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Tourism To Focus Ad Message Less on U.S. Ties

Oct. 10, 2008 — With the dollar at an all-time low and 9/11 becoming a distant memory, counting on the U.S. flag as a lure for tourists seeking a Caribbean vacation isn’t necessarily the best marketing strategy for the Virgin Islands, the V.I. tourism commissioner said Friday.
A U.S. destination message has worked in the past but might not be quite as "compelling" today, Beverly Nicolson-Doty said at a meeting of the American Advertising Federation U.S. Virgin Islands at Room With A View on St. Thomas.
The marketing message the department wants to tout these days is more along the lines of "exotic but familiar," the commissioner told members of the advertising trade association at its monthly luncheon. The tagline the department has been using since 9/11, "America’s Caribbean," doesn’t work for the European market, for one thing, Nicholson-Doty said.
Delta Airlines’ new one-day connection from Copenhagen to the territory through Atlanta, coupled with a sinking dollar, also makes it a good time to entice travelers from Denmark as well as from other European countries.
Focus groups, Internet surveys and man-on-the-street interviews commissioned by the department have also revealed many other criteria that people consider when making vacation plans nowadays.
The principles, Nicholson-Doty said, are still very American — freedom of choice being one of them.
So, she said, "You don’t abandon the marketable differences," between an American and non-American destination, "you integrate."
She said the research indicated people were looking for "the freedom to write their own script," which has become the theme of the territory’s new branding.
As a destination not restricted by the limited options of the all-inclusive resorts throughout the Caribbean, the Virgin Islands offer a wide variety of experiences, some of them island-specific.
Under the new program, St. Thomas becomes the high energy, you-can-have-it-all destination, while St. John is the nature island and St. Croix offers the laid-back, culture-rich experience.
Nicholson-Doty said in considering St. Croix separately — which is Tourism’s mandate — it has been branded as "Your Port of Solace."
She showed a couple of three-minute clips of the new productions that will be part of the marketing. A shot of turtle hatchlings scurrying down the white sand beach to the sea, which elicited "aahs" from the group, is part of the St. Croix pitch.
"It is beautiful, unspoiled, uncongested, cultural and authentic," Nicholson-Doty said of the big island.
She also said Tourism had not lost sight of visitors' need for security, and had actually committed $850,000 from its budget to safety concerns.
"Security is tops wherever people go," she said, adding, "If the V.I. is safe for those of us who live here, it is safe for everyone."
And in a bit of good news, after American Airlines cut its flights by 41 percent this summer, Nicholson-Doty said that for the heart of the season from Dec. 20 to March 31, American seats on St. Thomas flights will actually be up 3 percent over last year.
St. Croix, which was expected to take a 23 percent cut over last year, is only down 9 percent as of Friday. "But we’re still working on it," she said.
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