Florida's tourism gurus, ever pressing to hit 120 million visitors a year by 2020, just rolled out a cool online tool to help travelers find just the right beach in the Sunshine State.
That's no simple task. There are hundreds of very different beaches to choose from along Florida's vast coastline.
Unveiled quietly, the online tool lets armchair travelers virtually and visually pick and choose from among 740 miles of Sunshine State beaches as diverse as legendary Miami Beach, west coast cool Anna Maria Island and tranquil Caladesi Island, a brief ferry ride off Pinellas County.
Florida Beach Finder is a creation of state tourism agency Visit Florida. The site combines imagery from Google's "Beach Views" shot from the state's coastlines, customizing technology from a company called TripTuner and a $500,000 grant from BP, provided in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
In the coming year, Visit Florida expects to double the 100-plus beaches it now features on the site as more local tourism organizations offer up additional beach locations and data, says Paul Phipps, Visit Florida's chief marketing officer.
But Florida Beach Finder may be just the start. Look for Visit Florida to roll out a similar online service that lets tourists customize their searches for Florida attractions as diverse as Disney theme parks in Orlando and kayaking the Everglades.
Yet another rollout will help visitors search online among culinary experiences in Florida, tied to Visit Florida-supported shows hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
It's all about finding smarter ways to tell people what Florida offers.
Here's how Florida Beach Finder works online. Users get four sliding controls, similar to bass and treble sliders on a graphic equalizer. They offer a spectrum of beach choices, from "adventurous" to "laid back" on one slider and "family friendly" to "romantic" on another. Fine-tuning all four sliders can generate more than a hundred options for beaches precisely geared to individual tastes.
I customized my search of Florida Beach Finder for a beach highest in "laid back" and "romantic" attributes yet also maxed out with "action packed" and "manicured" features. Out popped Marco Island as the top pick. Clearwater Beach ranked among secondary alternatives. Click on any beach that Florida Beach Finder delivers and enjoy 360-degree views of each location.
It's cool tech. And smart marketing.
"People look to Florida," Phipps says. "We are challenged to be innovative and set new standards."
If another state uses similar technology to help tourists, Phipps has not heard of it. Even if it's out there, he says, it won't matter. Considering the variety of beaches, the depth of attractions and the weather, no other state can compete with Florida.
Says Phipps: "They just don't have the diversity of product."
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]