With famed wine growers and one-of-a-kind opportunities to sea-kayak to spot Orca whales, take helicopter rides over the lava dome at Mount St. Helen's, or jet boat down Hell's Canyon out of Clarkston, Washington state offers tourists myriad ways to enjoy enthusiast activities or outdoor experiences.
And although the Lewis and Clark bicentennial celebration has been one of the many activities that have kept the state on the front burner for media this year, its tourist association, Washington State Tourism (WST), sought to implement a PR campaign that would make sure potential visitors from around the world knew about all that the state has to offer.
"Because of our limited tourism budget, we have to be creative about how we get visitors to learn about Washington state," says Peter McMillin, WST managing director. "Our media and travel trade program is extremely effective because it allows us to stretch our efforts so much further than traditional marketing."
WST worked with Bombar Public Relations for a program focusing on both US coasts and the Pacific Northwest, with the WST also working with firms in the UK, Benelux, and Germany.
Bombar and the WST set out to attract visitors to the state's destination programs, including tours like "Washington on a Harley," "Spurs and Spas," and "Nature and Nurture," which combines fitness in the outdoors with stress decompression and rejuvenation.
"This was also the year we returned to California to pitch Washington as a destination to travel media and tour operators based there," says Caroline Bombar-Kaplan, principal of Bombar Public Relations.
As far as media outreach is concerned, the PR team looked to engage the press by inviting journalists to participate in the tours, pitching media from around the world to take part.
"We've had press tours from the UK, Germany, Holland, and from throughout the US and Canada," Bombar-Kaplan says.
Besides maintaining an online pressroom featuring interactive itineraries, news releases, story ideas, images, and other offerings, the PR team also set out to continually pitch ideas and coordinate tours for the press and tour operators. It also responded to leads from the media and travel trade shows.
At the same time, the agency and WST issued quarterly news releases to travel media about what's new around the state and organized and conducted media blitzes and sales missions.
And to further increase the media's and tour operators' knowledge of what the state has to offer, the campaign included a constant barrage of information about Washington's physical attractions and activities.
In 1998, no tour operators offered Washington as a destination in tour brochures. But since the program has gotten under way, interest has increased to the point where more than 15 tour operators featured more than 60 tour itineraries in June 2005 - and the list is growing, says Bombar-Kaplan. Overall, the number of visitors last year was up more than 30%.
Domestically, the ad equivalency from July 2004 through May 2005, the latest figures available, was $26.8 million, with 195,592,591 print impressions.
The team plans to grow tourism for next year, especially from Germany and France, a new target market. And now Washington's new governor, Christine Gregoire, has expressed interest in the opportunities offered by the campaign's ecotourism aspects, and the state also expects follow-up visits by worldwide visitors to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler in nearby Canada.
PR team: Washington State Tourism (Olympia, WA) and Bombar Public Relations (Kirkland, WA)
Campaign: Washington State Tourism
Time frame: July 2005 to present (ongoing)