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The summer is cooling off, and Florida attractions are heating up.

Competition among Sunshine State destinations is accelerating as the state heads into the traditionally slow season between the summer and winter rushes. Theme parks in Florida's tourist-heavy central region have launched promotions designed to woo those who live inside the state.

Where winter-to-Easter once was the peak travel season in Florida, now "it's virtually year-round, and summer is just as important," said Tom Stork, VP-marketing with Busch Gardens Tampa. Increasinglyimportant, he said, are the "shoulder periods" between seasonal peaks.

March is Florida's top tourism month, and in March 1993, the state had 4.28 million visitors, the state Division of Tourism reported. By contrast, the September 1993 number was 2.54 million.

Currently, in-state travelers are being bombarded with promotional offers and ticket discounts. At Walt Disney World, tickets that cost upwards of $38 at peak season cost Florida residents $28 between late August and mid-December as part of the "Residents Salute" promotional offer. A supporting TV and newspaper campaign, created in-house, broke Aug. 19 in Miami, Orlando and Tampa.

A similar year-round promotion, the "Four Seasons Salute," costs Florida residents $99 and provides unlimited use of Disney World during four specific monthlong periods throughout the year. The continuous promotion has been in operation for four years. Prices at on-site Disney resorts drop to as low as $69 a night during these periods.

"The residents become acutely aware of how to see the park and when's the best time to save money on the park," said Reggie Whitehead, VP for in-state marketing at Walt Disney World Co., Orlando. "It works out to be an advantage to them and an advantage to us to drive traffic into some non-peak periods."

Little sums up Florida attractions' off-peak marketing better than "Explosive thrills. Dynamite savings," the theme line on advertising for Universal Studios Florida's shows including the new Dynamite Nights Stuntacular. The statewide print, TV and outdoor advertising broke last month, via Seiniger Advertising, Los Angeles.

Resident promotions are a standard in the Florida industry but aren't seen much in other states, said Mike Petty, VP-advertising with Universal Studios Florida.

For example, at Universal Studios Hollywood in California, ticket prices drop less frequently than in Florida, Mr. Petty said. That's because in-state travelers make up a higher percentage of the year-round visitor base. In 1993, Floridians made up 52.4% of all leisure person-trips, compared with 86.5% for California and 80.2% for Texas, according to a study from D.K. Shifflet & Associates, a McLean, Va., travel research organization.

For Universal, positioning the park with competitive pricing that includes $10 off adult and children's tickets-and occasional new attractions like the Stuntacular-place the attraction in an "aggressive posture" to tap residents, Mr. Petty said.

Some 80 miles to the west, executives at Busch Gardens Tampa consider themselves the "hometown" attraction, and depend more on local and in-state travelers than do the other parks, Mr. Stork said. Parent Busch Entertainment Corp., St. Louis, has packaged the company's three Florida amusements with one unlimited seasonal entry, similar to Disney's Four Season Salute. The Wild Card costs $119 and allows patrons to visit Busch Gardens Tampa and neighboring Adventure Island water park, and Sea World Orlando. A pass for one park costs $80.

Though no campaign currently supports the effort, ads from DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, will break in December for the holiday rush, Mr. Stork said. A current promotion airing statewide ties in Busch Gardens Tampa with the Tampa-Hillsborough County Convention & Visitors Association. The package gives visitors two nights stay and two passes to Busch Gardens Tampa's two attractions for between $66 and $127.

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