Conexión Florida April 2018

Here’s our Conexión Florida Tourism column for April.

Last month we discussed how tourism developed and how it contributes to local economies. Over the past few weeks there have been some developments to tourism here on the Northern Gulf Coast that I thought you’d find interesting.

Tourist Development Tax (TDT), commonly known as Bed Tax, was set up to be paid only by tourists and to fund the promotion of tourism in the areas where it’s collected. Now, you may think that that just means it can only be spent on advertising a destination, but that’s far from the case. Bed tax, certainly in Florida, can be used for a whole range of projects. This ranges from providing life guards on beaches, creating museums, running convention centers, developing artificial reefs, building beach access, repairing beaches where weather or tides have caused erosion, through, of course, marketing a destination.

As TDT can generate substantial amounts of revenue, it has attracted the attention of some legislators who would like to use it for non-tourist related uses, for example paving roads in non-tourist areas for example. Consequently, proposals have been put forward in the Florida Legislature to change the rules.

Read the rest of the column HERE

Tourism situation – now.

This article appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday, June 19, 2017


By this time of the year, we are usually in a good position to know what sort of success the tourism industry is having not only locally, but nationally and internationally, as well. At the midpoint of 2017, the state of the tourism market is throwing up all sorts of conflicting results.

Here in Northwest Florida, where only 1 percent of our tourism is currently of international origin, we think that our domestic, drive-in visitors make us immune from trends in other sectors. Strangely what happens in one market does have an effect on the other areas.

First, the good news. Our local hospitality professionals are reporting excellent advance bookings for the summer season and bed tax collections have been up for the first quarter of the year. Important also is that bookings for attractions and experiences have been very strong in the first quarter and advance bookings are ahead of last year.

Visitors to Florida were up by 2.5 percent for the first quarter of the year over 2016 with 3.1 million visitors arriving. Visitors from Canada and UK were down but an increase in domestic visitors more than filled the gap.

Statistics from credit card companies for Northwest Florida show an increase in spending from cards with Canadian, UK and German addresses. Okaloosa County’s DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) feels this can be put down to Canadians preferring our area to central and south Florida, and that new flights into New Orleans from London and Germany may be bringing visitors here.

On the other side of the coin, the strength of the dollar against overseas currencies and other factors may discourage Europeans from heading to U.S. destinations. Some areas of Florida are seeing drops in online inquiries from the UK by as much as 60 percent. Foursquare, a location technology company, says that America’s market share of international leisure tourism declined an average of 11 percent between October 2016 and March 2017. However, the financial attractiveness of traveling to Europe has seen a huge increase in Americans heading east across the Pond with an 80 percent jump in U.S. to UK bookings reported by Expedia, an on-line travel agent.

So, nothing really conclusive, but the trend is currently good for Northwest Florida, which relies on domestic tourists. But with fewer internationals coming to the U.S. and more Americans traveling to Europe, the U.S. destinations that usually welcome overseas guests may start looking at attracting “our” domestic visitors. That’s not a good portent for 2018.

If the proposal to close Brand USA and the cut to Visit Florida’s budget from $100 million to $25 million goes ahead, then the Sunshine State will loose out to California and other domestic and foreign places. Areas like Orlando and south Florida may use their budgets and publicity to try to steal “our” visitors. It’s a distinct possibility.

It’s essential that the Gulf Coast destinations redouble their efforts to keep our exiting visitors and develop new markets as soon as possible. Nothing is definite, and we look set to have a really good 2017, but 2018 … who knows?

Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to


It should be noted that since this piece was written, the Florida Legislature have authorized a $75million budget for Visit Florida, albeit with severe restrictions on their ability to operate effectively.

March Newsletter

For those not on our mailing list, here’s the March newsletter!

Navarre Beach.
Navarre Beach.

Last month, we discussed how some politicians in Tallahassee, the Florida State capital, were playing politics with the future of Visit Florida, the State’s destination marketing organization. That fight isn’t over as we’ll report.

This month other politicians both here in the USA and in other parts of the world are having influences on tourism in ways they cannot predict.

Good news however is that Culinary Tourism is booming. Read on….

Political shenanigans

The move by Speaker Corcoran to de-fund Visit Florida continues, although he has indicated that he no longer wants to close the organization down, merely to limit its ability to operate and drastically reduce its budget. Governor Scott is fiercely fighting this along with the Tourism Industry and it would appear, members of the Senate. The fight is not over and if you’re involved in the industry in Florida, I urge you to a) contact your representatives to support Visit Florida and b) attend Tourism Day in Tallahassee this month to lobby in person. Please contact me if you need details of how to attend Tourism Day.

