It was 2004. Amy Winehouse had her debut album. Shaun of the Dead was in theatres. Myspace was hot… And I took my first trip on Azores Express. The ticket was handwritten, the plane was straight out of the 80s and for a small cost, we flew business class. We had a little kid with us as well as a grandmother. And the trip was great. I later sent a letter to the airline saying that they had a very nice product. And they wrote back. As it turned out, they had a problem. The airline had started as a charter connection for people of Azorean descent to go home. But the Azorean community was aging, and immigration had practically ended – so to grow they needed to reach a “non-ethnic” traveler. The opportunity was huge – there were a couple hundred thousand people of Azorean descent in New England. And Azorean food was part of the New England culinary lexicon – from linguica, to kale soup, to Portuguese muffins and Portuguese sweet bread. But even though the Azores were just 4 hours away, recognition was minimal, we had a tiny budget, and there was little ground support. Ok, I said, sign me up!
Here is what we did: VIP outreach – we gave away trips to leading chambers, environmental non-profits and other groups. In return for a door prize or auction, we asked for names for our e-mail list. We launched a simple website aimed at the US market. We went out and met the media, from Boston to NYC – and out of that came the first ever travel articles on the Azores in places like Travel + Leisure and the Globe. We also kicked off a newsletter to travel media, to introduce them to all the cool stories about the Azores. And, we began to invite media to visit the Azores. We also prompted the first air and hotel packages. This was the first PR effort at this point to be totally financed by the airline. Over a decade, our effort would bear real fruit. We would get ad money from the Autonomous Region, and a budget increase to do more Fams and outreach. And it worked, articles ran, people won trips and went, and with new funds we bought creative outdoor ads and launched promotional events. Today the Azores are no secret – Delta just launched air service from NYC, and the US continues to be the fastest growing inbound market. Not bad for a few years work!