|Andrew Ricketts, public relations account manager, VoX International; Jeanette Faria, account manager, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, Canada office; Pamela Johnson, director of sales, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau; Tamara Pigott, executive director, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau & Susan Webb, managing partner, VoX International
With Canada eclipsing Germany as the top provider of international travellers to Fort Myers and Sanibel in 2011, the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau has stepped up its presence in Canada for 2012 and beyond.
As of Jan. 1, 2012, the bureau partnered with VoX International in establishing a Canadian office with the goal of increasing visibility in Canada.
Admittedly, the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau has always known Canadians travel to the destination in consistent and considerable numbers, making it easy for the destination to take the Canadian market for granted. Lee County benefits from direct air service with Air Canada and WestJet into southwest
“We’ve got good lift, a lot of hotels, and a lot of [Canadians] own condos or homes in the area,” said Jeanette Faria, account manager, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, Canada office.
“For many years we felt that our Canadian market behaved in a way that our snow birds did. They come in the winter, and the other times of the year there is not as much,” said Pamela Johnson, director of sales, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.
However, a strong and consistent market doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for growth.
“We saw that, wow, this is pretty good. If we’re not doing too much there, and we’re getting good numbers, we wondered what the possibilities would be if we put in more of a concentrated effort. The aim is to have a more aggressive and strategic effort in this market now,” said Johnson.
Since establishing the Canadian wing of its office in early 2012, the destination has already seen a significant growth in its Canadian visitor numbers.
According to the Conference Board of Canada, Canadian direct arrivals to the destination are up 16.7 per cent as of August. With the Canadian high season on its way, the bureau believes the trend will hold.
“The numbers are very positive for us,” said Johnson. “We’ve done a few initiatives in terms of marketing through the trade. We’ve taken the approach that we’re really trying to get new visitation. We’re trying to reach out to people who may not know us. That approach is all about developing an awareness of the destination with the trade market and the consumers.”
Getting the trade and consumers to consider something new in Florida is the biggest challenge the visitors bureau sees in increasing its Canadian visitations.
According to Johnson, Canadians often believe that they know the Florida market because they have a strong knowledge of Miami and Orlando, as well as Tampa, which leaves the Fort Myers and Sanibel region off of some people’s radars.
According to Tamara Pigott, executive director, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, wildlife is the areas strongest draw, helps set it apart and makes it different from the better know Florida destinations.
“I certainly believe it is one of the most beautiful coastal destinations in Florida,” she said. “It has a real strong commitment to preserving things the way they are. We don’t build on every single inch of our beach front. Take for example Sanibel Island. Over 60 per cent of the island is preserved and no building on it is taller than the tallest palm tree... A real casual vibe permeates through everything we do.”
Pigott said the destination is ideal for multi-generational travel, as there is something for all ages. The destination also appeals to light adventure travellers, birders and those clients planning a destination wedding.
The Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau has plans to continue establishing its relationship with the Canadian travel agent market.
“We’re certainly looking to draw stronger relationships with the travel agent market [in Canada]. We recognize that it is still a very important market. We’re always looking for opportunities to get in front of them for trainings about our area as well as FAMs to experience the destination. We certainly want to do a few more FAMs in the coming months. To me, half the battle is getting them to the area. After that, it sells itself because the agents have been there and experienced it,” said Johnson.