|By Hannah Sampson, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 24, 2010--Spurred in part by international travel and a multimillion-dollar emergency advertising campaign, more tourists visited Florida in the second quarter of the year compared to 2009 despite the BP oil disaster in the Gulf.
An estimated 20.8 million people visited the state between April and June, a 3.4 percent increase from the same time period last year.
Tourism officials say they're glad to have seen even a small increase -- but bemoan the bigger gains that were lost due to the oil spill.
"The good news is that obviously, the numbers are up and that speaks to in some ways the strength of the Florida tourism brand for sure," said Will Seccombe, chief marketing officer for Visit Florida, the state tourism bureau. "I think that the bad news is that we're not up nearly as much as we should be up."
State and local tourist offices, buoyed by a total of $32 million from BP, created marketing efforts to assure potential visitors that the state was not awash in oil.
BP paid $25 million to Florida for tourism campaigns -- more than half of which was distributed to county bureaus -- and sent another $7 million to Panhandle counties.
Visit Florida launched a Web effort to give potential visitors a real-time look at the state's beaches, with updated photos, videos, beach and fishing reports and other information. The bureau ran advertisements in USA Today, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and also placed TV and radio ads in 31 major markets.
Broward's $850,000 went to TV ads in top summer and fall markets like New York, Washington, D.C., Toronto and Orlando.
"I believe it saved summer," said tourism director Nicki Grossman.
The Florida Keys' tourism office used its $400,000 for ads on cable within Florida, Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., as well as a few ads in USA Today proclaiming that the Keys weren't affected by the spill.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau used the bulk of its $1.25 million to market the destination internationally, focusing on the U.K., Germany, Brazil and Argentina.
Rolando Aedo, the bureau's senior vice president for marketing, said the money allowed for rare TV commercials overseas as well as promotions like ice cream giveaways in London with the invitation: "Come cool down in Miami this summer."
Aedo said the bureau had to educate everyone about where Miami was in relation to the spill. The overall message: Miami is different from the rest of the state, both in geography and experience, he said.
Numbers released Monday showed that international visitors appeared to get the message: The increase in overseas visitors significantly outpaced U.S. tourists. The number of domestic visitors, who make up the bulk of Florida tourism, only increased by 2.4 percent. But the state saw 11.9 percent more overseas guests and 10.4 percent more Canadians visiting.
International travel, especially from South American countries like Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, has been strong and growing in recent years, tourism officials say.
Visits from Brazilian tourists were up 15 percent in the first six months of the year in Miami, Aedo said. They make up the second-largest group of international visitors -- Canadians are first -- but come in first in spending.
Brazilian visitors like South Florida for a few reasons, said tour company manager Arturo Perchemlian: "beach, shopping and the clubs."
He said his company, Miami-based Tours Gone Wild, has seen an increase in Brazilians traveling to Miami in recent years as the currency has strengthened. The company offers shopping tours to outlets like Sawgrass Mills for visitors who want to shop for bargains. "It's a huge draw," he said. "It could even just pay for itself if somebody comes for a shopping spree."
Throughout Florida, tourism from Brazil increased 29 percent in 2009 over the previous year, Seccombe said.
Tourism boosters nationwide are seeking to increase the number of Brazilian tourists by getting the U.S. government to add the country to its visa waiver program.
"The whole country recognizes the power of Brazilian tourism," Aedo said. "Everyone wants Brazilian tourists."
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