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Lee VCB expands into product development role for destination

By Staff | May 20, 2009

In keeping with a national trend in which destination marketing organizations are migrating from a marketing to a management role, the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB) is proactively fostering product development initiatives for The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, which it markets internationally as a leisure and meetings destination.

Through the use of year-round themed promotions supported with aggressive advertising programs and a new initiative to foster package development throughout the destination, the VCB hopes to rally the local tourism industry to package existing offerings in a more compelling and competitive manner, as well as create new products that meet marketplace demands and respond to overall travel trends.

“As competition for leisure time grows increasingly diverse and complex, our organization is taking on more and more of a product development role in order to stay ahead of the curve in the marketplace, particularly in today’s challenging economy,” said Suya Davenport, VCB executive director. “We’ve had a longstanding tradition of funding infrastructure and product development through our Beach and Shoreline Program, and our latest efforts build upon that legacy.”

Davenport reports that she and her staff anticipated future economic challenges in spring 2008 when planning for the VCB’s 2008-09 fiscal year marketing programs that began on Oct. 1, 2008. The team already had instituted its first annual Islands FallFest promotion last fall to entice visitation during the traditionally slower visitation months of September through mid-November. The promotion was concepted in October 2007 as a catalyst for the industry to bundle the area’s unique fall special events with available accommodations to increase bookings when they are most needed. It was the first such initiative of its kind for the destination.

Islands FallFest 2008 was so well received that the VCB marketing team created a year-round schedule of promotions as part of this fiscal year’s marketing plan to achieve a similar impact – give the industry major rallying points throughout the year by which to build compelling product to drive greater visitation in times of need. The resulting Summer Sanctuary and Islands FallFest 2009 promotions are supported by nearly $1 million in advertising or about 28 percent of the VCB’s advertising budget for the fiscal year. This includes newspaper inserts, radio and Internet advertisements, brochures, direct mail, and added-value media promotions.

Early results of the annual promotions are highly encouraging, according to Davenport. Islands Fallfest 2008 drove total Web site visits of 13,829, more than 105,000 page views, and an average of 9 minutes, 46 seconds on the promotional site. Vacation packages also were booked, but Davenport said it is difficult to quantify the exact number since participating hoteliers are reticent to share proprietary booking information for their properties. She said anecdotal reports from the field were quite positive.

The Spring Training promotion, which just ended, was equally encouraging, according to Davenport. The Boston Red Sox booked 970 vacation packages and more than 1,200 room nights this season; and the Minnesota Twins sold 125 tickets through vacation packages, nearly double what was sold for the 2008 season.

In addition, the dedicated Spring Training packages page on the VCB’s consumer Web site attracted around 8,650 visitors who each spent just a little longer than two minutes on the site page. Davenport attributed the Web traffic to a variety of factors, including the destination’s search engine marketing (paid search) campaign for the packages, a promotional push from the site’s home page, flyer distribution via sales efforts and special events such as Christmas at Fenway, and a radio buy in Boston from December through February.

Davenport predicts even greater success for this year’s Summer Sanctuary and Islands FallFest promotions, since the VCB is hosting complimentary educational workshops for industry constituents in April, May and June to assist hoteliers, attraction managers and event organizers in packaging destination products for the two promotions, each of which is supported with significant marketing dollars.

“The more industry partners create and market successful packages, the more incentive consumers will have to visit the destination and to stay longer while they’re here. They’ll not only receive great value for their money but they’ll also save vacation planning time, since we’re pre-packaging compelling experiences for them,” said Davenport. “Building on our destination’s unique product offerings also helps differentiate our area from competitive destinations.”

The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel include Sanibel and Captiva islands, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Estero, Cape Coral, Pine Island, Boca Grande & Outer islands, North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres.

Source: Lee VCB