Category Archives: Destination Marketing

Getting the Real Story – Travel Media Tips

Chinese Media Tour – Kingston, Ontario – Town Crier


Over the years I have organized and guided a ton of media Familiarization (Fam) Tours.  From this I have learned some valuable lessons and tips that can increase your chances of getting rock solid coverage for your destination.

1. Target

Target the specific travel media you want to tell the story, i.e. Outdoor Adventure Writer, Food Blogger, Motorcycle Magazine, Auto Newspaper, etc.  This allows you to focus on the one individual and provide them with the best possible experience to ensure they get the story.  Large group Fams are often difficult to coordinate and execute and results can vary.

2. Craft a Unique Pitch

Develop a pitch specific to the person’s interest.  Do your homework on the individual.  Find out what makes them tick.  Review their past assignments to determine what angles they thrive on and structure the pitch to peak their interest.  Provide an angle that might not have been covered before so they can be the first, if possible. Give your writer teasers in the pitch, i.e. the best places for photo opps related to the story, special access that will be granted to them, behind the scenes access, and opportunity to meet the real people behind the story.

3. Don’t Make Complicated Itineraries

Make it easy for them.  Once they accept to cover the story, create a very simple itinerary. Look after all the arrangements and costs so your writer only has to focus on the story.  Some media want a guide; some don’t, so give them the option. Don’t over program them.  It’s not about quantity of sites and locations you visit, it’s about quality.  They need to have an experience.  Experience creates emotion and emotion creates a great story.

4. Be Flexible

Build in free time so the media can wander the streets on their own. Let them eat ice cream, tour the shops and simply be a tourist. Be flexible even with a structured itinerary.  Build in flexibility if the person wants to stay longer or shorter at a location…ensure all suppliers on the tour are aware that you may be late or early (this happens a lot).

5. Prepare Your Stops

Brief all of your stops ahead of time and inform them about the angle or content you need delivered. Give them a time limit.  People are very proud about what they do; it’s your job to keep them on track.

6. Free Isn’t Always Better

Do not fall into the trap of booking accommodators just because they are offering a complimentary room.  Make sure you book your writer into the best place that suits the story and their needs.  Paying for accommodation and meals (usually at a reduced rate) ensures they are the best possible. It takes the pressure off the media to cover that specific location simply because it was complimentary.  It will be covered if it fits the story and if the experience is top notch.

7. Lighten Up on Food

Ease up on the dining, unless your media rep is specifically in the food industry or is looking for an entire story on one particular dining establishment. Don’t spend hours and hours eating.  Some of the best meals are gourmet picnics that you quickly enjoy at really picturesque locations.  Stops at famous french fry stands, bake shops, specialty cheese shops etc. are often quick wins and keep you out shooting footage and gathering experiences.  Food is an important element to tourism, but you must remember these people travel for a living and have likely eaten at some of the world’s finest restaurants.

8.  Be Organized

Thank you for smart phones!  Have the itinerary, plus everyone’s contact information for the tour on your phone.  Make sure you have partners’ cell phone numbers. Office numbers don’t cut it at 11 pm.  Be sure to send the itinerary to all those who are participating so they know where you will be visiting when.  Have a ‘special place’ on you for room keys, rental car keys, vouchers, etc.  Nothing makes you look more foolish than when you can’t find the car keys.  Always fill the car with water, snacks, and adapters for charging.

9. Help Get That Epic Shot or Clip

Show your writer/photographer that you understand the value of the signature photo or video clip.  Getting up at 4:30 am to catch that perfect sunrise is what will set the story apart.  Engage a local professional photographer that can help with locations and guidance if needed.

10. Inject Your Personality into the Tour

Travel media want your real personality.  They want to understand your own attachment to the area and not just be given the company line.  These are savvy media tourists who have participated in hundreds of Fams. Scripting just doesn’t cut it anymore.

11. Don’t Be on the Clock

Media Fams require 24/7 attentiveness.  Staying up late to catch the local act on a patio, getting up at sunrise to capture the epic sunset photo, or having to find a camera store at the end of the day to buy more memory cards is all part of the job.

12. Make it Fun for Both of You.

If you are having fun your guest is having fun and that usually results in good content.  Some of the most memorable moments of my career have been with travel media.  I have created lifelong friends and industry associates from around the world as a result of good media tours.

Summary

If you follow these simple rules you will produce incredible results for your efforts.  Most media are very influential and have a loyal following that hinge off every word they say.  If you can create a memorable and personal experience for them it will pay dividends in new potential visitors who want to experience the same thing the writer did.  Plus, you gain some new lifelong friendships along the way.

Beijing Media Tour – Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site, Gravenhurst

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Filed under Best Practices, Destination Marketing, tourism, Tourism Marketing

The Toronto Invasion – Ontario Tourism Regions Set Sights on Canada’s Biggest City

Here in Ontario, the provincial government recently divided the province into 13 new regions in order to create manageable, marketable tourism products.  Well into the second year of this new approach, several of the regions are actively selling to consumers.  Most of these cash infused regions have hired spiffy urban ad agencies to develop creative platforms, execute them; ironically into the exact same source markets.

