Marketing the anticipation of a revitalized Jekyll
The Brunswick News















Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News
Work continues on the Westin Hotel on Jekyll Island.

Posted: Monday, January 5, 2015 12:00 am
By DONNA STILLINGER

(To view a photo gallery on the construction progress on the Westin, Holiday Inn Resort and the  refurbished Horton Pond, click here. Photo gallery courtesy of Greg Lowery from Rentz, Georgia. He and is wife are long time Jekyll visitors.)


With the November departure of The Jekyll Island Authority marketing director, there is some concern whether efforts to fill — and keep filled — the hundreds of new hotel rooms that will open soon on the island are behind schedule.

Jones Hooks, executive director of the Authority, is not worried. He says the authority is in just the right place.
“Our marketing department is holding it together nicely,” Hooks said Thursday. “The holiday season has been a good time to not have someone in that position.”

Hooks says they are in the end of the hiring process for a new marketing director and hope to make an announcement in the next few weeks.

Eric Garvey left the marketing director’s post to take a position in Florida.

“This new year is an exciting one for Jekyll. It is going to be a great opportunity for our entire marketing department to shine,” Hooks said.

Hooks says the authority realized the challenge Jekyll faced having been off the radar for some time. Some of that down time was by design.

“We were very careful the first few years. We wanted to make sure we weren’t marketing something we couldn’t deliver,” he said.

The convention center is doing very well.

As a matter of act, “It’s doing better than we expected, even without the lodging numbers on the island,” Hooks said.

In 2014, the center had 53 group bookings with 26,255 total attendees and 21,167 room nights. The estimated economic impact to the island was just over $6.3 million.

For 2015, it so far has 54 confirmed bookings and anticipates getting about 30 percent more.
By 2018, the authority hopes to be at 120 group bookings for the convention center.

“We recently hired a sales representative in the Atlanta market to bring Georgia groups back to Jekyll,” Hooks said. “Atlanta has a changing population and Jekyll is not on their radar. We hope to change that very soon.”
The new sales person will also help market Jekyll out of state and internationally.

“We are currently planning activities and gatherings for corporate and meeting planners to let them know all about what Jekyll has to offer, and we are working with strategic partners and the Georgia Department of Tourism on international tourists.”

Having several, new well-known hotels will help Jekyll bring in national and international groups.

“We are gaining two new ‘flags’ this year with the Holiday Inn Resort and the Westin Jekyll Island and will have more when the Hyatt, Marriott and Spring Hill Suites are completed,” Hooks said. “These hotels will open up new marketing partnerships for the island all over the world.”

Even with the construction of the new hotels, Jekyll will have fewer rooms than it did in its heyday.

“Jekyll used to be a happening place,” Hook said. “We want to make it that again, all the while maintaining the proper balance.

“Our whole operation is about balance — balancing development and nature, residents and visitors, marketing and partnerships, offerings and price points. And, of course, there’s the budget. We always look at the bottom line. Jekyll Island has to be self sustaining. We do not have a line item in the state budget.”

Hooks says he and staff members are constantly asking, “Does this make sense?”

“We are constantly critiquing everything we do and checking to see if the event is something of value to our efforts,” he said. “Jekyll Island must operate efficiently.”

Hooks is confident about where the island will be in 2015 with all of the new facilities and an increased number of visitors.

“If there is a silver lining to the way things have played out, it’s that it has allowed us to work with absorption, not having to fill so many hotel rooms at one time,” he said. “Convention planning has a three to four year cycle of change. We are right on time to be marketing for more groups, bigger groups.”

Reporter Donna Stillinger writes about government and other local topics. Contact her at dstillinger@thebrunswicknews.com or at 265-8320, ext. 321.