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Scores of new travelers to the Sunshine State have been parading around in recent months. But they're not mere tourists. They're international travel writers on "fam tours" paid for by Florida tourism officials.

The state, which has been battered by storms and crime, only recently began to emerge from declining tourism figures. State tourism officials merit heightened publicity on the turnaround.

For fiscal 1995, ended June 30, the state reaped some $23 million in print media equivalent editorial coverage, said Gary Stogner, manager-public relations with the Florida Division of Tourism in Tallahassee.

The familiarization tours into central and south Florida have been core to the effort, he said. Not only does the publicity bolster the paid advertising message, the results are often immediate, he said.

"If you look at the fact that we only spend $6 million worldwide in paid advertising, that's huge," said Stogner, whose PR office spends $70,000 a year on familiarization tours to promote the state. "Florida is good copy."

Statewide, the effort seems to be paying off. Tourism in the first quarter was up 7.6% from the same period in 1994, he said. But 1994 figures were down dramatically following well-publicized murders of tourists and the lingering effects of Hurricane Andrew, he said.

The state has received admirable return on investment in its co-op marketing programs as well, said Ginger Watters, senior VP-travel and tourism with the state's agency, Fahlgren Benito, Tampa.

The state reaped some $14.4 million in actual partner contributions in 42 state-run co-op marketing programs in 1994-95, vs. only nine such programs worth $1.7 million the year before, she said.

One bright spot for inbound travel has been Latin America. Accordingly, the state has targeted co-op programs to that market with partners Hertz Rent-A-Car and American Airlines. A total of $330,000 in Florida-funded media has run in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela, with Hertz placing the media through agency Ryder & Schild, Coral Gables. The co-op programs bundle airfare, rental cars and the Florida destination, Ms. Watters said.

"It makes a custom-made vacation," said Ms. Watters.

In Miami, marketers from the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau are buoyed by increased first-quarter 1995 figures of 2.5 million visitors, up 1.4% from the 2.2 million in the same period the year before. But 1994 tourism fell 1.1% from 1993, the first decrease in tourism in more than a decade.

The bureau dipped into its bed-tax reserves-generated following increased hotel stays after Hurricane Andrew in 1992-and used $450,000 to fund a first-ever TV campaign, from Turkel Schwartz & Partners, Coconut Grove, targeting the Northeast to combat the falling numbers.

The bureau reports that travel agencies in Latin America and Europe are projecting a healthy return in travel from those markets, which were the largest feeders before the 1993 spate of crimes against tourists. The bureau reported a 60% drop in these crimes from 1993 to 1994, and credits increased police presence and signage improvements.

To the north, Fort Lauderdale is trying to bolster its image with a "Feel brand new" campaign, from Harris Drury Cohen, Fort Lauderdale. The destination has co-op programs in place with hoteliers in Orlando, St. Petersburg and Tampa, along with the city of Montreal. A national cable campaign is running on Preview Channel and CNN, in conjunction with fellow Harris Drury Cohen client Carnival Airlines.

Following the crimes and Hurricane Andrew, Florida tourism officials learned a hard lesson, said Francine Mason, manager-public relations with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, which spends $2 million a year on advertising.

Tourists shaken by fears of crime are not likely to draw boundaries between those destinations affected by crime, and those that are not. Fort Lauderdale isn't benefiting because it's "not Miami," Ms. Mason said.

"Florida's Florida, and Fort Lauderdale is [in] South Florida," she said. Besides, she added, "All of our international arrivals have to come through Miami."

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