A New Way Forward

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PENT-UP DEMAND Area accommodations are prepared to meet the needs of stir-crazy visitors. Photo Credit: Getty

When Cape Coral-based restaurant group HGH—owners of Fathoms, Gather and The French Press—realized that the quarantine would be in effect for weeks, if not months, its owners knew they needed to rethink their advertising strategies. “You’re just sitting there all day thinking of ideas, asking yourself, ‘What’s next? What are we going to do?’” says Val Voisin, a partner in HGH and its marketing director.

The group began by putting more money into radio and print advertising—50% more, according to Voisin. Then the partners turned their efforts to social media, where they already had a strong presence. “We realized we could do more if we put a lot of focus on there,” Voisin says, “so we started entertaining people while they were at home.”

That entertainment came in the form of a series of cooking demonstrations led by HGH chefs and streamed live over Facebook. Viewers were able to comment and ask questions in real-time. “People from all over were watching,” Voisin says. If their restaurants couldn’t sell food, the owners decided, at least they could strengthen their customer base.

The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel took a similar approach. In early June, when the world was just beginning to emerge from quarantine, the Beaches already had a new advertising plan in place. The goal? To keep Fort Myers and Sanibel at the top of visitors’ minds, and to inspire forward-looking travelers to consider vacations in Southwest Florida when they felt safe enough to travel.

In the initial phase, which began in March, the Convention and Visitors Bureau launched a Stay Home, Stay Well campaign with the theme “the beaches aren’t going anywhere, and neither should you.” By June, the CVB had moved into the next phase, where the focus was less an overt call-to-vacation and more on armchair travel inspiration.

The last two phases of the new advertising strategy, which would go into effect when most of the country returned to pre-COVID-19 routines, were more action-focused, encouraging potential visitors to book a stay. Their message, according to Lee County’s Tim Engstrom: “When you’re ready, we hope you feel safe, inspired and excited to join us on the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel.”

But for Bill Waichullis, senior vice president of operations for Boykin Management, which owns the Pink Shells Resort on Fort Myers Beach, new advertising strategies haven’t been necessary. In fact, the resort is spending 50% to 75% less on advertising than it did at this time last year.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” Waichullis says. “People are stir-crazy and just want to get out.” In early summer, typically a slow time on the beach, the resort was running at 80% occupancy, the maximum allowed with social distancing guidelines.

“It all comes down to how to keep the phones ringing,” Waichullis says. “It might be a different story for hotels or 41 or inland in Kissimmee, but for beach hotels, the phones keep ringing.”

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