Travelers hoofing it through Tampa International Airport will encounter more advertisers competing for their attention in more places than ever.
Claiming checked luggage? You'll pass touch-screen "digital visitor information centers" the size of a small minivan. They pitch Gallagher's Steak House, Tampa Bay Downs and various West Shore hotels.
Riding the shuttle to catch a flight? You'll see transparent "cling" ads for the St. Petersburg Times on the windows.
Passing by the ticket counters? Later this month, Ferman Mini of Tampa Bay is expected to park one of its pocket-sized cars.
It's just the beginning.
Clear Channel took over the airport's advertising sales in June. The radio and billboard giant replaced JCDecaux, the world's largest airport advertising firm and the only one to work for TIA since the airport first contracted out the business in 2001.
Airport staffers liked Clear Channel's ideas to place advertising in places TIA officials hadn't considered or allowed. "We're loosening up the approaches we had in the past," said Diane Pryor-Vercelli, senior director of properties and contract administration. "It's a change in attitude. Clear Channel is aggressive and forward looking."
At Gulfport-Biloxi International, the company wrapped a baggage carousel to look like a roulette wheel in an ad for the Hard Rock Casino. Other airports hung massive banners promoting advertisers.
In Tampa, Clear Channel is trying to sell ads on space between elevator doors, a wall-sized ad across from a food court and an ad with a clock that hangs from the ceiling of Airside F.
Not everyone will like the change. For the airport's first 25 years, executive director George Bean kept advertising out. Tampa International won acclaim for its uncluttered "way-finding" — signs, symbols and color-coding that helped newcomers navigate their way to parking garages, rental car counters and bag claim.
Bean, who described the airport's third-floor transfer level as Tampa Bay's "living room," considered advertising a tacky annoyance. His successor, Louis Miller, reversed the policy and brought in Paris-based JCDecaux, known for tasteful, back-lighted displays.
The one exception is also the biggest moneymaker. Busch Gardens put splashy, colorful wraps on TIA escalators with video monitors in 2009 to grab the attention of arriving tourists. The deal brings the airport $295,000 annually, nearly a third of its $970,000 advertising income for the year that ended Sept. 30.
Advertisers covet reaching a high volume of potential customers, especially big-salary business executives. Nearly 17 million people flew through Tampa International last year, or about 46,000 per day. Passengers flying out also spend a lot of their time waiting around with little to do.
Airports nationwide routinely look for ways to generate cash without raising fees to airlines, said Gary Krasner, publisher of Airport Revenue News, an industry newsletter. The trend has increased in the past two years as declining passenger numbers hurt revenues from parking, retail, and food and beverage concessions.
Pryor-Vercelli said airport officials won't allow anything too large or intrusive. They already vetoed an ad that portrayed a military combat assault. "People are stressed enough (at airports) already," she said. "We don't want something that will be in your face or so offensive it's uncomfortable."
Steve Huettel can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8128.