Dear St. Thomas Source,
I'm responding to the Friday, September 3, 1999, St. Thomas Source op-ed piece entitled, "Tourism Needs to Court Travel Writers," by Willi Miller.
Ms. Miller brought up an important point about utilizing travel writers to publicize our destination. Travel writers have long been a very important part of the marketing efforts of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism.
The department has been hosting individual as well as group press trips for several years. During the last four years, the territory's public relations agency, Martin Public Relations, has hosted more than 400 representatives of television, print radio and internet outlets.
Martin Public Relations arranges for 100 journalists to visit our islands every year.
Individual journalists come to the U.S. Virgin Islands about three to five times per month. Group press trips, consisting of an average of 10 media reps, visit the islands four to five times per year.
On average, 45 journalists come as part of a press trip and 55 come individually. A large number of travel writers prefer to travel as a group where they receive, in seven nights, a general overview of all three major U.S. Virgin Islands. Others prefer to travel and research specific aspects or characteristics of our islands. We believe it is wise to other both types of options so we can appeal to the different needs of the travel media.
We go through a fairly thorough process of selecting writers for individual and group press trips.
We pre-screen travel journalists and require letters of assignment from each of their media outlets. Martin Public Relations arranges and purchases discounted airfare for the travel writers. When they arrive, the writers also receive complementary accommodations, entrance to attractions, and sometimes they receive complementary meals and transportation. Visits usually entail visiting major attractions, historic sites and touring the islands in order to get a feel of the history, amenities and personality of each island. These visits have resulted in approximately one billion media impressions on average each year for the last four years. These media impressions represent a combination of print, radio and television and now Internet exposure.
A sampling of the print articles are bound into clip reports. A total of 23 have been produced thus far, with each report book representing around 49 million print impressions. The reports are distributed to the Department of Tourism, the chambers of commerce and hotel associations. The associations get the books so Virgin Islanders may see what our marketing efforts have produced.
Studies have shown that travel writers' articles or shows produce a greater impact than advertising. The media coverage is more influential to its readers or viewers than advertising. Certainly advertising does its share of reaching the potential visitor, but there are significant advantages to editorial coverage.
According to a 1997 survey, most travelers use at least one information source to plan their pleasure trip. Nearly 10 percent of travelers look to magazines for recommendations of places to travel, 13.6 percent refer to newspapers as a source, and 19.8 percent refer to travel guide books. Of those that use the magazine as a source, 70 percent planned based upon a travel article, while nearly 40 percent used advertising for their planning.
For the months of July and August, Martin Public Relations assisting in getting 52 articles published, reaching nearly 8 million readers. If editorial coverage were to be convened to advertising space, the cost of purchasing such space would be in the tens of millions dollars.
I am pleased with this current public relations initiative, but there is even more than can be done. This fiscal year we will be conducting six additional smaller press trips, consisting of five writers each. These groups will be staying three nights to research for niche markets such as golfing, diving, small hotels, etc., instead of covering the whole destination in just one visit.
Martin Public Relations is contracted to work with U.S. mainland and Canadian media. The department's international marketing contractors arranged the individual and press trip visits from Canada, Denmark, England, Germany and Italy.
1 thank Ms. Miller for her comments and I am happy to be able to clarify our technique of "courting travel writers."
Michael A. Bornn
Acting Tourism Commissioner
TRAVEL WRITERS KEY TO TOURISM
Dear St. Thomas Source,
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