MANATEE -- The Bradenton-Sarasota area has long been a popular destination for Germans and British vistors, and new tourism videos being filmed here this week aim to make a personal connection with other potential European tourists.
National tourism firm Brand USA is shooting several videos in Manatee and Sarasota counties to promote places including Coquina Beach, TreeUmph!, IMG Academy and South Florida Museum. In addition to English videos geared toward British and Canadian tourists, videos featuring German and Portuguese speakers are also being personally tailored to overseas visitors.
"Folks love the idea that this is a native person that actually chose to live in America, and it's someone you can trust that's been to the place and can tell people back home their own personal experience," said German actor Heiko Obermoeller, who will star in the Manatee County video. "That's a major difference to me than just having a voiceover and telling you about the place they have never been."
Obermoeller, known in Germany for the long-running drama "Die Anrheiner," prepped for his shoot Tuesday afternoon on St. Armands Circle getting ready to highlight the Ring of Fame, Shore Diner and Tommy Bahama. Obermoeller said the key to make tourism videos hit home overseas is authenticity.
"I look for real connections with real people because that's what I like as a vacation. I want to go somewhere that's real," he said. "I don't like touristy places, and I think that's what my folks don't appreciate, either."
The hosts typically have three weeks to research a shoot with a list of locations chosen by local visitors bureaus before they discover the area for themselves, Obermoeller said. He picks out the specific area he wants to highlight for German visitors.
IMG Academy, which will be filmed Friday with other Manatee spots, is big on his list.
"A lot of famous German tennis players were there -- Steffi Graf was there and Sabine Lisicki, which you probably don't know," Obermoeller said, laughing. "It's very famous over there."
IMG Academy will also have a Portuguese video produced as the academy targets Brazil, a soccer-mad country that will host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The hosts will head over to Siesta Key on Thursday, then downtown Sarasota to highlight shopping and nightlife before Obermoeller hits Manatee County's bright spots.
Brand USA is a private-public marketing agency that promotes U.S. tourism abroad in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association and federal agencies, including the Department of Commerce. The program was created out of the Travel Promotion Act of 2012 after foreign tourism shrank 37 percent from 2000-2010, for a loss of $606 billion, said Dee Zulauf, a spokeswoman for the local video shoot with EnviZage PR.
Bradenton Area CVB is spending about $8,000 on two videos plus some extras, and Visit Sarasota County spent about $12,000 to produce three 2 1/2-minute videos with some extras.The national firm is working with Lakewood Ranch-based firm Miles Partnership to complete the marketing.
Local tourism officials have long said German and British tourists are attractive because they spend more and stay longer compared with their American counterparts, and the Bradenton-Sarasota region is seeing more Europeans and Canadians.
Manatee County welcomed 92,250 visitors from Canada, United Kingdom and continental Europe in 2012, a 13.9 percent increase over the 79,413 visitors from those locations in 2011, according to the Bradenton Area Visitors and Convention Bureau.
Sarasota County attracted 28,190 Canadian and European visitors from October to December 2013, a 2 percent increase from the same quarter in 2012 -- and an 18.8 percent improvement from the first quarter in 2011. Overall, the county drew 102,920 European visitors and 49,800 Canadians in fiscal 2013, according to Visit Sarasota County.
When completed, the videos will be shown on DiscoverAmerica.com -- the government-sponsored travel site for foreign visitors planning trips to America.
"The whole idea is to make travel to the United States look new again," Zulauf said. The short videos are designed to show off the cultural aspects of different U.S. cities and destinations.
"You always like to go and not just see something, you want to feel the culture. That's what's relayed in these videos," Zulauf said.
Londoner and host Serena Lorien has a special connection to the area, having first moved to Clearwater from England, and her first American acting gig was at the Sarasota Medieval Fair.
"Florida's great. Every time I come back, I say I really need to buy a place in Florida," said Lorien, who now resides in Burbank, Calif.
As she visits attractions such as the Ringling for the first time, Lorien focuses on the cultural offerings to let people know there's more than Disney in Florida.
"Florida does have a lot of cultural offerings and has some of the best artists that live and breathe here," Lorien said.
Outdoor activities are the focus for Canadian tourists, said host Claire Duncan, a native of Kingston, Ontario.
"For Canadians, we're really excited about outdoor adventure and beaches, for sure, because we don't have a ton of them," said Duncan, who planned to venture out on a mangrove tour by kayak near Lido Beach.
It's difficult to squeeze everything about the area in these short videos, Obermoeller acknowledged.
"There's so much culture around. Just this morning we saw the Circus Museum and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall," he said. "It's funny because something like Siesta Key Beach, which is the most stunning beach I've ever seen, is kind of mentioned in the script because we want to cover it."
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.