State, private funds to bolster Visit Florida campaign

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Starting this month, Visit Florida said it expects to have an additional $40 million to spend on tourism advertising, thanks to Gov. Jeb Bush, the Florida Legislature and private-sector contributors.

The funds must be used strictly for advertising; they cannot be diverted for operational purposes, such as increasing the number of agent fam tours or trade show attendance, according to a Visit Florida spokesman.

The governor last fall proposed that the legislature appropriate an additional $20 million as part of his economic stimulus package when it became apparent Florida was going to experience a significant downturn in tourist arrivals.

Visit Florida already had committed its $2 million Economic Risk Fund (spent only in emergency situations) last fall as well as nearly $8 million in its regular advertising budget for the 2001-2002 fiscal year.

During a special session of the legislature in December, the lawmakers agreed on a bill to bolster advertising by $20 million with the proviso that the private sector must match each dollar to be used.

And, the Visit Florida spokesman said, the matching $20 million was expected to be committed very soon.

The task of enlisting private-sector support was given to Fahlgren Benito Advertising of Tampa, which administers the Visit Florida account.

Initially, the additional funds will be spent complementing and expanding upon "initiatives already under way to stimulate more in-state and drive-market visitors to Florida destinations, with marketing progressively moving into more distant domestic and international visitor markets," said Austin Mott, president and chief executive officer of Visit Florida.

When consumer research indicates that the public has more faith in the safety of flying and when more travelers are willing to accept the boarding delays caused by air safety concerns, Visit Florida will then divert more money into ads aimed at long-distance travelers who fly, the spokesman said.

Miami, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, which heavily depend on air arrivals -- mainly convention-goers, the New York market and foreign visitors -- were particularly hard-hit after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, visitor officials from the three cities said.

For example, the Loews-operated Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando lost about $4 million worth of convention business in the fourth quarter 2001. Since Sept. 11, the property has attempted to fill hotel rooms midweek with leisure travelers.

Barry Pitegoff, Visit Florida's vice president of research, estimated a loss of more than $7 billion in tourist spending between mid-September 2001 and June 2002, with an accompanying loss of $434 million in state sales tax revenue.

Unless significant tourist traffic returns during the second half of 2002, the losses will continue, he said.

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