THE Tourist Board are actively seeking new business for the Falkland Islands, and in a fiercely competitive international market, it is essential that the Falklands are visible and are putting ourselves in front of the key decision makers as often as possible, to keep our profile high and to promote the benefits of our premier destination.
That's the message from Director of Tourism, Connie Stevens, who has recently returned from attending two major tourism trade events ? FITUR and Destinations, London.
The Tourist Board's activities at overseas events last year have already proved successful, she says with an increased interest from tour operators.
"Tour operators, as we know, are working on their itineraries up to two years in advance, (sometimes longer) and it takes time to secure new business. Very often, initial meetings/introductions take place at industry events, and then need to be followed up at a later stage with one-to-one meetings and further presentations to decision makers within organisations.
"Attendance at these events also keeps us abreast of latest thinking within the industry, especially for land-based tourism activities worldwide and for the latest industry trends and requirements."
Connie said it is essential that the Falklands keep up with what is happening in the industry: "it helps to meet with representatives from other destinations/Tourist Boards and to learn from their positive experiences.
"It also enables us to see what our competitors are doing, and to see how we are being promoted by the tour operators who currently promote the Falklands as a destination."
One such example was at the FITUR (Feria Internacional de Turismo) event in Madrid, when Connie visited the LAN exhibition stand, only to find that the Falkland Islands did not appear on their world map as a route operated by LAN. Since attending this event, this issue has been taken up with LAN by International Tours and Travel Ltd.
Ramblers Holidays, a new tour operator visiting the Falkland Islands for the first time in 2006, are a result of such activity by the Tourist Board and have recently introduced the Falklands into their new 2006 brochure, bringing their first group next summer.
David Kay, Ramblers Holidays' Product Manager commented, "It was very fortunate that I had a chance to meet Mrs. Stevens in London last year, where we discussed the original idea. Without that initial, and subsequent, contact I doubt we would have proceeded. Ramblers Holidays are always looking for world class destinations and the combination of walking, wildlife spotting and the historical dimension certainly means the Falklands fits in exactly with what we are looking for."
Attendance at these events, Connie said, confirms that there is an education process still needed as there are still a great many myths to dispel about the Falklands - "about the weather, options to travel here, accommodation choices etc."
She said that at Destinations she met a prospective visitor who thought that it would cost £5,000 just for an air ticket and that was to travel on a Hercules, sleeping in a hammock.
"It is important to get the right message across, to ensure that tour operators and prospective visitors are aware of the fantastic destination that we can offer here in the Falklands. Whenever I show images of the Islands and explain about our wildlife and other amazing experiences, people become interested in what we have to offer."
Whenever the Tourist Board attend overseas events, it is also important to use the time to meet with as many people as possible, in order to promote the Falklands as broadly as possible, Connie said. In-between attending the two recent travel events, she took the opportunity to meet with other companies, regarding on-going Tourist Board projects.
"Currently there is a project underway in conjunction with the RSPB, who have provided funding for a film cameraman to be in the Islands, filming at broadcast quality at locations around the Islands, on behalf of the RSPB and the Tourist Board combined. The result will be a high quality promotional DVD of the Falkland Islands.
"Also, we are working with an outdoor clothing company, who will be promoting the Falklands in their next brochure, (160,000 copies will be printed), as well as providing promotion on their web site and in their corporate marketing and promotional activities."
The visit to the UK also enabled Connie to meet up with a journalist who is due to visit the Islands later this month, who will be writing an article for the top selling Wanderlust travel magazine, and will be in the Islands for just one week, visiting a number of destinations. The feature will appear in Wanderlust in just a few months' time. Connie says "a similar exercise, with the editor of Practical Photography Magazine last year, resulted in an eight-page Falklands colour feature in the magazine that stimulated a number of enquiries, and has already resulted in a few holidays being booked as a direct result of the coverage received in the magazine.
After the Destinations event last year, the Tourist Board were invited to make a presentation to a group of fifty or more representatives of a Latin American industry association.
As a result of this presentation, Connie said, the two local Falkland Islands tour operators who attended TravelMart Latin America in October, had a number of appointments made with them as a direct result of the presentation earlier in the year.
"This is the sort of ongoing work we need to be doing to raise the profile of the Falklands as a premier wildlife destination."
One other important ongoing project Connie was involved with whilst away in the UK, was to finalise a bid to a European agency to secure funding for a dozen people from the Falklands to visit Iceland later in the year, where a number of seminars and visits to similar destinations/locations for wildlife etc could be organised.
Connie explained, "If funding for this project is secured as a result of the bid submitted by the Tourist Board (in conjunction with Europe's leading tourism college in Iceland and a Tourist Board training company in Scotland), there would be an opportunity for a number of tourism service providers to make the two week ?Learning Journey' to exchange experiences and to learn from the Icelandic tourism infrastructure and systems." (Penguin News)