an event your property hosts to draw in more visitors.VF Apply Now Button

In addition, VISIT FLORIDA administers the following grants:
• City-wide Meetings & Conventions Grant
• Advertising Matching Grant
• Cultural, Heritage, Rural and Nature Tourism Grant
• Minority Convention Grant

VISIT FLORIDA’s grant application cycle opens every December and closes in February. The application must be completed online; full details for the various grant programs can be found HERE including a list of prior year grant recipients.

VISIT FLORIDA also provides many marketing programs in addition to grants which can help businesses engage visitors and boost visitation. A Marketing Partnership with VISIT FLORIDA is a cost-effective and easy way to participate because it provides a host of benefits, including a robust listing on our website and in the Official Florida Vacation Guide. In addition to these features, you can also request posts to display on VISIT FLORIDA’s social media channels, furthering your reach to Florida visitors. Other benefits that indirectly help you target potential patrons include access to visitor research and free online hospitality training for front-line employees.

Visit the Online Marketing Planner to review opportunities to maximize your advertising budget and reach target audiences. Marketing Partners receive discounts on advertising and co-op programs ranging from 20% to 40% off, too! Some programs of interest include brochure distribution at the Official Florida Welcome Centers, a TripAdvisor Homepage Takeover, and World Travel Market. Opportunities in the planner are updated frequently, and include programs of all price ranges, so there is something for everyone’s budget.

VISIT FLORIDA’s goal is to maximize the economic impact of travel and tourism to Florida. By offering resources to businesses such as yours, we aim to empower you to continue bringing in more patrons to your hotels and guests to your restaurants. Join VISIT FLORIDA today!VF Apply Now Button
Article by Kate Chunka and Duncan Graham

Kate Chunka is the Partner Relations & Industry Communications Manager at VISIT FLORIDA®
Duncan Graham is the Partnership Services Coordinator at VISIT FLORIDA ®