Visit Orlando, Experience Kissimmee cut teams as virus changes industry
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.”