CLEARWATER – Spanish explorers waded ashore on the Pinellas Peninsula in the early 16th Century, and tourists have been coming here ever since. The recent recession put a dent in the tourism statistics, but officials are reporting that things are now getting better.
“Two years ago, we started on the path where we realized that tourism trends were changing,” Geri Campos Lopez, the city of Clearwater’s director of economic development and housing, told the Clearwater City Council on November 13.
Using $164,000 set aside for tourism promotion, the city hired Imagine Communications Strategies to advertise Clearwater as a vacation destination. It was a gutsy move because most of Imagine’s clients are hotels, resorts and other corporate entities. Its only other municipal client is Cape Town, South Africa.
“We are very, very pleased with where we have come in two years,” Imagine spokeswoman Adel Grobler told the council.
The number of tourists visiting Clearwater jumped from 765,358 in 2009-2010 to 812,000 in 2010-2011 and to 878,000 in 2011-2012. The amount they spent rose from $534,584,000 in 2009-2010 to $580,229,000 in 2010-2011 and to $656,590,000 in 2011-2012.
The economic impact of that spending on the local economy, including the ripple effect, climbed from $1,064,678,000 in 2009-2010 to $1,155,584,000 in 2010-2011 and to $1,307,664.000 in 2011-2012.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Grobler and Imagine’s CEO, Gabrielle Klink, outlined their company’s strategic objectives. They vowed to increase awareness of Clearwater as a vacation destination through all available channels, pitch the city to travel magazines in the hope of getting free publicity, maximize use of the social and broadcast media, provide multiple-partner opportunities, and support in-house marketing and public relations opportunities.
When dealing with the media, Imagine wants to stress that Clearwater is an affordable vacation destination and tout the value that visitors will get for their dollars. The company also promotes Clearwater as a great place for weddings or honeymoons, adventure, families, relaxation and renewal.
Imagine has turned the Philadelphia Phillies’ big green mascot, the Phillies Phanatic, into a nationwide phenomenon, and gotten national coverage when Mayor George Cretekos gave him the key to the city. The company also got some free help when the Republican National Convention focused the eyes of the world on Tampa Bay.
Grobler and Klink believe that electronic communications are the wave of the future. They noted that smartphone bookings have doubled since 2010, social media sites are expanding and even the venerable magazine Newsweek is dropping its print edition and going entirely online.
In its media outreach, Grobler said, Imagine has made 272 direct media pitches regarding Clearwater. Its three releases via wire mailing resulted in 870 online postings that reached 7,379 media outlets. Mentions of Clearwater in such outlets as the Boston Globe, the Sacramento Bee, CNN and Family Circle magazine resulted in 196 clippings that provided $3 million worth of free advertising.
Imagine is currently creating a Clearwater mobile application for iPhones and iPads. It is also targeting more Canadian visitors and helping the city update its website with links to other sites and nearby cities.
Plans for next year include continuing the press trips that have been so successful in the past, developing editorial coverage and increasing the focus on festivals and events. Imagine also wants to continue the city’s cooperation with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Chambers of Commerce, and the local business community.
Mayor Cretekos liked the concept of cooperation among those entities.
“We have one message, and that message is Clearwater,” he said.