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CARIBBEAN TOURISTS SEEN AS KEY TO SUCCESS

Oct. 14, 2003 – Six tourism marketing professionals from five Caribbean countries agreed Tuesday that a big market for each of them is in their own backyard. All said that residents elsewhere in the region and Caribbean people living on the U.S. mainland account for a large portion of visitors to their respective islands every year.
Nellie Cruz, marketing specialist with Puerto Rico Tourism Co., told members of the Ad Club of the Virgin Islands that 50 percent of visitors to Puerto Rico every year are coming to visit friends and relatives. And they spend plenty of money, she said.
Steve A. Johnson, director of tourism with Dominica's Tourist Office agreed. "They stay in hotels, eat in the restaurants," and take advantage of the same things other tourists enjoy. "We see them as very important," he said.
Cruz said they also bring friends with them who stay in hotels and spend money vacationing as any other visitors would.
Every one of the panelists, who are on St. Thomas to attend the Caribbean Tourism Organization conference being held on the island this week, were quick to count the dollars being spent by Caribbean people on Caribbean islands.
Innovative niche marketing also was credited with drawing many tourists and visitors to Puerto Rico, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis and the British Virgin Islands, destinations represented by panelists at Tuesday's Ad Club luncheon meeting at Palms Court Harborview.
Aside from the traditional beaches, sailing, swimming and diving attractions, sporting events such as golf, basketball and baseball tournaments and cricket matches, along with music festivals, gastronomic events and conventions also bring visitors, the panelists agreed.
Public-private partnerships also figure strongly in marketing and advertising schemes, they said.
Johnson referred to himself as having a "virtual" tourism office because he works from home using a computer, a telephone and the Internet. He said that with the small budget Dominica has to promote the geographically unique island nation, he must choose his focuses carefully.
He always works in tandem with the Dominica Watersports Association. In fact, he said, "I won't enter into a campaign unless we have their support."
A steep-pitched, relatively young volcanic outcropping, Dominica lacks the long stretches of white sand beaches found on geologically older islands. So, it promotes itself as the Nature Island of the Caribbean, aiming to attract tourists who come for hiking and the ecology, along with the diving.
The divers and hikers usually are of similar types and often do their own research rather than use a travel agent. That lends itself to the Internet, libraries and brochures, Johnson said. Dominica had 17,000 visitors last year, up from 12,000 two years earlier — many of them Dominicans coming home.
Grenada, the "Spice of the Caribbean" island, does have the beaches, lakes, waterfalls and high-end resorts offered by other islands, but it still draws a lot of tourism dollars from neighboring islands such as Trinidad. Naline Ramdeen-Joseph, head of marketing for the Grenada Board of Tourism, said her country's No. 1 market by volume is the Caribbean; next is the U.S. mainland, and then the United Kingdom — which, she said, is the most valuable dollar wise.
Robert Kelly, manager for the last 15 years of the USA office of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, said he has gone after the African-American tourist — which he termed a multi-billion dollar market — inviting a variety of traditionally black organizations to hold meetings on his island.
St. Kitts and its sister island of Nevis were the first islands to offer freebies to survivors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. mainland, Kelly said. The promotion paid off, he said, and it was also the right thing to do.
The St. Kitts Music Festival has introduced people from across the nation to St. Kitts, Kelly said. Nearly two dozen, mostly well-known, artists performed at last year’s four-day event. People came from as far as California, an area Kelly particularly targets. He said he uses the Internet because it's easy, cheap, and is a way of reaching people across the world.
Kelly lures visitors from the U.S.V.I. and other Caribbean destinations with an 18-hole golf course, too.
When a marketing professional from the British Virgin Islands used a more traditional technique directed at a non-traditional market, "the numbers went through the roof," she said.
Lynette L. Harrigan, marketing manager for the B.V.I. Tourist Board and Film Commission, said after a familiarization trip (known as a fam trip in the industry) that she had arranged for travel agents from Puerto Rico, the B.V.I. saw instant results. But, she said, it was after a fam trip for Puerto Rican journalists that the number soared.
Harrigan said she knew Puerto Rico was an untapped market for the B.V.I., so she put a team together and literally went door-to-door visiting travel agents. She said she was still getting articles sent to her as a result of the press trip. The Puerto Ricans "were surprised" to find the B.V.I. was so close. "People think it's far away," she said.
On the more traditional advertising front, Catherine van Kampen, executive vice president of CentricCommunication, used a $2 million advertising campaign to reach the upscale market she was seeking — people with household incomes of upwards of $75,000.
She also capitalized on the digital electronic media, which she said was "not expensive" and reaches a global market. She said she saw a 30 percent growth in tourism after using the digital media.
A $200,000 public relations campaign paid off handsomely, to the tune of a calculated $5 million in value, she said.
Van Kampen's ad campaign focused completely on using "highly impactful, recognizable images" pointing to the natural beauty, serenity and remote nature of the B.V.I.
One image of a woman in a water-laden cave with sunlight pouring through from the top carries the caption "A theme park built by God, not greed."
And, not only did the B.V.I. government partner with its private sector; it fully supported the business side.
Van Kampen said after Sept. 11 the government thought it was more important to keep local people working than to take money from the businesses that employed them; so, it completely stopped taking money from the private sector to support the ad campaign. On top of that, each of the powerful ad images carried a strip at the bottom where businesses could have their name, 800 number and Web site listed — at no cost.
She also said she saved money by driving all inquiries to the Internet.
In the fourth quarter of 2001, van Kampen said, tourism in the B.V.I. grew by 4 percent, and last year it grew another 4 percent, while other destinations suffered serious losses.
Puerto Rico partnered with American Airlines after Sept. 11, giving away plane tickets to the island. Both Cruz and Kelly said the return on the give-away investment was great and made the expenditure well worth it.
Marjorie E. Smith, director of marketing for the B.V.I. Music Festival, and an attendee at Tuesday's luncheon, summed up the panelists' remarks saying: "For too long we have marginalized what we have to offer in the Caribbean."
Harrigan said, the word needs to get out to Caribbean people that "you can vacation in the Caribbean."
The theme of the CTO conference, which runs until Saturday, is "Recovery and Growth in a Fiercely Competitive Environment." The focus is on setting aside inter-island rivalries in the interest of developing a regional approach to marketing the entire Caribbean.
The B.V.I.'s Harrigan said that during one of the fam trips, breakfast was served on one island, lunch on another, and dinner on a third.
It may be an idea ripe for use in the entire region.

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