Toronto is the land of coveted bounty when it comes to selling destinations.  Florida, the Caribbean, Canada’s east and west coasts and Quebec all fight to become top of Torontonian’s travel mindset.  These are savvy, sophisticated travelers with instant access to the world as they live on the doorstep of an international airport.  With competition this fierce you must stand out, not only with your message and how you deliver it but also with products that shine.

This past week in our office, on the Toronto radio station we were listening to (www.edge102.com ), we heard winter commercials from two of the new Ontario Regions, plus the Province’s own winter themed campaign.  These commercials were in the same rotation, with the same frequency and believe it or not had the exact same message: dogsledding, fireside snuggles, crisp air, bountiful snowfall, and getting out of the city.  Each had used a slightly different creative approach but the overall message was exactly the same.  I scratched my head and it got me thinking that there must be a better way.

Let’s look at this a little deeper.  Ontario is blessed with diverse geography, experiences and one of the richest source markets in the country.  Almost all of the 13 regions have identified Toronto, or more broadly the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) as the breadbasket of consumers.  This is not new.  Since the dawn of Young Street, outlying communities have been trying to get the attention of urbanites and entice them to spend their leisure time and money outside of the city.  These outlying regions traditionally have used all types of media to get their message noticed:  trade shows, radio, television, newspapers, outdoor media, postal drops, transit station domination, online tactics and the list goes on.  So what’s different now?

The difference now is timing and cold hard advertising cash.  Picture five new car dealerships opening at exactly the same time, in the same city, selling almost identical product lines.  The poor residents of that community will be bombarded with the same traditional car advertising messaging X 5.  This is the scenario that is playing out in Toronto right now, only with the regional tourism experiences.  All 13 regions are targeting geographically and their marketing sights are set on the Big Buck of tourism…..Toronto.  They have done their research, topped up their marketing tactic budgets and gone in, all at the same time and unfortunately with the same winter messages.

What can you do to not fall into this trap?

  1. Leverage messaging and tactics with like-minded partners if the message is exactly the same.  Why duplicate it and compete with it?  If it’s the traditional winter product you are selling, leverage Ontario Tourism’s campaign and tag your destination onto it.
  2. Be different – Stop selling generic.  Sell really specific experiences. For example –   Stratford sells world class theatre and Blue Mountain sells the best snowmaking in Ontario.  Cool crisp air and blissful snowfalls just don’t cut it anymore. How are you different? What is your really really unique selling proposition?
  3. Support those specific partners that already have a strong in-market presence and relationship with the consumer.  Make their programs bigger and better after all, your goal is to make them money right?
  4. Look at what your neighbours are doing and create and execute your message differently.  Since everyone is going into the same source market with similar products you Must Be different.
  5. Get creative.  Big city agencies hire some of the best in business.  Push them to do better, say “no” and “try again” and hold them to it.  These accounts may not be their biggest but you still deserve the best.   After all, the creative boundaries in selling tourism are endless…its household cleaner.
  6. Pick the medium that work best for you not the agencies’.  Some ad firms are structured to make a percentage off the actual buy.  Don’t fall into the trap of focusing on the mediums that are best for them and not necessarily the best for you.
  7. Put yourself into the home of the consumer.  What are they going to think about your message as compared to your competition?  Is it going to motivate them to walk over to their computer and start planning a trip?  Alberta’s Just Breathe campaign and Newfoundland’s creative are great examples of that.

To Sum Up….

As I see it the only real winners this far in Ontario Tourism Region marketing are the ad agencies, and media outlets. Tourism marketing in Ontario has never before experienced this kind of cash infusion.  Don’t feel obligated to spend the farm on airtime or ads, especially if you are unsure of what you are selling or how it’s different than your neighbouring RTO.  Dig deep and really make the customer sit up and pay attention.   20 year-old tourism marketing just doesn’t cut it anymore.

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Filed under Destination Marketing, Product Marketing, Rant, Tourism Management

Service Town or Tourist Destination?

Downtown Grand Marais - Beaver HouseThroughout our travels and in working with our clients and their destinations, it comes up time and time again:  Is your town a supply town or a tourist destination or both?

Generally what we see in larger centres is that the larger they become, the more service oriented they are and the less kitschy, touristy and personality driven they are.   The problem with size is that the local consumer demand begins to outdrive the visitor’s needs.  Large communities suddenly become filled with generic chain stores or box store strips that are not appealing to tourists (even though they may be appealing to shoppers) and do not drive visitors to your community because you look the same as everywhere else. 

On a smaller scale, look at a typical town of say 5,000 to 10,000 people.  Does the community have a demand generator?  Something significant to influence a potential visitor to leave their home, travel to the community and spend some time? Examine the main street.  What is the retail mix?  Walk the main street and classify each operator as local or tourist.  My guess is that the majority of stores are service oriented, catering to the local population base.  This of course is not wrong, but we see too many communities promoting their downtowns, attractions and community as tourist destinations when in fact there is very little for the visitor to see, do and buy there.

