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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesTOURISM OFFICES DON'T ALL TELL IT LIKE IT IS

TOURISM OFFICES DON'T ALL TELL IT LIKE IT IS

Second in a series
On Monday, the Tourism Department launched its latest mainland television and radio advertising campaign. The commercials invite viewers/listeners wanting additional information to call the V.I. Tourism office in their area.
The Source did just that over a two-week period, asking several standardized questions of personnel answering the telephone in all six offices – in New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Coral Gables (Miami), Chicago and Los Angeles — and some specifically tailored to the particular situation.
Dozens of calls were placed between May 31 and June 9. What follows are some of the findings.
To queries concerning whether June is a good time to visit the Virgin Islands, what quality the beaches are, when hurricanes occur, weather statistics and available activities, generally accurate responses were provided from all offices, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
However, with the exception of those provided by personnel in the Los Angeles office, the answers given conveyed the impression that the employees are not accustomed to answering these types of questions and are not involved in their jobs enough to do some research in order to respond to detailed questions.
Not-so-local knowledge
These specific questions elicited the following responses:
Can I ride a bike there? "Well, I never saw any. Let me look that up."
(The facts: Guided bicycle tours are offered on St. Thomas and St. Croix and are quite popular.)
Are there inexpensive hotels with kitchenettes? "No. You would have to get a villa or condo, and that would cost a lot of money."
(The facts: While "inexpensive" is a relative term, on St. Thomas, The Inn at Blackbeard's, Carib Beach, Bolongo Bay, Secret Harbour and Villa Blanca offer the option. So do the Inn at Tamarind Court on St. John, and Club Comanche, Hibiscus Beach, Holger Danske and Sprat Hall on St. Croix.)
Can I fly directly into St. Croix from the mainland? "Yes, you can, but I don't have the schedule yet."
(The facts: There is one flight a day, out of Miami on American Airlines.)
Could you tell me if we could visit formal gardens to learn more about the flora of the islands? What are some of the flowers in bloom this time of year? "Uhh, I don't know any of the names. Uhh, we don't have any specific information about gardens or flowers."
(The facts: St. Croix and St. Thomas have attractive botanical gardens that eagerly receive visitors.)
Will I be able to get around St. John walking with a cane? "Well, it's pretty hilly, but the buildings are only two stories and there are elevators."
Could you give me the names and current rates of a few inexpensive hotels?
"We can't recommend hotels because we're a government institution, but I can send you the list of hotels. That's all I have."
What is the range of summer rates for hotels? (Respondent begins reading the hotel list alphabetically) "Oh, I'm looking at the wrong sheet — that's the winter rates."
Is there public transportation, or would I need to rent a car? "No, we recommend you rent a car. The rates are about the same as Florida."
(The facts: Major company rental rates on St. Thomas are about 30 percent higher than Miami.)
The conference calls
Information was requested of all six offices for planning a conference in a location able to accommodate over 175 persons including those requiring wheelchair accessibility. Only Los Angeles gave on-the-spot, correct and extremely helpful information.
The staff person there responded that three hotels on St. Thomas would have that capability. Quickly circumventing what was described as the usual procedure of sending out such a request to the hotels for them to respond to the client, this individual provided the 800 numbers for those three hotels so that the caller could obtain immediate and specific information.
The Miami office put the caller on hold three times trying to find the requested information and finally faxed a four-page government list of hotels, rates and amenities, leaving the research to the caller. In response to a second call about conference planning, the employee said it would be necessary to arrange to have the requested information faxed from elsewhere to that office and to then pass it on.
The person taking the question in the New York office, when asked to fax conference information, said it was only possible to mail the information, because it was "a four-fold and won't fit in the fax machine."
An Atlanta staffer said a lot of hotels could accommodate that many persons but was not sure about handicap-access facilities. The individual promised to put together a list of hotels that could meet those needs and fax it right out. Such a list was never received.
The Chicago employee responding to the query about the need for handicap access for a sizable number of visitors cited a conference held recently by local hoteliers to prepare for just such an eventuality. The employee then recommended the Westin and proceeded to fax a half-page sheet listing conference facilities at the Westin — not rooms, and nothing about handicap access.
Some driving forces
The range of inconsistency of employee knowledge and training hit home in response to what should have been a no-brainer: Is it difficult to drive in the Virgin Islands?
Washington: "Well, it's different because they drive on the right." [Extended pause.] "Oh, sorry, I mean they drive on the left."
Atlanta: [Answering machine] "You have reached the U.S. Virgin Islands information office in Atlanta, Georgia, representing the three beautiful islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. We are not available at this time but your call is very important to us. At the sound of the tone, please leave your name, a brief message and your phone number. Thank you for your interest in the Virgin Islands. Remember: 'They're your islands.' "
Los Angeles: "You'll find it the easiest place to drive after your experiences here. You will be able to see a lot more when you can drive around. Trust me, they go slow, and with all the traffic on the left, you'll just fall into line."
Miami: "Oh, you won't have any trouble driving on the left. You just have to remember to turn into the left lane at crossings. The steering wheel is the same side as cars here, and you'll be very comfortable."
Chicago: "Don't worry about it for a minute. It's really not that difficult. The steering wheel is on the left, all the traffic going along will keep you in line, and there are lots of signs reminding you. Good luck to you, love. Make sure you go to St. John."
New York: [For this one, the full dialogue, caller followed by New Yorker, is provided.]
Will I have difficulty driving in the islands? "Why would it be difficult?"
Someone told me it was different. "How could it be different?"
I don't know. They just said it was different. "I don't know why they would say that."
I guess if you can drive in New York City, you can drive anywhere. "Thank you!"
The bottom line of body language
Tourism Commissioner-designate Rafael Jackson told a Senate committee recently, "I need bodies in those offices." Earlier, at his confirmation hearing before the full Legislature, in response to a question from Sen. Violet Anne Golden about employees being patronage hires who lacked tourism expertise, he replied that, while some were not knowledgeable, they were all "trainable."
How were these employees selected? What qualifications are required, and what training program is in place for new hires? How will the staffs of the six offices handle the increase in calls expected to be generated by the new ad campaign? Collectively, do they constitute an a
sset worth over a million dollars of the $3.5 million Tourism budget? The answers to these questions could be the really interesting ones.
However, they may be of little relevance in the bigger picture.
Tourism's mainly TV and radio spring advertising campaign in five mainland markets got off to a late start in mid-March and ran into May. Even so, according to Martin Public Relations, the government's mainland p.r. agency, calls to the 800 number "nearly tripled as a direct result of the campaign."
The summer ads will get double the amount of media coverage, in 12 mainland market areas, Martin said.
Evidence suggests that for most people wanting information about the Virgin Islands as a travel destination, the quickest and easiest ways to get it are by calling the Tourism toll-free telephone number and by going on the Internet.
Friday: Answers at your fingertips

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