In the streaming series “Life’s Rewards,” a helpful hotel bartender repeatedly tells the main character, a visiting businessman named Dan, that in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida, “you have options” for entertainment, dining, and other adventures.
The bartender’s refrain isn’t the result of lazy scriptwriting, but the intentional desire “to showcase the many aspects of our amazing destination,” said Steve Hayes, president and CEO of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater.
Like a TV show, “Life’s Rewards” is meant to be entertaining, but it’s also meant to be a marketing tool. It’s the first TV series developed by a destination marketing organization meant to air on streaming services. Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the St. Pete/Clearwater Film Commission, and Visit Florida developed and co-produced the series of eight episodes, which have run times between 10 to 17 minutes each. You can watch the episodes, named the Best Breakthrough Streaming Series at the Sunscreen Film Festival in May, on Amazon Prime, YouTube, GoUSA TV, and Places.Travel.
The series is another example, like Economic Development Winnipeg’s stop-motion LEGO video, of how DMOs are moving beyond traditional destination marketing and developing new business models to reach consumers.
“There’s lot of competition for visitors and with the shifting landscape of how those visitors are consuming content and being inspired to visit a destination, there’s opportunity for new ideas,” Hayes told Convene. “It’s not just about banner ads and traditional TV [ads] anymore.”
Episodes were shot in January and February of this year by Odyssey, the Studio at Miles Partnership, the Texas-based production firm that makes Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater marketing videos. Hayes said the DMO “jumped at the opportunity” when Miles Partnership and Visit Florida approached the organization in July 2020 to be part of the project.
“We know that people have been glued to their televisions during the pandemic, so we wanted to find a new way to reach consumers,” Hayes said.
“Life’s Rewards” follows the exploits of a high-profile wealth manager’s privileged son, Dan Kinney (played by Sebastian Rocha), who has somehow triggered a federal investigation into his father’s company. By the time he checks in at The Don CeSar hotel on St. Pete Beach, his corporate cards have been cut off. He’s forced to live off the only asset he has left — his cache of reward points that allow him to stay at the iconic “Pink Palace” hotel for six months.
Throughout the episodes, Dan discovers — with the help of the forementioned bartender (Jared Wofford) and other likable characters — all that the destination has to offer, as well as some truths about himself. While the story is rife with plot holes, Dan’s exploits are entertaining and result in several comic moments and funny lines.
Of course, St. Petersburg/Clearwater has the starring role in the series. Viewers get a good look at not only The Don CeSar and the area’s beaches, but other attractions and businesses. Dan visits the new St. Pete Pier, Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center, Hideaway Café, the Chihuly Collection, Al Lang Stadium, the Dali Museum, Philippe Park, the Tarpon Springs sponge docks, and local nightclub, Blur.
Hayes said the DMO “worked very closely” with the producers on the scripts and locations. The goal of the series, he said, is to attract the incremental visitors who might book a trip because they saw the series. “For us, the obvious next step is ‘Wow, that hotel looks amazing,’ or ‘Wow, that destination looks fun. Let me learn more about it,’” he said, “which leads to someone booking a stay at The Don CeSar or somewhere in the destination.”
Curt Wagner is digital editor of Convene.