PR Powerhouse Audrey Yacou on Putting Guadeloupe Islands in the Spotlight

Audrey Yacou, USA PR and Marketing Executive for the Guadeloupe Islands Tourism Board | Photo from A. Yacou’s personal archive

In the world of tourism PR, Audrey Yacou shines as a trailblazer. With an impressive career spanning Paris and New York, Yacou currently serves as the USA PR and Marketing Executive for the Guadeloupe Islands Tourism Board. In this capacity, she has played a pivotal role in propelling the Guadeloupe Islands onto the global stage, spotlighting its rich culture, breathtaking landscapes, and vibrant community spirit.

Born and raised in Guadeloupe, Yacou’s connection to her homeland runs deep. Recently nominated for a prestigious tourism medal, she has been recognized for her outstanding contributions to elevating Guadeloupe as a premier travel destination. 

Notably, Yacou coordinated the filming of two episodes of the PBS travel show “Bare Feet,” which centered around the vibrant Guadeloupe carnival. These episodes provided an immersive portrayal of the island’s cultural richness, capturing viewers’ hearts and earning Silver Telly Awards in 2022 and 2023.

Yacou’s PR efforts have positioned the Guadeloupe Islands prominently in major media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Afar, Vogue, Ebony, and CNN Travel. These milestones underscore her unwavering commitment to showcasing Guadeloupe’s beauty and diversity globally, solidifying its position as a must-visit destination.

In an exclusive interview, The Urban Watch sat down with Audrey Yacou to delve into her unique upbringing in Guadeloupe, her passion for promoting her homeland, and her insights into current trends in tourism PR. 

Tell me a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up, and how has that shaped who you are today?

I was born in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, a beautiful place rich in culture and natural beauty. Growing up there has had a significant impact on who I am today. My upbringing was rooted in the vibrant traditions and values of the island, where the warmth of a tight-knit community surrounded me. My parents, my dad from Guadeloupe and my mom from Martinique instilled in me a strong belief that the sky’s the limit, teaching me to dream big and work hard.

Growing up in a very Caribbean household, I was immersed in the colorful tapestry of our region’s culture, with its lively music, flavorful cuisine, and strong sense of community. This upbringing fostered a deep appreciation for our shared heritage and a profound understanding of the importance of family and tradition.

While Guadeloupe is an incredible place to grow up, being from an island can sometimes make certain opportunities seem unattainable due to its geographical location, or at least I thought so as a kid, because I know today that it is far from the truth. My parents always encouraged us, my sisters and I, to look beyond limitations and pursue our goals. This mindset taught me resilience and adaptability as I learned to overcome obstacles and seek out opportunities despite challenges.

Living on an island also taught me the value of community and connection. I learned the importance of supporting and being supported by others, which has translated into my approach to teamwork and collaboration in my professional life. Additionally, my exposure to diverse cultures and perspectives from a young age has made me open-minded and eager to learn from others.

Ultimately, my upbringing in Guadeloupe shaped me into a passionate and driven individual constantly seeking growth and new opportunities. I carry these values with me in everything I do, both personally and professionally. They have equipped me with the determination to excel and the ability to navigate complex situations with grace and perseverance. 

What’s your favorite tradition and dish in Guadeloupe?

My favorite tradition in Guadeloupe is undoubtedly our vibrant and unique carnival celebrations. Among the various types of carnival, my favorite is the traditional “Mas a Senjan.”

The traditional “Mas a Senjan” carnival, rooted in African heritage, takes place in the streets with participants wearing elaborate costumes made from natural materials. This carnival honors our ancestors and their resilience, deeply intertwined with the island’s history and cultural identity.

Carnival in Guadeloupe begins on the first Sunday of January and culminates on Ash Wednesday every year.

Choosing a favorite dish from Guadeloupe is tough, but if I had to pick one, it would be the bokit sandwich. A staple in Guadeloupe, the bokit is incredibly versatile and delicious. You can stuff it with various fillings like meat, veggies, or anything you desire, making it a true representation of the flavors of our islands.

