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Orlando Hotels Running Three Points Behind in 2006 Occupancy;
Will Triple Advertsing Budget Next Year

By Douglas Hanks, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Dec. 16, 2006 - Facing a tourism slump, Orlando will more than triple its advertising budget next year to lure families away from competing destinations.

The $68 million, two-year campaign will spend funds raised by a new hotel tax in the capital of Florida's increasingly nervous tourism industry. After two record hurricane seasons, the Sunshine State is bracing for its first tourism decline since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"It is time to face facts that we're not top-of-mind," said Nicki Grossman, Broward County's tourism chief and chairwoman of Visit Florida, the state's tax-funded tourism bureau.

The Orlando tourism bureau's $68 million billboard, print and television campaign will center on the slogan "Built for families. Made for memories."

A two-year effort, it will target women, considered the main vacation planners for their families. Television commercials will air during prime-time shows, including Grey's Anatomy and Dancing with the Stars. And for the first time, Orlando will buy air time on BET, Telemundo and Univision -- networks targeting African Americans and Hispanics.

Orlando hotels are running about three points behind in occupancy this year, worse than any other major lodging market tracked by Smith Travel Research -- including New Orleans. Significant drops occured during September and October, near the peak of hurricane season. But Danielle Courtenay, spokeswoman for the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the destination also is hurt by better-funded rivals.

"Orlando has never done network television, if you can believe it," Courtenay said. The $68 million campaign -- funded by raising the five-cent hotel tax by a penny -- marks a 240 percent increase over the current budget.

South Florida tourism officials say this region has fared better than the rest of the state. When Florida saw a 2.4 percent drop in tourists July, August and September, Miami-Dade saw tourism increase 2.8 percent, the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau told Miami Today last month.

Still, there are signs of softness here, too. Occupancy is down nearly 3 points in Broward hotels for the year, and basically flat in Miami-Dade, reports Smith Travel.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Miami Herald

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