Governor Charlie Crist today announced the first phase of an aggressive 90-day marketing campaign, pumping $7 million into the first three weeks of new advertising expected to reach nearly 500 million consumers in Northwest Florida’s traditional feeder markets. In addition to the state of Florida’s marketing campaign, local tourist development councils in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla counties will receive a total of $4.4 million to assist them with their local marketing efforts.

“Even though there are no physical impacts to Florida’s shores from the oil spill, the state’s tourism industry, especially in the Panhandle, has already felt a very real economic impact,” said Governor Crist. “With Memorial Day weekend kicking off the peak travel season, it is vital that travelers throughout the nation and the world know our beaches and waterways are clear and open for business.”

Presented by VISIT FLORIDA and local tourist development councils, the ad campaign utilizes a combination of broadcast television, national cable, radio and newspaper advertising. The campaign targets traditional feeder markets of Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Raleigh and St. Louis. Also included in the plan are major metro markets as well as 17 key regional markets of Albany, Augusta, Austin, Baton Rouge, Chattanooga, Columbus, GA., Greenville, Jackson, Knoxville, Lexington, Little Rock, Macon, Memphis, Montgomery, Nashville, New Orleans, and Shreveport and the 65 South West Airlines markets throughout the United States covered by the national cable buy.

“We are thankful for Governor Crist’s leadership in providing funding to local Tourist Development Councils which will enhance our promotional efforts during the summer travel season,” states Dan Rowe, president and CEO of Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The Governor’s commitment to our region demonstrates his support for Panama City Beach’s billion dollar tourism industry and protects thousands of jobs for our residents.”

The newspaper ads will appear in USA Today, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Examples of the national cable coverage include networks such as TNTTBSUSACNNESPN and the Travel Channel. The three-week ad buy and its new creative elements will begin appearing as early as today.

In addition to the new ad buy, Florida began a $2.5 million emergency response campaign in 15 of Florida’s summer drive markets on May 15. The emergency response campaign directed consumers to Florida Live on VISITFLORIDA.com to watch live webcams, read Twitter feeds and view up-to-the-minute photos posted by real people in real time from beach destinations throughout Florida. The existing ad buys in those 15 markets will now shift to the new messaging featuring Northwest Florida.

“As news reports raise concerns about a potential impact to Florida from the spill, the best way for visitors from around the world to make informed travel planning decisions was to see the current conditions for themselves,” said Chris Thompson, President and CEO of VISITFLORIDA. “The creation of the Florida Live page on our Web site showing live webcams, Twitter feeds and original photos gives visitors the resources they need to book their Florida trip with confidence.”

On Tuesday, Governor Crist announced the state’s receipt of $25 million from BP for an emergency marketing response to the Gulf oil spill and the creation of a work group to oversee the spending of those funds.

“With this grant from BP, we will be able to react in the coming weeks and months to whatever actually happens by creating additional ads that show what’s going on statewide as well as in individual communities,” continued Thompson.