Jamaica enters 'new territory' of marketing after Sept. 11

Caribbean editor Gay Nagle Myers observed Jamaica's actions in the days following Sept. 11, especially the destination's proactive promotional stance and marketing campaign. Her report follows:

hat the events of Sept. 11 altered our lives is fact. The impact of these events on destination marketing strategies still is evolving, even as the peak season gets under way.

While many destinations huddled, conferred and waited to see how Sept. 11 would play out on travelers' perceptions and fears of air travel, the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) took an immediate proactive stance.

Noel Mignott, the Jamaica Tourist Board's deputy director of tourism in North America, chronicled the sequence of events after Sept. 11.

"Before the terrorist attacks, we were involved in fam trips, road shows, sales presentations and destination advertising," Mignott said, adding that the JTB also launched Operation Grow -- a radio and TV ad campaign aimed at niche markets -- prior to Sept. 11 to help boost market share.

"However, after Sept. 11, we were in new territory," he said.

JTB immediately contacted its travel partners "to help them help their clients," Mignott said.

Most resorts and airlines had policies in place to aid passengers stranded in Jamaica because of grounded flights.

Jamaica map.
By Sept. 18, JTB's fam trip schedule was back on course. More than 300 U.S. agents traveled that week to Jamaica.

On the advertising front, JTB pulled its ads immediately after Sept. 11.

"We began work right away on a series of new solidarity ads, which were designed to show Jamaicans' support for the people of the U.S.," Mignott said. "We wanted to communicate a message of sympathy.

"We were not selling a destination; we were sharing grief."

The 30-second ads began airing Sept. 26 and tapered down two weeks later "in response to President Bush's call to move on and try to resume normal lives," he added.

That campaign had a price tag close to $5 million; another $3 million went to help hotels meet debt payments due to lost bookings.

Jamaica unveiled a new ad theme Oct. 8 called "Blessings," Mignott said.

"These ads were not designed as a sales pitch for travel to Jamaica, but were reminders of the reasons all of us have to be grateful," he said.

The ads, which concluded with the late Bob Marley singing "One Love" as a symbol of unity, were well-received, Mignott said.

On another front, Air Jamaica Vacations, supported by the JTB along with public and private tourism sectors, launched Operation Enduring Friendship, "designed to give something back to New Yorkers," Mignott said.

Air Jamaica rechristened an A-320 aircraft the Spirit of America and delivered a planeload of Jamaican business leaders and hoteliers to New York to help the city recover -- economically and emotionally.

"Both gestures were psychologically good for our travel partners and for Jamaica," Mignott said.

Jamaica also restored its road shows in key U.S. cities.

"We have been working closely with agents to help them rebuild their businesses and regain lost revenues," Mignott said.

These antidotes include land-and-air packages with deeply discounted rates and incentives for the winter season.

Agents in the northeast, in particular, were most impacted by Sept. 11, Mignott said.

"The JTB recognizes that the world situation is very fluid and is constantly changing," he said. "Our strategies evolve as events happen and involve a lot more than just selling tourism."

With the onslaught of the peak season, Mignott said he is encouraged by Jamaica's increased market share.

"The larger resorts are almost back to normal occupancies, and their business seems to have rebounded," he said.

However, problems do lie with the smaller properties, which Mignott described as "struggling."

"Agents also are challenged by the airlift. Air Jamaica is running very full loads and flights are tight," he said.

So tight, in fact, that agents themselves have difficulty getting seats to Jamaica to inspect resorts and villas.

Mignott said the JTB is targeting key agents who specialize in niche markets, such as villas, golf, ethnic travel and groups.

"We're promoting special events, such as jazz festivals. We are going beyond our traditional markets," he said.

Sales representatives frequently poll agents to gauge their states of mind and business outlook.

"A number of agents are having a hard time," Mignott said. "They have reduced staff and cut hours, but we hope that the mood will change with a cold snap in the Northeast."

At the recent ASTA Congress in New York, agents told Mignott that although some travelers were still reluctant to fly, Jamaica remained a top choice for travel.

Visitor numbers bring good news

NEW YORK -- Jamaica's visitor figures through October are about on par compared with the same period last year, when the island welcomed more than 2 million visitors, according to Noel Mignott, the Jamaica Tourist Board's deputy director of tourism in North America.

That is good news, considering the events of Sept. 11, the economy and Jamaica's internal problems (riots in West Kingston last summer).

Jamaica felt the impact of Sept. 11 almost immediately. U.S. arrivals, which account for the biggest chunk of visitors, were down 20% in September and 20.7% in October compared with the same months in 2000.

However, Jamaica experienced solid visitor gains through June, particularly from January through April, when numbers increased almost 5% compared with 2000.

"Winter is the benchmark season for us," Mignott said. "At this point, we feel it will be strong, both in air and cruise arrivals.

"We are hopeful the falloff will not be as bad as first feared."

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