Another absolute favorite of mine is anything with sweet plantains. I moved out of my parents’ house 18 years ago, and every time I come home, my mom makes it for me. Whether served with codfish and onions or with meat, it’s a comforting and flavorful meal that always reminds me of home. The combination of sweet and savory flavors is simply irresistible.

What personal challenge stands out to you most, and how did you overcome it? 

The personal challenge that stands out to me as the most significant is the journey of relocating to New York City. Moving was by far the bravest and scariest thing I’ve ever done at the time, but it also turned out to be the best decision of my life. Since I was a little girl, I had dreamt of moving to New York and building a life here. 

Transitioning to life in New York was exhilarating but also daunting. I had to navigate a new culture, a new language, and a fast-paced environment and establish myself in a completely unfamiliar setting. I originally came for my master’s degree at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT). New York worked its magic on me, and I didn’t want to leave. Soon after graduating, the big question arose: How do I figure out a way to stay and keep living this life I have dreamt of my whole life?

I refused to let any challenges define my journey. Instead, I approached each obstacle with a determined mindset, seeking solutions and advocating for myself every step of the way. I rely very much on the community that I found here. I have a group of friends, and we meet every month to check in and support each other through our individual goals and challenges. We keep each other accountable and grounded through our monthly InStrive check-in, created by two friends.

This experience taught me valuable lessons in resilience, adaptability, and the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity. It reinforced my belief in the power of tenacity and resourcefulness, and it has undoubtedly shaped me into a more resilient and determined individual, ready to tackle any challenge that comes my way.

Having lived in diverse cities like Paris and New York, what cultural and professional lessons have you gained from your experiences in different places? 

Having been born in Guadeloupe, I grew up surrounded by people who shared similar backgrounds and cultural experiences, where I was part of the majority. This created a sense of belonging and connection to my heritage. However, when I moved to Paris, I found myself in a new position as a member of a minority group. I was aware of my identity, but it wasn’t until I moved to Paris that I truly understood the nuances of being Black. At school, I was often teased for my “Creole accent” and repeatedly asked, “Where are you from?” despite being French, just from the Caribbean. Guadeloupe has been part of France for centuries, and I believe greater awareness and understanding would benefit everyone.

Then, I moved to New York, which was the opposite experience. In New York, you can fully embrace your identity and your Blackness. I lived in Harlem for 12 years, and it felt like home. In New York, people are curious about where I’m from because of my accent, not my complexion. Some are surprised to learn that I’m French. “You’re French and Black?” they ask. Yes, I am.

In New York, you feel less of a minority because it’s such a melting pot; everyone comes from somewhere. You have more space to embrace who you are fully without having to justify your reality.

These experiences from Paris and New York have been invaluable in shaping me into a more empathetic, culturally aware, and adaptable professional. I bring this perspective to my work, creating inclusive and dynamic environments where diverse perspectives are welcomed and celebrated.

Considering your varied experiences, do you envision yourself returning to Guadeloupe in the future?

Audrey Yacou representing Guadeloupe Islands at a travel show | Photo from A. Yacou’s personal archive

I have a deep connection to Guadeloupe; it’s home, and my whole family lives there. I am committed to staying closely linked to my roots. I prioritize visiting as often as possible, and my work in tourism allows me to contribute to elevating the island’s global presence even when I’m not physically there.

While I can see myself eventually returning to Guadeloupe, I’m not ready to move permanently. At this stage in my career, there’s still much more for me to accomplish both professionally and personally, whether in New York, elsewhere in the US, or around the world. I am passionate about exploring new opportunities and expanding my skill set before settling back.

There’s no rush to make that transition, as Guadeloupe will always be there. I want to ensure I achieve my goals and aspirations before making a permanent move.

