With nearly 62 million couples taking a romantic vacation in 2005, Starwood wanted to create a "novel romance initiative" that would generate consumer media attention promoting its Caribbean resorts - Martineau Bay Resort & Spa, The Westin and Sheraton Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya Resort, and The Westin St. John Resort & Villas (WSJ) - to couples, while also establishing Starwood as a "trendsetter in tune with modern life."
Starwood tapped Quinn & Co., which helped develop the "Procreation Vacation."
The team discovered that locals had been using pumpkin soup and sea moss for generations to aid in conception. In addition, it found that physicians often suggest relaxation and time away to patients who are having trouble conceiving.
Additional research was conducted on the fertility benefits of pumpkin soup and sea moss, and on the conception-enhancement effects of certain spa treatments.
The strategy was to incorporate the local traditions with spa treatments and romantic dinners in a package that would appeal to target audiences and the media.
"Couples... would learn about it because the media would talk it up," says Florence Quinn, Quinn & Co. president. "It'd also reinforce Starwood as a trendsetter."
The team pitched consumer, travel, and parenting and pregnancy publications first. The agency also enlisted Washington, DC-area journalist Lucinda Hughes and her husband. The couple wanted to conceive and agreed to try the Procreation Vacation.
The idea spread quickly, and all types of consumer outlets picked up the story. A staffer at TV show Inside Edition read about the vacation package in Travel and Romance and asked to follow the Hugheses on their quest. Good Morning America was first to get the recipes for pumpkin soup and sea moss elixir. Next month, it will air a tasting demonstration of the recipes. After the show, recipes will be made available elsewhere.
Starwood spent $250 to distribute and pitch the initiative, which generated media coverage worth well in excess of $2.5 million, an ROI of 10,000:1.
"I never even dreamed it would attract this much attention," says Bill Thompson, area director of sales and marketing for the Caribbean and South Florida at Starwood. "It's hard to put a number on it. The residual call volume is tremendous. Everyone is copying it now."
Total print impressions exceeded 36 million, including USA Today, The Washington Post, Delta Sky, Travel & Leisure, Prevention, Conceive, and American Baby. Broadcast included CNN, Live with Regis and Kelly, The View, Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and ESPN's Pardon The Interruption. It also garnered international attention, including two UK newspapers that expressed interest in sending couples on the vacation.
Hughes conceived a child on her Procreation Vacation. Her pregnancy has extended play and generated renewed interest. If it's a girl, Hughes plans to name her Lucaya after the resort.
Thompson says the campaign will go on "as long as we can keep it going. If we can get someone else pregnant, that would continue it."
Starwood Hotels & Resorts
PR team: Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (White Plains, NY) and Quinn & Co. (New York)
Campaign: Procreation Vacation
Duration: October 2005 to October 2006
Local tradition served Starwood well - it sparked the idea, played up local flair and experience, and gave Starwood something unique. While the idea of making babies is generally appealing on several levels, tying in local traditions helped Starwood and Quinn & Co. generate more widespread appeal and play.
Sending a couple to test out the Procreation Vacation was key. While having a TV crew follow a vacationing couple attempting to conceive a child was good for publicity, it would seem counterproductive to relaxation. Fortunately, the Hugheses conceived despite Inside Edition's presence. It bodes well for the efficacy of the vacation package in aiding fertility and certainly helped propel Starwood's effort.