79ºF

Here’s Brevard’s post-coronavirus comeback strategy

The Space Coast Office of Tourism has begun planning for a comeback in the local tourism market, which has been flattened by the coronavirus pandemic, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.

The key message local tourism officials want to convey is: Once it is safe to travel again, the Space Coast is the place for Florida families to spend their summer vacations.

[SHARE: Melbourne seeks input on reopening]

Brevard County hotels and other short-term accommodation venues currently are banned by a county order from renting to tourists, as part of an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They can, however, rent to people with a legitimate business or medical purpose to be here, as well as members of the military, first responders and health care workers.

The halt of tourism has reduced room rentals at many Space Coast hotels by 90% or more, with some hotels deciding to temporarily close.

At the 284-room Radisson Resort at the Port in Cape Canaveral, business volume is at 3% of what it should be this month, said hotelier Bob Baugher, a member of the Brevard County Tourist Development Council. Baugher temporarily closed his two smaller properties in Cocoa Beach — the Cocoa Beach Surf Co./Four Points by Sheraton hotel and the Cocoa Beach Suites.

The tourism plunge is a major blow to the local economy. Tourism has been a $2.1 billion-a-year industry for Brevard County, and was responsible for about 26,000 jobs, making it one of the county’s largest job creators. Many of those in the tourism industry have been laid off or had their work hours reduced because of the coronavirus.

The plan — presented to the Tourist Development Council's Marketing Committee during a teleconference on Monday — comes at a time when the Space Coast is preparing for the return of human spaceflight from U.S. soil, perhaps as early as May 27.

If the schedules hold, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch a Crew Dragon capsule with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from Kennedy Space Center to the International Space Station. It would be the first time American astronauts are launched from American soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

"Even if we do no promotions, the return to human spaceflight from the Space Coast will generate significant interest down the road for people to come visit, once the green light is given to travel again," Space Coast Office of Tourism Executive Director Peter Cranis said.

“How great would it be if, by the week of Memorial Day, the governor and County Commission open up the ability for people to travel here to see humans launch into space from the Space Coast for the first time since 2011,” Cranis said. “Obviously, we have to see what the guidance is regarding social distancing and everyone staying safe.”

Tourist Development Council Chairman Giles Malone said "the new era of human spaceflight" — with its American astronauts on an American rocket — will generate "incredible worldwide press" attention to the Space Coast, and will help the tourism industry come back.

"It will be fantastic to kelp us kick-start this again," said Malone, a partner in Maverick Multimedia, which operates the media company Space Coast Daily; and a partner in Brevard Productions, which runs a variety of special events and sports events.

Multimedia campaign planned

Meanwhile, the Office of Tourism is planning a new $700,000 multimedia marketing campaign to recapture lost tourism business, once it is safe to travel again.

Charity Stewart, the Office of Tourism's marketing director, said the strategy will include a focus on attracting the "drive market" of tourists, particularly those who live within five Florida markets — Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach.

Cranis said the Office of Tourism might even try a "microphased" approach, starting promoting the Space Coast in markets within 50 miles of Brevard County — including Daytona Beach, Orlando and Vero Beach — before expanding out to markets 100 to 150 miles away.

The campaign tentatively would run from the end of May/beginning of June through July/early August, although that could change, depending in large part on when travel restrictions are eased.

Stewart said the timing will depend on a number of factors, including approval to reinstate tourism-related travel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state government and local government; restrictions being lifted on tourism in the county; data from consumer surveys of potential tourists; and the human spaceflight launch schedule remaining on track.

In her presentation to the Marketing Committee, Stewart said the campaign will seek to "acknowledge and understand what we have all been through," while also encouraging people to "come together here, breathe in the fresh air, and spend time with your loved ones."

The campaign will emphasize that the Space Coast — with its vast beaches and outdoor recreational opportunities — is a "safe space to reconnect with your loved ones" or to "disconnect from everything." It will seek to assure people that Brevard's hotels and restaurants are clean and safe.

Stewart said the campaign will include a range of paid advertising, as well as public relations initiatives, use of social media, and content from social media influencers, including "mommy bloggers" who are followed by mothers with school-age children.

Tax revenue plunge

Before the coronavirus hit, Cranis said revenue collected by Brevard County's Tourist Development Tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals was on pace to reach $17.15 million for the 2019-20 budget year that ends Sept. 30.

Tourist tax collections are a key indicator of the health of the local tourism industry.

Now, however, Cranis is projecting tourist tax revenue of $10.04 million for 2019-20, down from $16.02 million collected in the 2018-19 budget year. That includes 90% decreases from the budgeted amounts in both April and May; a 70% drop in June; a 60% drop in July; a 50% drop in August; and a 30% drop in September.

"Those are scary numbers," said Tourist Development Council Marketing Committee Chairman Puneet "PK" Kapur, general manager of 84-room Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Palm Bay.

Revenue from the tax is used to market Space Coast tourism, as well as to help fund tourism-related capital projects, beach renourishment, the cultural sector and the Brevard Zoo.

But Kapur said there is some hope, with the return of human spaceflight and the potential resumption of sports tournaments this summer by U.S. Specialty Sports Association at its Space Coast Complex in Viera.

Cranis said the Space Coast is well-positioned to take advantage of the two types of destinations that U.S. travelers are most amenable to go to as their first post-pandemic vacation — beach destinations and small towns — based on a survey by Destination Analysts.

Cranis said a Harris Poll taken April 3-5 showed that respondents generally were willing to go out to dinner and stay in a hotel within six months after the coronavirus pandemic ends. But they were more hesitant to fly on a plane or take a cruise, factors that would hurt the cruise operations at Port Canaveral, which is the world's second-busiest cruise port, in terms of passenger volume.

Marketing Committee members generally liked the plan presented by Cranis and Stewart.

"It's a very thoughtful approach," said Marketing Committee Vice Chair Jackie Barker, president of Sky Advertising in Satellite Beach.

And Malone, the Tourist Development Council chairman, said he believes the Office of Tourism staff is “like a racehorse ready to come out of the gate,” when the time is right to resume tourism marketing.