Already a local attraction, a movie star and an inspiration to the disabled, Winter the dolphin can add one more role to the resume: tourist magnet.
Pinellas County's tourism promotion agency is latching on to the buzz over the film Dolphin Tale, shot at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and other local sites. The movie opens Sept. 23 amid a $50 million promotional campaign by Warner Bros.
"It's incredible not just to have the movie filmed here, but it's set here and Winter lives here," said D.T. Minich, executive director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater. "It's a two-hour love letter to the Clearwater area."
Minich's department has spent about $250,000 in ads promoting Clearwater's Winter connection so far.
The agency bought a full-page ad in USA Today for the movie's opening day, congratulating the star and calling the aquarium just one of the area's crowd-pleasing attractions.
Hertz vehicles rented at Tampa International, St. Petersburg-Clearwater International and Orlando International airports will have rearview mirror ''hang tags" promoting Winter's aquarium home and directions to get there.
The tourism agency is working with three national retailers — Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Wenger Swiss Army Knives and online movie ticket seller Fandango — on promotional sweepstakes for customers to win trips to Clearwater Beach. The state Department of Transportation agreed to let Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater hang banners along the Clearwater Memorial Causeway declaring, "You've Arrived at the Home of Winter the Dolphin."
"Very few destinations ever get to have this amount of energy and money dedicated for what amounts to a two-hour-long marketing piece," said David Downing, deputy director at Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater. "So, we're trying to make the most of it."
Savannah, Ga., still gets tourists looking for sights from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the book that became a movie. Ditto for Gloucester, Mass., home of the crew lost at sea in the movie The Perfect Storm, based on the book of the same name.
The 1985 movie Cocoon was filmed in St. Petersburg and included familiar landmarks like the Coliseum and Snell Arcade. But the movie made only a brief reference to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area and didn't spark any rush of movie buffs visiting St. Petersburg. Tourism boosters say Dolphin Tale will be a different story.
"We're going ride this little dolphin," said Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard,
Contact Steve Huettel at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.