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Tourism in Talks to Contract New P.R. Agency

Aug. 3, 2004 – The Tourism Department is in negotiations with the New York firm of M Booth to take over the territory's public relations account, sources indicate. If the contract is finalized as expected, it will put an end to the territory's 10-year relationship with the Richmond, Va.-based Martin Public Relations.
"I can't answer. We're in negotiations," Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards said when asked about the impending change.
Beverly Nicholson, president of the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association, said she hasn't been been formally notified of the change but understands from her sources that it's coming.
"We can only hope that the new company will give us the same quality of service we've had from Martin for the past 10 years," she said.
The hotel association has had an "incredible relationship" with the Martin staff, Nicholson said. That staff includes Luana Wheatley, a Virgin Islander who serves as the agency's representative for the territory's account. She worked for eight and one-half years for the Tourism Department before moving to Martin in 2000.
It appears that M Booth will take over the contract at the start of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1.
Martin was on the job when Hurricane Marilyn hit the territory in 1995, sending out regular updates on the territory's recovery efforts.
However, the government hasn't always been as speedy with its payment as Martin was in getting out its press releases. The Source reported in 1999 that Martin was owed hundreds of thousands of dollars for work spanning several years but, despite the debt, continued to provide uninterrupted services to the territory.
Booth lists among its current clients Hawaii Tourism and Yahoo Travel.
The New York agency's vice president, Brad Laney, has represented the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, State of Utah Tourism, the MGM MIRAGE and Celebrity Cruises.
Richards referred calls to Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs. He did not return a phone call requesting comment left on Monday. On Tuesday his staff said he was out sick, but that someone else would call back. No one called.
Martin's president, Joe Slay, also did not call back. No one returned a message left at M Booth.

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