Visit Sarasota County Updates and Meetings

Read the latest news and information from Visit Sarasota County

Second Wave of Consumer Sentiment

In conjunction with our research firm, Downs & St. Germain, and our counterpart in Lee County, Visit Sarasota County (VSC) is closely looking at the consumer sentiment, specifically those with a likelihood of traveling to our coast. Determine the impact of COVID-19 on consumers’ feelings about travel and travel-related advertising.  This is the 2nd  wave of multiple waves of the survey to see how consumer sentiment changes over time.

The second wave of data was collected through online surveys with 350 consumers in Atlanta, the Tampa Bay area, Miami – Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, New York City, Orlando, and Chicago between May 7-8, 2020. Consumers were adults between 21 – 70 years old who earned at least $75,000 per year in household income, served as a key decision-maker in where their household takes vacations, and had stayed in paid accommodations during a trip or vacation in 2019.

The key takeaways provided insight regarding safety, future travel and future marketing approach. To view the second wave of findings, click here.

To view the initial findings, click here.

Communicate with Congressional Delegation

We encourage you to share your experiences in applying for the CARES Act loan programs, as well as any shortfalls you've discovered in the federal program with elected officials. 

  • Congressman Vern Buchanan: 111 S. Orange Ave., Ste. 202W, Sarasota, FL 34236
  • Senator Marco Rubio: Sam Gibbons U.S. Courthouse, 801 N. Florida Ave., Ste. 1130, Tampa, FL 33602
  • Senator Rick Scott: Sam Gibbons U.S. Courthouse, 801 N. Florida Ave., Ste. 421, Tampa, FL 33602

Marketing and Advocating in Times of Uncertainty

Each time we go through these crises, we learn a lot about our industry and human nature.  People want certainty, they want actions, they want to somehow bring the situation under control, but this virus is having none of that! 

And that’s why it’s so important for us to keep in close touch with you, our partners. Erin H and Carolyn have been reaching out and will have contacted all our 500+ partners when through. We want to know what you’re experiencing, so we can aggregate common needs for the tourism industry in our community and share our resources and recommendations.

We also launched Zoom Partner Conference Calls this week, to review recent updates and give you all a chance to ask questions to us and each other. Keep an eye on your email for future dates and times.

Please know that our marketing strategy has changed to accommodate the climate surrounding COVID-19, and we are advocating for Sarasota County businesses wherever possible. To learn more, please see below: 

VSC's Marketing Adjustments

In early March, VSC halted all national and international marketing campaigns and redirected those dollars toward in-state travelers. Eventually, based on the federal and state governments recommendations of self-quarantining and social distancing, VSC pausing all paid marketing. We believe these funds will be needed to double-down on advertising once COVID-19 is no longer a threat.

VSC continues to post to social media channels as this can be done organically, and without disbursement from the marketing budget. However, our social strategy has altered. 

  • Daily posting from our three most active accounts – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – has been slowed to 1-2 posts per day. The content varies and works to accomplish various goals, though none with strong calls to action.
  • Feel-good, light and aspirational posts, such as landscape imagery from around the destination, with very little copy allow our followers to find reprieve and much-needed positivity. This strategy promotes general awareness so that when the time is appropriate for everyone to return to normal activities, we are still top of mind. This may include original VSC photographs or sharing partner posts and videos.
  • To encourage #SuncoastCurbside dining in the form of take-out or delivery, VSC has reserved such content for Facebook and Instagram stories. This is mostly due to the shelf-life of stories, and the ability to share many restaurants at one time. VSC has remained abreast of the posts in the community Facebook group, and worked with them to establish the hashtag above.
  • Creating polls, sharing GIF templates, asking questions and more has all been effective for VSC on social, and leaning into each platforms special features has sparked entertaining, engaging and educational dialogue, which is all we can hope for in these uncertain times.

To support  the social media strategy, VSC is generating online articles for consumers to read at their homes. They're meant to entertain, engage and raise general awareness in the midst of the crisis. These articles use "virtual vacation" narratives to highlight Sarasota County businesses and can be found on VisitSarasota.com. Additionally, these stories are being shared with consumers through VSC's eNewsletters, and are being used to pitch to media. 

How VSC is Advocating

VSC is not a government agency but we can make sure leaders at the county and state level know of your issues and concerns.

  • VSC is providing Congressman Buchanan’s staff with constant updates on the impacts on our Sarasota County tourism businesses.
  • In partnership with U.S. Travel Association, VSC has been advocating in Washington for a recovery package that would provide the most assistance possible for our small businesses.
  • Ongoing communication is occurring with Visit Florida, Destinations Florida, Destinations International and other travel and tourism organizations.

Upcoming Meetings

**All meetings are temporarily halted due to COVID-19 regulations**

VSC Staff

Virginia J. Haley, CDME
President

Erin Thomas Duggan, CDME
Vice President

Kelly M. Defebo, CMP
Director of Sales

Andrea Hunt
Director of Finance and Administration

Shelby Connett
Director of Sports

Erin Hurter
Partnership Development Manager

Britney Guertin
Communications & Content Manager

Sandrina McCloud
Visitor Experience Manager

Adam Cellini
Content Coordinator

Amanda Walker
Meeting Sales Manager

Enriqueta Balandra
Project Manager

Allison Jones
Sports Events & Sales Coordinator

Tammy Jones
Staff Accountant

Carolyn Perry
Sales Coordinator

Shantel Norman
Executive Assistant

Our Board

Christine Johnson, Chair
President - Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast

Nicholas Mavrikas, Vice-Chair
General Manager - Embassy Suites

Lorrie Liang, Secretary/Treasurer
Chief Operating Officer - Sarasota Memorial Hospital

Steven High, Immediate Past Chair
Executive Director - The Ringling Museum

Alan Maio
County Commissioner - Sarasota County Commission

Gil Reyes
General Manager - Westin Sarasota

Heather Kasten
President/CEO - Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce

Lori Ruth
Associate Publisher - Observer East

Dr. Patrick Moreo
Professor and Dean of College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership - USF-Sarasota Manatee

Richard Russell
Executive Director - Sarasota Opera

Russell Matthes
Owner/VP of Marketing - Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar

Sondra Guffey
Marketing & Business Development Specialist - The City of North Port

Varinia Van Ness, Esq
Van Ness Law Group, P.A.