Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Can Florida get Mexican tourists to leave California and Texas behind and visit the Sunshine State?

Florida tourism officials spent the weekend trying to convince travel agents in Mexico City that the Sunshine State is a better destination than their next-door neighbors, California and Texas.

About 20 agencies and businesses made the trip abroad as a part of Florida Huddle Mexico, the first of its kind spin-off of the state's annual travel trade conference.

Florida accommodated 453,000 Mexican visitors in 2015, up 5 percent from 2014, according to the state's tourism arm, Visit Florida. However, Mexico is only the fourth largest source of visitors from Latin America, trailing Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.

"We have the dominant position generally in Latin America, but Mexico is an exception," said Visit Florida chief executive William Seccombe. Florida is at a disadvantage, he added, because it is a longer trip than California and Texas.

In the short term, though, he sees potential for a 30 to 40 percent increase in travelers just by filling empty plane seats from Mexico to Florida.

"We can demonstrate success by filling those planes and once we do that we'll be able to expand and attract more flights," Seccombe said.

Related: Tourism continues to thrive in Tampa Bay despite Zika and Brexit, but is it recession-proof?

While there are no direct flights from Mexico to Tampa Bay, the region sent a convoy of representatives from Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, Visit Tampa Bay, Tampa International Airport and a handful of hotel and attraction partners, said David Downing, executive director of Pinellas County's tourism agency, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater.

The latest news from Tampa International Airport: Tampa International Airport has landed another international flight: Reykjavik, Iceland

"They mostly fly to Orlando, then they drive to our area," said Ana Fernandez, the agency's Latin American sales director. Until the region has its own direct flight, the trick is marketing in partnership with Orlando and Miami, Downing said.

"We're the thing that's not in Orlando," he said. "We have the beaches and they love how American this destination is."

On average, a Mexican travel party to Florida spends $1,437 on a seven-night vacation, Seccombe said.

Contact Alli Knothe at [email protected] Follow @KnotheA.

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