by Katie Worthington Decker, President & CEO
On June 25 I attended the Tourist Development Council's annual strategic planning retreat. The Tourist Development Council is the statutorily appointed body of tourism professionals and government representatives that oversee the funds raised through the "bed tax" levied on guests at accommodations in Polk County for the purpose of reinvesting in the promotion, marketing and infrastructure of our tourism and sports marketing industry. In this article I'll refer to it as either the TDC or Polk County Tourism & Sports Marketing (PCTSM). The tourism/hospitality industry is a key driver of Florida's $1 trillion economy. Visitors to Florida contribute more than $12 billion in state and local tax revenue annually, and every 76 visitors to Florida creates one new job. In 2018 over 126 million people visited Florida, and 75 million of those to the greater Orlando area.
Polk County also benefited greatly by the expansion in visitation to Florida. According to Downs & St. Germain Research firm hired by the TDC from April 1, 2018 to March 30, 2019 Polk County attracted 5,070,400 visitors. This is the impact of those visitors:
So how did they plan their trip?
Sixty percent of visitors planned their trip over a month in advance. 74% did so starting with a search on Google. 37% spoke with friends and 32% used personal social media to either ask for recommendations or do research on their planning.
How did they get here?
Of the guests surveyed for the research study, 76% of those drove to Polk County. Of those that flew, 2 out of 3 did so into the Orlando International Airport.
Why did they come?
Of those surveyed, 17% were visiting Polk County to visit friends and family, 13% for a special event, 11% for an attraction, 10% for vacation, and 10% for a sporting event.
Where are the coming from?
Of the visitors surveyed, 53% were from Florida, 12% from the Southeast, 12% from the Midwest, 12% from the Northeast, 7% international and 4% from the West. Of the domestic travelers, 53% were from Florida, and the other 4 top markets were Georgia, Michigan, New York and Ohio.
Of those surveyed, the average travel party was 2.6people and 38% of visitors traveled with at least one person under the age of 18. The average age of our visitor was 47 years old with an average household income of $81,000/year and of those surveyed was 55% male.
Of those surveyed, 1 in 4 was a first-time visitor to Polk County and 36% had previously visited Polk County more than 10 times.
Where did they stay?
The average length of stay was 5.2 nights. 36% stayed in paid lodging, 15% stayed in non-paid accommodations (think friends and family) and 49% were day trippers.
What did they do when they go here?
Of the visitors survyed:
What do travelers want? They want an experience that transformed them in a way that’s personalized and becomes a part of their identity. They want something for Instagram that they can share and brag about. They want an authentic experience.
Looking at the fiscal year 2018-2019 (October 1, 2018-September 30, 2019) tourist tax collection continue to break records. Year-to-date revenues are tracking 4% over last year, which was already a record year including the increase due to Irma (think insurance workers, displaced residents, roofing and construction contractors). So in reality, this number is much higher.