Go2Orlando rises from the ashes

On March 15 the dead will rise.

That’s the day Go2Orlando.com is expected to emerge from the ashes of Destination Florida, the joint venture between media giants Knight-Ridder and Tribune Co. that ended last fall.

Between now and then, this cyberspace phoenix is wheeling and dealing with content providers and prospective advertisers. Next week Go2Orlando plans to announce what’s billed as a “major” agreement with another player in the Orlando tourism market. And in February, the service is slated to pick a booking engine for air, hotel, and car rental reservations.

The site is still trying to line up travel-related information within its sphere of influence, first from Florida’s east coast attractions such as Daytona Beach and Melbourne, and later from western Florida destinations like Tampa and St. Petersburg. Pitches from niche-content providers are especially welcome, according to managers.

Go2Orlando represents a remarkable about-face, considering the disarray the old goflorida.com staff found itself in just two months ago. It’s all but impossible to find any examples of a quick turnaround like this in either the publishing or the interactive travel business.

Despite its Destination Florida heritage, the new project won’t be necessarily an extension of the old site, notes Mike Bales, general manager of Orlando Interactive, the Tribune Co. division responsible for publishing Go2Orlando.com. To be sure, there will be many familiar faces at the new venture, including former Destination Florida general manager Julie Anderson, who is now Go2Orlando’s business development manager, says Bales. “But this will have its own unique look and feel.”

What should we expect from Go2Orlando? Because the site is still in the developmental stage, it’s hard to say with certainty. Some of the old content from goflorida.com is being adopted to the new site. In addition, Tribune Co. is fortifying the new pages with material from its Digital City Orlando project.

“We’re also adding a great deal of new content,” says Bales. “Our customers will find broader information about central Florida on Go2Orlando.”

Tribune Co., which produces the Orlando Sentinel’s online presence as well as Digital City Orlando and Black Voices, is focusing on central Florida because that’s where the visitors and the advertisers are. Bales said by limiting the coverage area, the project will serve more effectively the 38 million travelers that come to Orlando every year. Go2Orlando’s local competition is Orlando.com and Inside Central Florida, a site operated by Cox Interactive. However, neither publication emphasizes tourism the same way the Tribune Co.’s will, says Bales.

“We’re hoping to reign in this geographic space,” adds executive producer Kenny Pate. Instead of presenting limited information about every hotel in the entire Sunshine State, the new project will feature photos and detailed specifications on Orlando-area accommodations, for example. The improved restaurant guide promises more in-depth information than the old Destination Florida could offer.

The new site will go a step farther than its predecessor in other ways. It is scripting foreign-language pages in Spanish, German, and Portuguese. And by year’s end, Go2Orlando plans to offer a service that sends customized vacation information to registered users.

“We want to build a dynamic vacation planner so that you can make the most of your time and money while you’re in Orlando,” says Bales. “It’s one thing to provide just the nuts and bolts, like what the options are for lodging, how to get here, and where to eat. We’re in a position to provide guidance for people.”

He hopes to offer relevant information through a database that would send would-be visitors material by e-mail based on a number of criteria, such as how many children they have, what they enjoy doing while they’re on vacation, and even what kind of cuisine they prefer.

The real payoff would be to advertisers. With such a system in place, it might be possible to tailor advertisements to specific customers. For instance, business travelers could get an e-mail message about a weekend car rental rate, while vacationers with families might receive a message offering amusement park discounts.

“We’re going to be doing things that you won’t see anywhere else,” promises Pate. “We’re going to take a great concept and make it better.”

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