JFK route important for tourism

Cayman Airways newly launched direct service between JFK Airport in New York and Grand Cayman is of strategic importance for the long term sustainability of the Cayman Islands tourism industry.

John Wrightington

John Wrightington

These were the words of Director of Tourism Pilar Bush at a special presentation in New York to outline the importance of and marketing efforts for the route, which had its inaugural flight to New York 23 June.

One of every four visitors to the Cayman Islands comes from the North East United States and specifically the tri-state area, she said.

‘This is important because it’s not just one of the four US visitors, its one of the four US visitors from everywhere, all of the other countries. This region provides 26 per cent of all of our visitors from around the world.’

The North East is also particularly dense with the Cayman Islands’ target profile, she explained. The target profile represents affluent households, primarily families that are sun, sea and sand seekers, with a household income of $100,000 and more. Following families and the travel trade, come dive and romance seekers and then interest-based transients. They are predisposed to Caribbean travel, are active and experiential and generally have their own passports.

Most of Cayman’s serious Caribbean competitors already had non-stop service to New York, including Aruba, Barbados, Bermuda, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos and the US Virgin Islands.

Information from 2007 shows that of the top 20 zip codes of visitors to the Cayman Islands, 32 per cent are from the tri-state area.

Strong potential market

VP Commercial with Cayman Airways John Wrightington said there’s a strong potential market out of New York, a strong revenue base, because the market share is going to be very high and a lower cost structure. He said that when you fly a flight like NY to Cayman costs drop because it’s a longer route and all of the costs get spread over a broader number of hours.

JFK Airport was chosen because Continental Airlines already provides direct air service out of Newark.

Also, Mr. Wrightington said, JFK fits because it is nearer some of the top zip codes, which are in the eastern side of the New York metropolitan areas such as Fairview, Connecticut, and Westchester County. JFK airport is on Long Island, about 12 miles east of Manhattan.

Speaking about how well they are doing versus how well they thought they were going to do with the New York route, Mr. Wrightington pointed out that they are expecting to carry about 20 per cent more traffic in the market in the summer than they originally anticipated.

With regard to pricing, they identified the lowest fare in the market and asked themselves if they could sustain themselves in the operation with these prices. To go in with the highest fare would be unrealistic, he said.

The target pricing was based on the current fares in the market: US$388 roundtrip in coach and US$898 in business class.

They then benchmarked everything based on $388.

‘Normally when you go into a new market like New York you can’t assume you’re going to carry your full market potential in your first month. It just doesn’t happen like that. It takes a significant amount of consistent advertising over a longer period of time before you end up getting your market share. Well ironically we got it in the first month, so that’s good.’

Passenger numbers

The airline’s initial forecast for summer was to carry 54 passengers per departure, building up to 82 passengers per departure in peak winter.

The passenger forecast for summer is 74 passengers per departure and if business continues to go well, projections forecast that they should carry 104 passengers per departure with five weekly round trips during the peak winter period of February through April, he said.

‘We’re really pleased with what’s happening with the New York market,’ he said. ‘I think it’s a wonderful example of how we can all work together to get an end result that is much better than expected,’ he said, speaking of the partnership between the airline, private sector and DoT.

Mr. Wrightington added that Cayman Airways is to begin a reconfiguration of its 737-300s to include new seating with more leg room and the most up to date entertainment system.

Mr. Wrightington noted that Cayman Airways stopped advertising by itself for the launch and blended into the entire Cayman Islands package.

Motivating the customer

DoT’s US advertising agency, Chowder Inc. partner Kim Ketchell said they wanted to make sure that people knew there was non-stop service out of New York, but they had to recognise that the Cayman Airways flight in and of itself wasn’t motivating; what was motivating was the destination.

‘In order to be truly motivating this couldn’t just be straight airline advertising, it had to be advertising about the destination and that this was a new and wonderful way to get to this destination.’

So, putting the destination and airline together, they positioned Cayman Airways to leverage all the positive perceptions that they knew existed in the market place about Cayman, in order to create a strong platform for Cayman Airways.

For example, travellers in the US believe Cayman is a safe destination, so this translates into Cayman Airways being reliable and that it has a 40 year history behind it for credibility.

Cayman is easy and hassle free, so this translates into Cayman Airways being a stress-free way to get to Cayman.

Visually stunning ads

Creative considerations for the advertising were to use visually stunning imagery and to tie the graphic look as close as possible to the destination advertising, but bringing in the airline also.

Chowder partner Jim Rittterhoff showed examples of this advertising. One ad that appeared in the New York Times’ Sunday Magazine shows a woman on the beach with a plane overhead and the tagline ‘Endless beauty, non-stop flights’.

On platforms on the railroad line large posters with ads for the destination and non-stop flights were placed to target the affluent neighbourhoods of Fairview, Connecticut, and Westchester County New York.

TV spot airing in New York was used and the top zip codes were targeted with postcards promoting the destination and new route.

Michael Di Clemente, executive VP group account director with Initiative, DoT’s media communications representative, noted that they connect the brand to the customers. They also work for such huge clients as Home Depot, Only Vegas and Victoria’s Secret.

The media objectives for the launch of the CAL JFK launch were to generate awareness of the route, but the challenge was to do this without any incremental money to support the launch: advertising dollars were pulled from other places in order to market both the destination and the new route together, along with using pre-existing advertising activity in the New York market, he said.

A stunning full page New York Times advert was gained for half price by allowing the newspaper to place the ad whenever it chose.

PR support

Agatha Capacchione of Missy Farren Associates, DoT’s US public relations agency, said the long term goal is to maintain the aggressive positioning of Cayman Airways in key messaging for the Cayman Islands.

They announced the JFK route in press releases and to date the route has seen more than 18 million consumer impressions, including the New York Times, Financial Times and Associated Press.

Shomari Scott, DoT’s deputy director International Marketing, spoke about how trade shows sales calls, sale blitzes and speciality events all helped to promote the flights.

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