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Caribbean Destinations Begin Winter Marketing Push after Stormy Season

October 24, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Caribbean has been rocked by the stormiest weather in more than 60 years, intensifying pressure on island marketers to keep their winter tourist seasons sunny.

They may not be able to do anything about the weather, but promoters of Caribbean destinations are intent on reminding the travel industry and winter-wary Americans of the region’s enduring warm appeal.

``There is no question that it’s been a bad situation,″ said Michael Youngman, director of marketing for the Caribbean Tourism Organization. ``But the countries hit the hardest are coming back and we are not losing business regionally. People are tending to stay in the Caribbean region.″

Tourists spent an estimated $11.7 billion in the region last year, up 6.2 percent from the previous year. Tourism accounts for more than half of the economy on many islands.

The marketing efforts range from bringing groups of travel agents and tour operators in for first-hand looks at the state of the islands to splashy print and television ads aimed at American consumers.

``There is no reason to go out and overtly exploit others’ hardship,″ said Jill Martin, a marketing consultant to Jamaican tourism officials. ``But you know there will be business coming your way if you are doing your job and advertising.″

The Commonwealth of the Bahamas was spared the worst weather but is unveiling a new image advertising campaign today that draws attention to its less commercial attractions with magazine and TV ads.

The theme ``The Islands of the Bahamas. It just keeps getting better″ echoes the ``It’s better in the Bahamas″ tagline coined two decades ago.

The Bahamas has done little advertising in the past two years, but hired the advertising agency Bozell Worldwide six months ago for the new campaign.

The new ads feature its outer islands like Eleuthera and Abaco and seldom-scene attractions in Grand Bahama and Nassau by linking them with high-brow celebrities like Sidney Poitier, Julio Iglesias and Lauren Hutton.

The celebrities don’t make personal appearances in the ads, but their names are used along with references to their personalities.

``FYI Candice Bergen spotted in Abaco,″ says one magazine ad showing a a frame house with a well-worn bicycle propped against its faded picket fence.

``No executive producers. No matching blazers. No secretaries,″ it says referring to Bergen’s role as TV newswoman Murphy Brown.

Admakers for the Bahamas say the damaging hurricanes that lashed some neighbors to the southeast had no impact on the timing of the new campaign which makes no reference to the region’s stormiest season since 1933.

But others say the $8 million campaign, fairly rich compared with other efforts from the region, could entice those displaced by weather damage from vacation spots on other islands.

Jamaica, which also escaped this season’s worst weather, could benefit from vacation rearrangements. The Jamaica Tourist Board has already begun its advertising led by a TV commercial using music from the late Bob Marley and lush island scenes.

Advertising plans are still unsettled for three islands among the hardest-hit during this hurricane season _ St. Thomas, Antigua and St. Maarten. All three hope to be near full strength for the winter season whuich starts in mid-December.

St. Thomas, which along with St. John and St. Croix comprises the U.S. Virgin Islands, had planned to start its winter advertising in October.

But the September hurricanes caused considerable damage on St. Thomas, and the ad startup was delayed until November and was refocused initially on its sister islands, said Judith Watson, assistant commissioner for the St. Thomas-St. John Department of Tourism.

She said St. Thomas probably won’t be featured until January. ``The last thing you want is to have anybody be sold on going somewhere and then be disappointed,″ Watson said.

Credibility is also the concern for St. Maarten, an island which is split between the Dutch and French ownership, according to Jim Pepperdine of the agency that handles advertising for the Dutch side.

``It would be a horrible mistake ... to have tourists come down and find restaurants are closed or power wasn’t on at their hotel,″ he said.

Pepperdine said selected travel agents and tour operators have been invited to see the restoration progress, islanders have been sent to meet with travel agents in the United States and ads will be placed in trade magazines showing how the island has recovered. A TV ad will be prepared for early 1996.

David Fernandez, who directs the North American tourism efforts for Antigua and Barbuda, said ad spending will be more than doubled this year as hotels reopen in Antigua.

``We will adress this in a neat way,″ he said, declining to be more specific. ``Advertising will be needed to rev things up.″

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