Hillsborough County's tourism promotion agency finally has a sensible name and a thoughtful development strategy. The group last known as Tampa Bay & Co. has become Visit Tampa Bay, and it will change its marketing to highlight Tampa's rich Latin heritage, unique destinations and abundance of high-energy, outdoor activities. This is a good start at introducing the outside world to a place that has more to offer than pirate parades and beaches.
The tourism bureau unveiled the name change and marketing strategy Thursday, after a long effort to explore what business and leisure travelers thought of the area. Changing the name was easy; Tampa Bay & Co. sounded more like the water utility than the people selling excitement to families and conventioneers looking to get away. Visit Tampa Bay is easy to remember and it conveys the accommodating nature that travelers expect of the hospitality industry. It also is broad enough in appeal to drive business across the bridges. That makes sense, as Hillsborough and Pinellas counties both stand to gain from visitors who take the time to explore both sides of the bay.
The marketing plan, called "Unlock Tampa Bay," sounds like a board game, and it will be up to the agency to deliver on the lure of adventure and exploration by lining up programming at the city's signature sites. Still, it is a practical approach for dealing with Tampa's lack of identity in the outside world. It provides a way for Tampa to advertise its museums, theme parks and beaches without competing with Miami, Orlando or Pinellas. And it lends itself to putting more resources into promoting local festivals and heritage tourism, a rich market given the city's old Latin Quarter in Ybor City and its storied immigrant history.
The campaign is fresh, and its visuals are chock full of iconic symbols. Ultimately, though, the agency will need a concrete experience to sell. It has plenty to work with: The downtown Riverfront is nearly complete, new parks and museums are in place and the 87-year-old Tampa Theatre was just named by the Motion Picture Association of America as the world's third-best movie venue. The new campaign can bring real Tampa into focus and play into the search for discovery that is the essence of traveling.