In the last several years, The Ramey Agency has grown its travel and tourism division to one-third of its portfolio, with clients representing some of the South’s world-class vacation hot spots.
The Jackson-based advertising agency has branded The Alluvian in Greenwood, named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the world’s 100 Best New Hotels; marketed Blackberry Farm, Zagat’s highest-rated small luxury hotel in the U.S.; repositioned the new signature restaurant, Capriccio, for The Peabody in Memphis, one of Travel + Leisure’s Top 100 Hotels; and marketed Pearl River Resort, a $750-million entertainment destination, the only resort of its kind on an Indian reservation.
“It’s been five years since the death of our company founder, Tommy Ramey, and in 2000, it was all we could do to keep our firm moving forward while coping with his absence,” said Chris Ray, CEO of The Ramey Agency. “Then a couple of things happened to boost our business, especially our travel and tourism sector. Jack Garner joined the agency, and his leadership has helped us grow. Also, after 9/11, people cancelled high-end trips abroad and began driving instead of flying. We saw a pickup in the domestic audience for last-minute opportunities, easy locations, and quick drives.”
No stranger to high-profile marketing
Before the terrorist attacks on the U.S. September 11, 2001, The Ramey Agency was no stranger to high-profile travel and tourism marketing. For The Palaces of St. Petersburg in 1996, which attracted more than a half-million visitors to the metro Jackson area, the agency won an Effie, the nation’s pre-eminent award for effective, results-oriented campaigns.
The agency’s participation in the tourism marketing effort for Mississippi, with print ads such as “How To Drink Iced Tea,” prompted the Travel Industry Association of America to site the state for one of the largest increases in out-of-state visitors between 1994 and 1999.
“That was a fun campaign to be involved in as an agency,” said Ray. “We tried to come up with the neat things about Mississippi that would make anyone smile, whether a resident or a potential tourist in Chicago.”
Since then, The Ramey Agency has handled The Alluvian brand from the ground up, helping raise the profile of the property in Architectural Digest, Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Travel + Leisure. Every year, agency executives escort Blackberry Farm owners Kreis and Sandy Beall to New York for deskside briefings with editors from the travel, epicurean and shelter magazines.
In addition to creating a lighthearted marketing campaign for The Peabody’s Capriccio restaurant — “Don’t expect to find Tuscan Duck on the menu” an orange (or duck l’orange?) billboard reminds locals — the agency managed the Pearl River Resort from the opening of the Hard Rock Beach Club to the six-month blimp tour.
“Even though many hotels and travel brands believed they needed to cut their rates after 9/11, the smart ones figured out how to put emotion back into the sales equation,” said Ray. “They began capitalizing on ‘experience-collecting,’ which is similar to collecting artwork and antiques.”
Blackberry Farm, located in the foothills of the Smokies, masterfully provides legacy-building experiences, said Ray.
“Every summer at Camp Blackberry, the agenda is planned so that parents have time together with their children — and apart from them,” he said. “Also, The Alluvian is doing a great job of experience-building through its culinary weekends. The hotel ties in Viking Cooking School demonstrations and hands-on classes ranging from sushi making to weekend entertaining. Both hotels understand how to put emotion back into the vacation experience and not play the price game. Margins are protected, and it’s a better way to run a hotel business.”
Even though travel is a three-phase adventure — the anticipation, the actual trip and the memory of it — too often, hotels and other travel brands focus solely on the second phase, said Ray.
“They omit thinking through how they can connect the weeks ahead and afterward,” he said. “Two years ago, we did a two-week trip, The History of Food and Wine, with Viking, a private jet tour of seven or eight countries with 40 people who paid $28,000 per person. We spent as much time interacting with them before the trip as during the trip because we knew the anticipation of an adventure that grand would be a great way to bind us closer to them.”
Think about the possibilities
A few months ago, Ray was a delegate at the American Express-sponsored Luxury Summit in Miami, where industry watchers were buzzing about “thoughtful hospitality.”
“Think about the possibilities we as Southerners have to make that happen,” said Ray. “For example, at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, they have the caliber of door staff that is so passionate about what they do. They told the story about a guest who dashed out one morning to run down the block to get a Starbucks latte. The next morning, when the guy showed up in his shorts and running shoes, the doorman says, ‘Sir, would you like me to go to Starbucks to get your latte?’ It’s that kind of culture that represents thoughtful hospitality and makes guests fanatical about being loyal to a hotel brand.”
New York restaurateur Danny Meyer directs the waitstaff to deliver raw cookies for children to decorate while parents order from menus. For dessert, the baked cookies are delivered to the children.
“That’s a great service for parents of young children, who are usually squirming while you’re trying to look over the menu, and another example of tying thoughtful hospitality to travel and tourism,” said Ray. “The people who are thinking like that are the ones who will take advantage of leveraging their brands smartly.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.