Where are Orlando's beaches? Pinellas tourism pitch urges visitors to head west

Published June 29 2017
Updated June 30 2017

For years, Florida's east coast has been known as Orlando's beach.

With the shorelines of New Smyrna, Cocoa and Daytona all one-to-two hours away from the nation's theme park capital, it makes sense. But tourism officials in Pinellas County are making a targeted push to snag the title.

For the second year in a row, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater is funneling more marketing dollars into the Orlando area this summer to try to entice travelers who visit Disney World and Universal Studios to head West — not East — for a few days at the beach. It plans to spend $1 million this summer alone on a marketing pitch that also includes Jacksonville and Miami, as well as the Greater Tampa Bay market.

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"We've always been marketing in Orlando, but we've noticed lately that there's a higher volume of people coming to our beaches than we thought previously," said David Downing, president and CEO of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, Pinellas County's tourism marketing agency. "Travelers always looked east of Orlando for the beach. We want to convince them to look west, where we have two of America's best beaches (St. Pete and Clearwater) according to TripAdvisor."

Television, radio and print advertisements are circling through the Orlando metro market this summer and Visit St. Pete-Clearwater staff bought the website BeachesOfOrlando.com, which automatically takes users back to VisitStPeteClearwater.com for more information about visiting Pinellas County. In addition to year-round television/digital marketing, the local tourism group also is launching its first-ever summer/fall/winter specific campaigns in the Orlando area.

[Courtesy of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater]

Visit St. Pete-Clearwater is using this print ad to promote Tampa Bay beaches to Orlando visitors as "Orlando's beaches."

[Courtesy of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater]

Visit St. Pete-Clearwater is using this print ad to promote Tampa Bay beaches to Orlando visitors as "Orlando's beaches."

Orlando, which attracts visitors from around the globe, has already been funneling more travelers to Pinellas County beaches, data from Visit St. Pete-Clearwater shows. Overnight visitation to St. Pete/Clearwater from the Orlando area has increased more than 25 percent over the last five years.

"And that's not just seasonal visitors, it's year round," Downing said. "So we started a year ago to raise more awareness."

Summer is usually the season that Florida tourism officials market to other Florida destinations to try to capture the drive-in traveler. It's traditionally a slower time of year when seasonal guests head back north, and Floridians take advantage of weekend or summer vacation beach trips.

Visit Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County's tourism agency, is also targeting Orlando, Miami, Jacksonville and Fort Myers this summer with an advertising campaign sharing the diverse attractions the county has to offer, including restaurants, the Florida Aquarium and Busch Gardens. The campaign has a strong focus on Spanish-speaking audiences.

[Courtesy of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater]

Visit St. Pete-Clearwater is using these digital billboards to promote Tampa Bay beaches to Orlando visitors as "Orlando's beaches."

Visit St. Pete-Clearwater is also marketing in other Florida cities, like Jacksonville and West Palm Beach this summer, but Orlando is the focus, Downing said. And it's no wonder: Orlando served 68 million travelers last year, a record that edged it past most other American destinations, including New York City. With the expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal and new attractions like Star Wars and Avatar lands coming to Disney, that growth won't likely slow down anytime soon.

Despite an infusion of marketing dollars from Visit-St. Pete Clearwater, it won't be easy to upend the longstanding relationship with Florida's east coast. Brevard County's tourism office has pushed the link between Orlando and its beaches for years.

Still, Downing says he doesn't see this as a competition.

"If anything we compliment each other. We see this as our next evolution in Orlando," Downing said. "We want to continue to build our relationship there."

Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] Follow @SunBizGriffin.