Skift Take

Orlando lost a large portion of its UK visitor base over the past year and new school rules will make it more difficult for British families to take the long break overseas. The tourism board hopes branding the destination as warm, fun, and romantic will boost visitors in the offseason.

On a dreary night, a black London cab stops at the curb to pick up a couple waiting on a city street. Pedestrians head to their destinations with umbrellas in hand.

A man with a British accent can be heard asking the cabbie to “take us somewhere new, mate.”

It seems like a scene from across the pond, but the rain and the gritty London streetscape are an illusion, created with a garden hose and some creative filmmaking in downtown Orlando. It’s the opening of the latest commercial touting Central Florida’s tourism industry, urging would-be visitors to “step out of the ordinary and into Orlando.”

The commercial is part of a new attempt to lure British visitors, who once were the top international market for Orlando tourism. Visitation has waned in recent years, and now the industry faces a new problem: Education rules that took effect Sept. 1 in England are making it more difficult for families to take their children out of school during the school year, with fines for those who break the rules.

So the new campaign targets young couples without children, who can travel at any time of the year and help airlines fill their planes during slower months. That’s necessary if Orlando wants airlines to add more scheduled service, said Danielle Courtenay, chief marketing officer for Visit Orlando, the marketing organization behind the ad campaign.

“The strategic objective of this is to really increase visitation during off-peak months,” Courtenay said. “In order for our airline partners to think about increasing service or starting new service … we need to fill some of the valleys in addition to filling the peaks.”

According to Visit Orlando, British visitors to Orlando spend an average of 12.3 nights, more than triple the time domestic tourists spend. They are fond of theme parks and shopping, and many own second homes in the area.

The number of visitors from the United Kingdom has fallen over the past five years, from 959,000 in 2008 to 730,000 last year. The U.K. has been surpassed by Canada as Central Florida’s top international feeder market.

Visit Orlando worked with the Push advertising agency to create the advertising campaign, which launched Monday. In addition to commercials airing on British television, the campaign will feature 22 cabs wrapped with Orlando ads traveling the streets of London as mobile billboards. Visit Orlando also is bringing British celebrities here to promote the destination back home.

Orlando videographer Ben Van Hook directed the commercial. A trip to London wasn’t in the budget, so he scouted his own city for a spot that looked the part. He found it at the corner of Pine Street and Magnolia Avenue, where an emerald-green storefront recalled the time he had spent in London’s East End.

Despite the humid September weather, the actors donned jackets. A sign marking the “Underground” — London’s version of the subway — was added to a lamp post.

The biggest obstacle was finding a modern-day British cab. Located in Charleston, S.C., it was trucked to Florida. But its steering column had been “Americanized” — placed on the left side instead of the right. Van Hook fixed the problem in post-production by flipping the video frames to make it seem that the cab was the real deal.

It wasn’t raining on the night that marketers wanted to re-create the dreary weather of London. So the video crew wet down the streets and used a garden hose to produce the rain.

After the British street scene, the couple sees Orlando’s tourism landmarks reflected in the windows of the cab. They step out into the beachy paradise of Discovery Cove, followed by scenes of theme parks, nightlife and dining.

Steve Trover, chief executive officer of All-Star Vacation Homes in Kissimmee, said he’s glad to see Visit Orlando going after the British market again. Although young couples aren’t likely to rent a vacation home, Trover said he is happy Visit Orlando is working to fill what the industry calls “need periods.”

“Anytime the kids are in school is a more challenging period,” Trover said. “I think it’s wise to try it, to test it, but closely monitor the results to the degree that you can. And then if it’s not working, shift.”

(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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Tags: marketing, orlando, uk