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Florida's not-so-modest mission? To become No. 1 global tourist destination

Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe:  Florida is “top of the heap.”

Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe: Florida is “top of the heap.”

More people are visiting Florida on any given day than live in 15 U.S. states, so the scale of our tourism industry is hard to fathom. — Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe

Florida's tourism industry racked up 87.3 million visitors in 2011 and looks to blow by 100 million within the next few years. These numbers are mere sign posts of state tourism marketing agency Visit Florida's not-so-modest mission:

To be the No. 1 tourism destination on the planet.

Picking tourism's global champ is a bit fuzzy, depending on which ranking is used. But Florida's out to leave its two closest contenders — California and France — in its dust.

The trend line is promising. Despite a slow economy, Florida's coming off a series of big tourism years. And 2013 promises a convergence of major events in the state that should assure those numbers will only continue to soar.

Here are the Top 5:

5. This year is Florida's 500th anniversary, or quincentennial. A new Viva Florida ad campaign tells visitors of the state's history and culture going back to the Spanish explorers — and says it's okay if they add one more unscheduled day in Florida to take a closer look.

4. Orlando's major theme parks — Disney, Universal and SeaWorld — are all unveiling major attractions in the same year. That's rare.

3. Popular chef, TV icon and now Florida resident Emeril Lagasse just kicked off a new cable show on the Cooking Channel called Emeril's Florida that highlights Florida food, recipes, restaurants and diverse attractions. New shows run at 10:30 a.m. Sundays.

2. Tracking global demographics, Florida is adding new salespeople focused on India and China in anticipation of the coming boom in international tourism from such high-population, fast-rising countries.

1. Starting in the week of Feb. 11, Visit Florida kicks off a new advertising campaign — its first in three years — based on the clever tagline Must be the sunshine. Among the proposed ads, a shy little girl splashes her dad on the beach with water. Must be the sunshine. In another, a couple are laughing together and the woman says she's heard all his bad jokes a thousand times before but now they are funny. Must be the sunshine. Ads finish with the kicker: See what the sunshine can do for you.

Created by Miami ad firm SapientNitro, the TV, radio, print and outdoor ad campaign will incorporate the most sophisticated tie-ins yet to social media that will allow potential visitors to drill down online for more specific tourism information than ever before.

But that's not all.

Among economic development leaders, the image of Florida tourism is making a big comeback. Over the past decade, Florida tourism got pooh-poohed and back-burnered as an old-school, poor-wage industry in Florida that gave the state a lightweight and dated business reputation just as business leaders were pushing for higher-paying jobs that required better education and sharper skills.

That quest has not gone away. But when the recession hit Florida so violently, it was tourism and hospitality jobs that helped the state limp out of the worst of the downturn.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott also jumped on the tourism bandwagon when he saw where new jobs were being created and has supported its marketing with precious state dollars. More than 1 million people are employed in Florida's tourism industry.

On Thursday, as part of his 2013-2014 state budget, a typically penny-pinching Scott recommended to state legislators that Visit Florida receive $75 million to bolster tourism marketing efforts. That's a whopping 39 percent increase over last year's allocation.

Why toss so many precious public dollars to promote tourism? Andrew Hertz, Miami Seaquarium general manager, says it best: "The hospitality industry has led the state in job creation for 20 straight months."

Why stop now?

Let's not forget the guy who was named CEO of Visit Florida last fall. Will Seccombe built most of his tourism credentials marketing Denver conventions and Colorado ski slopes before being recruited to join Visit Florida in 2008 as its marketing chief. His pick as CEO late last year was unanimous by the Visit Florida board.

In an interview, Seccombe, 46, isn't shy telling why he relocated.

Scale. Florida is a tourism behemoth.

Beauty. He cites the state's "825 miles of the most beautiful beaches in the world." He calls the state a "fishing capital," a "golf paradise," and home to motor sports, theme parks, cruise lines, award-winning state parks and natural wonders.

"It is an embarrassment of riches," Seccombe confesses. "Florida is at the top of the heap of destination marketing."

Making Florida the No. 1 worldwide tourism spot became Visit Florida's mission four years ago, soon after Seccombe arrived.

It's not just the many things to do and see that will make Florida No. 1, says the tourism CEO. It is also the state's "hospitality culture." He calls it Florida's secret competitive advantage.

"The state is full of people who make their livelihoods providing exceptional experiences for travelers," Seccombe says. "That is part of the fabric of Florida."

Tourism's back, baby.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

.tourism

Top reasons

Five top reasons Florida tourism's on a roll

5. Regional home runs: Annual contemporary Art Basel Miami event is international hit; Cape Canaveral debuts Atlantis Space Shuttle museum; Florida gets to market its 500th anniversary in 2013.

4. Florida Gov. Rick Scott just urged the Legislature to increase tourism promotion budget by a whopping 39 percent.

3. Chef Emeril Lagasse's new Emeril's Florida on Cooking Channel explores state cuisine, locations.

2. Disney (Fantasyland), Universal (Transformers 3D), SeaWorld (Antarctica; Empire of the Penguin) are all opening major attractions in 2013.

1. New "Must be the sunshine" ad campaign will press to secure world's No. 1 tourism destination in battle of numbers against top rivals California and France.

Florida's not-so-modest mission? To become No. 1 global tourist destination 02/02/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 1, 2013 6:37pm]

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