Visit Florida is boosting its marketing efforts to Canadians, following a decline in the state’s largest group of international travelers.

Canada sent 3.2 million visitors to Florida last year, down from 4 million in 2011. The Canadian snowbirds stay longer and spend 1.9 times more per person than domestic visitors, according to Visit Florida.

The state’s marketing agency is blaming the decline on a weaker Canadian dollar and competition from California, Hawaii and Las Vegas.

Ken Lawson, president and CEO of Visit Florida, is in Canada this week to promote the state and bring Canadians back.

“I think we took this market for granted,” Lawson said, in a report by Travelweek Group. “The numbers don’t lie, Canadians are number one to Florida and Canada is an extremely important market for Florida,” 

To reverse the trend, Visit Florida has spent more money in Canada showcasing Florida’s lesser-known destinations and marketing the state’s diversity.

“Sure we have Disney, we have the beaches,” said Lawson, who spoke at the Destination Marketing Association International’s annual convention in Toronto. “But are we marketing the rest of Florida? We have craft breweries, bike trails, people can swim with a manatee, we have culture … these things matter, and they connect with Canadians.”

Lawson also said they need to do a better job educating travel agents about the state’s attractions and destinations. Visit Florida plans to hire a trade relations rep for the Canadian market this fall.

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