Florida Tourism Venture Inks Marketing Deal With American Express

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A Florida tourism concern yesterday announced a marketing agreement with American Express Travel Related Services Co., New York, that will include direct marketing to American Express cardholders. Visit Florida, which is a partnership between private companies and the Florida Commission on Tourism, and American Express also will partner to produce national TV and print advertising that will incorporate a toll-free number linking consumers to American Express travel agents who will be able to book travel arrangements.

The terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

The direct mail component will be handled by American Express, which will compile special travel offers, including car rentals, hotel accommodations, airfare and retail discounts sent directly to domestic and international American Express cardholders.

"This will allow a more extensive and, dare I say, aggressive way to go ahead and market Florida tourism using [American Express's] marketing expertise and the vast cardholder database of American Express," said Tom Flanigan, a spokesman for Visit Florida, which is based in Coral Gables, FL.

The more than 1,700 commercial affiliates of Visit Florida, which was created by the Florida Legislature in 1996 to promote tourism in the state through the distribution of a free tourism guidebook and other activities, will have the opportunity to advertise their businesses through the American Express mailings. Flanigan said it was too early in the campaign for any of the affiliate companies to have finalized their plans to participate in the marketing effort.

"We're in the process of putting together a full media program," said Howard Fulton, vice president and general manager of the American Express Southern Region. "Everything, in principal, is set. We are just hammering out the details about when we want to do which items."

The marketing program, which will kick off in September, will include various mailings offering discounted travel and special retail offers to the customers in American Express's database. Fulton, citing concern over cardholders' privacy, declined to divulge details about what criteria the company would use to develop its mailing lists.

"The thing we want to do most is to take a targeted approach to getting the cardholders to Florida, and to make sure we are going after the right marketplace," said Fulton.

He said the effort also could include some marketing materials placed in cardholders' billing statements.

All the advertising and marketing will direct consumers to either call their travel agent or call a toll-free number, which Fulton said will probably be routed through the Visit Florida call center to the caller's nearest America Express travel agent.

Visit Florida previously had done some limited cooperative advertising with American Express, Flanigan said, although the two groups have never cooperated to such a degree.

"This marks the biggest and most comprehensive program American Express has ever launched for the state of Florida," said Fulton. He said American Express has undertaken similar efforts in past years promoting California and Hawaii.

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