04 MAY 2010: Partners from Visit Florida were in town last week, donning their sunniest smiles and why not? Canadian visitors are Florida’s number one international market. We love Florida.

Even the Toronto Blue Jays think so. Dunedin Stadium is their home for spring training and it’s stocked with Labbatt’s Blue – that, and hearing the Canadian anthem sung before a game, makes it feel like a bit of Canada along Florida’s coast.

So, in a wonderful twist Toronto’s coastline by the tony Boulevard Club felt - if only for a brief moment - like Florida. Media mingled with 11 Florida partners and lunched on sizzling Surf’n’Turf as Visit Florida’s sunny Canadian rep, Henny Groenendijk, with her signature smile introduced the Floridians who were ready to shed some light on what’s new and exciting in the Sunshine State.

While your clients might not have Florida on their radar over the summer months the incredible summer discounts and the dollar at par could change that. Tracy Vaughan, director of international sales and marketing for Visit Florida, relayed how despite a 6% decrease in tourism from Canada, which was “no surprise we saw that around the world” preliminary figures from 2009 indicate 2.6 million Canadians sunned, swam and took in all the activities Florida is famous for.

“We are so appreciative of that (the 2.6 million). Of all the Canadians over 60% of them come from Ontario. Even if you look at the numbers for just Toronto alone and compare it to our top domestic destination markets it comes in at 6. That’s pretty impressive,” she said and added, the stats for early 2010 are indicating 4.8% increase compared to last year.

Here are some tips on how you can get your clients to sink their teeth into Florida:

Panama City

The new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (visitpanamacitybeach.com/airport/) in Panama City is scheduled to open on May 23. This eco-conscious airport is designed to achieve LEED certification from the US Green Building Council.

“The CVB has a great winter resident SunCard available December through March for local discounts to hotels, restaurants and attractions,” says Lindsay Bennett, a Panama Beach City rep with Lou Hammond & Associates. Complimentary Winter Resident SunCards are available to Canadians at the CVB on the corner of Hwy 98 and Hwy 79 in Panama City Beach.

Jacksonville

Visit Jacksonville in north east Florida, is bundling themed discount packages available for spring and summer travel. It recently rolled out a three venue family pass, the JAX A-Z Family Pass, offering admissions to the Jacksonville Zoo, Museum of History and Science and Adventure Landing, a mini arcade style water park. “We’re going to do more bundles with other themes so watch out for that,” noted Julie Watson with Visit Jacksonville.

Amelia Island

Amelia Island’s postcard pretty allure and home to Fernandina Beach now has a new free geo-caching program, The Amelia Island Geo-caching Challenge. This high tech treasure hunt uses a handheld GPS perfect for clients wishing to turn into a 21st century detective. (geocacheamelia.com.)

Sarasota

Watch for the Ringling International Arts Festival scheduled October 13-17. Renowned ballet dancer, the legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov with his company the Baryshnikov Arts Center unites in a unique partnership with the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. General ticket sales start May 15, 2010. (ringlingartsfestival.org/)

Naples

Princess Di lovers will enjoy a new Princess Diana Package available now through June 24, from The Inn on Fifth in Naples Florida. Clients can feel like royalty at this landmark luxury property. Package includes admission to the temporary exhibition, the Princess Diana Dress Exhibit at the von Liebig Art Center across from the inn, private fitting of Diana (look-alike) jewelry and replica gift, afternoon tea, spa treatment, and breakfast (innonfifth.com).

St.Petersburg/Clearwater

For fans of St. Petersburg/Clearwater, home to America’s award-winning beaches, a new US $35 Million Dali Museum is set to open in late 2010/early 2011. Considered an architectural masterpiece, the architect Yann Weymouth who worked alongside I.M. Pei on the Louvre renovation in Paris designed this uniquely modern structure, no doubt as an homage to Dali himself. (salvadordalimuseum.org/).

Mary Haban, senior public relations manager for Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, gave us some more smiles. “Toronto Blue Jays we love them. We love Canadians. St. Petersburg/Clearwater is proud to be the home of the spring training. We have direct lift from Toronto with West Jet and Air Canada,” said Haban while noting how friendly Canadians are, and she should know,

“I’m up here six times a year, it’s like coming home,” said the Canadian at heart.





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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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