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Trigaux: Emboldened by record visitors and big data insights, Pinellas tourism agency tests a national pitch

 
Poul Andersen, of Odense, Denmark, left, and Torben Strandberg, of Nyborg, Denmark, settle into a plot of sand at Clearwater Beach on Wednesday while visiting the popular tourist destination during their vacation. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
Poul Andersen, of Odense, Denmark, left, and Torben Strandberg, of Nyborg, Denmark, settle into a plot of sand at Clearwater Beach on Wednesday while visiting the popular tourist destination during their vacation. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Nov. 21, 2015

It should come as no surprise that Pinellas County's tourism agency known as Visit St. Pete/Clearwater is taking the leap to its first national advertising campaign.

The agency has already pushed the clever publicity envelope, most recently with the "Winter Blows" guerilla marketing campaign that used snowmen strategically placed on the frozen avenues of New York and Chicago to urge chilled locals to escape to warmer climates. Like this one.

The new national campaign, described as a multi-month branding pitch using NPR, AT&T cable systems and online Pandora radio as chief outlets, sounds cool enough.

It will also include print advertisements and feature streetcars wrapped in sun-drenched scenes of the county, with taglines like "Crank up something besides your thermostat" and "Less snow, more glow." It will target those efforts on Boston, Chicago and New York.

Look a bit deeper behind the campaign. Visit St. Pete/Clearwater isn't just sitting around a table slinging smartypants slogans on the wall. This is an agency that's busy slicing and dicing data on who visits Pinellas County. So much so that we seem headed for a tourism database that captures detailed demographics of every single person who wiggles their toes in the sand of a Gulf Coast beach, scratches their heads at the Dalí Museum or orders more than three beers on Clearwater Beach.

Granted, the Pinellas tourism agency is not alone in its quest to understand and thus cajole more people to visit. Visit Tampa Bay, representing Hillsborough County, boasts similar Big Data skills and uses them to great effect. Combined, these agencies are big reasons this metro area has sustained year after year of record tourism numbers in a state that's about to push past the remarkable annual milestone of 100 million visitors.

Pinellas tourism officials recently unveiled a 2016 annual plan that seems to leverage every imaginable connection and subset of tourism to increase visits to the county. Here are just a few insights from the Pinellas plan.

• Lodging occupancy in Pinellas has increased steadily in recent years, hitting 74.4 percent in 2014, up from 68.2 percent in 2011. In like fashion, the average room rate last year was $128.20, up from $104.83 in 2011.

The all-important Pinellas bed tax collections hit a record $35 million last year, up sharply from $26 million in 2011. That money funds tourism marketing programs but also supports such community needs as beach nourishment and construction on stadiums and museums.

• More than 88 percent of Pinellas visitors in 2014 came for vacations and stayed an average of nearly six nights. Visitors on average are 43 years old, enjoy a median household income of $125,413 and are made up of baby boomers (28 percent), GenXers (45 percent) and millennials (27 percent).

• The top 2014 feeder market for Pinellas, no matter the season, was New York. The No. 2 feeder market in winter was Chicago, but in other seasons locals became the second biggest source of visitors.

• Among overseas visitors, 18 percent came from Europe. Canada contributed 6 percent. And though Latin America provided just 2 percent, tourism officials are enthusiastic with the rapid influx from that part of the world. Better flight connections through Panama-based Copa Airlines is helping, though the more recent Latin economic slowdown may curb that source of tourism.

The 2016 plan outlines marketing efforts to reach visitors in northern Europe and separate plans for central Europe, Latin America as well as the United States and Canada. Beyond geography, the agency wants to encourage more meeting and business visits — though Pinellas remains constrained by a lack of large convention facilities. Other marketing programs are aimed at sports tourism and niches that range from arts/culture, LGBT and foodie pursuits to nature enthusiasts.

The proximity to Orlando, where a new round of blockbuster theme park attractions like Disney's Star Wars is looming, will always be a key target to draw visitors. What better way to start or end a theme park blitz than to visit a Florida beach, preferably on the Gulf Coast?

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.