St. Augustine, FL (May 25, 2022) – Two years of pent up demand is paying dividends for an industry hit hard as the pandemic ravaged the globe.
Tourism industry professionals and volunteers gathered for the State of the Tourism Industry in St. Johns County on Wednesday at the World Golf Village. Hosted by the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau, as experts shared their data, the news mirrored that from the state’s official marketing arm Visit Florida, over the past two quarters.
With an aggressive, ‘open for business’ plan in place and nimble messaging, Florida’s tourism industry has rebounded faster than any state in the nation and in St. Johns County, even quicker.
Research shared by Destination Analysts’ David Reichbach on Wednesday showed international travelers like those from China, Canada and Argentina are prioritizing travel in their budget planning, while more travelers are now finding destination inspiration through digital media sources and online influencers, making digital resources even more valuable to the tourism industry.
“The only two sources of destination inspiration that we’ve seen any growth last year were online media and opinions and experiences of digital influencers, which had an 18 percent growth, year over year,” said Reichbach before sharing even more good news.
“We asked a totally open ended question of travelers around the world to write in, give them fill in the blank, we don’t tell them or give them a list or anything. We say anywhere in the world you want to go in the next 3 years, write it down. And the highest written-in destination by 35.9 percent of all likely international travelers is the United States or a destination within the United States,” he said.
Surveying American travelers in April 2022, domestic leisure travelers ranked Florida as the number one destination for those making travel plans over the next 12 months, up from number four, 3 years ago behind New York, Los Vegas and Los Angeles.
However, analysts do agree inflation is making an impact on travel decisions.
“Even though travelers are telling us this is not a good time to spend, when we ask them where they’re going to prioritize travel in their budget, they’re expectations are strong month over month.”
“The impact of inflation on travel is rough,” said Reichbach, noting trip distances are shorter for domestic travelers and about a quarter of American travelers have cancelled a trip as a result of inflation.
But for now, those ready to hit the open road or hop on a plane are still doing so, and the St. Johns County tourism and hospitality industries are reaping the much needed benefits thanks to the VCB’s standout PeterMayer advertising agency ‘Travel INTRAnationally’ campaign.
“I’m sure all of you have noticed hotel and gas prices across the country are up. Travelers are feeling this hurt. The interesting thing, and the data shows this, even though travelers are feeling the pain of that increased spend, they’re not not traveling. They’re still coming. They’re still spending, and it has to do with the fact that we haven’t been able to travel the way we wanted to for the past two years.”
The Good News
The State of the Tourism Industry event takes place annually, and offers an opportunity for the tourism and hospitality industries to connect, share updates and recognize industry leaders.
This year the 2021 Tourism Impact Award was presented to Kanti Patel, CEO and President of Jalaram Hotels and Vista Hospitality Management.
Deemed a visionary with an engineer’s mind and a teacher’s heart, Patel was recognized for his contributions to St. Johns County’s tourism and hospitality industry. As the head of the family-owned and operated corporation, the Patel family started their foray in the lodging industry in 1979. The family has worked diligently to grow their business from a single hotel on Anastasia Boulevard to nearly a dozen across northeast Florida including the dazzling, newly constructed Renaissance Hotel on West Castillo Drive in the heart of St. Augustine.
“Mr. Patel has done so much for this community, and he’s done it with his own hard work,” shared Richard Goldman, President and CEO of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau.
“He has had a vision for our destination and he’s worked over a number of hurdles that not maybe everybody would have had to jump over, but he’s done a great job. Honoring him was very easy for the award selection committee. He was head and shoulders the best honoree for this, so we’re very proud of his accomplishments and to be able to recognize him.”
The morning’s program also recognized the work of the St. Johns Cultural Council, Breeze Airways’ expansion into the Jacksonville market, and the popular Classic Car Museum of St. Augustine, with co-founder and owner Sidney Hobbs serving as the keynote speaker, sharing family stories and his love for classic cars.
Wrapping up the show with one more surprise, VCB Chair Kimberly Wilson invited the board of directors to the stage as she announced their submission of nomination for Richard Goldman for consideration into the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame. The 2022 inductee will be announced this September at the Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Boca Raton, Florida.
“It was a huge surprise. I’m honored. Our mission is really our best reward for the whole team but to be acknowledged in this way is truly humbling, and as I said, a complete surprise,” said Goldman.
Serving as one of St. Johns County’s biggest cheerleaders, Goldman always is quick to highlight the team effort.
“We passed a record breaking performance as a destination that we set in 2019. We passed that this past year,” said Goldman.
“We recovered before every one of our members of our concept, which is 11 other destinations. We even recovered faster than the state of Florida with all of its many options. But it didn’t happen by chance. It happened because of the great work that was done. We created the inspiration for them to come to our destination. We were given the tools to do that and the trust to perform it,” he said.