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Visit Pensacola Gearing For Spring Tourists & Legislative Session

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Visit Pensacola is hoping to build upon a successful winter tourist season as the calendar moves toward spring.

However, some flak could be coming out of Tallahassee.

Visit Pensacola President Steve Hayes says one of the key has been the agency’s expansion of digital advertising and analytics that target specific demographics, which he calls “almost Big Brother-ish.”

“Whether you’re searching on your phone, on your tablet, your laptop, or all of them – you leave traces,” said Hayes. “We’re able to target our message, and then go through it and measure it from there. We know they clicked on this ad and then they showed up in Pensacola.”

Now through April, Visit Pensacola is dedicating about 75 percent of its resources to lure visitors from the Baby Boomer and Gen-X Generations, whose average annual income is at least $100,000. Visit will use much of its $525,000 budget for digital ads, out-of-town promotions, and public relations, along with creating content that tells Pensacola’s story.

“And that story could be our culinary, our history, it could be the arts, it could be what a vibrant community we are,” said Hayes. “There’s just a lot of stuff that we want to be able to tell our potential guests."

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Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
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Visit Pensacola President Steve Hayes

And there are differences in promoting a fall and winter tourist season, and the spring/summer period. Much of it, according to Hayes, is geographical.

“Some of the upper Midwest will drop off from the winter, and we’ll move more Southeast in the springtime,” Hayes said. “In the spring you also get your spring break, which is more typically family-driven.”

Visit Pensacola is also watching events in Tallahassee over a developing battle among state leaders over Visit Florida, the state's tourism agency, and Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development arm.

House Bill 889, sponsored by Rep. Paul Renner (R-Jacksonville) would vanquish both.

“This is a horribly bad deal, and unfair deal for taxpayers to small businesses, to all of us as Floridians, to continue to do economic incentives,” said Renner on The Florida Channel. “It’s just wrong.”

The measure also appears to stem from the million-dollar contract given by Visit Florida to Miami rapper Pitbull, who produced a music video considered by many to be degrading to women. Along with the two offices, the bill aims to abolish more than two dozen incentive programs, which Renner and House Speaker Richard Corcoran consider to be “corporate welfare.”

The Renner/Corcoran opposition to Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida is drawing fire from perhaps their staunchest supporter, Gov. Rick Scott.

“I’m actually shocked, that politicians here in Tallahassee don’t understand the value of job creation; don’t understand the value of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. I am shocked,” said Scott. “If they don’t they don’t understand business, or they don’t care about those that are disadvantaged.”

Scott last week announced record tourism numbers for the state in 2016 with 113 million tourists. And he’s encouraging tourism advocates to lobby their elected officials for continued funding of Visit Florida in the coming budget year.

Visit Pensacola’s Steve Hayes, who serves on a Visit Florida committee, says one question is: what singular voice would the State of Florida lose if Renner and Corcoran are successful?

“We know a visitor coming here, as a travel party, spends anywhere between $1,500-$2,000 per trip,” said Hayes. “Everyone else wants that same money. And by having Visit Florida out there with that singular message helps us and other communities be able to go in on top of that and say, ‘You just heard about Florida, now let’s talk about Pensacola.’”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is offering a compromise. Visit Florida can live, but on a much-reduced annual budget of $25 million. Add to that restrictions on bonuses, benefits and travel. And state leaders would have the power to reject contracts of $750,000 or more.

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