CEOs of Two Florida destinations show the rest of us how creative destination marketing is done:
Within the state of Florida, David Downing and DT Minich, CEOs of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and Experience Kissimmee, respectively, are considered outliers. While other CEOs running destination organizations advanced their careers through their political skills, these two became known for their abilities to unite their business communities around their creative visions.
DT spent seven years heading up Visit St. Peter/Clearwater before he was recruited in 2014 (“After setting tourism records, Pinellas tourism chief D.T. Minich leaving for Kissimmee job” declared a headline in The Tampa Bay Times) to turn around the Kissimmee CVB, a beleaguered community residing in the shadow of Orlando and known primarily as the epicenter of the low end motels within minutes of the Disney and Universal.
Downing, after serving under Minich as Visit St. Pete’s director of public relations, then deputy director, was familiar with the destination’s unique marketing assets: world renowned beaches, and a community of edgy art galleries that existed in separate universes. “**We’ve based our marketing strategy on the belief that beaches and culture are not separate, but are both integral parts of our overall brand,” Downing told us. “So we don’t do niche marketing in the traditional sense, but make our outreaches wholly reflective of who our visitors are. For example, our outreach to the LGTB community is part of an overall ‘inclusivity’ campaign where we let everyone know they are welcome through the wide variety of images we use in our ads.”
Extending the Reach of the Brand: Recently, Visit St. Pete began positioning itself as “Orlando’s beach” by registering beachesoforlando.com domain and flooding Orlando with ads educating visitors and locals that the beach is only two hours away, going so far as to work with local Orlando news stations to include Clearwater Beach conditions in their weather reports. Their latest “beach by night” initiative (pictured below) is told through breakthrough photography both online and in nearly a million copies of their destination magazine, and last year they created two novel VR-related outreaches: a virtual site tour of major meeting spaces throughout the destination for use at trade shows, and a co-branded Uber promotional campaign that included in-car VR headsets that allowed passengers to tour balmy St.Pete/Clearwater in the middle of a brutally cold Chicago winter.**
“We’ve always been marketing in Orlando, but based on the work of Leroy Bridges and our incredible in-house digital team we learned that there’s a much higher visitor volume coming to our area than we thought previously,” Downing said. “Central Florida visitors and residents have always looked east of Orlando for the beach. We want to convince them to look west, where we have two of America’s best beaches (St. Pete and Clearwater) according to TripAdvisor.” Altogether, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater spent $1 million last summer on an in-state marketing push that also included Jacksonville and Miami, as well as the Greater Tampa Bay market.
At Disney’s Door: Meanwhile, DT Minich was charged with taking the Kissimmee CVB brand, which had been known as the area with the cheapest hotels to be found near the Disney and Universal Studios.
“I started out by converting the agency from public to private which made it easier to form marketing coop partnerships with the major theme parks,” said Minich. “After a year of gathering feedback from the tourism community, consumers and the trade, I realized we had three things going for us: the world’s top theme parks minutes away; access to nature with the head waters of the Everglades; and the largest concentration of rental homes in the world,” (a fact which they were able to independently verify).
That inventory included clusters of upscale 6-10 bedroom mansions that could elevate the destination’s appeal to upscale families that travel together. At the same time he began sponsoring the most prestigious events activities in Dubai, he began marketing to the Brazilian market, which nearly collapsed following political scandals, devaluations and unemployment, as a value destination that families could still afford.
Early last year, São Paulo-based tour operator Trend Group (Grupo Trend), which also has offices in Orlando, purchased 500 homes to add to its inventory in the area. Luis Paulo Luppa, Trend’s chairman and CEO, noted that he counted on the help of Minich in researching the move. And now, Osceola County, where Kissimmee is located, calls itself the vacation rental capital of Florida.
Finally, the Royal Touch: Though it resides in the shadow of Orlando, Kissimmee last year embarked on a guerilla marketing campaign to the trade that drives home its proximity to theme parks by co-sponsoring last year’s lunch at IPW’s with Universal Florida. And this year, realizing the IPW coincides with the May 19 Royal Wedding of Prince Harry to American actress Megan Markle, UK tour operators and media received authentic wedding invitations to a “Royal Wedding Party” the Saturday before IPW in Denver to watch a tape-delayed broadcast complete with a wedding cake, dress instructions and a host of other British accoutrements.