For now, I’m focused on growing in my current career and continuing to strengthen my connection to Guadeloupe through my work in tourism. I take great pride in representing my home and promoting its richness and culture.

How did you develop an interest in PR?

Unlike many who knew what they wanted from a young age, my interest in PR developed gradually. I always had a passion for sports and envisioned working in the sports industry. It wasn’t until I was about 15 or 16 that I decided to become a sports publicist. This realization led me to pursue a degree in communications.

After high school, I moved to Paris for my undergraduate studies and, later, for graduate school. I secured my first internship at a major sports network, L’Equipe TV. This experience was pivotal in solidifying my desire to work in the sports industry.

The internship exposed me to a fast-paced environment where I saw the impact of strategic communication in shaping public perception and driving engagement. Working alongside experienced professionals, I gained invaluable insights into the best communication practices within the sports industry.

These formative experiences helped me discover PR as a means to craft compelling narratives and connect with audiences meaningfully. This intersection of communication, sports, and storytelling fueled my passion for a career in PR and continues to drive my commitment to making an impact in the field.

What would you say is your biggest professional accomplishment? 

Audrey Yacou and her colleagues after winning The New York Times Travel Show People’s Choice Award in 2020 | Photo from A. Yacou’s personal archive

Putting Guadeloupe on the map was not an easy task, especially since our primary market has always been Europe. My mission in promoting the islands in the U.S. was to diversify our clientele and attract American travelers. We faced several challenges, including stiff competition from better-known destinations like Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and St. Maarten. There was also constant confusion between Guadeloupe and Guadalupe, Mexico. We had to think outside the box to find what makes us unique and position ourselves effectively. Guadeloupe is far more than just a beach destination; it’s a cultural gem.

One of my proudest professional accomplishments has been coordinating the filming of two episodes of the PBS travel show “Bare Feet,” centered around the vibrant Guadeloupe carnival. “Bare Feet” was the perfect platform to highlight our island’s rich culture, aligning perfectly with our positioning strategy. These episodes provided an immersive portrayal of Guadeloupe’s vibrant traditions, captivating viewers and earning Silver Telly Awards in both 2022 and 2023. The Telly Awards celebrate excellence in television and video production across various platforms, recognizing the finest work in the industry.

We also leveraged the story of Chevalier Saint-Georges, also known as Joseph Bologne, a Guadeloupean virtuoso violinist, conductor, and composer who influenced great composers like Haydn and Mozart. He was also a Civil Rights hero and unparalleled fencer during the French Revolution. The release of the movie “Chevalier” last year was a major opportunity for us. I had the pleasure of organizing, along with my team, an exceptional PR event at the Hall des Lumières in New York. The venue was majestic and perfectly aligned with our goal for the night—presenting Guadeloupe as the next cultural capital of the Caribbean.

On the print side, my PR efforts have successfully positioned Guadeloupe in major media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Afar, Vogue, Ebony, and CNN Travel to name a few. Securing coverage in these esteemed publications has raised awareness of Guadeloupe and solidified its reputation as a must-visit travel destination.

Through these strategic initiatives, we have showcased Guadeloupe’s unique cultural heritage and positioned the islands as a premier destination for American travelers.

Any projects you’re most proud of?

It’s difficult to pinpoint just one project, as working to promote my island daily fills me with immense pride. However, if I were to highlight a particularly memorable experience, it would undoubtedly be our participation in the New York Times Travel Show in 2020.

This event holds a special place in my heart. Not only was it the largest consumer show I had ever produced, but we also had exciting news to share, including the announcement of new airlift routes from New York (JFK) with JetBlue.

We had two booths: the main one in the sponsors’ pavilion and the second one in the Caribbean pavilion. As silver sponsors of the show, we spared no effort to make our presence felt. Our main booth was a true reflection of Guadeloupe’s authentic charm and culture, as we recreated a local house to showcase our island’s unique identity. Winning the People’s Choice Award that year was a testament to the impact of our presentation and the enthusiasm it generated among attendees.

