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Images of California saturated the national airwaves following the devastating Jan. 17 earthquake. Today, the Golden State returns to network TV, but this time with a paid media effort to promote tourism.

The California Trade & Commerce Agency's Division of Tourism starts its first national TV campaign with a three-week network and cable flight, supported by spot buys in nine major markets. Two 30-second commercials from J. Walter Thompson USA, San Francisco, plug the state's diversity and encourage viewers to call a toll-free number.

The number, 800-GO-CALIF, acts as a gateway to a fax-on-demand service. The automated service offers callers one of four "tip sheets" that will be faxed within 1 hour. For those without access to a fax machine, a color, 146-page visitors guide, with the tip sheet enclosed, will be mailed to them.

"You know what happens when you call a [typical] travel 800-number," said Michael White, JWT senior VP-marketing services director. "You get a color brochure six to eight weeks later, after you're back from the vacation with a tan."

The agency used the fax service as a key element of last year's pitch for the account. Mr. White believes California is the only state offering such a service.

Previous efforts to promote California tourism divided the state into a dozen regions and touted each one separately. The new campaign identifies four different kinds of vacations: family fun and sun, nature outings, romantic getaways and sports adventures.

Each tip sheet is dedicated to one type of vacation and promotes activities throughout the state. The three-page faxes also contain up to four coupons from advertisers, including operations like Knott's Berry Farm and a joint coupon from eight Napa Valley destinations, that underwrote the cost of producing the documents.

The tourism division is planning to handle as many as 185,000 calls to its toll-free number through June. The number is also promoted in four one-third page b&w ads, each promoting one type of vacation, running in targeted magazines. The first few ads appeared on newsstands last week, and calls are already coming in.

"On the first day we had 398 calls, 55 of them fax calls," said John Poimiroo, director of the tourism division. The number of calls dropped to 340 on the second day, but requests for faxes increased to 64. Since the magazine ads were designed to complement the TV campaign, Mr. Poimiroo expects call volume to increase exponentially this week.

The information automatically captured from callers (name, address, fax and phone numbers, and type of vacation) will be saved, "but we don't have the resources to do much with it," he said, adding that the information may be made available to tip sheet advertisers.

Although tourism is a $53 billion industry in California, the state's $7.5 million tourism marketing budget ranks it 16th nationally. Only $3 million of the total is allocated to advertising.

However, the California Senate is considering an industry-supported bill that would allow collection of $25 million in assessments from the private sector. With those additional funds, California's tourism budget would shoot to the top of the list, exceeding the current spending leader, Hawaii, with a budget of $30 million.

Given the string of natural and man-made disasters on the left coast, California could use the positive exposure.

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