CHILES: PRIVATIZE FLORIDA TOURISM MARKETING

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Florida leaders are looking to the tourism industry-and its deep pockets-to lead the state's future marketing efforts.

In what looks to be a first, Gov. Lawton Chiles has proposed eliminating the state Department of Commerce, which oversees the Division of Tourism and its $14 million marketing budget. Instead, he wants to use the Commerce Department's $23 million budget to create "public-private partnerships" to guide efforts like tourism, international trade and economic development.

If successful, the plan would entice the private sector to "put more capital on the table" for co-op marketing efforts that include the state, said Bill Sims, chairman of the Florida Tourism Commission, a quasi-governmental body whose members are appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate. Mr. Sims also is president-CEO of Florida Leisure Acquisition Corp.

Gov. Chiles "has given the industry the kick that we need to get this thing going," Mr. Sims said.

Under the current setup, the Division of Tourism's budget is derived from auto rental surcharges, $6.7 million of which is used for advertising. Under Gov. Chiles proposal, the division would be disbandedand the Florida Tourism Commission would make all tourism marketing decisions, using money raised from the auto rental surcharge.

If implemented, this would be the first time a state has taken tourism from the public to private sector, said Patty Hubbard, VP-national councils with Travel Industry Association of America, Washington.

Tightening tax-supported ad budgets across the country have prompted changes elsewhere, she said. Colorado voters in 1993 voted to cut taxes, ultimately leading to the death of that state's tourism office. California is looking at a proposal similar to Florida's.

During his first term, Gov. Chiles successfully pushed state privatization of the Department of Commerce's film bureau and sports promotion foundation.

There has been no public opposition to the tourism change Gov. Chiles hopes to have implemented by July 1. Specifics have yet to be submitted to state lawmakers. Because the state's $14 million marketing budget comes from a surcharge on car rentals, and not from general revenue, Mr. Sims said there is little need for direct governmental oversight.

"It will give the industry total say on how that's done," he said. "It will be a true example of a public-private joint venture."

In announcing the Division of Tourism's recent ad campaign from Fahlgren Benito, Tampa, state leaders voiced hope of establishing Florida as a "brand," while letting private industry spend an estimated $150 million annually to continue marketing destinations statewide.

There is disagreement about whether the change would void the state's contract with Fahlgren and how future ad agency reviews would be held. Ginger Watters, Fahlgren senior VP-travel and leisure division, said state officials told her the agency's contract is valid through June 1996. Mr. Stogner said the state would still oversee the process. Mr. Sims said total control would go to the Florida Tourism Commission, the 17-member body made up of tourism industry executives.

Regardless, Mr. Sims said he is satisfied with the job the agency has done, and hopes to expand on ideas Fahlgren created but were never used since the state has rarely targeted in-state travelers in its marketing. In contrast, the industry often has aimed its efforts at state residents, particularly during off-peak seasons.

Fahlgren's "partners program" is one example of an approach that agency created that has yet to be used. It could target corporate sponsors, including cruise lines, airlines and credit card companies to tie in with co-op state promotional marketing efforts, Ms. Watters said.

She said current state advertising would dovetail well with such an effort.

"I want to co-op everything we do," she said. "We're better equipped now to get it done."

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