Moreover, our participation extended beyond the show floor, culminating in the unforgettable experience of ringing the New York Stock Exchange bell along with other sponsors. Representing the tourism board on such a prestigious platform was an honor, further solidifying our commitment to showcasing Guadeloupe to the world.

Audrey Yacou ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange | Photo from A. Yacou’s personal archive

Celebrating the inaugural flights from New York in 2020 was also one of the most memorable experiences. Imagine the vibrant sounds of the carnival and the flavors of Guadeloupe filling Terminal 4 at JFK at 7 a.m. Having a carnival band play and march through the terminal, showcasing a tradition I love so much, and seeing people enjoying and celebrating Guadeloupe’s country was extraordinary. It still gives me chills when I reflect back on it. 

Could you elaborate on your nomination for a tourism medal? What was the process like, and what does this recognition mean to you personally and professionally?  

Being nominated for a tourism medal by Atout France, the French Government Tourist Office, is an immense honor and a testament to the dedication and passion I’ve poured into promoting the French region of the Guadeloupe Islands. The nomination process involved thoroughly evaluating my contributions to showcasing this beautiful destination’s cultural, natural, and experiential treasures.

Professionally, this recognition validates the hard work and innovation that have gone into my marketing and PR efforts for the Guadeloupe Islands. It affirms that our strategies effectively capture travelers’ attention and inspire them to explore this remarkable destination.

On a personal level, receiving this nomination is incredibly rewarding. It signifies that my efforts have made a meaningful impact in promoting tourism to the Guadeloupe Islands, which holds a special place in my heart. This recognition motivates me to continue advocating for the region and striving for excellence in my endeavors.

Being nominated for a tourism medal by Atout France is a milestone achievement that inspires pride and gratitude personally and professionally. It reinforces my commitment to showcasing the beauty and allure of the Guadeloupe Islands to travelers worldwide.

Give me a brief pitch about why someone should visit Guadeloupe islands. 

USA Marketing and PR Executive Audrey Yacou, Consultant M. Kozlminski and Canada Marketing Executive Deborah Coffre at the Travel and Adventure Show 2022 | Photo from A. Yacou’s personal archive.

Experience the best of the Caribbean with a visit to the breathtaking Guadeloupe Islands, the French Caribbean archipelago. Picture-perfect beaches, lush rainforests, waterfalls, and vibrant culture await you in this tropical paradise. Indulge in delicious Creole cuisine, dive into crystal-clear waters teeming with marine life, or explore the islands’ rich history and charming towns. With its unique blend of French and Caribbean influences, the Guadeloupe Islands offer an unforgettable getaway for travelers seeking adventure, relaxation, and cultural immersion. Discover Guadeloupe’s beauty, authenticity, and warmth – your dream island escape awaits.

How do you collaborate with local communities and businesses in Guadeloupe to ensure that tourism benefits are sustainable and equitable?

Collaborating with local entities is essential to ensuring that tourism benefits are sustainable and equitable. We prioritize building strong partnerships based on transparency and shared goals.

We engage with local entities to understand their needs, concerns, and aspirations. Through dialogue and collaboration, we develop tourism initiatives that prioritize local empowerment, cultural preservation, and environmental sustainability.

We actively involve local businesses in our tourism strategies, promoting their products and services and creating opportunities for economic growth. By highlighting authentic experiences and locally owned businesses, we aim to distribute the benefits of tourism more evenly throughout the community.

Our approach to collaboration with local communities and businesses in Guadeloupe is rooted in a commitment to sustainability, equity, and inclusivity. By working together, we can create a tourism industry that not only brings economic prosperity but also enriches all stakeholders’ lives and preserves Guadeloupe’s unique beauty and culture for future generations.

Could you share any initiatives or partnerships aimed at promoting responsible tourism practices and preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the Guadeloupe Islands?

