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Selling a small, virtually unknown country on the world market as a tourist destination takes skill and money. No one is more keenly aware of this than Minister of Tourism and Culture, Rene Baptiste.

And, she is calling on owners of tourism properties here, to play their part in the whole exercise. “They often ask, ‘what is the Ministry doing?’,” she revealed, and went on to explain that but for a handful of managers and owners who consistently work along with the Ministry, many of the property owners are relatively laid back about promotion. She is calling on them to be more proactive in promoting their properties and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and not to wait on the Ministry to do it all. {{more}}

According to the Minister, “We have the smallest budget in the region for promoting. My budget is EC$5 million, Grenada is $9 million, St. Lucia is $24 million, Antigua is $36 million. Those are some of the realities.” She is however determined to make every dollar count.

Speaking to Searchlight in an exclusive interview about tourism promotions in Europe, the Minister explained, “what we do (normally) is sales, marketing, advertising, promotions. (But) because we do not have advertising dollars, we do promotions and public relations. We get people to write stories in magazines about St. Vincent, tell people where to link, where to find what, and that has been proving to be a good recipe for us.”

The efforts seem to be working. According to the 2004 Annual Tourism Statistical report, visitor expenditure is up 12.5% from EC$229.33 million in 2003 to EC$258 million in 2004 and stay over visitors have increased 10.4% from 78,535 in 2003 to 86,721 in 2004.

The Minister attributes much of the success in the promotions strategy to Arie Raif of the Westminster Communications Group, a UK Public Relations and Communications firm which was appointed in June 2004 to handle our St. Vincent and the Grenadines tourism promotions and advertising in Europe and Canada.

According to the Minister, “already they have been able to get high profile newspapers and travel magazines in the UK to come to St. Vincent and the Grenadines so that they can write about the country in their travel section. Six of the UK’s leading journals spent six days here in July over the Carnival period. We are only targeting large newspapers with a wide circulation.”

And this month, a 12-page feature on St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the cover story of the August issue of ABTA magazine, a publication of the Association of British Travel Agents. Stuck on the cover of the magazine is a copy of the SVG “Jewels of the Caribbean DVD” which each purchaser of the magazine gets free.

The DVD, which is available in 4 languages, (English, French, German and Spanish), has Bomani’s 2004 road march winning tune “who am I” as background music. The Minister explained, “we try to target a specific number of countries. So for Europe, we only market in England, Germany, France and Italy right now.

“We do not market to the whole European market as we are constrained by our relatively small tourism marketing budget – EC$5 million, and the fact that we only have 1844 hotel rooms. So we have to do targeted marketing to make sure that our tourism marketing dollar goes as far as possible. It makes no sense marketing to the whole of Europe and you only have 1844 rooms when the tourists begin to make reservations.”

In 2004, visitor arrivals from the UK, France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Holland and Germany increased over 2003, while there were decreases in arrivals from Sweden, Switzerland and Ireland.

The Minister went on, “we are also trying to get some high profile international figures to be spokespersons for us. Of course we have to barter, we can’t pay these people what they ask for, so we barter. They would come and take a weekend, play some golf. That’s the way we manage a lot, we do it by barter. We don’t have dollars.” In the Spring/Summer, 2005 issue of Caribbean World magazine, Mick Jagger, Tommy Hilfiger and Felix Dennis are mentioned in association with Mustique.