Tampa Bay's tourism agencies have called an audible during the traditionally slow fall season: For the first time, both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are actively marketing the Tampa Bay region during September, October and November.
Hillsborough County's tourism agency, Visit Tampa Bay, this week launched its first-ever fall campaign: "Fall in love with Tampa Bay."
"The thinking behind the fall campaign is: Let's keep the momentum going," said Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada. "It's really aimed at the months of September through November. They have been softer months for tourism."
But that also means there are plenty of hotel rooms to fill.
Hillsborough County is coming off a strong summer and first half of the year. According to Smith Travel Research, hotel occupancy during that six-month period jumped from 69 percent in 2013 to 72.9 percent in 2014.
The average daily room rate went from $94.20 per Hillsborough County hotel room in the first half of 2013 to $101.66 a room in the first half of 2014.
Hillsborough's fall push will be a digital campaign utilizing online ads and social media. One of the themes is aimed at groups of friends looking to take a "girls getaway" or "mancation."
Corrada also said that he expects Hillsborough to set a new tourist bed tax record this fiscal year: The county is set to collect $23 million, which would surpass the old record of $21.8 million from fiscal year 2007. The bed tax is a 5 percent surcharge tacked on to every room or property rented for less than six months.
Meanwhile, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the Pinellas tourism agency, is taking aim at fall by extending its "Live Amplified" summer tourism campaign and ramping up its winter advertising earlier than the usual January start.
"Historically, we've been slow this time of year because the kids are back in school and people have had their summer vacations," said Visit St. Pete/Clearwater's interim director, David Downing.
But Pinellas, which is in its fourth consecutive year of record tourism numbers, decided to try something new this fall to keep those numbers up.
Downing said VSPC bought TV and radio ads in smaller feeder markets like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and New Haven, Conn., to get the Pinellas beaches in the minds of consumers there before another potentially brutal winter.
Last year, when the polar vortex blanketed most of the country with snow, Pinellas' sunny beach ads were particularly effective. This year, VSPC wants to do that again, just a lot earlier.
"It's really difficult to overstate how bad last winter was in those markets," Downing said. "They're not looking forward to another 'Polar Vortex, the Sequel.' "
Contact Jamal Thalji at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.