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Officials try to boost Orlando in new ads

To attract more American families for wholesome fun, the city is launching a $25-million campaign with hopes to mimic Las Vegas' "What happens here stays here" success.

Published August 28, 2006

ORLANDO - Tourism has defined this town since the moment Walt Disney World opened its doors in 1971.

But these days, fewer American families outside Florida think of Orlando as a "must-see" spot to take the kids, and fewer aspire to visit. To combat slowing visitor growth, tourism officials are launching their biggest marketing effort to date: a $25-million push that will put Orlando on national television for the first time, and - they hope - re-energize the city like Las Vegas' "What happens here stays here" campaign.

Orlando still draws ever-increasing visitors - last year a 3.3 percent bump to just over 49-million. But in a vast initiative to gauge public opinion on the destination, and focusing on the "American couples with children outside Florida" demographic, just 27 percent of respondents said they were "very familiar" with Orlando. Those least likely to visit said it was too crowded, expensive and commercialized, and didn't provide a relaxing getaway.

Cruises, Mexico and the Caribbean, New York and, perhaps surprisingly, Las Vegas emerged as the biggest competitors.

But the family friendly theme park capital where Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld rule could learn something from Sin City. Vegas has spent $115-million on its edgy campaign since 2003, with its slogan seeping into the lexicon on T-shirts, Internet jokes and elsewhere.

It helped shake that city out of four years of stagnation. Thirty-five million people vacationed there annually from 2000-2003. But after that year, when the campaign debuted, the number jumped to a then-record 37-million in 2004, and to 38.5-million in 2006.

"It's obvious that this is one of our most successful tag lines, but we've had numerous tag lines since the '50s," said Terry Jacinsky, senior vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

In the 1990s it was "Freedom to get away from it all" and "What you want when you want." Earlier, it was "Always on the money" and "The American way to play."

Right now Orlando only uses a logo spelling the city name in shooting stars. In the past, tags like "Go for the magic" and "You never outgrow it" have anchored campaigns.

But this year will be different. For the first time, after a penny per dollar increase in hotel taxes passed this summer, Orlando officials have enough money for a national television campaign and longer life cycle for magazine print advertisements.

Tourism officials say no concept has been chosen, though they plan to announce one in mid December. That gives them just a few months after the tax hike was finalized to pull something together.

"We had some stuff on the wall and took it all down, because we didn't like any of it," said Bill Peeper, head of the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "So we're just not there yet."

It will likely convey a feeling of family, Peeper says, which was one of the strongest motivators for vacationers in the Orlando research conducted by Harris Interactive.

Those outside Florida with kids surveyed highest on wanting to go somewhere that offers something for their entire family, is wholesome and fun for all ages, and makes them feel like a good parent. Those are all good signs for Orlando, which has been beating that drum for decades.

The research has shown they just need to beat it louder, Peeper says.

"Whatever we come up with is going to be totally predicated on the findings of the futures study," Peeper said. "We are as research-driven as an organization can be, I believe. We don't like doing things without validation. And when we get a line we think we like and is in synch with the futures study findings, we'll go out to the market and test it before we start investing in it."

The other good news for Orlando is that two years of nasty hurricane seasons aren't scaring too many people away. A total 23 percent of respondents said they wouldn't visit in August through November, the most active months of the season. But among those, a majority said complimentary travel insurance and cheaper deals would change their minds.

[Last modified August 28, 2006, 02:02:27]

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