If there is one thing we have learned about the tourism
industry since 9/11, it is that there are no longer any hard and fast
guidelines as to what will work and what won’t. The rule book as we knew it in
the eighties and nineties has effectively been thrown out the window.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t still key trends that
those of us in tourism need to observe – such as key booking periods and peak
travel times in different markets, and making sure that we are promoting the
right product in the right place at the right price and so on …But we have
learned the hard way that everything is subject to change at any time, anywhere
and without any warning.
Take the volcanic ash cloud that grounded European
airspace over the prime Easter holiday period last year, for example. No one
could have predicted that. To stay ahead of the tourism game, we have had to
learn to think on our feet more than ever before.
One consistent message continues to come out of all the
research that is conducted worldwide, which is that taking vacations especially
with loved ones, is more important than it ever has been. The major family
vacation or a holiday of a lifetime, such as a honeymoon or anniversary, is
absolutely sacrosanct in an ever more stressful and time-pressured world.
In the meantime, of course, our growing field of competitors
– and we are not just talking other Caribbean countries here but emerging
destinations all over the world, thanks to the internet, are privy to the same
research, and we are all striving to get a bigger slice of the tourism pie in
an overcrowded playing field.
The Department of Tourism continues to employ the key
strategic tools to get the Cayman Islands top of mind for consumers in our key
markets overseas – using a blend of advertising, public relations, trade,
consumer and digital marketing – and flexibility is the name of the game. We
have had to become even more creative – lateral thinking might be a better term
– in responding tactically to situations; dealing with challenges that are
thrown in the path of potential visitors – grabbing and, crucially, maximising
to the hilt every opportunity as it arises. In tourism, opportunities are never
lost – they are taken by others.
One such tool, which we utilise, is a programme to bring
international journalists to our islands to experience first hand our tourism
product and report back to their readers or viewers. This garners huge amounts
of coverage in tourism and lifestyle media in all of our key markets. This
coverage is quite simply invaluable, not only because it has an editorial
endorsement that far outweighs the credibility of advertising, but also because
it builds a tremendous groundswell of brand advocacy for the Cayman Islands
through worldwide ambassadors whose power of word of mouth cannot be
The reason for our success in this field is multi-fold. First
and foremost, our core product is astonishingly good. And by product I don’t
just mean our beaches and our resorts, our attractions and our diving; I refer
to the people who work on the front lines of our tourism industry and who go
out of their way to make every visitor experience fulfilling and memorable. This
is where we manage to raise the bar even higher to get still more out of our
visiting journalist programme.
Time and again we get feedback from journalists who visited
the Cayman Islands with one particular story in mind, but were so blown away by
their hosts and their visit, and the fact that we made it possible for them to
experience so much more than they originally had in mind, they ended up with a
host more commissions in their back pocket than they expected.
That’s a major
win-win situation for them and us. I also hear accounts of journalists who are
so passionate about Cayman from their first visit that on their return home
they will stop at nothing to secure more commissions to enable to them to come
back, perhaps this time to our sister islands. These people become the first to
cover the latest developments and events in Cayman, and are quick to speak
passionately about our islands and our people.
Take the sinking of the ex-USS Kittiwake in January this
year. We had talked extensively about this long-awaited event in all markets
but given that the sinking was subject to several delays, and in order to
maintain media momentum from what we knew would eventually be a pioneering and
historic event, our international teams spearheaded a massive year-long
campaign to highlight Cayman’s superlative diving throughout 2010.
As it turned
out, although the initial dive trips were unable to include the Kittiwake as we
had first planned, rather than postpone the trips, the writers were offered the
opportunity to visit regardless, and immerse themselves in every aspect of
Cayman’s entire dive product. Rather than disappointment, the end result was
such a huge wave of support, anticipation and excitement that many of the dive
writers returned for the sinking – ultimately with pretty short notice – which
meant that the Kittiwake campaign was being reported from several months out,
and sinking was broadcast live and reported on television, on radio, on dive
websites and in national newspapers all around the world.
The spin off from such campaigns can be far reaching and
extend beyond the dive industry. For example, a writer from a national
adventure publication was not dive-certified but, with our assistance, was able
to come to the Cayman Islands ahead of time to earn her certification. This
enabled her to explore the depths of the Cayman Islands’ pristine waters and
discover all aspects of the destination – above and below the waterline.
final article, the writer provided an in-depth overview of the destination’s
impressive diving, with mentions of specific dive sites and sea life, including
the Kittiwake, and recommended all of the accommodations and restaurants that
she experienced during her visit to Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.
Another wonderful and true anecdote centres on a writer from
the United Kingdom who was on a commission from the Financial Times, which
incidentally has such an international spread that the story was picked up and
reported in a 20 minute interview by a South African radio station! The writer
in question was so overwhelmed by the beauty, magic and splendour of the Cayman
Islands that during his visit, while dining at the Cracked Conch, he proposed
to his partner back in the UK by text. She accepted, and they will be returning
with their family and future in-laws to marry and honeymoon on Grand Cayman
next month – with several commissions for bridal and family publications.
From a strategic perspective, the Department of Tourism uses
many other tools to grasp at opportunities for tactical tourism. Sporting and
spectator events with international appeal – particularly those that take place
on an annual basis such as the Cayman Islands Marathon – are a notable addition
to our tactical marketing plan. Such activities can produce volumes of coverage
in special interest and national media, as well as through clubs and
associations; and oftentimes it is the affiliation with the sport that provides
the vital ‘call to action’ that serves as the impetus that drives visitors to
book their trip.
Of course, the event doesn’t always have to take place in
Cayman for the effects to be long lasting.
Who can forget the glory of the Cayman Islands winning a silver gilt
award followed by a gold medal and the President’s Award at the Chelsea Flower
Show in London two years consecutively.
This is one of the great events of the
London social calendar, broadcast to millions over several days by the BBC. The
Cayman Islands exhibit was an initiative devised by the Department of Tourism
to raise awareness about Cayman’s nature and wildlife. The Queen Elizabeth II
Botanic Park couldn’t have hoped for greater publicity or endorsement, and the
walls of the Park’s visitor centre still proudly bear the timeless images of
her Majesty the Queen admiring our garden for all to see.
As Don McDougall,
Regional Manager for Europe stated at the time:
“The Cayman Islands was beamed
into millions of drawing rooms across the United Kingdom and written about in
the news pages of every national newspaper and countless magazines. By winning
gold we succeeded in attracting not only the media but thousands of affluent
consumers, our perfect demographic of visitor, to our Cayman Islands garden
during the course of the week.”
He added: “This year our focus will be on food
and drink, which is another great unique selling point of the Cayman Islands,
and so to capitalise on the culinary events back in Cayman we will have a stand
at the ‘Taste of London’ Festival in Regents Park.”
At the end of the day, tourism is unlike most other industries
whereby consumers that we depend on to support our industry do not reside
locally and have to be persuaded, influenced and motivated to visit the Cayman
Islands instead of the myriad of other choices available. While we have many
significant attributes in our favour to help them make the choice – such as
Seven Mile Beach being recognised as the ‘Best Beach in the Caribbean’ by
Caribbean Travel & Life in February, 2011 and TripAdvisor travellers
selecting the Cayman Islands as the number one travel destination in the
Caribbean, the Department on Tourism will not be resting on its laurels.
Instead, as these examples have shown, we will continue to seize every moment
and maximise every opportunity to infuse tactical tourism techniques into our
marketing and promotions mix.