CAMPAIGNS: Virginia Beach ups tourist traffic with new focus on fun

PR team: Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau and Barker, Campbell Farley & Mansfield (Virginia Beach, VA) Campaign: "All Kinds of Fun Anytime" in Virginia Beach Time frame: Mid-2002 through 2003 Budget: $250,000

PR team: Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau and Barker, Campbell Farley & Mansfield (Virginia Beach, VA) Campaign: "All Kinds of Fun Anytime" in Virginia Beach Time frame: Mid-2002 through 2003 Budget: $250,000

The Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau (VBCVB) had great success building tourism from a summer industry to year-round traffic in recent years by adding seasonal products to its roster of marketable attractions. In 2000, close to half of all overnight visitors arrived outside of the June-to-August window. But a widely publicized shark attack in early September 2001, followed by the September 11 terrorist attacks, dealt some serious blows to the area's tourism industry as fewer people used air travel. For 2003, the VBCVB, along with long-standing agency Barker, Campbell Farley & Mansfield (BCF&M), decided to execute a media relations campaign with three main objectives: to return hotel occupancy to pre-September 11 levels, to help increase awareness of year-round travel options, and to garner regional and national coverage of Virginia Beach as a year-round travel destination. Strategy Consulting a study from the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) stating that 61% of American travelers use travel media to plan vacations, the PR team devised a main goal of securing a product endorsement from a national travel authority. In addition, the overall PR program focused on attracting first-time visitors from emerging and existing markets by highlighting year-round activities like golf. The team also hoped to emphasize the resort's family-friendly atmosphere and accessibility; Virginia Beach is within one day's drive of a large percentage of the US population. The team also kept in mind that its strategies should be sensitive to vacationers' travel concerns and not be overly commercial, as that could be seen as exploiting the situation. "We are allowed to do strategic work because we have so much research on hand," explains Jessica Rinck, account supervisor at BCF&M. Among the research conducted, it was revealed that visitors traveled an average of 411 miles - almost always by car - to get to Virginia Beach, and had an average family income of $70,000. Tactics Attempting to secure an endorsement from a travel authority, the PR team approached Dr. Stephen Leatherman, whose annual America's Best Beaches list receives considerable media attention. However, realizing that Virginia Beach could not compete with the likes of Hawaiian beaches, the team formed a relationship with Leatherman that would prove valuable later on in the process. In addition to traditional media relations techniques, such as building a press kit and drafting press releases, the team hosted several press tours, including specialized visits for golf journalists, history buffs, and German travel media. It also hosted a series of The Best Of... segments for the Food Network featuring Virginia Beach restaurants, and an online pressroom was launched in April 2003 to be a central location for information about the destination. Results According to Smith Travel Research, Virginia Beach was the national leader in hotel occupancy for 2002, and one of only two top-25 markets in the US to post an increase in both occupancy and average daily rates in the year following 9/11. Fifty-eight percent of overnight visitors arrived outside of the traditional summer vacation season, and media relations resulted in more than 180 articles in newspapers, magazines, websites, and broadcast news programs. And while Dr. Leatherman did not put Virginia Beach on his America's Best Beaches list, he did name Virginia Beach to his list of five Top Boardwalk Beaches, which ran in the July/August 2002 issue of National Geographic Traveler. Future BCF&M will continue its work with the VBCVB, hosting a new product launch in March in New York. Media relations and research for the VBCVB will also continue.

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