These days when Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (GFLCVB) meets with local hospitality industry colleagues, she anticipates questions of welcoming spring breakers back to the destination. To her pleasure, the collective answer continues to be a steadfast “no.”
For more than 20 years, this former south Florida student getaway has hung a philosophical “No Vacancy” sign for the wild and rowdy college crowd and a welcome mat for couples, families, friends on a getaway, international visitors, and convention delegates.
“Returning to spring break as a quick tourism fix in a tough economy,” said Grossman, who has been at the helm of Broward County’s tourism marketing organization since 1995, “is clearly not the answer. Our decision to end spring break in 1986 has driven visitor growth from one half million annually to 10.8 million visitors in 2008. It has allowed us to attract a significant investment in hotel, retail, and restaurant development and build a first-class airport and convention center. And, a very small part of the visitor mix is about 15,000 students who visit each year in the springtime to enjoy our beaches.”
Market diversification is another reason Greater Fort Lauderdale can continue to bypass the spring break crowd. A few years ago, the GFLCVB launched departments to handle multicultural and sports marketing sales and both have grown into multi-million dollar sources of business. According to Grossman, family reunions and intercollegiate sports, in addition to traditional corporate group meetings, have proven to be recession resistant for the area.
Grossman’s proof points include January 2009 tourism statistics that show Greater Fort Lauderdale with the highest occupancy rate in the state (70.5 percent), and more than US$600 million in hotel product added to the area in 2008 and 2009. Many of these hotels bear first-time global brand names including The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, W Hotels, and Trump International Hotels & Resorts. Westin Hotels & Resorts will expand its presence in Greater Fort Lauderdale when the multi-million dollar beachfront Westin Beach Resort, Fort Lauderdale opens in April. And the Blackstone-owned Fort Lauderdale Grande recently emerged from a top-down US$70 million renovation.
To drive continued demand, the destination is moving forward with an additional tourism stimulus program targeting leisure and convention business through increased advertising and public relations. The GFLCVB is also seeing success in winning important association group business, a market segment that is holding strong in the current recession. A recent win includes the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, which will bring 1,200 delegates to Greater Fort Lauderdale in 2011.
The destination’s cruise business also continues to grow with Port Everglades anticipating 2.14 million cruisers this year. Royal Caribbean’s 5,400-passenger Oasis, MSC Cruises’ Orchestra, Carnival’s Carnival Freedom, and Princess Cruises’ Tahitian Princess are all making first-time sailings from the port.
The big bonanza for Greater Fort Lauderdale is Super Bowl XLIV in 2010. For the first time in all of the years that the Super Bowl has come to south Florida, Greater Fort Lauderdale will host NFL headquarters, as well as the National Media Center. In addition, for the first time in 30 years, the NFL Pro Bowl is moving from Hawaii to South Florida for play on Sunday, January 31, one week prior to Super Bowl. The expected economic impact of these events is US$375 million.
For Grossman, the icing on the cake is the ability to showcase the Greater Fort Lauderdale tourism product to more than 4,500 journalists from all over the world who will be housed and experience the transformation of the Fort Lauderdale area from spring break to beach chic.