WINTER GETAWAYS STRIVE TO BE SUMMER HOT SPOTS: CARIBBEAN SITES AMONG LOCALES PUSHING HARDER IN TRADITIONAL OFF-SEASON

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From the Caribbean to the Nevada desert, destination marketers have stepped up summer travel marketing.

The booming tourism industry is breathing new life into what, in some cases, is a traditionally slow season for classic winter destinations. The British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Aruba are among the sites targeting travelers with campaigns aimed at filling empty beds during the off-season.

Marketers are hop-ing to tap into the growing trend of consumers taking more-and longer-vacations than in years past, said Stan Plog, chairman-CEO of Plog Travel Research.

Leisure-travel growth is projected at 5% to 7% annually through 2000, outpacing the 2.5% to 3.5% predicted for business travel, according to Plog's 1997 American Traveler Survey. Since 1994, leisure travelers have been logging more frequent and longer vacations, according to the study.

$413 BIL TRAVEL INDUSTRY

This year, travel volume by Americans vacationing within the U.S. will top 1.15 billion person-trips (representing one night's stay per traveler), with spending rising 7.7% to $413 billion, says the Travel Industry Association of America.

By 2000, domestic travel should top 1.24 billion person-trips a year, with expenditures expected to reach $500 billion, the association says. Spending by inbound international travelers will contribute another $81 billion a year by 2000.

"That whole industry is going gangbusters," Mr. Plog said of the leisure-travel segment.

Mr. Plog cited, as a reason, the seemingly divergent influences of a strong economy and people's fear of losing their jobs.

"They might as well get out and travel now because they don't know what tomorrow will hold," Mr. Plog said, explaining the rationale.

For typical winter destinations, this means it's an ideal time to boost traditionally soft-booking, or "shoulder," seasons. With fewer fellow travelers, typically lower lodging and airfare costs, and high availability, destinations are urging travelers to head south this summer.

BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS PUSH

The British Virgin Islands this week launches a consumer and trade print and direct marketing campaign that aims to turn the upscale winter destination into a summer hot spot.

The campaign, themed "Nature's little secrets," plays up the islands' limited commercial development, said Hal Rossiter, senior VP-group management director at Foote, Cone & Belding, New York.

The British Virgin Islands budgets its heaviest media spending for fall, but the new campaign is an effort to boost the soft season, he said.

"This represents a continuation of a year-old effort to hit summer travel by buying in spring magazines," Mr. Ross- iter said.

The U.S. Virgin Islands also is active this summer. Late last month, it broke "Your islands," a new campaign from Lowe & Partners/SMS that plays off Americans' affinity for the U.S. territory, said Judith Watson, assistant commissioner at the U.S. Virgin Islands' Department of Tourism.

The new spots use humor to juxtapose an island child's and the viewers' lives. "You live in America. We live in America. That's funny, isn't it?" the child says as island landscapes are shown.

The TV and print campaign will run through July in Southern markets.

Accompanying the advertising is "V.I. Callings," a series of travel agent familiarization tour visits to major U.S. markets by island marketing officials. With many destinations to choose from, Virgin Islands officials recognize the importance of the travel market to steer business in their direction.

"We want to make sure that we don't get lost in the mix," Ms. Wat-son said.

WARM AND DRY

For some, this year's theme is how to get out without getting wet. Two new campaigns-one from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council for the Florida Keys and Key West and the other for Aruba -tout the two destinations' typically dry summer weather.

"Come as you are," says the Keys campaign from Tinsley Advertising, Miami, noting how the destination endures far less rain than mainland Florida but how they still break out the umbrellas in the afternoon-as a cocktail umbrella is pictured in a drink at beachside.

The campaign is airing on cable channels in feeder markets in the Northeast, and national print with two- and three-page spreads in American Heritage, Audubon, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, The New Yorker and Town & Country.

The destination also relies heavily on co-op spending from hoteliers in the market.

While the typical summer audience is the Florida traveler, the Keys have enjoyed healthy inbound traffic from beyond the Sunshine State during what historically had been a slow season, said agency Chairman Sandy Tinsley.

The hope is to lure both Florida and out-of-state residents, said Ms. Tinsley, whose agency retained the $4 million account this month following a mandatory review. The current campaign is a continuation of work that broke last year.

"We had a record-breaker last year so we said, `That worked, let's do it again, " she said. "We don't have any shoulder [season] there."

`COOL' IN ARUBA

The Aruba Tourism Authority campaign, themed "One cool summer," broke in April and currently is running on radio and in newspaper travel sections and magazines in the Northeast and Southeast, said Lisa Galanti, management supervisor at Fitzgerald & Co., Atlanta.

The agency ditched TV this year, hoping the added buys on radio and print would get the message into more markets and drive more calls, she said.

"The combination of radio and print is working well against the backdrop of an entirely new positioning campaign," Ms. Galanti said.

These tropical destinations, however, have no lock on summer travel marketing among sites known for their warm weather. The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority is expanding to more markets its 2-year-old "Open 24 hours" campaign.

The effort from R&R Advertising breaks July 1 with TV, print and outdoor in key markets.

Major differences in this year's campaign include targeting a wider audience of "value conscious," "urban sophisticates" and "suburban" casino gamblers. Some ads also will widen their messages to play up neighboring Nevada communities of Jean, Laughlin, Mesquite and Primm.

Spots will air on "The To-night Show With Jay Leno," ESPN, Arts & Entertainment and E! Entertainment Tele-vision, and in key markets during the Super Bowl and the Grammys. Print work will be in Cigar Aficionado, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Texas Monthly, Time, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Vanity Fair and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

Also included in this year's target market are U.S. Hispanics as well as Canadians.

HAWAII SEEKS LIFT

Not all destinations have had it so good. Hawaii legislators this year released an emergency $10 million appropriation to boost sagging tourism. The culprits have been identified as such travel options as Mexico and cruises, and lingering impressions that the islands remain damaged from recent hurricanes.

Hoping to boost numbers, the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau last month broke paid programming on the News Travel Network, a San Francisco-based travel content provider.

The 2-minute segment, along with a 60-second spot themed "We are Hawaii" and created by Ogilvy & Mather, Honolulu, are airing in syndication through July on 92 stations nationwide, and are expected to reach 20 million viewers, said Pam Kulik, public relations manager with the network. A sweepstakes will award two viewers trips to Hawaii.

The effort is supported by a like-themed campaign that broke in February in spot markets including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. The goal of the two-tier approach is to reach a wider audience.

"There's just so much noise out there in the travel market," Ms. Kulik said.

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