Though the comeback of the space industry is news being shouted from the rooftops, and rightfully so, one sector that helped Brevard bridge the gap when the Shuttle program was retired was our tourism industry. Always a vibrant and engaging part of the attraction and the ambiance of the Space Coast, tourism, including the beaches, cruises, Kennedy Space Center and more, are at a tipping point.
The new Executive Director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism is a Brevard County native. Peter Cranis, a veteran of over 20 years in the Orlando market, with over 16 spent at Visit Orlando (Orlando’s official tourism association), has helped elevate the Orlando brand internationally, which today enjoys in excess of 75 million annual visitors.
Cranis graduated from Eau Gallie High School and received his associate degree from what is now Eastern Florida State College, before earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication from UCF. A Nicholson School of Communications Hall of Fame inductee, he was a longtime adjunct professor at UCF and former chair of the university’s alumni association board of directors.
EW: How does it feel to be back in Brevard?
PC: This is my third time here and I have promised myself this time I’m not leaving. I grew up here after I moved from the New York/Connecticut area when I was 14 and just loved it. The idea of playing tennis in January is something I still can’t get over. My experience living near the beach gave me a perspective on this area that I never forgot.
After college I worked in corporate banking for a while, but I wanted to get into the tourism business. I was fortunate to be in the industry during such a dynamic period of growth.
EW: What was it that drew you to tourism?
PC: People in the industry tend to be gregarious, outgoing and friendly. Plus, it is an international industry, so you get to make friends everywhere. That is what drew me back and I thoroughly enjoyed working with Visit Orlando and the convention industry.
EW: What did you learn in that market that you would like to bring to this one?
PC: The Space Coast was always a part of our focus, since it is the closest beach to Orlando. We promoted the fact that you can come and visit the greatest theme parks in the world and in the same visit, go to some of the most famous beaches.
I think our most significant accomplishment while I was there was branding Orlando. Everyone knew the Disney brand, but when you talked to people around the world, they didn’t always know where Orlando was or everything Orlando had to offer. Visit Orlando did a pretty good job changing that. A brand leads and then the products associated with the brand follow. That is Marketing 101.
The other thing we learned was how to leverage a variety of media to maximize brand awareness. We of course shifted a lot of our focus towards digital media in the course of my career and still do, while continuing to use traditional medias to develop the destination message.
One of our main challenges is budget. Many think we have a lot of money, but the truth of the matter is, in the world of marketing, we have a small voice. So, we must make the most of those dollars to maximize the return.
EW: One observation I had about Visit Orlando, when I worked in the Central Florida market, was the level of unity and partnership they achieved among these very competitive individual organizations making up the tourism industry. Did you share that perspective?
PC: When the business community unites there isn’t much they can’t accomplish and that is one of the strengths Orlando has. No matter how big or audacious the goal, from the Amway Center or Orlando City Soccer, to the Dr. Phillips Center, the business community pulled together and achieved their goals. We saw a lot of markets that were similar in size and potential, who weren’t nearly as successful as Orlando was in reaching their goals, because they lacked that synergy.
EW: How does the Space Coast fair as a brand?
PC: Fortunately, the Space Coast is perhaps the most famous or recognizable coastal brand in Florida. Every coastal community is trying to come up with a coastal brand – the Treasure Coast, the Gulf Coast – because they know what we are and where we are. Geography is the biggest part of destination marketing. We just need to now help people understand the opportunities associated with that brand.
EW: Where do most of our visitors come from?
PC: The bulk of our visitors come from within the state of Florida: Miami, Tampa and of course Orlando. Going up the east coast, we have visitors from Atlanta, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Washington and New York. We also have quite a few international visitors from Canada, the UK and Brazil.
So, the question is, how to we get more people from those markets to come? Those international visitors tend to stay longer and spend more. Also, if we can glean a few percentage points from the Orlando market, through effective marketing, we can move the needle quite a bit.
Our three pillars of tourism are the Port and the cruise industry, which service millions of passengers a year. Then the space center, which is a great attraction to visit, with the number of launches going up every year. We’re talking about 40 launches a year. I grew up watching launches, but for people that have never seen a missile launch it’s a thrilling experience.The third pillar is some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and incredible natural waterways. Coupled with amenities like the Brevard Zoo, which is one of the top-rated zoos in the country, and there is so much to build on.
EW: We have miles of beaches, because our county is 72 miles long, that presents some challenges when it comes to a unifying and cohesive brand does it not?
PC: Our brand is the Space Coast; all these communities and their amenities are components of that brand. The office of tourism takes the neutral role of a Switzerland for tourism, where all the different elements can present one unified message with many different stories.
This community is poised for an amazing future in tourism. Currently there are approximately 10,000 hotel rooms in Brevard. But there are plans to add another 3,000. That is a 30% increase in our inventory. Also, there are conversations about a large nes convention facility, which I think there is a real appetite for. Who doesn’t want to meet in a destination that offers what we have here in terms of beaches and other attractive options?
Though I have lived here before, I am rediscovering all that Brevard County has to offer and the diversity this community represents.