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Tourism Industry to Fight Tough Times with Marketing Fire

June 3, 2008 — Facing a mountain of economic and air-transportation obstacles, V.I. tourism professionals Tuesday got a glimpse of full-on marketing campaigns to bring more visitors to the islands.
Playing super-host to more than 150 industry professionals from the territory and beyond, the Hotel and Tourism Association set up this year's five-day conference to provide opportunities for networking, strategizing and educating travel professionals. The conference is in its 15th year.
Overshadowed by last month's American Airlines announcement of scheduled cutbacks and checked-baggage charges (see "Government Officials Announce Plans to Address Flight Cutbacks" and "Checked Bag Charge May Dry Up Rum Sales, Hit V.I. Economy"), the industry has plans to go after more and varied markets than ever.
"We are aware of the challenges," said Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty, addressing the conference at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort. Her office is working in conjunction with the association to mitigate the impact on the industry from rising fuel costs, a soft economy and airline-schedule cutbacks.
Nicholson-Doty's department has made more than 4,000 calls on travel agents in the last year to promote the territory as a destination for vacations, weddings, meetings, conferences and events. At the same time, the department is cutting back on costs. More than 50 percent of the department's offices have become virtual in response to changes in the travel industry.
This year's Sizzling Sampler theme is a takeoff on the industry's national marketing campaign, called Sizzling Summer Sampler. The campaign features a newspaper insert distributed in Boston, Chicago, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Miami and Washington, D.C. Travelers who book until Aug. 15 under the scheme receive a fifth night free and a $50 gift card. For travel booked between Aug. 16 and Oct. 31, a fourth night is free and a $100 gift card is accompanied by a $50-$100 resort credit, depending on the hotel, and up to $200 in vouchers on activities and tours.
"Ninety-five percent of the market comes from the U.S.," Nicholson-Doty said. "But we have to be sure not all of our eggs are in one basket."
The obstacles presented by the airlines, together with the strength of the Euro, have encouraged the department to pursue European markets.
"We have an affinity to the Danish market and with Europe as a whole," Nicholson-Doty said, noting that there were about 7,000 Danish visitors last year.
There are talks ongoing with several European carriers with regard to same-day service into the territory, Nicholson-Doty also said. There is also a lot of potential growth in the Canadian market, she said, noting that an agreement was in the works for a V.I. tourism representative in Canada.
The department is also working hard to attract the film and advertising industry, and has become a participant in the Tribeca Film Festival.
In May Nicholson-Doty's office began collecting a guest-experience survey. Responses to the survey's 10 questions will help the department improve visitors' experiences. The first surveys came in last month, but there haven't been enough responses yet to provide meaningful results.
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