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Visit Florida brochure riddled with errors about Tampa Bay area attractions

Who wouldn't know Clearwater Beach is not in North Florida? Or that the Salvador Dali Museum isn't in Tampa and our big-league baseball team has never been called the Tampa Devil Rays?

Apparently, a Georgia company that produced advertising fliers stuffed into nearly 1.7 million Florida newspapers Sunday encouraging residents to take summer vacations in the state.

Collinson Media and Events of Norcross, Ga., put various errors about Tampa Bay area attractions into the 16-page color insert, a guide published under the auspices of the state's public/private tourism agency, Visit Florida. No state funds were spent on the project.

Local elected officials fumed over the mistakes, made worse by the troubles local hotels already face attracting customers spooked by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard blamed Visit Florida for not checking a product that prominently carried its logo.

"They should have proofed it," he said. "The damage is done. This went out to people already."

Visit Florida doesn't have the staff to oversee publications produced by private companies with advertising by its members, spokeswoman Kathy Torian said.

"It ain't Visit Florida's problem, it's mine," said Newt Collinson, whose company based outside Atlanta works widely with state tourism agencies and local convention and visitor bureaus. "There's no excuse for it."

The guide put Clearwater and Clearwater Beach on a page titled "Spotlight on: North Florida," with attractions in Pensa­cola, Orlando and Jacksonville.

A page about southwest Florida listed the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor as a St. Petersburg destination, along with Tropicana Field "for a Tampa Devil Rays baseball game." St. Petersburg's Salvador Dali Museum was misplaced under a Tampa heading.

Collinson blamed staffers fact-checking the guide's editorial content through Google searches instead of making phone calls. The Clearwater and Clearwater Beach listing was misplaced in a layout error.

The flier was among 105 "co-op advertising" projects arranged through Visit Florida annually. Publishers vetted by the agency's South Florida advertising firm can solicit business members of Visit Florida to buy ads in their products.

Pinellas tourism officials were already criticizing Visit Florida's public relations response to the oil spill. D.T. Minich, the county's tourism director, began urging the agency to send out a positive information message to tourists in April that Florida beaches were unspoiled and open for business.

That message didn't hit Visit Florida's website until May 3. A few days earlier, the agency sent a news release to its international representatives that focused on ways to counter health risks and how the state was gearing up for an environmental disaster.

The London office forwarded the release to dozens of companies in the United Kingdom that sell vacations in the Sunshine State. Visit Florida said the release wasn't intended as a message to tourists.

Last week, Pinellas asked Gov. Charlie Crist for a share of the $25 million BP sent the state for advertising to counter worries of tourists that the oil has spoiled beaches throughout Florida. So far, the state has released money to Visit Florida and eight Panhandle counties.

Ad buys have targeted cities in the Southeast, but not Northeast and Midwest markets that supply most of Tampa Bay's summer tourists. The bungled visitor guide demonstrates why local officials — not Visit Florida — should get the BP money to promote their own attractions, said St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.

"What a comedy of errors that wasn't funny," he said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com.

Visit Florida brochure riddled with errors about Tampa Bay area attractions 06/08/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 8, 2010 11:05pm]
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