CASTRIES, St. Lucia -- Cool jazz is a hot marketing tool these days in St. Lucia.

Using the island's 11th annual Jazz Festival -- to be held May 3 to 12 -- as the anchor event for spring travel, tourism and festival officials have pulled out all the promotional stops to drum up business and bookings.

Philip J. Pierre, minister of tourism (plus commerce, investment and public affairs), said this year's festival will focus not only on music but also on St. Lucia as a destination.

"The festival is the fifth-largest of its kind in the world, going from nine shows in 1992, when it began, to more than 30 shows this year," Pierre said.

"We hope to better our 2001 festival numbers, which registered high numbers of repeat visitors; ticket sales that exceeded $14,000; and sold-out hotels," he added.

It's good timing, too. Visitor figures took a heavy hit last year, down 7.6% from 2000, which was a record tourism year.

Although St. Lucia did well in the first quarter of 2001, "the numbers dipped every month after April -- due to the state of the economy -- and plummeted after Sept. 11," Pierre said.

Recognizing it would take time for U.S. travel to rebound, St. Lucia officials keyed in on new markets last October, concentrating heavily on the U.K. and intra-Caribbean >markets.

It paid off. Caribbean traffic, which accounts for 25% of St. Lucia's total market, was up 10.5% in 2001, according to Pierre.

The minister said he remains optimistic that U.S. travel will rebound.

"After the dust has settled, people will travel again. What happens to our tourism is dependent upon factors affecting tourism outside of St. Lucia," he said.

New marketing tools to drive the tourism engine include a redesigned Web site, destination-oriented collateral material and a restructured tourist board presence in the U.S., using regional sales managers in key markets.

Travel agents are key to St. Lucia's tourism success, Pierre said.

Agents account for more than 80% of all U.S. business to the destination.

To that end, new incentives will be added this year, including a regional marketing program for agents.

More than 10 fam trips also are scheduled.

Major U.S. promotions thus far this year include recent blitzes to target St. Lucia's strongest regions in the U.S.

Pierre, along with tourism board chairman Desmond Skeete and tourism director Hilary Modeste, visited Chicago and New York on a five-day promotional visit in February in an effort to increase business from the U.S. market.

Meetings took place with key tour operators, agents and airline officials to familiarize industry partners with St. Lucia's tourism product.

In addition to meetings, major radio promotions were launched in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.

The tourist board geared up with another high-level visit late last month to New York and Philadelphia.

The delegation, headed by St. Lucia's prime minister Kenny Anthony, included tourism officials, local hoteliers and industry partners.

More than 250 travel agents attended a trade show in Philadelphia designed to promote US Airways' two weekly nonstop flights to St. Lucia.

Tourism officials said they are pleased with the current airlift situation, which was further bolstered with the addition of US Airways' second weekly flight from Philadelphia in early February.

The first flight was introduced Dec. 15.

Modeste said the service already had proven a success, "bringing in an additional 90 visitors per flight to the island."

He said that the flights "fulfill a major objective in the tourist board's current three-year marketing strategy for the U.S."

Smokey Robinson heads list of jazz fest artists

CASTRIES, St. Lucia -- The headliners at the St. Lucia Jazz Festival, May 3 to 12, are soul legend Smokey Robinson and saxophonist Courtney Pine.

Other performers include Chucho Valdes, the Heath Brothers, Abdullah Ibrahim, Branford Marsalis and Buddy Guy.

Each day of the nine-day festival revolves around a main stage performance at either the National Cultural Center or Pigeon Island National Landmark, both near Castries in the northwest.

Fringe concerts are set for the southern towns of Soufriere, Laborie and Vieux Fort.

Individual tickets, available through the St. Lucia Tourist Board, range from $38 to $50 per show.

Hotel and air packages are available through Air Jamaica Vacations.

For festival information, call (800) 456-3984 or visit www.stluciajazz.org.

Package information is available at (800) LOVEBIRD.

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