Orlando Makes Online Pitch for Fun in the Sun

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While many city and state tourism officials are pouring millions into television and print advertising to lure travelers back after Sept. 11, Orlando-area tourism organizations are relying on direct Internet promotions.

Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which represents the Florida tourist area that includes Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, numerous smaller attractions and hotels, launched the Magical Orlando Getaways promotion on a microsite Oct. 1.

At Orlandoinfo.com/getaways, 90 hotels offer the third night free for anyone who stays two nights. Consumers also can search the site's database by hotel, room rates and other specifications.

After three weeks, about 13,000 visitors had checked out the Getaways site, which has links from Orlandoinfo.com's main page or its Special Values page. Though the visitors bureau does not track how many room bookings come directly from the site, several local hotels reported that consumers were booking because of the online promotion.

The bureau also introduced a separate Web site, Orlandoticketsales.com, on Oct. 29 for local attractions to display value-added and package-ticket deals. The site had been in development for about six months, held up by technology issues and working out ticket packages, but bureau executives accelerated its launch soon after Sept. 11.

Orlandoticketsales.com, the Magical Getaways promotion and Orlandoinfo's Hot Hotel Rates were promoted in an Oct. 30 e-newsletter to 150,000 to 200,000 people who have ordered the bureau's vacation-planning kit and opted to receive e-mail updates. The bureau typically sends e-mail to that database every other month, but has not sent any for a while.

"Obviously with the events of Sept. 11, we held off. [Now] we'll do an e-mail blast with multiple offerings," said Peter Cranis, vice president of consumer marketing for the bureau, which handles Web design and marketing in-house.

The Orlando-area promotion was sorely needed after theme parks and hotels experienced drastic drops in attendance after Sept. 11. Universal Studios and Walt Disney World have laid off workers and cut back hours and services, and hotels were affected by canceled conventions and the lack of leisure travelers.

"After the 11th, we suspended traditional marketing to do special fourth-quarter marketing," Cranis said. The bureau has temporarily abandoned its travel directory and direct response television advertising to focus on "family values" television and print advertising in the Southeast and the Web promotions.

"We always try to use the Web pretty heavily to support what we're doing, whether it's paid advertising or public relations," Cranis said. Cost-effective Web advertising is typically less than 5 percent of the bureau's marketing budget, he said.

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