The oil spill caused by the BP/Transocean Deepwater Horizon accident created high stakes for the tourism industry in the state of Florida. With over 80 million visitors a year – 94% being repeat guests – tourism is the number one industry, employing nearly one million Floridians and adding in excess of $60 billion to the state economy. The VISIT FLORIDA team was able to manage uncertainty, correct misperceptions and maintain trust in the face of this unprecedented challenge.
On April 20, 2010, the BP/Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded and sunk, resulting in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. In the following months, the spill became the top news story of the summer, with 99% of Americans saying they were following the story and 54% saying they were following it closely. A live video feed was established of oil gushing from the failed “blowout preventer” – a real-time, persistent reminder that the crisis was spreading larger every minute.
VISIT FLORIDA had managed hurricanes and red-tide before, but the uncertainty surrounding this situation was unprecedented. How deeply would the state’s 1,260 miles of coastline be affected? How do we balance the interests of directly impacted areas with unaffected areas facing misperceptions? How do we keep visitors informed and continue to encourage travelers to visit our state in a credible way that maintains trust?
1) Establish an information platform to manage uncertainty, correct misperceptions and remain a trusted resource for Florida’s visitors during and after the crisis
• Provide credible and transparent information to visitors enabling them to make the most informed travel planning decisions possible
• Institute proactive marketing efforts that continue to drive visitation in the face of the crisis
2) Outreach and communicate with the state’s tourism industry to create a unified and stronger Florida voice
• Continue to be a tireless advocate for Florida’s tourism industry and its partners at local, state, national and international levels
On April 30, in conjunction with the opening of the State Emergency Operations Center, VISIT FLORIDA activated a crisis team which began meeting daily to anticipate, monitor and respond quickly to the changing consumer environment. On May 3, VISIT FLORIDA activated the Travel Update page on the consumer website and began updating it daily to provide the latest official state response information to visitors. On May 11, “Florida Live” on VISITFLORIDA.com was launched with date-stamped photos taken by Floridians, plus live Twitter and webcam feeds from beach tourism destinations around the state. These three tools – the crisis team, the Travel Update page and “Florida Live” – were to be the basis for VISIT FLORIDA’s evolving marketing response.
From the beginning, VISIT FLORIDA worked closely with the Department of Environmental Protection and other state organizations to ensure tourism issues remained top of mind throughout the crisis. On May 20, VISIT FLORIDA enlisted the assistance of Ketchum to help develop scenario plans against various “thresholds of concern” and to proactively pitch “Florida Live” to national audiences. VISIT FLORIDA also commissioned research to assess consumers’ awareness and perceptions of the oil spill, as well as their travel intentions in light of the spill.
Within days of the oil spill, VISIT FLORIDA was hearing reports from the tourism industry that visitors were cancelling existing reservations and that, for many of them, their phones were not ringing to book new reservations at all. The response plan that VISIT FLORIDA implemented emphasizing open, honest, transparent real-time information for visitors was geared toward protecting the lucrative and important summer vacation season, as well as maintaining repeat visitors’ trust in the Florida tourism product well beyond the crisis. As the official tourism marketing organization for the State of Florida, VISIT FLORIDA’s response considered a wide variety of audiences, including consumers, industry, government officials, travel partners and media, both domestic and international. VISIT FLORIDA aimed to achieve its objectives through the following strategies:
• Promoting Through Trust: Reinforce “trust” as a key driver in guests’ decisions to visit the state during these times and beyond
• Speak With One Voice: Drive communications platforms and provide support to enable the state’s tourism industry partners and volunteers to best align messages
• Industry Unity Through a Common Message: Promote industry unity, while leading by example, through aggressive advertising and PR efforts to reinforce the transparent messaging for visitors to “see for themselves” what was really happening in Florida
• Launch and promote “Florida Live” as a key driver of real-time information for visitors
o Engage residents to submit date-stamped beach photos to “Florida Live”
o Add webcam feeds to help show a transparent image of Florida’s coastline
o Leverage social media – YouTube, Flickr, Twitter – to inform visitors and drive traffic to “Florida Live”
o Encourage industry partners to link to “Florida Live” on their own websites
o Add “Florida Live TV” showing daily on-the-road videos and blog posts from destinations around the state by VISIT FLORIDA’s Outdoor & Nature Insider
o Add official beach advisories and worry-free reservation information to “Florida Live”
o Send e-blasts to tour operators, travel agents and meeting planners to ensure they were kept apprised of the latest conditions
• Leverage VISIT FLORIDA’s official corporate blog – “Sunshine Matters” – as a hub of direct-to-stakeholder communications, reinforce trust in the PR strategy, and drive traffic to VISITFLORIDA.org’s industry resources
o Upload frequent posts by VISIT FLORIDA leaders
o Conduct and archive webinars to provide industry partners with information
o Provide “palm cards” with consistent, key messages for industry partners to use with consumers and media
o Remain in contact with state officials to keep them abreast of efforts
o Generate awareness of current state of Florida’s beaches by recruiting volunteers to participate in The Great VISIT FLORIDA Beach Walk
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
Objective 1: Establish an information platform, provide credible and transparent information, and institute aggressive proactive marketing efforts that drive visitation in the face of the crisis
• Traffic to VISITFLORIDA.com rose substantially, with a 46% increase in June year-over-year visits and a 16% increase in July year-over-year visits
• Survey results from Kerr & Downs Research showed that 31% of people who visited VISITFLORIDA.com were more likely to visit Florida before Labor Day
• Social media was well utilized, with 2,000+ photos shared by Florida residents, 52 travel questions posted and 1,077 comments/likes on the VISIT FLORIDA Facebook page
Objective 2: Outreach and communicate with the state’s tourism industry to create a unified and stronger Florida voice and continue to be a tireless advocate for Florida’s tourism industry
• Consumers and industry partners were well engaged through targeted outreach measures, with 193,500 meeting planners and travel agents reached by e-blasts and 895,000 consumers reached through special e-mails and newsletters
• 8 webinars were held with 1,382 industry partners and other organization representatives participating to keep them informed of VISIT FLORIDA efforts
• Webinar and conference call recordings, timelines and materials were uploaded to VISITFLORIDA.org, providing communications results and updates on the PR effort throughout the crisis
• Execution of The Great VISIT FLORIDA Beach Walk on November 6 helped VISIT FLORIDA to engage local tourism entities and help re-vitalize perceptions of beaches