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Pinellas ads tell region to play here, save gas

Pinellas is pitching a timely message to Central Floridians stressed out over $3.60 a gallon gas and air fares in the stratosphere: how about summer vacation just a short drive from home?

The county's tourism marketing agency has launched a $1-million summer advertising campaign aimed at attracting residents living within a 90-minute ride of Pinellas beaches. That's more than triple the agency's budget for in-state summer advertising last year.

Most of the money targets Orlando residents and tourists. They'll see ads promoting the destination in newspapers and on television, radio, billboards and even highway toll booths.

"It's apparent that with gas prices, people will stay close to home,'' said D.T. Minich, executive director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater. "They can have an incredible beach vacation without spending a lot on a hotel or gas or flights.''

Florida destinations routinely target nearby residents for summer travel, dangling bargain hotel rooms and special deals on attractions. Their dollars are critical to the tourism industry when the economy turns sour and visitors from the Northeast and Midwest stay home.

This year, travel forecasters also are factoring record prices at the pump. A survey of AAA Auto Club South members in March showed that 43 percent said fuel prices would cause them to change travel plans. Of those, half said they would take trips closer to home.

"You're going to see quite a bit of (in-state marketing) this summer from other destinations,'' says Thom Stork, chief executive of the Florida Aquarium. His family usually drives to the Carolinas for their summer trip. This year, they're heading to Sanibel Island near Fort Myers. "It won't cost me nearly as much in gas,'' says Stork.

Visit Florida plans to beef up its $500,000 summer radio and online advertising campaign targeting Floridians with more money and a fresh message, said Will Seccombe, chief marketing officer for the state's tourism marketing arm.

After taking over a year ago as Pinellas tourism director, Minich increased the in-state advertising for summer fourfold to nearly $322,000. He shifted money again for 2008, this time from "shotgun, broad-base approach'' national ads.

Some of the extra cash will go into newspaper advertising in the Tampa Bay area and radio in Gainesville. But the lion's share targets Orlando, the biggest Sunshine State market without an ocean beach.

A poster-style ad will be wrapped around 40,000 copies of the Orlando Sentinel delivered at high-end hotels. The tourism agency bought 466 local television and 820 radio spots, plus contests for weekend beach trip giveaways.

Two dozen billboards, some already up along commuter routes, carry the message that America's #1 Beach is just 90 minutes away. Fort De Soto Park's North Beach won that designation from Stephen Leatherman, known as Dr. Beach, in 2005.

What they're doing

Pinellas' tourism marketing agency has increased in-state advertising for summer to $1-million from $322,000 last year. Most of the money will target Orlando residents and tourists through television, radio, billboard and toll booth ads.

Why they're doing it

With a slowing economy, the tourism industry is expecting fewer visitors from out of state, making nearby residents' dollars critical. Record gas prices could cause Floridians to change their travel plans and make trips closer to home.

Pinellas ads tell region to play here, save gas 05/02/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 2, 2008 11:57pm]
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