In what promises to be a difficult year for international tourism, further obstacles are being dreamt up by politicians on either side of the Atlantic.

The strong US dollar has the potential for discouraging European tourists in particular from visiting the USA this year. Some of those European economies are not strong currently and the USA could be expensive for them.

We now have the three year-old dispute between the EU and the USA over visas. The EU parliament consider that the countries of the community should be considered as one (that has resulted in the UK wanting ‘out’ with their Brexit vote), although the US still recognizes individual states. The US has refused to allow some EU states access to the Visa Waiver Program which allows visa free travel into the US. Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus don’t meet the US security requirements. The EU has said that either the US accept these countries or all US Citizens will require visas to visit any EU country.

This is an old dispute and has now reached the ‘Who blinks first’ stage. Despite the strong dollar which makes overseas travel attractive, American tourists would be very discouraged if they were required to get a visa. Europe needs those US dollars after a lackluster 2016 tourist season following terrorist attacks, and although advance demand has been strong, it wouldn’t take much to scupper that.

Traveling the other way – east to west – is also potentially threatened. I mentioned the strength of the dollar being a hazard, but what has been called the ‘Trump Effect’ is apparently causing a softening of travel demand. I’m not making any political points, just reporting on figures coming from sources in the tourism industry.

It appears that first announcements of a travel ban had a detrimental effect on European tourists plans to visit the US. I’ve been asked why, say, a German tourist would feel threatened by a ban on travelers from certain middle east countries. I can’t answer that easily, but believe me they are worried. Even the UK tourists who believe they are part of a ‘special relationship’ with the US, are as a group being cautious. Suffice to say that enquiries for flights to the US are down an average of 22%. Tourism research firms are projecting a loss of 6.3 million visitors ($10.8 billion in lost revenue). The tourism board of New York City has predicted that 300,000 fewer tourists will visit than did in 2016. Previously New York was predicting an increase of 400,000. Philadelphia has already lost one conference worth an estimated $7m as a result of the proposed travel ban.

Even the Canadian market is seeing a drop in the number of tourists intending to travel below the 49th.

That’s International tourism of course and it’s been suggested that it won’t affect US destinations that don’t cater for Internationals (like Northwest Florida, where only 1% of tourists are from outside the US). That may be true, but of course the markets that attract overseas travelers are hardly likely to sit and do nothing. They will want to find domestic tourists to replace the foreigners and they are not averse to creating marketing campaigns and making offers to lure those domestic guests away from places like the Northern Gulf Coast.

As the old Chinese curse says “May you live in interesting times”.

It’s not all bad news though…..

95% of travelers have said that they engage in unique and memorable food or beverage experiences while traveling, according to the World Food Travel Association ( I guess that they would say that!). Another research organization, Destination Analysts, claim that 50.7% of Millennials won’t visit a destination that doesn’t have good restaurants – although they don’t define what makes a good restaurant.

Before you state that Millennials are just children, remember that the first Millennials turn 35 this year! Also important is that the Centennial Generation (Generation Z or ‘Post Millennials’) are now just beginning to enter the workforce, so are beginning to effect the market.

Certainly the younger generations are having a strong influence on their parents and grandparents when it comes to food. A recent report by the HAAS Center (part of the University of West Florida) was created to examine tourism trends in Okaloosa County (home to Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island). They found that although tourist spending in restaurants in the county increased in 2015 more than 15% over 2011, its revenue per seat had grown only 12%, where peer and competing counties had grown by 28%. The competing counties are where most (but certainly not all) of the new and more creative restaurants are found. Interestingly, the area has seen an increase in the number of up-scale grocery stores (Whole Food Market, Fresh Market and Publix). Whereas in 2011 tourists spent twice as much in restaurants as they did in grocery stores, it’s likely that 2016 will see tourists spend more in grocery stores than in restaurants for the first time.

The take away (sorry!) is that those tourists are seeking culinary experiences, and finding them.

Which brings me to the really good news for my home area. I recently attended the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association’s annual awards ceremony for the North West Florida region. The display of talent at that event was stunning. The quality of the areas chefs, wait staff and managers was exceptional and their depth of knowledge, experience and creativity was at least a match for more recognized tourist areas. A similar level of expertise was evident in the hotel, resort and accommodation sector.

That Culinary Tourism is growing makes really good news for the industry as a whole. It’s also great for The Northern Gulf Coast of Florida. The Tourism Industry worldwide is going for Culinary Tourism in a big way from the traditional destinations of Europe to the New World and areas like Australasia. Even Costa Rica getting in on the act. Don’t underestimate the Cruise lines either.


