BOCA RATON RESORT & CLUB, Fla.

The challenge was proposed at the 2013 Florida Governor’s Conference: 100 million visitors in one year. And that figure was in the spotlight again at the 47th annual Florida Governor's Conference on Tourism, held from Sept. 22-24 at the newsly renovated Boca Raton Resort & Club in southern Palm Beach County.

The Governor’s Conference—an educational and networking event for state tourism officials and visitor bureaus—aimed to share strategies and marketing practices to help attendees realize the conference theme: “100 Million & Beyond: Getting Your Share.”

“One hundred million or bust; that’s our motto,” declared Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover the Palm Beaches. “In our case, we’ve had 54 consecutive months of improving tourism numbers for Palm Beach County.”

Escalating visitor figures were a common thread for most speakers, including Richard Hayduk, president of the Boca Raton Resort & Club who said that occupancy rates were “flirting with records.” Similarly, Andrew Hertz, president and general manager of the Miami Seaquarium who also chairs the Visit Florida Board of Directors, referred to Florida’s “exponential growth,” and noted that “almost 25 percent of the sales tax is on tourism-related expenditures.”

Will Seccombe, president and CEO of Visit Florida, used rising tourism numbers to rally the 895 attendees to double their marketing and promotional efforts.

“So far through June, more than 50 million have visited, and we’re on our way to the fourth consecutive year of growth,” Seccombe said. “Florida’s tourism industry is driving the state’s economy…we’re projected to host 127 million by 2020.”

Governor Rick Scott echoed Seccombe’s sentiments during a rousing address on the conference’s opening night. “You guys are the drivers,” he said. “You’re the reason we added 643,000 jobs in the last three years and eight months.”

With 100 million-plus on the horizon, Visit Florida execs outlined a series of new initiatives designed to get them there sooner rather than later, including a hospitality training program in conjunction with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association; a dedicated Florida hub on nationalgeographic.com; new multilingual Official Florida Guide apps; and a partnership with the Spanish-language network Telemundo, among others.

Meanwhile, keynote speaker Roger Dow—CEO of the U.S. Travel Association and proponent of the international travel promotion program Brand USA—brought the message of travel closer to home when he exhorted attendees not to fall victim to what he called “Overwhelmed America” and the “Work-Martyr Complex.”

“In this country, 430 million paid vacation days a year aren’t being used,” Dow said. “People don’t realize what they’re forfeiting when they don’t take vacations…AARP believes travel is important for mental acuity, and that seniors who travel stay sharper longer.”

Dow encourages his own employees to stay sharp by offering a $500 bonus to anyone who uses all their vacation days. “Travel has a lasting impact on relationships,” he said. “We need people to understand the benefits of taking time off.”

As with Governor’s Conferences past, the three-day event included a variety of special appearances, from rapper/Palm Beach resident Vanilla Ice to Grammy Award-winning composer Eric Whitacre, whose “virtual choir” melded voices from 8,420 online videos, underscoring the vast potential and power of collaboration.

Florida’s economy, multicultural tourism marketing, engagement with bloggers and online influencers, and work with receptive tour operators were all explored during breakout sessions that also included a look at the future of meetings and knowledge sharing, hosted by former Meetings Focus editor and writer, Greg Oates.