First Post-Spill Ads to Air This Weekend

With the critical summer North Florida tourist season less than three weeks away, state officials said Wednesday they'll roll out targeted TV spots this weekend to lure summer travelers to Florida's still pristine Gulf beaches.

Visit Florida officials hope to use up-to-date photos and a Web link with even more recent pictures and testimonials to convince skeptical tourists that Florida remains open for business and has so far escaped the ravages of the BP oil spill.

The tourism agency will spend the bulk of its $2.5 million in state cash to air commercials in markets within a day's drive of the Panhandle beaches – Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., and Houston – in what officials hope is merely the first wave of ads to run both domestically and abroad.

Still in the wings is $25 million promised by BP CEO Tony Hayward earlier in the week to help buoy state tourism in the wake of the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The subsequent slick has focused the world’s attention on the Gulf and already caused millions of dollars in lost business for the region’s tourism industry, which is becoming increasingly concerned as cancellations mount.

“The frustrating part is that we’re a month into this thing and will still have nothing on the air,” said Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “The good news is we’re going to have something up this weekend. This is the Panhandle’s live or die time.”

While South Florida's tourism season is the winter, the more temperate northern part of the state sees its beach towns fill up in the summer.

Filmed earlier this week, the segment is now in the editing room and should be ready Friday for distribution over the weekend, said Kathy Torian, communications director for Visit Florida. The segment, a collage of still pictures and videos taken earlier this week at Florida beaches, will also point viewers to Visit Florida’s website:

Once there, viewers will see Twitter feeds and real time photos from the state's beaches, an effort by Visit Florida’s advertising firm BBDO to use the immediacy of the images to give potential travelers they most current information possible.

“We really think that was the smartest way for people to know what was going on,” Torian told the News Service on Wednesday. “That will be much more effective than any slogan we could come up with.”

The $2.5 million in state funds won’t buy much beyond the weekend blitz, but Dover hopes the BP money will soon become available to continue the effort.

Tourism officials had originally asked the state for $35 million, with $25 million going for advertising the state generally and the remaining $10 million going to local communities to bolster their efforts. Torian said it’s unclear how the reduced BP amount will be split up among those competing needs.

“We’re waiting to get some direction from the governor’s office on how they may want that money divvied up,” Torian said.

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