Visit Or­lando, Ex­pe­ri­ence Kis­sim­mee cut teams as virus changes in­dus­try

Orlando Sentinel - - Local & State - By Marco San­tana

Cen­tral Florida tourism agen­cies have slashed in­ter­na­tional mar­ket­ing teams and will in­stead target do­mes­tic trav­el­ers as the coro­n­avirus pan­demic ends and the in­dus­try be­gins to bounce back.

Visit Or­lando’s in­ter­na­tional team went from 15 to three, while Ex­pe­ri­ence Kis­sim­mee let go five of its seven in­ter­na­tional staff mem­bers.

Ex­pe­ri­ence Kis­sim­mee CEO DT Minich said the mea­sures taken might be just the start as the pan­demic ap­proaches its fourth month.

“It’s chang­ing daily and hourly,” he said. “You can say ‘we are do­ing this to­day’ then to­mor­row those plans fly out the win­dow. So our re­cov­ery plan has to be flex­i­ble.”

Ex­pe­ri­ence Kis­sim­mee, which had a pro­jected op­er­at­ing bud­get in 2018-2019 of $19.3 mil­lion, had al­ready re­duced staff hours from 40 to 32 per week, re­sult­ing in a 20% pay­roll re­duc­tion, Minich said.

Visit Or­lando, too, has based its post-re­cov­ery plan on do­mes­tic travel. Its bud­get was $100 mil­lion last year.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s data show that 91% of vis­i­tors come from the U.S., with 70% of them driv­ing to Or­lando.

“So, clearly, the U.S. is our fo­cus for the re­main­der of the year,” said Becca Bides, Visit Or­lando’s di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing, who added that the cam­paign will target na­tional out­lets, so­cial me­dia and dig­i­tal ads. “As we en­ter this phased re-open­ing, how quickly peo­ple re­sume travel will de­pend in large part on how we com­mu­ni­cate new poli­cies that es­tab­lish a sense of con­fi­dence.”

Lead­ers of both or­ga­ni­za­tions pre­dicted that any re­cov­ery to the in­dus­try would likely take at least into 2021, if not be­yond.

The resur­gence of tourism will rely upon sev­eral large in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing air­lines and other trans­porta­tion sec­tors, work­ing to­gether, they said.

“It’s go­ing to take a long time to re­bound,” Minich said. “There are just so many ques­tions as to when flights will re­sume and, once flights re­sume, which routes will fly.”

Ex­pe­ri­ence Kis­sim­mee has a pres­ence in nine in­ter­na­tional re­gions, with mar­ket­ing ded­i­cated to each be­ing ei­ther elim­i­nated or re­duced.

The un­cer­tainty of the pan­demic has made the end of this par­tic­u­lar cri­sis tough to pre­dict.

Minich, who headed Visit St. Pete Clear­wa­ter from 2007-2014, com­pared it with the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010, which spilled an es­ti­mated 4.9 mil­lion bar­rels of oil into the Gulf of Mex­ico.

“We didn’t know when the oil was go­ing to be cleaned,” he said.

For the pan­demic, “we are just pre­par­ing now for when we can start rolling out mar­ket­ing plans,” he added.

“When you have hur­ri­canes, it comes through and a dam­age as­sess­ment will tell you if you can re­open in three months, for in­stance. There is no clear time­line in this sit­u­a­tion.”

Minich says one fac­tor is how com­fort­able peo­ple will be with get­ting onto en­closed spa­ces such as air­planes with other peo­ple. Once that hes­i­ta­tion di­min­ishes, then Ex­pe­ri­ence Kis­sim­mee can start to think about re­open­ing in­ter­na­tional ef­forts, Minich said.

“We are an­tic­i­pat­ing that we will be deal­ing with it on a coun­try-by-coun­try ba­sis. It won’t be just one day ev­ery­thing opens up again.”

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