CAMPAIGNS: Weather experts bolster Bahamas tourism forecast

PR Team: Bahamas Ministry of Tourism (Nassau, Bahamas) and Weber Shandwick Worldwide (New York) Campaign: "Islands of The Bahamas Weather Conference" Time Frame: April 17-21, 2002 Budget: $200,000

PR Team: Bahamas Ministry of Tourism (Nassau, Bahamas) and Weber Shandwick Worldwide (New York) Campaign: "Islands of The Bahamas Weather Conference" Time Frame: April 17-21, 2002 Budget: $200,000

The Bahamas draws more than 3.5 million tourists a year. But perceived danger is the number-one reason why people don't go to the Caribbean during storm season. The Bahamas includes hundreds of islands that cover 650 linear miles, so it's critical that tourists have precise information about severe weather. "We cannot pretend that people aren't going to know if there is a hurricane," says Adrian Archer, PR manager for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism (BMOT). "We are not interested in tourists coming here and having a terrible time." Strategy "When consumers look at a hurricane on an 18-inch television screen, it looks like the entire Western Hemisphere is about to disappear, when in fact a storm is in a limited area," says Rene Mack, president of the Weber Shandwick travel and lifestyle group. "It's financially devastating when the media confuses the Bahamas with other islands. "The strategy was not intended to make this a PR initiative, but to enlist credible experts," adds Mack. Tactics To help the BMOT minimize the negative impact of the island's six-month hurricane season, WSW enlisted weather experts to lead an annual conference. The 2002 conference marked the fourth successive year of the event. Mack says it was strictly an academic conference, with no topics considered off-limits. "There were no message points or presentations about why the Bahamas is better," he adds. "It's unusual for a client to take a leap of faith like this." At the conference, meteorologists gained first-hand knowledge of the destination, helping them accurately identify individual islands and regions. The conference built relationships with the National Hurricane Center and other industry analysts, and positioned the Bahamas as a leader in visitor-safety initiatives. "When enlisting experts, we looked at the markets that are important to the Bahamas, which are usually on the East Coast," says Alice Diaz, SVP at WSW. "We looked at all the affiliates in those markets, especially the ones that reach the most consumers." Lectures addressed the effects of past hurricanes, hurricane climatology, storm surge, and evacuation, and predictions for the 2002 season. Members of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, who fly planes into hurricanes to gather information, were enlisted to share their unique perspective. In addition, meteorologists assumed the role of public-official emergency managers during "mock hurricane" sessions designed to develop new perspectives on evaluating danger and making prudent public recommendations. "Sometimes hurricanes don't hit predicted places, so people felt like officials were crying wolf," says Mack. "These decisions can have an enormous impact on careers and people's lives, so [the mock hurricane sessions] made the point that storms can be hard to predict." Results While there were no promotional PR messages, millions of consumers saw their local weather forecasts live from the Bahamas as members of the media staged live remotes during the conference. NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox affiliates in 20 states carried 101 conference segments, with broadcasters referring to specific islands and regions of the Bahamas, rather than simply mentioning "the Bahamas." The conference was recognized by the National Weather Association as a qualifying conference for meteorologists to receive educational credit. The Islands of The Bahamas was asked to present at the AMS, NWS, and National Hurricane Center conference in 2003, a first for any country. Twenty-eight meteorologists attended the first conference in 1997. Respect for the event and agency-recruiting efforts drew nearly 100 meteorologists from network affiliates in every major US market to the conference this past year. Tourism increased by 4.2% in 2002 compared to the previous year. American Airlines agreed to sponsor the 2002 conference, and is on board for 2003. Future This year, the conference will showcase more Bahamian islands and include discussions on the effects of global warming on weather. More television stations from feeder markets have also been invited.

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