James Neuendorf buckled his seat belt and settled in for an AirTran flight from Tampa to Milwaukee for the International Moose Convention. He reached into the seat pocket for the airline's magazine, Go, and thumbed his way through slick articles on family vacations, sunken treasure and Ohio wine country (who knew?).
Page 51 took the 66-year-old New Port Richey retiree by surprise.
"I'm reading along and all of the sudden there's my county,'' Neuendorf said. "It was really pretty and well done. I showed it to others and told them, 'Hey, that's my home.' ''
When he returned, he drove to the county government center to congratulate Eric Keaton, whose office hatches strategies to attract tourists. Neuendorf then came to see me.
"You need to check this out,'' he said, dropping Go on my desk. "They did this on a shoestring budget. They deserve some recognition.''
Keaton's annual budget for promotions and advertising is $80,000, which doesn't accomplish the kind of grand dreams he has for attracting tourists. But in an irony that is playing out all over the Gulf Coast, an environmental disaster is making that goal easier.
The ad campaign featured on AirTran, Southwest Airlines and O, The Oprah Magazine, came about in part because petroleum giant BP must pay millions to counties affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that fouled the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days until July 15, 2010.
The magazine ad that delighted Neuendorf featured kayakers paddling past the mangroves near Gulf Harbors, including Rick Buckman, the county's parks and recreation director. One of his buddies, Hans Eggers, trailed behind with a camera and photographed a dolphin among the boats.
"Great timing,'' said Keaton.
Another picture featured Ed Caum holding up a 26-inch redfish he caught off Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park. He works alongside Keaton, who calls him "Eco Ed,'' a nod toward the county's tourism focus and proud logo: "It's Only Natural.''
A second ad that ran in another edition of the airline magazines highlighted east Pasco attractions — Dade City's Wild Things, the Giraffe Ranch near Lacoochee and the Florida Pioneer Museum and Village.
When you think about it, Keaton has plenty to promote.
The magazine ads cost about $15,000, a small part of the $250,000 BP gave the county. Keaton's department has been using some of the rest to expand the tourism website, visitpasco.net, and explore social media opportunities. On Facebook, for instance, it offers a contest to win a vacation at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel and an opportunity to jump from an airplane at Skydive City in Zephyrhills.
Another big chunk of change will increase Pasco's presence on TripAdvisor, the world's largest travel website with markets that Keaton covets: Europe and Canada. His goal is to have that effort up and running by the end of summer, and for the improved Pasco website to better measure the success of the advertising efforts. Meanwhile, Pasco hopes to benefit from Round 2 of the BP grants.
Good news, all in all, from something so bad.