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Pinellas tourism bureau drops poster that shows kayaker in a mask

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater’s promotional posters showing cartoon people in masks outdoors provokes a backlash.

Pinellas County’s tourism bureau cut one of its new promotional posters that showed cartoon people wearing masks while doing water activities like paddle boarding.

But local leaders are still dealing with complaints from people who say that none of the three posters for Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwaters $2 million “Rise to Shine” campaign should depict mask use outdoors.

The posters display beach scenes and local landmarks. Some of the cartoon people shown on the posters are wearing masks, some are not. Critics, who sounded off during the public comment portion of last week’s County Commission meeting, say that because the county’s mask order doesn’t require masks outside it should not be depicted in the ads.

Some members of the County Commission also sit on the tourist development council, which advises Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, and brought up those comments during a virtual marketing meeting Wednesday.

“On the printed materials, we got a lot of ridicule,” said Pat Gerard, a commissioner and chair of the tourism council. “People doing active things, outdoors with a mask on, which clearly they’re not going to do.”

The tops of the three posters says “Spread out. Mask Up.” The campaign serves as a public service announcement meant to bring back consumer confidence, promoting ways to travel safely during the pandemic.

Related: Pinellas ’Rise to Shine’ campaign launches ahead of Labor Day weekend

The one poster that garnered the most criticism shows drawings of a paddle boarder and kayaker wearing masks. Leroy Bridges, the bureau’s vice president of digital and communication, told the council that that poster was never the agency’s main ad for the campaign. It stopped using it, focusing on the beach and city scenes instead. But all the posters produced for the campaign show mask use outside.

“I think the posters depict choice more than anything,” Bridges said, referring to the outdoors scenes they illustrate. “We don’t depict everybody with a mask on.”

He said in the meeting the bureau would look to the tourism council for direction and to “firm up the direction moving forward.” But no decision on future of the campaign and whether the masks should be removed from the images was decided Wednesday.

"Besides some of the concerns with the print ads, I think the campaign is the right thing to do,” said council member and Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski. “Our local small businesses are wholeheartedly behind it. It’s a way of telling people who are visiting what we expect of them.”

Visit St. Pete/Clewarter has put the beach illustrations up on billboards, online and even wrapped them around PSTA buses. The campaign also includes a TV ad which shows people wearing masks indoors, but removing them once seated inside at restaurant tables. The agency created the campaign after research showing people want to know the place they are considering for a visit is taking COVID-19 precautions seriously.

Thursday the commission will review data and discuss whether to schedule a vote to repeal the mask order, which requires mask use inside businesses while not eating. The commission has been inundated over the past several weeks with anti-mask advocates emailing and calling in to public meetings, demanding the ordinance be repealed. Some of them are the same people who took issue with the tourism ads.

Gerard said during the tourism meeting it’s unlikely the mask ordinance will be repealed “anytime soon."

Related: Pinellas commissioners to discuss repealing coronavirus mask ordinance

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that the county commission will discuss if they should schedule a vote over the mask order.

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