Collier County will tap emergency money to let world know "The coast is clear"
Collier County has a message for the world: "The Paradise Coast is Clear."
The Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau will start spreading the message this week as recovery continues from Hurricane Irma.
It's part of a plan to encourage the return of tourists to the county. It will begin more subtly through press releases and social media, then expand to paid advertising and story pitches to national — and international — media.
The county's tourism department plans to tap $250,000 from an emergency tourist tax fund to support the campaign. The county collects a 5 percent tax on all hotel stays, and $1.5 million is set aside each year for special advertising in case of a hurricane, or other harmful tourism event, such as The Deepwater Horizon oil spill that required the same kind of action.
The county's Tourist Development Council approved of the use of the money Monday. A separate vote by county commissioners isn't required.
"It's now time for us to get our message out," said Jack Wert, the tourism bureau's executive director.
The timing is right, he said, because most hotels, shops, restaurants and other attractions will be reopened by Oct. 1. Many were just waiting for boil water notices to be lifted and power to be restored.
There is a need to tell the true story of what is going on here — that people were hit hard but they're getting back to work. That's why the social media strategy includes showing visuals of cleanup, preparations for visitors and live interviews with tourism-related business owners and workers, Wert said.
"Out of state there were literally trillions of impressions negative to our area in the press," he said.
The campaign will include advertising in Florida too, Wert said, because even in other parts of the state some are under the impression that Collier County got hit worse than it did.
"Everybody needs to know the right story," he said. "Even in the state the word is not out yet."
Paradise Advertising and Marketing Inc. will receive an additional $175,000, and Lou Hammond Group will get another $75,000 for the campaign. The vendors are under contract to do the marketing and public relations for the county.
The messaging over the next few weeks will encourage visitors to "return to Paradise for stone crab claws and all things great on Florida's Paradise Coast." Oct. 15 is the start of the stone crab season, and the Stone Crab Festival is slated for Oct. 27-29 in Tin City, despite the hurricane.
The emergency plan will dovetail into a new destination marketing campaign that will launch Nov. 15 in the winter feeder markets with a new brand message, "Love, Paradise." The campaign will include advertising in the Northeast, Midwest, Canada, Florida, Europe, Latin America and the United Kingdom.
The "we're open for business" message will continue to be included in the promotion of other upcoming events including Naples Restaurant Week from Nov. 30 to Dec. 13, the CME Group Golf Classic Nov. 14-19 and Football University Dec. 16-21.
The Lou Hammond Group will target national media outlets, pitching "feel good" stories about people getting back to work and helping one another, and encourage journalists who visited for the storm to return back to write about the recovery.
The campaign will include short "Live from the Beach" videos. One concept reads: "Dear Irma: You had your day in Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades, but we are SO over you. Our hotels are open. Our restaurants are fired up. And our beaches are as fabulous as ever! Told you, you couldn't keep a good coast down. Love, Paradise."
Some members of the Tourist Development Council questioned whether $250,000 would be enough to get the right word out about Collier County. Wert said he thought it was plenty.
"We could always come back to the board if we would need more," he said.