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Orlando Sentinel

Osceola Woos Overlooked Hispanic Tourists

By Todd Pack

April 20, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.




With thousands of its motel beds remaining empty each night and dozens of its motel owners near failure, Osceola County will try to pull its No. 1 industry out of a 2-year-old slump by appealing to the nation's Hispanics.

Osceola's first Spanish-language television commercial will begin airing nationwide next week in hopes of luring Hispanic tourists to the county.

It's a simple strategy -- but one that few in the troubled travel industry are trying.

Locally, only Walt Disney World consistently targets Hispanics. Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando do so occasionally, but only for special Hispanic-flavored events.

Osceola's largest rival for overnight guests, Orlando and Orange County, doesn't at all.

Such attitudes are shortsighted, said Ty Christian, managing partner of YPB/Christian, the diversity travel-marketing arm of Orlando-based Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown.

"If you need to make sales," Christian said, "why aren't you tapping into a market that says, 'We want to come. Just give me an invitation'?"

With the last census, Hispanics became the United States' largest minority, representing 12.5 percent of the U.S. population and outnumbering blacks by 650,000.

Hispanics accounted for 12.6 percent of Central Florida's population, almost double what it was 10 years earlier. Nearly 19 percent of Orange's population is Hispanic; in Osceola, it's almost 30 percent.

Market ripe for plucking

Christian said it's a market hungry for someone to acknowledge it.

"Whoever gets them first will have them for life," he said.

That's what Osceola County is hoping for.

"We've always reached out to families," said Shelley Maccini, research analyst with the Kissimmee-St. Cloud Convention & Visitors Bureau. And as the population shifts, she said, "this is an enormous segment to go after."

Five years ago, the bureau tried targeting Hispanics by dubbing a Spanish-speaking announcer's voice over one of its standard commercials. But officials are taking a more sophisticated approach this time.

Research shows that Hispanics are likely to travel with their extended families, so the Hispanic actors in the commercial include grandparents. Hispanics also aren't as likely to sit around the pool relaxing, research shows, so the ad depicts a family always on the go.

Osceola County spent $165,000 to produce the ad and will spend another $100,000 to buy air time on Spanish-language networks Univision, Telemundo and Telefutura. The TV spot will run an indefinite number of times, until the visitors bureau receives 11,000 calls in response to the ad.

Nationwide, spending on Hispanic advertising -- either in Spanish or English -- by major brands such as Sears and Coca-Cola has soared as Hispanics have become the United States' largest minority.

But despite such gains, the travel industry generally has been slow to target Hispanics.

Only one airline, American Airlines, made Hispanic Business Inc.'s 2001 list of the 60 largest Hispanic advertisers; it ranked No. 54, with annual spending of $4.5 million. But it finished well behind No. 46 Greyhound, which spent $5.9 million. Hispanic Business, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based information-services company, said consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble, whose brands include Ivory soap, is No. 1, spending $55 million.

Walt Disney Co. is No. 36 on the list, spending $8.5 million, but that includes advertising for all its holdings, not just its Orlando theme parks.

Still, Universal and SeaWorld have done only limited advertising aimed at Hispanics. For example, Universal plans to target Hispanics for the celebration of the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo at CityWalk.

The exploding Hispanic market is "something we've been keeping a pulse on the last year or two," said Susan Lomax, Universal's senior director of public relations.

But "we're still finding that our general advertising does a good job of reaching that ethnic group," she said.

Likewise, SeaWorld Orlando is targeting Hispanics with ads for next month's Viva la musica, the park's third Latin music and cultural event. But while Hispanics appear in the park's mainstream ads, it doesn't target them directly, spokeswoman Becca Bides said.

Orlando's convention and visitors bureau says it can't afford ads singling out Hispanics, said Jose Estorino, its senior vice president of marketing.

It's in the middle of a six-month, $7 million advertising campaign aimed at women ages 25 to 54, the group that often decides where and when families take vacation, Estorino said. Its goal is to reach as many of those decision makers as possible, regardless of race or ethnicity, he said.

"I think what Kissimmee's doing is great," Estorino said. If nothing else, "it will be a good test."

Slump hurt Osceola badly

But Kissimmee-St. Cloud needs more than a successful test. It needs tourists.

Last year's slump in travel hit Central Florida hard, but it hit hardest in Osceola County. Its 125 hotels are typically among the least full in all of Central Florida; almost one in five couldn't afford to pay property taxes this year.

Business picked up considerably over spring break and Easter, according to Smith Travel Research, a Hendersonville, Tenn., company that tracks the U.S. lodging industry.

On average, hotels and motels in Kissimmee saw occupancy rates in excess of 94 percent in the two weeks ended April 6.

Kissimmee-area hotels were about 66 percent full the week ended April 13. Hotels generally need occupancy of 55 percent to 65 percent to break even.

But despite the pressing need to attract customers -- analysts say business probably won't return to normal until 2003 -- the travel industry continues to overlook the Hispanic market, said Sarita Skidmore, a principal in Menlo Consulting Group of Palo Alto, Calif.

Skidmore said one reason is that, on paper, at least, Hispanics appear less likely to spend a lot of money on expensive vacations.

The Census Bureau estimated median household income for Hispanics in 1999 at $30,735, far below the $40,816 median for all U.S. households.

But "marketers are unwise when they look at the averages," said Loretta Adams, president of TNS Market Development in San Diego.

Adams said her company has found that Hispanics are more likely than the typical traveler to save for vacation. They won't spend their money foolishly, "but they'll come with a pocketful of money, and they'll spend it, because it's their indulgence for the year," she said.

Sept. 11 delayed ad

Lori Driscoll, a Kissimmee-St. Cloud visitors bureau spokeswoman, said the tourism marketing group was considering a Spanish-language campaign before last year's downturn, but plans were put on hold after Sept. 11.

In Kissimmee's 30-second commercial, Familia A stays at a hotel in Kissimmee-St. Cloud, just a few minutes from Disney World. Scenes of Familia A -- made up of two parents, two children and a grandparent -- were filmed earlier this month at the Magic Kingdom.

Familia B stays someplace else and is seen on a seemingly endless commute. In the back seat, a young boy and girl cry, "Cuanto falta?" which loosely translates to, "Are we there yet?"

It's a straightforward story line, but an executive with the Dallas-based advertising agency that created the commercial said getting the details just right was critical.

"We wanted to build a spot that was universal, that anybody could relate to," regardless of ethnicity, said Will Gay, a creative-team leader in Marc USA's Orlando office. That meant casting and costuming the actors so they didn't appear more Cuban than Mexican, more Mexican then Puerto Rican, Gay said.

'You want to feel at home'

Such a commercial probably would appeal to travelers such as Mayra Maldonado, 35, a Boston hospital kitchen manager who visited Central Florida this month with her family and stayed in Kissimmee.

Maldonado said she didn't notice any Hispanics in the commercials, brochures or Web sites she looked at while planning her vacation. She said a commercial that shows Hispanics would make her more likely to choose one place to stay over another.

"You like to feel you're with your people," she said. "Even though you're on vacation, you still want to feel comfortable. You want to feel at home."

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