¿Hablas español, Mickey?

Disney joins state push to lure Hispanics, blacks

Beth Kassab
Sentinel Staff Writer

August 3, 2006

State tourism powerhouses are aggressively stepping up their plans to court Hispanic and black travelers, coveted for their growing purchasing power.

One sign of the marketing push: Talk by Disney executives that Cinderella and Snow White may soon learn Spanish so the characters can more intimately interact with tourists at Orlando's theme parks.

The outreach comes as tourism leaders, including state promoter Visit Florida, are looking for ways to boost the state's appeal, especially given sluggish growth of out-of-state tourists and traditionally big-spending international visitors.

The Walt Disney Co. hired African-American and Hispanic ad firms for the first time this year to create a new line of television spots and print ads designed to attract people who identify with those groups.

"We wanted to make sure our advertising was as compelling as possible," said Xiomara Wiley, Disney's vice president for multicultural markets worldwide.

Targeted marketing to blacks, Hispanics and gay and lesbian audiences is growing as Florida attempts to reinvent itself as a fresh destination to groups whose collective purchasing power is projected to swell to more than $2 trillion by 2010.

"Groups are seeking, patronizing and utilizing services and destinations that recognize their affinity and market directly to them," said Roger Dow, executive director of the Travel Industry Association of America. "The more they do so, the more prominently they appear on marketers' radar screens and the more services are offered."

Travel takes off

Travel by Hispanics in the U.S. is growing at a rate of 20 percent compared with 2 percent for total travel in the U.S., according to a 2003 TIA report, the most recent available. Travel by blacks is growing by 4 percent, double the rate of total travel, according to the report.

Along with Walt Disney World, other Florida destinations such as the Keys are feeling the pressure.

"Years ago, you could just say the word 'Florida' and that was all that was needed," said Andy Newman, spokesman for the Florida Keys & Key West tourism council. "Now it's so competitive out there. There are so many other states and countries spending a ton of money, it's absolutely imperative to evolve and look for different market niches and do different things."

Disney's answer: hire firms Carol H. Williams in Oakland, Calif., and La Comunidad in Miami.

One commercial, which ran in Spanish, shows parents replacing accomplishments such as a framed diploma with photos from a Disney vacation.

Translated from Spanish the ad's narrator says, "What matters most is in your children's smiles. Make the dream of going to Disney a reality."

"The idea was to touch an emotional chord," said Jose Molla, co-founder of La Comunidad, whose clients include Best Buy and Red Bull.

Once a company such as Disney captures the attention of Hispanic audiences, it must then decide how to best deliver the Disney experience.

Some possibilities include offering theme-park shows in Spanish and ensuring that some of the princesses and other characters who roam the parks and interact with guests do so in Spanish. Now those characters only interact with tourists in English.

"Those are the types of things we're talking about," said Wiley of Disney.

But the company is still missing what could be a key component to courting Hispanic visitors: an event equivalent to the Tom Joyner Family Reunion weekend at Disney that attracts thousands of blacks.

"We're looking for a similar opportunity on the Hispanic side," Wiley said.

The Joyner reunion, centered on the radio personality, is in its fourth year and next month will feature concerts by Aretha Franklin and LL Cool J.

Since 1997, the company also has sponsored the Florida Classic football matchup at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando between historically black colleges Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M University.

Ads target market

This year, the Carol H. Williams firm added to the company's targeted marketing plan with an ad designed to show how a Disney vacation would inspire children.

Though Disney, which began its targeted campaigns nearly 10 years ago, may be trying to reach further into black and Hispanic markets, the rest of the state is lagging.

In the past three years, Visit Florida has increased its spending on Hispanic and black markets to about $1.4 million from less than $750,000, Dale Brill, chief marketing officer, said. But focus groups conducted with Hispanics and blacks earlier this year showed few people were familiar with Florida vacations outside Disney, he said.

"It verifies what I already knew, which is that we're not spending enough money in those markets," he said.