Special Reports

Visit Florida to begin advertising clean beaches

Visit Florida, the state’s tourism arm, is expected to announce its advertising strategy today for a worldwide campaign to market Florida’s beaches as clean and open for business.

The marketing approach will include regionalized messages, a move that might placate tourism officials who worry about drawing attention to a problem that doesn’t exist — at least for now.

“We need immediate messaging to counteract the negative perception, misinformation and rumors that are out there,” said Visit Florida Chief Marketing Officer Will Seccombe. But, he added, “we are not going to raise attention to further add to the confusion.”

Local tourism officials are leery about Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s plan to market Florida’s clean beaches.

But Seccombe said the Panhandle has already experienced “serious economic impacts” from the spill through missed reservations and cancellations.

“Currently we have 1,197 miles of open, beautiful beaches that have not been impacted by the spill,” he said. “It is very important for the messages to be localized. Everyone will have their voice heard.”

Seccombe expects the marketing plan will be launched within a week. Right now, there has been no official financial commitment from BP.

Sink met Saturday with BP executives to get the company’s commitment to help the state and its small businesses recover from economic losses by funding an advertising campaign worldwide, saying its beaches are “oil-free, open for business and as beautiful as ever.”

Tourism officials in Manatee and Sarasota were hoping, however, that meant after the oil has been contained or its effect on Florida is known.

“This is great once you know it isn’t coming to Florida.” said Virginia Haley, president of the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In the past few weeks, officials have been monitoring international media and preparing for the worst if the Gulf of Mexico oil spill hits Florida’s coastline.

“Europe is not as focused on the oil spill as they were,” Haley said, given the turmoil in Greece and the British elections.

Sink said Monday she had sent a letter to Lamar McKay, president of BP America, asking that the company fully fund the cost of an advertising campaign and reimburse Florida businesses for all documented lost income due to travelers’ concerns. She wants Visit Florida and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service to direct the campaign.

“Taking proactive steps, including an aggressive advertising campaign, to help Florida businesses survive and rebound is mission critical to our state’s economy and its citizens,” the letter reads.

Gov. Charlie Crist supported the idea Tuesday at a Cabinet meeting. He is expected to address Visit Florida’s board of directors today.

Jessica Grace, marketing and public relations director for the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, agrees a marketing campaign “would be a great thing to do after assessing the situation and when the spill is contained.”

She agrees with Haley that more certainty about the direction and fate of the spill needs to be known before launching a media campaign. However, Haley said if Visit Florida is directing the message, she is more comfortable about the timing.

“Their (Visit Florida’s) strength is that they represent the state as a whole,” she said.

Officials are hoping that the upcoming annual International Pow Wow in Orlando next week sponsored by the U.S. Travel Association will give them the best chance to negate any negative beliefs European travel companies might have about the state’s beaches.

“We are going to make sure they understand what the situation is now,” Haley said.

The show attracts representatives from about 1,000 U.S. communities, hotels and destinations advertising their appeal to companies who do wholesale travel purchasing. It also has a strong showing from international media.