Thousands of tourists and locals alike visit Clearwater and its beaches each year. Clearwater is the 2013 Top Beach Town in Florida, according to a recent USA Today poll.
CLEARWATER – Clearwater has earned new bragging rights. A USA Today poll named Clearwater the Best Beach Town in Florida for 2013, earning more than 25 percent of the more than 30,000 votes cast.
“It just reconfirms what all of us have been saying for a long time,” said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos. “Sparkling Clearwater has the best beach in Florida.”
Clearwater topped other competitive destinations, such as Siesta Key, Sanibel Island and Miami’s South Beach.
David Downing, deputy director of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, echoed the mayor’s sentiments, saying everyone in the Tampa Bay area has always known that Clearwater Beach is a special place. He also thanks all the Facebook fans who all came together to help Clearwater win this honor.
“We posted the announcement of the poll on Facebook, and the Facebook fans just ran with it,” Downing said of the Pinellas tourism agency’s page. “It was seen more than 144,000 times on Facebook and about 8,000 people ‘liked’ it and some 1,600 or 1,700 people shared it. It was the single most viral thing that ever had been on our Facebook page.”
One beautiful day in early January, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater also rented a plane pulling a banner promoting the contest and it flew up and down Clearwater Beach, urging people to vote.
Downing credited all of the tourism partners coming together to help win this honor, from the Chambers of Commerce and local government to individual hoteliers and the residents and tourists. Everyone was excited to get the word out, he said.
Darlene Kole, president and CEO of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, said she and those at the Beach Chamber are ecstatic and extremely happy about winning the award.
“We’re very proud of our beach in many ways,” Kole said. “Proud of our hotels, our restaurants, our attractions, our marina, our BeachWalk which is pedestrian friendly, but mostly it’s our powdery, white, sugary sand and the clean Gulf of Mexico.”
Kole added that a lot contributes to what makes Clearwater the best beach in Florida, from the positive redevelopment, plentiful restaurants and hotels of all kinds.
“We have truly an abundance of restaurants on Clearwater Beach,” Kole said. “And we have everything from 5-star resorts to quaint, mom and pop cottages and motels. We have our world class marina, BeachWalk was a $33-million project that has made Clearwater Beach so pedestrian friendly. I really think that has been key to creating such an experience for a visitor when they come to Clearwater Beach. We have the festivals that take place every night, two hours before and after sunset at Pier 60. Also, we’re very family-oriented, and I think that’s what makes us stand out – we really do accommodate all age groups. Whether you’re young or old, there’s something to enjoy on Clearwater Beach.”
Kole attests that from personal experience, Clearwater really does have the best beaches in Florida. She grew up in Florida, and ever since she was a child in the ’60s, her family has traveled and visited “every river, every beach and every corner of Florida. And it’s a fair assessment to say that Clearwater Beach has the most beautiful beaches in the state of Florida.”
The tourism messaging potential that this award means to the area is huge, as well.
“It’s going to be tremendous,” Kole said. “We’ve already started changing all our collateral to boast because for the next 365 days, we have bragging rights.”
The beach chamber has already changed its website and is changing its billboards and ads to reflect its top beach title, Kole added.
Downing agreed, saying this is especially huge, having just come off a year where St. Pete Beach was named the nation’s top beach destination in 2012 by TripAdvisor. Also, in 2011, Parents Magazine named Fort De Soto Park the country’s best beach for families, Caladesi Island in Dunedin won Dr. Beach’s 2008 Top Beach in America award, and Clearwater Beach was named Best Beach on the Gulf of Mexico in 1999 by Dr. Beach. Awards that come through votes of the public are especially exciting, Downing said, like the USA Today award.
“These polls carry a lot of weight in people’s minds,” Downing said. “With the advent of and the importance of crowd sourcing on TripAdvisor, they’re getting the opinion of a lot of people they don’t know, but they still give that a lot of weight.”
This Best Beach Town in Florida award is huge, he said, especially since it comes from the largest daily newspaper, both online and in print. Also, as much as the Tampa Bay area rallies to get the locals to vote, winning an award like this really is a testament to the international markets and visitors who love to come to Clearwater, Downing said. People all over the world were able to vote in this contest, and to win – especially by such a huge margin – it was crucial to have both national and international support.
Success breeds success, and this will only help further cement Clearwater as the optimal beach destination, Cretekos said.
“It will be a great marketing tool,” Cretekos said. “The (Tourist Development Council) especially will be able to promote not only in our key markets of the northeast and Midwest, but also in Europe. The Edelweiss airlines (coming to the Tampa International Airport) has helped increase our foreign visitors, and for USA Today to be able to say we’re the best beach, it’s better than us saying we’re the best beach because this just carries more weight.”