Disasters be damned. State tourism officials are striving to shake up more business with California's first-ever national ad campaign. And there's a high-tech twist.
Two national TV spots, which will both begin to air today, promise "instant" information on the Golden State sent via fax to tourists who dial a toll-free number. No other state now offers such a service, officials say.
Curious out-of-towners who want to make immediate vacation plans--without waiting weeks for mailed brochures to arrive--can now request information and within minutes will be faxed several pages of suggested travel outings in the state.
The campaign will air on the same TV screens that just one month ago shocked viewers across the country with brutal scenes of destruction from the Northridge earthquake that killed 57, injured 16,500 and caused more than $2.5 billion in damage to property that was insured. Images of the Malibu, Altadena and Laguna Beach fires and floods--and well as the 1992 Los Angeles riots--are also still fresh in minds of many potential tourists.
Tourism officials don't pretend this $3-million campaign will change all that. But they are hopeful that the upbeat image it portrays of the state can begin to turn around years of continuous decline in market share from California's annual $53-billion tourism industry. They're doing it with ads filled with happy talk--and striking imagery.
"You don't speak to your negatives in advertising," said John Poimiroo, director of the California Division of Tourism in Sacramento. "It would be crazy to say, 'Hey we just had an earthquake, but we're fine now.' You talk about your benefits."
Past campaigns have generally promoted different regions of the state. But researchers from the Los Angeles and San Francisco offices of the ad agency J. Walter Thompson discovered that potential tourists are far more interested in learning about specific types of vacation options in California rather than getting state geography lessons.
The ads flash California images for four specific vacation concepts: family fun, romantic getaways, nature outings and sports adventures. Viewers are asked to dial (800) GO-CALIF to immediately receive customized faxes on any of those four vacation categories. People without access to fax machines will be mailed brochures within two weeks, Poimiroo said.
"The whole campaign hinges on instant information," said David Bigman, group creative director at J. Walter Thompson's San Francisco office. "It's like having an uncle in California who you can call to find out the latest things there are to do in the state."
While Los Angeles tourism officials say they are very impressed with the ad campaign, they say it will likely take much more than that to bring tourists flocking back to Los Angeles.
Local tourism suffered an estimated $308-million blow after the Northridge earthquake, according to one report prepared by the Los Angeles accounting firm Pannell Kerr Forster just days after the earthquake. But the firm now believes the impact may be substantially smaller, and it plans to repeat the study later this month.
Only a massive national ad campaign, which could cost in excess of $25 million, can help quickly turn around the city's battered image and bolster tourism, said Michael Collins, senior vice president at the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau. In fact, a state task force on financing tourism promotion recently proposed that the industry voluntarily tax itself to raise the funds.