Promoting responsible tourism practices and preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the Guadeloupe Islands are top priorities for us. The islands have implemented a range of initiatives to achieve these goals.

To start, we are proud to use renewable energy across the islands. We have significantly reduced our carbon footprint through strategic partnerships and investments in sustainable infrastructure. We are committed to furthering our reliance on clean energy sources like solar and wind power.

Additionally, we have taken decisive action to fight plastic pollution by banning disposable plastic products. This initiative helps protect our pristine beaches and marine ecosystems while raising awareness among residents and visitors about the importance of waste reduction and recycling.

Furthermore, we are actively promoting the development of more eco-friendly accommodations throughout the islands. By working closely with hoteliers and property owners, we encourage adopting sustainable building practices, energy-efficient technologies, and eco-friendly amenities to minimize environmental impact and enhance the visitor experience.

To reduce food waste and support local economies, we are promoting locally sourced products in culinary offerings across Guadeloupe. By partnering with local farmers, fishermen, and food producers, we aim to highlight the diversity and richness of our region’s cuisine while minimizing the carbon footprint associated with food transportation.

Moreover, car rental companies are increasing their offerings of electric vehicles, providing visitors with eco-friendly transportation options to explore our islands.

We are also implementing innovative water conservation measures, such as reusing rainwater for cleaning purposes, to minimize our water footprint and preserve precious freshwater resources.

We have implemented daily quotas for visitors to sensitive areas like Petite Terre to preserve fragile ecosystems and biodiversity. Limiting tourist numbers can ensure these areas remain pristine and protected for future generations.

Lastly, we actively promote activities and experiences focusing on biodiversity and environmental conservation. From guided nature walks to wildlife-spotting tours, we encourage visitors to engage with and learn about Guadeloupe’s unique flora and fauna while supporting conservation efforts.

Overall, these initiatives reflect our commitment to responsible tourism practices and our dedication to preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the Guadeloupe Islands.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your PR campaigns and assess their impact on tourism to Guadeloupe?

We utilize a combination of quantitative and qualitative metrics to gauge the effectiveness of our PR campaigns. Firstly, we track key performance indicators (KPIs) such as website traffic, social media engagement, and media mentions. By analyzing website analytics, we can monitor the number of visitors to our destination website, their behavior on the site, and conversions such as inquiries.

Bookings for airlines or hotels are crucial metrics for assessing the tangible impact of our PR campaigns on tourism to Guadeloupe. Tracking booking data allows us to directly measure the effectiveness of our efforts in driving visitor interest and converting that interest into tangible travel plans.

Social media metrics, including reach, engagement, and sentiment analysis, provide insights into how our audience responds to our content and messaging. Monitoring media mentions allows us to assess the reach and tone of our PR efforts in traditional and online media outlets.

Additionally, we conduct surveys and gather feedback from travelers to measure brand awareness, perception, and satisfaction. Understanding the impact of our campaigns on travelers’ decision-making processes and perceptions of the destination helps us refine our messaging and strategies.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of our PR campaigns is measured by their contribution to increasing tourism to Guadeloupe. By analyzing a combination of quantitative data and qualitative feedback, we can assess the overall impact of our efforts and make data-driven decisions to optimize future campaigns and drive continued growth in tourism to our destination.

What are the most significant trends or shifts you observe in the tourism PR industry today? Additionally, could you discuss the impact of COVID-19 on travel to the Guadeloupe Islands and whether the destination has seen a return to pre-pandemic levels of tourism?

Audrey Yacou at a Conde Nast Traveler’s Women Who Travel event | Photo from A. Yacou’s personal archive

Several significant trends and shifts are shaping the landscape in the tourism PR industry. Firstly, there’s a growing emphasis on sustainability and responsible tourism. Travelers are increasingly conscious of their environmental footprint and seek experiences aligning with their values. As a result, destinations and tourism organizations focus on promoting eco-friendly initiatives, supporting local communities, and preserving natural resources.

