Visit Florida helps spotlight Tampa Bay with eight-episode show

Florida’s tourism-marketing agency is the co-producer of a streamed television show designed to attract people to the Tampa Bay region as part of COVID-19 economic recovery efforts.

Visit Florida has for nearly a year teamed with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater — with each putting up $275,000 — on an eight-episode show called “Life’s Rewards” that started streaming Monday on platforms including Amazon Prime, YouTube, GoUSA TV and Places.Travel.

State House leaders in recent years tried to eliminate Visit Florida, in part because of controversial spending that included sponsorships of London-based Fulham Football Club and an auto racing team, along with contracts with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and rapper Pitbull.

But Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young, a former member of the state House and Senate, said the contracts for “Life’s Rewards” went before lawmakers.

“Visit Florida produced the project using its regular agency partners, all of whom were hired after an open and competitive procurement and the Florida Legislature’s approval of the contracts,” Young said in a statement. “Visit Florida and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater hold sole ownership of the production — no private production company or other organization has the ability to monetize or otherwise individually profit from this project.”

The money for the program comes from the current fiscal year, when Visit Florida received $50 million in state funding. Legislators last month agreed to provide another $50 million for the fiscal year that will start July 1 and added $25 million in federal stimulus money to “conduct activities that support and fund Florida’s tourism industry and its recovery from COVID-19 through promotion and marketing activities, services, functions, and programs.”

The show is described on the entertainment website IMDb as “an ambitious young executive finds his career and life in turmoil after losing his wealth in a series of high-risk deals. Stranded in paradise, he’s humbled by a hotel’s employees forcing him to reevaluate what really defines life.”

Forbes called it a “brand new genre of television marketing by a tourism organization.”

Visit Florida hopes to entice people to the region by making the Tampa Bay market part of the show, with action emanating from The Don CeSar hotel in St. Pete Beach to a variety of outdoor and indoor activities.

“People travel from all over the world to experience places they have seen in movies or TV shows, from tens of thousands of visitors descending on Dyersville, (Iowa) every year to see the baseball diamond in ‘Field of Dreams,’ to women flocking to New York City for ‘Sex and the City’-themed vacations, to ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans visiting Croatia and New Zealand just to set foot in the fictional lands of Westeros or Middle Earth,” Young said. “Our goal with this project is to intentionally capture visitors experiencing the destination throughout the series, rather than as an accidental byproduct.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic and reductions in state spending on Visit Florida, the state took in $3.27 for every dollar it spent on tourism marketing over a three-year period that started July 1, 2016, according to the report released this year by the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research.

The state and local tourism agencies have been working on the show with the firm Odyssey, the Studio at Miles Partnership since last summer.

With COVID-19 ending a decade of record-setting tourism numbers in Florida, Young said the success of “Life’s Rewards” will be based on “advertising value equivalencies, such as engagement and view through rates, similar to how we evaluate our video advertising performance.”

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