Want to virtually walk through Diagon Alley? With the Florida Attraction Finder, you can

Visit Florida plans to launch its new online interactive tool this spring. This is an early look at the Tampa page in the guide.
Visit Florida plans to launch its new online interactive tool this spring. This is an early look at the Tampa page in the guide.
Published Feb. 13, 2016

Imagine being able to experience the rush of Falcon's Fury at Busch Gardens before even setting foot inside the Tampa amusement park.

Or seeing alligators up close on a high-speed swamp buggy ride through the Everglades.

Through Visit Florida's new Florida Attraction Finder, you can.

The Sunshine State's tourism agency plans to launch in May an online interactive virtual tour experience for visitors thinking about planning a trip to Florida. The idea for the attractions program came from the success of its Beach Finder project in May 2014, which channels Google Maps technology to allow users to virtually walk along Florida's 825 miles of sandy white beaches with 360-degree views. More than 260 million people have used the Beach Finder program since it went live, said Paul Phipps, chief marketing officer with Visit Florida, and users spend an average of four to eight minutes on the site at a time, which is an unusually high engagement rate.

So a similar site dedicated to Florida's many attractions — from amusement parks to art museums to natural parks — seemed like a natural next addition, Phipps said.

Visit Florida partnered with the Florida Attractions Association to identify more than 100 family-friendly businesses in Florida that highlight safe and interesting activities around the state. This site is not just for virtually walking through Diagon Alley in Universal Studios' Wizarding World of Harry Potter, (though you can) said Nelson Mongiovi, director of marketing operations with Visit Florida. It's to highlight the numerous other attractions in the state that visitors may not have considered or known about, like zip lining through Ocala National Forest in Central Florida. Or feeding calves at Myakka City's Dakin Dairy Farms.

"Someone can go online and completely rehearse their vacation before they even get to Florida," Mongiovi said.

When the website goes live, users will be able to browse attractions by using a toggle at the bottom of the screen to personalize their preferences. Find more high-speed and daring adventures by scrolling up on the "thrill to chill" bar, or look for natural activities by scrolling down on the "high tech to natural" bar.

Unlike the Beach Finder, which used a series of images from Google cameras, the Florida Attraction Finder uses video material to allow viewers to see what the experience would be like. Most of the videos are made from marketing material, but Mongiovi said Visit Florida used some footage it found on YouTube to make the video experience feel more personal.

"We've learned that younger audiences appreciate user-generated content more because it makes it feel more authentic," he said. "We found a lot of it on YouTube and plan to continue to use user material in the future by letting people submit their videos for contests and featured videos."

Visit Florida used a $500,000 grant from BP, money given after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, to pay for the Beach Finder website. The Florida Attraction Finder expenses came from Visit Florida's operating budget. Officials declined to comment on developing costs.

Contact Justine Griffin at Follow @SunBizGriffin.