Tourism debuts 'V.I. Nice' commercial at Destination Symposium

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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Tourism Department debuted its much talked about "Virgin Islands Nice" commercial to a crowd of tourism professionals Tuesday at the 21st Destination Symposium taking place at the Marriott's Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Beach Resort.

The commercial - filled with images of the blue waters of the islands, as well as scenes of people dancing, sailing, swimming and eating - will go on-air next week, according to Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty. The commercial features the popular song, "Virgin Islands Nice" by Pressure, a reggae artist from St. Thomas.

"Many of you may think it's just a commercial, but really it's a state of mind," Nicholson-Doty said at the symposium, which lasts through Friday.

The audience was very fond of the "nice" campaign, as many of them already are working with employees to improve customer relations on their end.

"We're very focused on our customer service, so we do a lot of training," said Hector Montenanez, director of business development for Seaborne Airlines.

Montenanez said that training is a must-have for Seaborne, which strives to make sure that customers feel welcome and comfortable when traveling to the territory.

"I'm really enjoying the global promotions and social media that they are doing. I love the campaign V.I. Nice," said Windward Passage Hotel banquet and special events manager Kathy McAllister. "I'm a big Pressure fan myself."

The commercial is just one component of the department's summer campaign, which went hand-in-hand with the department's theme of "Change your latitude" for this year's symposium, the commissioner said.

The department is partnering with a multitude of businesses and organizations in the territory to encourage groups to train their employees to have appropriate attitudes when dealing with visitors.

"It has really been a goal to change our attitude in the V.I.," Nicholson-Doty said.

The territory is at an all-time high in the number of visitors it is seeing annually, Nicholson-Doty said, though the Tourism Department hopes still to increase the number further via social media outreach and airline service expansion.

In a 30-minute presentation before the audience, Nicholson-Doty reviewed the initiatives that the department has undertaken, including a performance by a Carnival troupe during a halftime show at an NBA San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat game in January.

The territory also partnered with the New York Yankees to have a USVI day at one of the games.

One of the department's most significant efforts has been, and continues to be, the drive for more flights in and out of St. Thomas and St. Croix, according to Nicholson-Doty.

A year ago, the commissioner announced that Delta would not be cutting back its flights in the off-season - from August to November - as it typically does. She also reported that the airline would be adding two flights a week during the winter months, as well as changing a Saturday-only direct flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to St. Thomas to a daily flight for the upcoming winter season.

Delta decided to continue the new daily direct service from JFK to St. Thomas in the peak summer travel period, from July 1 to Sept. 2, 2014, and it is expected continue thereafter, year-round, Nicholson-Doty said. From December to May, about 20,000 seats will be available for travel to the territory.

"St. Croix, stay tuned," Nicholson-Doty said.

Nicholson-Doty currently is in talks with several "legacy" airlines - ones that are long-established - about increasing the number of flights into and out of St. Croix. She could say nothing further about negotiations.

Additionally, the territory is expected to host a volleyball tournament, the "Sunset Volleyball" tournament for the first time next year.

The tournament is organized by the same company, Basketball Travelers, Inc., as Paradise Jam, an existing basketball tournament that takes place on St. Thomas each year.

Just as the Paradise Jam does with college basketball teams, the Sunset Volleyball tournament is expected to attract competing college volleyball teams. The Paradise Jam last year was record-breaking, according to Nicholson-Doty, and brought in more than $4 million to the territory. More than 1,300 nights were booked by those who attended the tournament.

"You have the teams, but then you also have the family, the fans and the alumni," Nicholson-Doty said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email THOMAS - Expedia, one of the world's largest online travel companies, reported Monday that travel demand garnered via and points of sale for the territory's hotels grew 23 percent in the first quarter of 2014 when compared with the same time period in 2013.

One-third of the bookings are attributed to vacation packages, according to the report from Expedia.

"Demand for the U.S. Virgin Islands has consistently increased on Expedia, Inc.'s multiple platforms fueled by package sales," said Demetrius Canton, director of Market Management in the Caribbean for Expedia, Inc.

New data from Expedia indicated that the United States remains the key feeder market for the destination with a reported growth of more than 24 percent. Other international markets reporting substantial growth in the first quarter of 2014 when compared with the same period in the previous year include:

- Mexico, with more than 115 percent growth.

- The Netherlands, with more than 600 percent growth.

- The United Kingdom, with more than 55 percent growth.

Expedia's market management team attended the 21st Annual USVI Destination Symposium, which lasts through Friday.

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