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Unveiling the Azores: How We Changed Travel to the Atlantic Islands

Today it feels as if everyone is either going to the Azores, or has been to the 9 Portuguese islands. But back 2004, that was not the case. Here is how a trip would transform the travel scene and introduce Americans to the hidden gem of the Azores.

It all started with a flight on Azores Express, a quaint airline offering handwritten tickets and a touch of nostalgia from the '80s. For a modest fee, passengers enjoyed a business-class experience, including a diverse mix of travelers from a little kid to a grandmother. The journey left a lasting impression, prompting a heartfelt letter of commendation to the airline.

Little did we know, our simple gesture would uncover a pivotal challenge for Azores Express. Originally established as a charter service catering to the Azorean community's travel needs, the airline faced a shifting demographic landscape. With immigration slowing to a trickle, they needed to pivot towards attracting a broader audience - the "non-ethnic" traveler.

The potential was immense. With a sizable population of Azorean descent in New England and a rich culinary heritage ingrained in the region's culture, the Azores seemed ripe for exploration. Yet, despite being just a four-hour flight away, awareness was scant, resources limited, and ground support sparse.

Undeterred, we embraced the challenge wholeheartedly.

Our strategy was simple yet innovative. We initiated VIP outreach initiatives, offering complimentary trips to influential chambers of commerce, environmental nonprofits, and other organizations in exchange for expanding our email list. Simultaneously, we launched a user-friendly website tailored to the US market and embarked on a media effort from Boston to NYC, securing the first-ever travel features on the Azores in publications like Travel + Leisure and The Boston Globe.

Our efforts didn't stop there. We cultivated relationships with travel media through newsletters and invited them to experience the Azores firsthand. We facilitated the creation of the first air and hotel packages, a groundbreaking move fully financed by the airline.

Over the ensuing decade, our persistence yielded tangible results. Increased funding from the Autonomous Region enabled us to expand our outreach efforts, including more familiarization trips and promotional activities. Articles extolling the wonders of the Azores proliferated, enticing travelers to embark on their own Azores adventure.

Today, the Azores are no longer a well-kept secret. Major airlines like Delta have introduced direct flights from NYC, and the US market stands as the fastest-growing source of inbound tourism. What began as a modest endeavor evolved into a transformative journey that reshaped the travel landscape and put the Azores firmly on the map.

In retrospect, our journey with Azores Express exemplifies the power of perseverance, innovation, and collaboration in unlocking hidden treasures and fostering meaningful connections across continents. From handwritten tickets to bustling airports, the legacy of our humble beginnings endures, inviting travelers to uncover the boundless wonders of the Atlantic oasis we proudly call the Azores.

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