St. John Taxi Service and Ferry Service Score Lowest with “Secret Shopper” Survey, says Tourism Commissioner Doty

Department of Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty addresses the St. John Chamber of Commerce at its Tuesday evening, February 16, meeting at the Battery. Nicholson Doty and Tourism Deputy Commissioner Chantal Figueroa shared the department’s marketing strategy for 2010, and revealed the results of its secret shopper program, which rated numerous sectors within the territory.

Tourists traveling to St. John don’t always get the best first impression, according to the Department of Tourism’s recent secret shopper program. Not only did ferry service score the lowest of the 10 sectors scrutinized by the program at just 68 percent, but Love City’s taxi services were rated the lowest of all three islands at 85 percent.

The information gathered from the secret shopper program will give the Department of Tourism a jumping-off point for seeking ways to improve, department commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty told the St. John Chamber of Commerce at its Tuesday evening, February 16, meeting at the Battery.

The program targeted all three islands and analyzed everything from hotels to restaurants, from the general public to the airport.

“It sets the bar for where we are now,” said Doty.

“Now we look into how to correct the areas that are not meeting expectations, and the real work begins.”

The Department of Tourism will communicate with the sectors that need improvement and look into training opportunities and follow-up inspections.

Virgin Islands hospitality employees scored well when it comes to being hospitable to other employees, which was done 99 percent of the time, and giving accurate information when asked, which was done 94 percent of the time.

Areas that need improvement include using customers’ names when known, which was only done 17 percent of the time, and greeting customers with a smile, which was done just 69 percent of the time.

“That means 31 percent of the time, we’re missing the mark,” said Doty. “That’s a big concern for us.”

Part of improving tourism in the territory will require bridging the cultural gap, Doty explained.

“It means that even if a customer didn’t say ‘good morning’ first, we should extend that to them,” she said.

The department also plans to implement a 24-hour helpline this year, where visitor complaints can be handled before visitors leave the territory, Doty told the Chamber of Commerce.

The tourism commissioner and Deputy Commissioner Chantal Figueroa also detailed the department’s marketing strategy for 2010. The running theme in the duo’s presentation was using the department’s money wisely. Funding for tourism marketing in the territory is down over the past two years.

“You have to pay to be seen,” said Figueroa. “We spend wisely when we need to and in spots where it makes sense. We have to do more with less.”

The department will focus its advertising in key markets, or cities which have direct flights, or one-stop connections to the Virgin Islands. Tourism will also market to the wedding and dive markets, which are very strong in the V.I., and the family market, which is growing this year.

One way the Department of Tourism gets the word out about the territory is through the coordination of group visits of top tier press. As a result of hosting the editor in chief of Fitness Magazine, the publication will feature a write-up of the Friends of the V.I. National Park’s Beach to Beach Power Swim in its May 2010 issue. Runner’s World Magazine will spotlight 8 Tuff Miles in an upcoming issue.

In addition to paid advertising, promotions and working with the press, the Department of Tourism will continue to focus on trade shows and in-market activities, such as the one conducted at the Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta in December 2009, where a booth was set up featuring Virgin Islands food, music, mocko jumbies and trip giveaways.

“Things like this are fun, and it’s our chance to connect,” said Figueroa.

Each aspect of the department’s marketing plan, from Doty’s appearances on morning shows to online promotions, tie in with one another in order to keep the USVI at the top of consumers’ minds, explained the tourism commissioner.

“The marketing plan should be interactive,” said Doty. “All of the components should support one another.”

The department will continue its “You, Unscripted” marketing campaign, launched in 2009, which encourages people to leave behind their every day lives and find a new identity while on vacation in the territory.

The Virgin Islands’ presence on the Web has also been improved, from the revamped Department of Tourism’s Web site, – which now features Spanish translation and will offer Danish translation some time this year – to Facebook and Twitter pages.