Another notable trend is the rise of experiential travel. Today’s travelers seek immersive and authentic experiences that allow them to connect with local culture and heritage. PR professionals leverage storytelling and digital platforms to showcase these unique experiences and attract visitors seeking more meaningful travel opportunities.

Additionally, the digital transformation of the travel industry continues to evolve rapidly. Social media, influencers, and online travel platforms significantly shape travelers’ perceptions and decisions. PR professionals are adapting their strategies to leverage these channels effectively, engaging with audiences in real time and creating personalized experiences.

Regarding the impact of COVID-19 on travel to the Guadeloupe Islands, like many destinations worldwide, the pandemic has brought significant challenges. Travel restrictions, safety concerns, and economic uncertainties have all contributed to a decline in tourism.

However, the Guadeloupe Islands have demonstrated resilience and adaptability during these challenging times. Through strategic PR and marketing efforts focused on highlighting the destination’s safety measures, natural beauty, and unique experiences, we have seen a gradual return of visitors.

With continued PR efforts to showcase the destination’s strengths and adaptability, we are very optimistic about the future of tourism in Guadeloupe.

You mentioned a desire to make a difference and support minority communities. Please expand on your aspirations in this regard and share any specific ideas or initiatives you’re currently exploring or actively involved in.

I would love to leverage my skills and expertise to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives and promote the rich cultural heritage of the Black and African diaspora to a global audience. I would love to reach a point in my career where my work could foster greater understanding, appreciation, and celebration of diverse cultures, traditions, and histories.

Whether through storytelling, media outreach, or cultural events, I aspire to create platforms and opportunities that amplify marginalized voices and showcase the beauty and resilience of communities within the African diaspora. My ultimate goal is contributing to a more inclusive and interconnected world where everyone’s stories are valued and celebrated.  

I am currently working on a personal project that is incredibly close to my heart, aiming to transport people to the enchanting flavors of Guadeloupe. While I can’t divulge too many details at this moment, I am passionate about creating an experience that not only delights the senses but also fosters a deeper connection to the culture and traditions of the island. With this project, my goal is to inspire curiosity, appreciation, and a sense of wanderlust, ultimately inviting others to explore and celebrate my island in a truly immersive way.

Any advice for someone who wants to break into tourism PR? 

When I first moved to New York, I needed guidance and reached out to many people with similar backgrounds. Unfortunately, I rarely received responses. Now, I find myself in a position where the younger generation seeks my career advice and insights into the American experience. I remember being in their shoes, so it’s important for me to pass the torch and share my knowledge. We all have to start somewhere, and I believe in helping others navigate their journeys.

First, I’d recommend immersing yourself in travel through books, TV, or traveling. Gain firsthand experience by exploring diverse destinations. This knowledge provides invaluable insights for crafting PR and marketing campaigns. Be curious and open-minded.

Then, focus on developing strong communication and storytelling skills. Crafting compelling narratives and engaging audiences is crucial in tourism PR and marketing. Hone your writing skills, learn to tailor messaging to different demographics, and leverage multimedia platforms to enhance storytelling.

Additionally, stay informed about industry trends and technologies. The tourism landscape evolves rapidly, with new platforms and consumer behaviors shaping the industry. Keep up-to-date with the latest developments and best practices in PR and marketing to remain competitive and relevant.

Networking is essential in any industry, including tourism PR. Attend industry events, conferences, and online communities to connect with professionals already working in the field. Building relationships with mentors and peers can offer valuable guidance and potential job opportunities.

You can connect with Audrey Yacou on LinkedIn. 

Visit the Guadeloupe Islands site

Demi Vitkute

Co-Founder & Editor

Demi Vitkute is a New York-based journalist and editor who’s passionate about reporting on the fashion industry, its problems, and its changemakers. She’s a founder of The Urban Watch Magazine and has written for The Washington Post, Inside Hook, and Promo Magazine, among others. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Emerson College.

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