April 6, 2003 – A recently introduced logo emphasizing the territory's American connection, dedicated 800 lines and a partnership with American Express are among the strategies being used in efforts to maintain the Virgin Islands' market share in a shaky tourism economy.
And according to Pamela Richards, Tourism commissioner, they are working.
"Compared to our competitors, our numbers are not down," Richards said on Sunday, speaking during a break at the 10th annual U.S. Virgin Islands Destination Symposium. "When the V.I. lost 3 percent, another competitor lost 43 percent."
Several speakers at the kickoff to the four-day event at the Renaissance Grand Beach Resort said it is the Virgin Islands' connection to the United States that makes tourists feel safe in traveling to the destination.
The new logo calling the territory "America's Caribbean" and using imagery suggestive of the U.S. flag has helped promote the connection. So has use of Woody Guthrie's famous folksong "This Land Is Your Land" reworked to say "This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the Virgin Islands." The well-known song plays under the television and radio ads currently being run in targeted markets, mostly on the U.S. East Coast. The ads also give dedicated 800 lines where people can call for information on tour packages to the islands.
The dedicated 800 lines are the first of a kind, according to Steve Bornn, Tourism Department marketing director. When someone calls one of the numbers, which are in partnership with American Airlines and U.S. Airways, the receptionist "gets a whisper" in his or her ear saying this is a call for information specifically on the Virgin Islands. The telemarketing person also gets a readout on the computer screen saying the same thing.
"That way, they know to kick into high gear talking about packages to the Virgin Islands," Henry W. de Lagarde, Tourism director out of New York City, said.
Other efforts include a new digital press kit developed and used by Martin Public Relations, the territory's stateside publicity firm; 10 press familiarization trips a year to the territory; and hundreds of press releases and other standard public relations functions. The firm's efforts have garnered numerous magazine features, newspaper articles and placements on game show giveaways, according to Martin account manager Luana Wheatley.
Members of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, tour operators and travel wholesalers from the mainland, representatives of local visitor attractions, and local and travel media also heard a panel of hospitality industry and media experts discuss reaching niche markets, using partnering to bolster marketing efforts, and the effective use of the Internet as a strategic marketing tool.
Glenn D. Harris, head of marketing and public relations for Amex Caribbean, detailed an Amex campaign set for June which is the result of a partnership between American Express and the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association. The appeal offers a $50 gift certificate for sign-ups, a fifth night free in hotels when clients pay for the first four nights with an American Express card, and a coupon booklet with free offers and discounts at local stores, restaurants and attractions.
As for the Internet, Richard Holm, managing director of Caribbeanconsulting.com, said it is pointless to have a Web site that is nothing more than a passive online brochure.
Holm, who worked as a consultant to IBM, owned a travel agency, and owned and ran a hotel on Saba, is uniquely qualified as a consultant in the field of online tourism marketing. Holm said of Web sites that far too many destinations "build them and forget them."
It is crucial, he said, to update Web sites continually. Including crucial links with an intuitive name that includes "dot com" and making the sites easy for people to navigate are the basics, he said.
Holm said one of the drawbacks of the government's Tourism Web site is that when it comes up, the sound of the ocean is heard in the background. "Most people are planning their vacations online at work on company time," he said, and sounds of the ocean or music or other enticements are a dead giveaway.
He also suggested that Tourism should try to acquire the USVI.com domain name or at least get a link from the site to Tourism's site, which is www.usvitourism.vi.
Richards later took to the podium to defend the Tourism Web site, saying that information from focus groups indicated that "dot vi" was a good idea.
Holm cited the St. Thomas Source as being a "good place to start" with marketing for local hoteliers and attractions. "St. Thomas Source comes up very well in search engines," he said. "It's a good place to start your marketing."
Keith Clinkscales, publisher of Honey, Heart & Soul, and Savoy magazines, cautioned that marketers should not overlook the "urban" market. He said the urban lifestyle — and just plain style — is leading trends in mainstream America and is a niche to contend with.
He said the combined annual buying power of African, Asian and Hispanic Americans will reach $2.35 trillion by 2010 — more than one-fifth of the buying power of the entire market. And, he said, the Caribbean is the second most desirable destination for African Americans and non-white Americans in general, second only to Europe.
But, Clinkscales said, nobody wants to talk about the "ugly elephant in the room," which he said was the line of thinking that "if too many black people come, it will mess up our island."
He said that kind of thinking was a mistake, pointing to a popular music video that showed a black man walking down a beach in Rio de Janeiro with several beautiful women. Suddenly, he said, a whole lot of African-American men were talking about and booking tickets to Rio.
One symposium attendee said she was disappointed not to have heard more about what specific plans Tourism has coming up now for advertising and marketing the islands. "We like to tie in our advertising with whatever they are doing," she said. But, she added, "it was nice to hear about what they have been doing, I guess."
The symposium continues through Wednesday and includes a trip to St. Croix.
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