The biggest winner from a tough winter? Florida

Jeff Greenberg | Photolibrary | Getty Images

If there's one place that sizzled through a portion of the country's historic cold winter temperatures this year, it's the Sunshine State.

Across key tourist destinations of Orlando, the Miami and Fort Lauderdale area and the Tampa area, Florida's hotel occupancy rates shot up during the first quarter.

Orlando, which sees more than half of the state's annual tourist visits, recently announced a new tourism record, surpassing 60 million visitors last year. This year, the city had four weeks of more than 90 percent hotel occupancy in the first quarter, versus just one week in the same period last year.

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And it isn't just the cold winter months that bear fruit.

"While Orlando faces less seasonality than most, we see a lot of interest historically in the March and April time frame," George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando told CNBC.

"We believe this demand is a combination of Orlando's attractiveness, particularly to those families up north who are coming out of winter."

Airlines are other potential beneficiaries of frigid temperatures, as long as bad weather doesn't outweigh the loss in flight delays and cancellations.

According to Seth Kaplan, managing partner at Airline Weekly, JetBlue—the airline with the most Florida destinations of any U.S. airline—said at a recent investor conference that cold winter helped bookings going south. JetBlue did not immediately respond to a request from CNBC.

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"Morocco benefits when Europe has a bad winter, just as Florida benefits when the northeastern U.S. has a bad winter," Kaplan told CNBC in an interview.


Florida wants a piece of the port biz
Florida wants a piece of the port biz

Each winter, major dollars are spent to appeal to cold northeasters. Orlando increased its marketing efforts this year in the Northeast, most notably by taking over outdoor billboards surrounding landmarks like Madison Square Garden and Penn Station.

Other destinations explored clever branding techniques. Ft. Lauderdale often buys a massive Times Square billboard showing a giant beach advertising the website "," where consumers can obtain information and book trips.

Meanwhile, some New York City taxi cab rooftop ads simply displayed text, "," a website to promote tourism in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida.

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In places with much smaller marketing budgets, like Delray Beach, the strategy has been working with New York media outlets to place articles, ads and travel specials in local tabloids like the New York Post. It also ran on a four-page article in the Boston Herald and offered deals to come down and escape the cold.

The initiatives paid off for the beach town as it reported an increase between two and five percent in month over month hotel occupancy rates this Winter, while some rates increased by double digits.

"It was apparent to everyone in the city we were busier and the town was more full than it ever," Stephen Chrisanthus, Associate Director at the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative told CNBC.

"Some snow birds are coming sooner and staying longer," he said.