Even in tough economic times it is important to market tourism

Al Sunshine

During tough economic times, it’s only natural that consumers would be wary about spending money on leisure activities, forcing them to take fewer vacations and to look for greater values.

While marketing tourism may seem like a non-essential expense in a recession, it is important for leisure travel destinations and suppliers to continue to market their services in order to receive repeat business and attract new visitors.

Florida tourism was down long before the Gulf oil spill. Florida’s hotels, theme parks and restaurants all suffered as out-of-state travelers chose to take their vacations closer to home, and to spend less time and money on trips to the Sunshine State.

With tourism generating as much as 15 percent of total state tax revenue, and being responsible for as many as one million jobs, many see the tepid summer season as evidence that good times are still a long way off.

“It’s terrible,” said one local travel expert. “You’ve got the engine of the Florida economy getting to a real breaking point.”

The more tourists buy, the better off the local economy is. But when visitors don’t come, there are fewer opportunities for local merchants to make a living. Tourism is like the export business. You get money coming in from another region, and then it circulates throughout your area. When you export goods, you get the money for it and it becomes part of your local economy; it’s the same with tourism. Money comes in, but it’s not going out.

Localities compete for tourist dollars so that projects may be approved to improve land for the purpose of attracting tourism. Tax rates may be lowered to attract companies that provide tourist services (like hotels, car rental companies, restaurants, amusement parks, etc.).

Community cooperation and understanding the benefits of tourism are essential to development of the industry. Are they willing to commit financial and human resources to assist in developing the destination? Political will of local politicians to take tourism seriously is essential. So many communities see tourism as a “last resort” and are still chasing other priorities rather than dedicating time and energy to developing tourism.

Tourism declines due to a lack of spending. Some places such as Rome and Barcelona always will have a market because they have an attractive history, but if places are not advertised and do not have attractive points of entry, then hotels and tourist attractions will start to suffer, and tourism levels will fall accordingly.

Robert Cruz, the chief economist for Miami-Dade County’s Office of Strategic Business Management, recently told commissioners that the local economy is being hammered by the same pressures as the rest of the nation. Declining residential property values, tighter access to credit, higher prices for food and fuel, and a decline in consumer confidence are among the culprits.

There were 5,000 fewer payroll jobs in Miami-Dade County between February and April than there were during the same period last year, Cruz said. Most of the statistics in Cruz’s June 11 report, “Current Economic Conditions and Short-term Outlook,” were made through April — before the Miami-Dade School Board announced it would eliminate 445 more jobs (bringing the total to 2,000) and before the Miami Herald announced it will chop 250 positions through erasing vacancies, buyouts and layoffs.

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