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Lee looks to clean up beaches' Google presence

December 5, 2018
By JESSE MEADOWS ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

In the wake of red tide, Lee County is looking at ways to help local tourist-oriented businesses clean up their image online and attract more customers.

Two grants have been slated to help the local tourism industry recover.

Visit Florida has given Lee County $77,500 for a social media campaign developed by The New York Times, which launched earlier this week.

"The heaviest audience concentration will be in the Midwest and on the East Coast, and we expect it to deliver 1.8 million impressions and 34,000 engagements," wrote Tamara Pigott, executive director of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

"The second grant is valued at $22,500 (of a $112,500 total investment) and is part of a five-county regional effort (Charlotte, Collier, Lee, Manatee & Sarasota counties) to be implemented by Miles Partnership. It is designed to improve the quality of Southwest Florida's imagery on Google and overall consumer perception of our area following the water crisis this summer. "

The $22,500 grant was accepted and approved at the BoCC meeting on Nov. 20.

The project is a subset of an international program that Google offers to destination marketing organizations (DMOs), according to Nate Huff, Senior Vice President of Miles Partnership.

His company provides support services and helps DMOs like the The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel implement marketing strategies within Google's program.

"This is kind of a specialized version of the program focused specifically on perception issues around red tide," he said.

Miles Partnership is currently in the first phase of the project, which involves auditing what Huff calls "the ecosystem of Google travel content," which includes Google Maps, Google travel guides, and Google image search.

The team is looking for consumer-contributed imagery of red tide associated with certain destinations.

If it's an inaccurate representation, they flag the image, and develop a plan to create new content to upload through the destination's Google accounts.

They will primarily be focusing on 360-views and Google street view content of the beaches and waterways impacted by red tide.

"We're in the middle of implementing a similar program in Puerto Rico, to assist a year later in replacing some of the very outdated and inaccurate hurricane imagery," Huff said.

The company has also done a project like this to help Sonomo County recover from wildfires, and are planning another in Santa Barbara.

"The issue of perception and misperception is often larger than the actual problem," he said, noting that "the media" often makes matters worse.

"The recovery is never as interesting as the disaster."

Huff said it can take three to six weeks for imagery to show up on Google due to a complicated review process, which means negative perceptions can linger long after an area has recovered.

The second arm of this project is educational.

One workshop per county will be planned for the area's tourism businesses to learn how they can manage their online presence within Google's framework.

"The goal is not just a one-time fix, it's also to help uplift and upskill the tourism industry in the affected places," Huff said.

The grant agreement states that the project must be implemented after red tide subsides, but before June 19, 2019.

"While some patchy concentrations of k. brevis continue to appear offshore, the current conditions on our beaches have improved greatly, and we are confident in our marketing efforts moving forward," said Pigott.



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