|By Mark Albright, St. Petersburg Times, Fla.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 10, 2004 - ORLANDO, Fla. -- Visit Florida Inc., the state government's nonprofit tourist marketing agency, has finally secured the online address that bears its name.
The price for visitflorida.com was $186,000.
Agency officials would describe the seller only as a New Jersey entrepreneur who had been using the domain name as a drawing card for links to other sites maintained by companies that sell Florida travel.
The agency made several overtures over the years, but didn't have much choice but to pay. That's because the domain name was in use when state tourist marketers decided to name their agency Visit Florida seven years ago.
"We saw it partly as a defensive move because this is our brand," said Bud Nocera, chief executive officer of the agency. "We think it will become far more valuable over the next five to 10 years."
The agency's Web site, loaded with Florida vacation planning information, has been FLAUSA.com ever since Visit Florida decided to use it to promote its trademarked logo, which features the state abbreviation in big block letters. The logo, however, fell far short of becoming a household word. The logo and old domain name will continue to work online indefinitely. But in the future, FLAUSA will be used as a promotional logo while visitflorida.com is promoted in all advertising.
The new domain name, which was activated Monday, is supposed to make the site easier to find.
"People plan to visit Florida, not FLA," said Dale Brill, senior vice president of marketing. "Not even the post office recognizes Fla. as an identifier code anymore, just the (Associated Press) Stylebook."
The site attracts more than 9-million unique visitors already. Agency officials think some new features that will be phased in this winter will create more traffic and business.
One new feature allows users to build a vacation itinerary, then e-mail copies to fellow travelers as a planning aid. The site also will enable users to compare and book hotel rooms and other tourist services directly from a hotel or service's online booking agent. Participating businesses will not have to pay a commission for the traffic. But the business will have to become one of the 3,500 dues-paying members of Visit Florida.
The domain purchase and the improvements have helped increase the agency's Web site costs to $1.2-million for the upcoming fiscal year, up from $800,000 this year. Along with multicultural advertising and public relations spending, the Internet budget is among the fastest-growing items in the Visit Florida Inc. budget. Spending on TV and print ads is down. The agency gets $18.3-million in state money from a car rental tax that the industry matches with about $4.8-million in cash contributions.
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