CLEARWATER — St. Petersburg and Clearwater are calling on London.
Pinellas tourism agency Visit St. Pete/Clearwater is spending $245,000 this winter to launch its first marketing push aimed at attracting tourists from the United Kingdom. That's the beaches' No. 1 pool for international visitors, including Canada.
"The market is matured to the level where we can go direct to the consumer," VSPC interim CEO David Downing said. "We're taking our training wheels off."
In years past, VSPC relied on tour operators there to push Pinellas County as a vacation destination. But Pinellas thinks that its name-brand recognition has reached the point where it can now appeal directly to British and Irish tourists.
Pinellas will air its first U.K. TV ads in London during their dreary, gray winter. The bright, music-video-style TV spots will paint a dreamy picture of incredibly cheery people frolicking on warm, sunny, luscious beaches. The same shimmering images will adorn the U.K.'s iconic double-decker buses and taxi cabs.
"A little warm sun might relax that stiff upper lip," one of the new slogans reads.
Downing unveiled the winter campaign during a glossy production in front of an industry audience at the renovated Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater.
"When someone walks through London or Manchester," he said, pointing to the gauzy images of Pinellas County — "Who wouldn't want to be here?
The campaign is being run in conjunction with one of the U.K.'s most prominent tour operators: Virgin Holidays, a subsidiary of one of the world's most recognized brands, Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group Ltd.
VSPC's presentation also spotlighted the winter campaigns for New York and Chicago, a revamped visitstpeteclearwater.com website that will be optimized for mobile devices, a new effort to analyze the effectiveness of Pinellas' tourism marketing and a secret guerrilla marketing campaign that will start in February.
Downing also revealed a new tool to help VSPC research its visitors: the ability to track the cellphone locations of particular U.S. tourists visiting Pinellas County.
Retailers already have the ability to track shoppers, through their cellphones, inside stores. But the company VSPC hired, AirSage, said it can anonymously track users using mobile data without compromising personal information. Downing said AirSage will be able to show at which airport users arrive, which beaches they go to, or events they attend, and even to what parts of the country their cellphone bills are sent.
"Your location information is completely divorced from any other identifying factors about you," Downing said.
Pinellas has been developing its U.K. market ever since British Airways started flying nonstop from London to Tampa International Airport in 1995. The ability for tourists to be able to fly directly to a destination is key to building a market.
That's why VSPC has been focusing lately on opening new international markets for tourism in Latin America and, now, Germany.
The arrival of Panamanian carrier Copa Airlines at TIA last year made direct air travel from Tampa Bay to Latin America possible. Last week's announcement that Lufthansa will connect Frankfurt to TIA in 2015 will do the same for German tourism.
So why concentrate on the United Kingdom's tourism market now? VSPC has long marketed the beaches in conjunction with Orlando's theme parks, selling Pinellas as a secondary destination.
That's because so many visitors to Orlando end their vacations on the Pinellas beaches. But VSPC's data showed that Pinellas has the potential to capture even more British and Irish tourists visiting Orlando.
"We're mining this market," Downing said. "We're going deeper than we ever have in this market."
Contact Jamal Thalji at email@example.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.