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Marketing the perceived safety of the bay area

By MARK ALBRIGHT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2003

For years, a sense of security has been one of the top reasons tourists decide to vacation in the Tampa Bay area.

In fact, surveys show feelings of safety rank up there with weather, beaches and things to do among parents picking the area for a family vacation.

But the market researchers who survey 360 tourists each month in Pinellas County had always interpreted that to mean vacationers were talking about feeling safe from crime. Since Sept. 11, 2001, they discovered it means they feel relatively safe from terrorists, too.

"It doesn't come out in the surveys, but it does in focus groups where people volunteer what they see as the region's attributes," said Walter Klages, president of Research Data Services Inc., the Tampa company that tracks Pinellas tourism.

Normally, about one in 20 focus group participants cite a sense of security as a reason they visited the Tampa Bay area. But in the weeks leading up the war in Iraq, a sense of security was mentioned by almost one in four vacationers.

Busch Gardens marketers used similar sentiments that they found in research to create the park's current advertising campaign. The message sells Busch Gardens as a place where families can bond, create lasting memories and find a secure escape from the pressures of life. It's also one reason why the park will stay open until 11 p.m. in July and most of August instead of closing at 7:30 p.m.

"People told us there were not enough things for families to do at night in Tampa," said Joe Couceiro, vice president of marketing.

So while some parents fret that Walt Disney World recently was declared a no-fly zone by the antiterrorism experts at the Department of Homeland Security, research finds few visitors concerned that U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa has been one for much longer.

"This is about perceptions," Klages said. "A lot of people do not connect this area with Central Command."

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