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Tourism officials may target Midwest
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CLEARWATER – Due to damage caused by Superstorm Sandy last week in New Jersey and New York, officials at Visit St. Pete/Clearwater may target their marketing efforts more toward Chicago and the Midwest this winter.

Speaking before members of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council on Oct. 31, executive director D.T. Minich said the Northeast is a concern.

“We’re a little concerned, because we’re going into our winter season and the New York-Northeast corridor is our No. 1 market in the winter,” Minich said. “Until our customers up north get their lives back in order, they’re not going to be thinking about a beach vacation. So we may have to push more of that toward Chicago and the Midwest if they’re not put back together by the first of the year.”

Among the tentative plans for New York City is a heavy advertising blitz for the area on the S-train, which runs from Times Square to Grand Central Station.

But if that doesn’t come to fruition, Minich said his organization will target Chicago more. Already planned is a “take over” of Union Station in Chicago, which means the station will be flooded with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater promotional material.

Plans also include advertising on the Cooking Channel’s “Emeril’s Florida,” a cooking and travel TV show featuring celebrity chef Emeril LaGasse.

Minich said spending will stay the same in Europe because ”our European numbers are up.”

He said Continental Europe, which is Germany, France, The Netherlands and Switzerland, is up 18 percent over a year ago and visitors from the United Kingdom are up 7.5 percent for a total of 11.2 percent for Europe.

Minich said Edelweiss flights from Switzerland to Tampa were at an 86 percent load factor in October and he is working on deals with five other international airlines.

Bed tax collections are up significantly as well.

“We had our best year ever on record this year,” Minich said. “The (previous) best mark was 2008 before the recession hit and we’re far surpassing 2008 as far as bed tax collections. We will probably end the year (2011-12) 10 to 12 percent over last year when we were 7 percent over the year before.”

He said there will be about $2 million more collected than there was in 2008.

“So it will be about a $28 million year,” Minich said. “And keep in mind with all those bed tax collections there’s an equal amount of sales tax and Penny for Pinellas. We’ve had an extremely wonderful year.”

“Our marketing is getting results,” he added. “Florida was up 3 percent, Midwest up 3.7 percent and the Northeast 4.6 percent.”
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