PUBLIC RELATIONS CAMPAIGN FOR A TOURISM DESTINATION: CHARLOTTE HARBOR & THE GULF ISLANDS.

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Program Synopsis:
The Public Relations campaign undertaken by AboveWater on behalf of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands was launched late 2012 to achieve awareness, interest and endorsement of their tourist offerings among those media not previously familiar with the destination. As media interest grew and goals were achieved in the first two years — primarily via print and social media outreach programs — the campaign was given an infusion of funds in year three to expand the team’s ability to host significantly more journalists, including those from abroad.  Initially, capabilities to court media for overnight stays were hampered by the VCB’s limited budget, as most accommodations/meals/excursions were not provided them gratis. However, in late 2014 and throughout 2015, tourist tax funds for group FAM trips and Individual Media Visits were substantially increased.  The result is reflected in a significant rise in the number of press visits, press clippings, media impressions, media and consumer inquiries, website visitation and tourist development tax collections from vacationers whose number of stays and length of stay has trended stronger than in years prior. Though media pitching and press release development and distribution are the day-to-day tools employed in the overall PR campaign, the development of an increasing number of FAM/IMV itineraries for hosting journalists has exponentially increased the results sought for introducing travelers to the draw that is Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands.

Situation Overview:
Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands has historically been one of the lesser-known destinations within the Sunshine State, overshadowed by regions best known for theme parks, art deco districts, historic forts and pirate booty.  However, over the past three years a concerted and successful effort to promote the differentiating appeal of the county has been underway, changing the landscape of what is considered most important in a Florida vacation to include what Charlotte County is known to excel in: Unspoiled Natural Surroundings, Active Pursuits, Unplugged Bonding Experiences, Great Weather and Welcoming Waterfront Communities.

Audience:
Print, Online, and Social Media (in particular travel and mommy bloggers) were our primary audience to reach and entice visitation from couples and families. Although some tactics were employed to reach specific geographic audiences (i.e. Northeast, Midwest, Canada in winter; Florida and southeast regional drive markets in summer), most media targets were selected based on the psychographic make-up of their readers/followers.  This would include outdoor enthusiasts, anglers, boaters, kayakers, naturalists, budget conscious travelers, and most importantly, those adhering to “ecologinomical” values.

Objectives:
1.) To promote, protect and enhance Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands’ position among the travel writing community as Florida’s most natural playground. 2.) To emphasize the importance and enjoyment of ecotourism experiences for visiting journalists in feature placements. 3.) To increase tourism via editorial coverage, while never losing sight of the need to protect the local ecology as the key means of preserving the local economy.

Strategies
By studying travel trends, noting direct flights to airports serving the area, and considering the destination’s activity and lodging offerings, the agency defined key target markets and audiences in the U.S. and Canada. Based upon the research, the team developed an annual PR plan and accompanying media lists for pitching, press release distribution and press trip solicitation.  Press targets included contacts from: (1) national travel and tourism media, such as travel editors at daily newspapers and travel magazines; (2) lifestyle and recreational media whose editorial format includes opportunities for travel and athletic pursuits; (3) websites and blogs with a travel focus or section; and (4) travel trades targeting travel agents.

Tactics:
To secure placements, appropriate media lists of targeted publications and blogs were researched and developed identifying a variety of niche market audiences locally, regionally, nationally and from select overseas markets. A calendar of press release topics was established with supporting releases developed and distributed combining information on the core elements of the destination’s tourist offerings, complemented with a variety of “what’s new” enticements. Editorial Calendars and media “tip sheets” were monitored for story placement opportunities. Finally, group and individual media visits were secured, itineraries developed and trips coordinated.

Results/measurements:
Over nearly three years, the destination hosted and supported xx group FAM trips (totaling XX writers) and XX Individual Media Visits for a grand total of XXX media visitations.  Media impressions secured 2013-14 totaled 101,950,104 and increased the following year to 215,142,310. Although we have many articles in place to be published that have yet to be accounted for, we can say our media impressions for this three-year campaign have exceeded 317,092,414. During the past two years, airline passenger counts have increased by 52.09%, and 88.27% (total 2015 figure not as yet available). Tourism Development Tax dollar collections on accommodation stays for the past three years has seen double digit increases. All of which are indicators that the public relations campaign has succeeded in generating substantial editorial that has resulted in increased visitation.