The Tourism Department is stepping up its marketing efforts and simultaneously cultivating relations with airlines to raise visitor arrivals and spending in the territory.
According to a press release issued Tuesday, the extra push is being spurred on by the need to address seasonal flight reductions as well as to mitigate the economic impact of more long-term reductions that will affect the territory, in particular St. Croix, later this summer.
Airlines have historically reduced service to the region during the summer in response to lower passenger numbers. This year the decline in business travel related to the closure of Hovensa has led to additional reductions for St. Croix.
American Airlines, currently reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, plans to suspend one of its two Miami-St. Croix flights this August, and reduce American Eagle service between San Juan and St. Croix from 19 to seven weekly round-trip flights. This move is due, in part, to the reduction in American Airlines flights from key mainland cities into the San Juan hub, the reduction of American Eagle operations at San Juan, and the strengthening of the Miami airport as a key hub for the airline.
Additionally, Delta Air Lines will discontinue its weekly Atlanta to St. Croix service at the end of July.
As a result, the territory is firming airline partnerships with joint efforts to maintain and increase seat capacity in light of global aviation uncertainty.
This week Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson Doty and Port Authority Acting Executive Director Don Mills are meeting with airline executives at the JumpStart airline conference in Sacramento, Calif., to discuss airlift and solidify partnerships.
Additionally the department is collaborating more closely with regional commuter carriers Seaborne Airlines and Cape Air to help fill anticipated seat reductions, particularly on St. Croix.
Doty described as encouraging talks with Seaborne Airlines about increasing seats from San Juan into the territory this summer and fall and for the 2012-13 winter season.
Seaborne is planning to acquire new Saab 340B 34-seater aircraft, adding some 5,000 weekly seats to the territory by early next year. Cape Air has similarly signaled its intention to respond to capacity reductions on the respective routes.
"Acting to maintain airlift and spur economic growth in the territory is our top priority," Doty said. "We are working all angles to ensure we have adequate seat capacity into and out of both Henry E. Rohlsen and Cyril E. King airports."
On the marketing front, the re-launch of the Sizzlin’ Sampler offer with incentives to attract summer bookings to the territory will be accompanied by St. Croix-specific advertising on mainland cable television. A dedicated $1 million digital, broadcast and print advertising and marketing campaign has launched in support of the Sizzlin’ Sampler offer, promoting it both nationally and to audiences located in key markets throughout the United States.
Of the $1 million, $650,000 has been dedicated to promoting the entire territory and $350,000 to promoting St. Croix specifically. This current advertising follows a flight of St. Croix-specific television ads which ran earlier this year to help build greater brand awareness for St. Croix in light of Hovensa’s announced closure.
The department will continue to keep St. Croix on the minds among travelers with another wave of advertising scheduled this fall.
Meanwhile, airline seat capacity to St. Thomas is expected to remain relatively robust this summer and beyond. JetBlue Airways flights to St. Thomas from Boston and San Juan performed well during the airline’s first season.
While the San Juan to St. Croix flight did not perform quite as well, it did meet expectations.
Doty announced the Boston service will return to St. Thomas this September, several months ahead of schedule.