Sustainable Tourism

Some time ago, I wrote a blog about how I learned to love tourists called, “I’m not a Grockle, I live here.” (You can find it at, if only to find out what a “Grockle” is!). Having grown up in a small, historic country frequently visited by camera-wielding tourists, you quickly learned to embrace, rather than fight, human curiosity.

One of the major factors affecting world tourism in the coming years will be what’s termed “over-tourism.” We’ve seen the 300,000 residents of Iceland struggling with 3 million tourists a year. It’s almost impossible to buy a home in Venice and the city has almost become a tourist theme park. Machu Picchu, the Inca city situated 8,000 feet up in the Peruvian Andes, has been forced to restrict tourist numbers at certain times of the year to avoid destroying the world heritage site.
These are extreme examples, but there is a need to manage tourism. It’s a process called Sustainable Tourism, which aims to ensure that development is a positive experience for locals and tourists while helping to generate future employment and……..

Read the rest of this article at here.Empty Beaches?-1

The one constant thing.

Back in 500 BC, tourism wasn’t much as we know it today. However, in Ephesus in what is now Turkey, a gentleman called Heraclitus was pondering, as ancients tended to do. “Change’ he said (in Greek) ‘is the only constant in life’.

We can’t look into the future with any certainty, and no matter how informed or clever we are, there’s always something ready to throw a wrench (or spanner, for my English friends) into the works.

This certainly applies to tourism, of course. We know that nothing will remain the same. The visitors of today will age, and with age comes changes in needs and changes in desires. Possibly also changes in circumstances. Different demographics emerge – see the rise of the Boomers and how as their children grew and left home, their vacation choices changed. The emergence of the Zoomers – Boomers with Zip – who seem to be mirroring (but with more money) the ways of the Millennials. This Millennial group are always touted as having completely different needs to prior generations, but research seems to be proving that generalization wrong, or at least to be too simplistic.

Then there’s the change from where visitors come. On a local level, that shows up when a neighboring state or country experiences a change in fortune (for better or worse) that increases or decreases visitation. On a world wide level the emergence of new economies has major impacts. Look at the enormous increase in world travel from China and India. Of course the ‘wrench in the works’ law comes into play, and the burgeoning Brazilian market (for the USA in general and Florida in particular) has taken a major hit with Brazil’s economic woes. Same applies to Russia. However in the long game, these are probably blips.

The thing is, tourism is increasing and has been for many decades. It’s an almost unstoppable effect as humans are forever inquisitive and of an exploring nature (even if it’s ‘soft’ exploring!).


Travelers 1999-2013











The chart above (From the US Department of Commerce and National Travel and Tourism Office) shows the continuing rise in tourists to the USA since just 1999. Yes, the ‘wrench’ effect applied following 9/11 in 2001 and again with the global recession of 2008/9, but the overall effect is ever increasing numbers.

Skift report Intl visitor arrivals




The Skift report chart above shows the trend and forecast for international visitors to the USA. Since the post 9/11 dip and the wobble 2007/9 the results and forecast are ever upwards.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (in their Economic Impact 2015 – USA report show that recent years have seen travel and tourism growing at a faster rate than both the wider economy and other significant factors like automotive and healthcare sectors. Visitors from emerging economies are now a 46% share of international visitors, up from 38% in 2000. The problems in Russia and Brazil will have a slowing effect but falling oil prices (which affect living costs, increases disposable income and lowers air fares) will provide a contrary influence. So, expansion of tourism is predicted to continue at a stronger pace than last year.

Back to Heraclitus. Change is the only constant. We know that the future will not be the same as the past. If we rely on doing the same things as we always have – if we don’t at least look at the possibilities for change, we’re going to fail. We have to reinvent, and we have prepare for change.

‘Destination Think’ interviewed Jan Hutton, the Chief Marketing Officer of Gold Coast Tourism (The Gold Coast is famous and well established tourist region on the east coast of Australia), Jan said:

“Our world is precarious, many legacy industries are crumbling and amid this mayhem, tourism is flourishing. Tourism is a top priority for every country around the world now, as a means to grow revenue, grow job creation, grow industry, grow investment, grow trade – it is the sharp edge that can lead to so much more for a destination. This means that we now need to be agile, relevant and smarter than ever in an incredibly competitive landscape.”

The whole interview can be found here:

Getting back to Heraclitus again, we must be preparing for the change to our business that will inevitably arrive. We must look at where our visitors not only traditionally originate and where they are starting to come from, but where they will come from in the future. We must be ready to adapt to the way people will think not only in the near future, but in 5 and 10 years. We may not be completely accurate in our predictions, but we can make pretty reliable guesses. The one thing we will know for certain – things WILL change.