Every year the county's tourism agency, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, spends up to $1 million marketing the bay area's beaches as a destination to its No. 1 source of domestic visitors: New York.
Hurricane Sandy may change all that.
The historic storm slammed into New York on Tuesday, killing more than two dozen and inflicting more than $20 billion in damage. Millions were left without power, the stock exchange was shut down and the subway system flooded. New Jersey was also devastated.
Pinellas' winter tourism season runs from February through April, and the annual winter advertising campaign kicks off at the same time.
If the New York tourism market doesn't show enough signs of recovery by the New Year, according to D.T. Minich, executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, then the Pinellas tourism agency may redirect its advertising dollars to another top domestic market: Chicago and the Midwest.
"Our main campaign in New York doesn't start until February," Minich said. "If they haven't gotten everything pulled back together by then, we would probably shift our marketing more to the Midwest.
"But at this point it's way too early to tell. At this point, we're just concerned about everyone in New York. They're great customers for us."
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater typically spends between $750,000 to $1 million marketing the area with big, bright ads on New York's double-decker buses, subway cars and subway billboards. Those funds are also spent marketing the area all over the Northeast.
That budget for marketing the area to Chicago and the Midwest is usually $500,000 to $750,000 annually. The agency would not abandon the New York market, Minich said, but would shift some of that ad money to the Midwestern market.
"We would tweak the messaging," Minich said. "Right now, we're not planning to shift any money out of New York. We plan on going full steam ahead.
"But if the recovery is slow, then we'll obviously evaluate it. If we're not getting the bookings and people aren't able to travel because they're still getting their lives together, we don't want to spend advertising dollars if they're unable to travel."
On the other side of the bay, Tampa Bay & Co., the Hillsborough County tourism agency, said no conventions in Tampa have been canceled, nor has anyone called with concerns that Hurricane Sandy might delay or cancel any conventions scheduled in the near future.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404.