April 10, 2005 – Mainland tour and travel operators, representatives from national travel publications and local tourism professionals heard Sunday about plans for promoting the Virgin Islands at the 12th annual Destination Symposium.
The event, which started Saturday, runs through Wednesday at venues on St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. It was sponsored by the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association and the Tourism Department.
Sunday's event, the marketing forum, was open to the public and the media. It was held at the Westin Resort and Villas on St. John.
It was the first opportunity for most of the 135 people who attended the symposium to hear how the territory's new public relations firm, the New York City-based M Booth and Associates, plans to promote the territory. The company officially replaced Martin Public Relations in February. Martin had held the account for nine years.
The M Booth team, Maggie Booth, Joan Bloom, Joan Brower and Brad Laney, outlined numerous upcoming events in addition to the usual press trips and press releases.
Bloom said the company plans to have an interactive Virgin Islands Web site on line in six weeks.
"This was our first major initiative," she said.
The team talked about plans to have Virgin Islands chefs appear in New York during Caribbean Week, window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, attendance at fashion events sponsored by Harper's Bazaar magazine, and a promotion in New York's Grand Central train station, among others.
"We will be going all out in the next few months," Laney said.
Laney said a news link Web site to be launched this week will include a place for local tourism-related companies to fill out a form with news about their businesses.
He said the agency also plans to hold a workshop for the public relations staff from Virgin Islands-based tourism businesses.
Additionally, M Booth is partnering with Yahoo to promote the territory.
The Hotel Association showed a video of its cooperative marketing initiative program called "It's just easier." In a clever twist, the Hotel Association had the models used in each of three advertisements saunter in wearing the clothes they wore in the advertisement.
Nicholson said the Hotel Association put together its campaign with $100,000 in seed money from American Express plus help from nine of the territory's hotels. She said a dozen hotels are now involved.
The territory's advertising company, JWT, formerly J. Walter Thompson, showed past advertisements as well as one under way that promotes St. Croix.
For the most part, people interviewed by the Source said they were pleased with the plans to promote the territory.
"It seems like they really know how to utilize the bang for their buck," Cape Air communications director Michelle Haynes said of M Booth. She said it seemed as though they had new energy.
Maho Bay Camps manager Maggie Day said the public relations campaign looked professional and promising.
"I don't think I've ever seen it more positive and upbeat," she said.
Ronnie Lockhart, who owns the Crystal Palace guesthouse on St. Thomas, said the M Booth plan looked excellent.
"I can see it's going to take off like gangbusters," he said.
Allegra Kean, marketing director at St. Thomas' Coral World, said M Booth has already run two press trips that included Coral World.
"So we're already starting to see benefits," she said.
Claudia Carrington, owner of Carringtons Inn on St. Croix, said she liked the Saks Fifth Avenue and Grand Central promotions.
Carrington, who previously lived in New York, noted that those two spots got a lot of traffic. However, she said, she was concerned that not enough attention is being paid to St. Croix.
One St. Thomas tourism professional hedged with his remarks.
"We're really looking forward to working with people supporting us," Bolongo Bay Beach Club manager Richard Doumeng said.
He said those people included Expedia, Travelocity and World Publications, which publishes the hardcover Discover magazine placed in hotel rooms.
M Booth's partner Yahoo was not on Doumeng's list.
Carol Menzel of Travelocity said the territory has always been a strong partner.
"You know it's going to be a solid product," she said.
Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards, in response to a question from the audience, said she understands the new U.S. State Department edict that will require passports from people returning to the United States from Canada and Mexico, does not include the Virgin Islands.
"We've asked for it in writing," she said.
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