Want to make a change in your downtown?  Focus small.  Work with a small cluster of shops within one block: a coffee shop, a pub, gallery, and a candy store.  Support these businesses and encourage other like-minded retail to locate within this small district.  It will quickly become a hub of activity, especially after normal business hours.  Suddenly you will have a retail destination that is worthy of promoting. 

Have a small downtown you want to convert into a traffic driver? Encourage the development of several of the same type of retail experiences in close proximity.  Shoppers will drive to your town to find selection.

Overall, it’s okay to be a service town!  If your town is en-route to a tourist town, concentrate on getting cars to stop to stock up on supplies.  Food is a very good motivator to get drivers to stop the car.  Magnificent butter tarts, the oldest aged cheddar, or the best burgers quickly get flow through traffic to throw on the brakes.  Ensure gas station and grocery store facades are appealing and customer service is top notch.  Concentrating your efforts on supporting these suppliers, will turn you into a top notch supply destination, and allow you to reap the rewards of flow through traffic and not simply watch them pass you by.

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Filed under destination development, Destination Marketing, tourism, Tourism Development, Tourism Management, Tourism Marketing

100 Mile Tourism

Security concerns, fuel prices, lack of time or money, having kids or growing old.  There are a variety of reasons why people are travelling closer to home these days.  As tourism operators, it is important to recognize the importance of attracting not only to the visitors of your community, but local residents as well.

So much time, effort and resources are put into attracting tourists to come to a tourism region, but what is being done to cater to people who live there all the time?

I have now lived in three cities, and one thing I have heard residents say in each of them is that there is nothing to do.   The fact is, all three of these cities are tourism friendly destinations that people travel significant distances to visit… so clearly there are things to do in each of them!

Catering to local residents has many advantages.  Let’s briefly outline a few of them.

  1. Keep money in local economy. If you attract 100 tourists to your destination through marketing efforts, and 100 local residents travel somewhere else, what is the net impact?  By keeping local residents in your community, they are likely to spend money at attractions, events, and restaurants that would have gone to benefit another community.   This helps keep people and money close to home!
  1. Expose residents to their own gems. I spoke earlier of how people can live in a community and yet still say there is nothing to do there.  More often then not, this is simply because they do not know of the great attractions and assets that are close by.  By attracting local residents, they will have more pride in their community and support tourism development in the future.
  1. Word of mouth.  Isn’t it great advertising to have local residents telling friends and family that there is nothing to do in their own community?  By attracting local residents to your tourism products, they will become ambassadors to outsiders, and more likely to recommend these attractions to visiting friends, families, and even strangers!
  1. Repeat customers. The great thing about local tourists is that they are close to home.  With no travel time, if you provide a great experience, they will be more likely to visit again.  With no travel expenses, they may even spend more money too!
  1. Resiliency.  If your tourism assets are heavily dependent upon external markets for visitors and revenue, they are susceptible to economic influences outside of your control.  Case and point, when family budgets tighten, they stay closer to home.  By maintaining a connection with local visitors, tourism operators will be less impacted by a shrinking external tourism market.

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Filed under Destination Marketing, Tourism Management, Tourism Marketing

Hard Times and Tourism Marketing

We have been hearing a lot in the news lately about how governments are struggling to balance their budgets. During these hard times, public officials are sifting through their budgets with a fine tooth comb, trying to trim any unnecessary expenses (called “gravy” in Toronto) in order to keep their city or country in good fiscal health.

This is an extremely difficult task, and anyone who finds themselves in this position will undoubtedly face scrutiny as they cut public services that will certainly impact someone negatively along the way. Public officials must make very difficult decisions as to which parts of the budget stay, and which parts must go.

One area that is often looked upon as a place to get rid of some gravy is tourism marketing. To the outsider, spending money on tourism marketing is unnecessary, speculative, and difficult to measure its impact on a community, region, or country.

But hold on a second… maybe spending money on tourism marketing pays for itself….

Recently, the U.S. Travel Association published a report that examined the public costs and benefits associated with destination marketing campaigns. They found that these campaigns actually generate more tax revenue than they cost by increasing visitation numbers and spending.

An example of this was seen in the Pure Michigan marketing campaign that came to Canada two years ago. This campaign stimulated a dramatic increase in tourism spending and also generated $138 million in new tax revenue for the State of Michigan. Not bad, considering they spent less than one third of that on the marketing campaign.

Evidence like this not only points out the effectiveness of destination marketing campaigns, but also suggests slashing tourism marketing budgets during hard times can actually make the economic situation worse. If we cut tourism budgets, it is likely that less people will visit, people will spend less money, and tourism operators and local businesses are left struggling.

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Filed under Destination Marketing, Tourism Marketing

The Google Side of Tourism

Each and every day the internet is changing the way we live our lives. A report was published this week called “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips”. Basically it points out that people are more likely to forget something that they know is readily accessible on the internet.

When I first heard this I started thinking about silly things that I have “Googled” which I probably should have just remembered. The first one that came to mind was making a perfect hard boiled egg. At one point in my life, I knew the timing, and art of boiling a hard boiled egg. However somewhere along the way, I forgot this simple recipe, and I must confess I have Googled how to make hard boiled eggs on at least three different occasions.

The fact is Google (and other search engines) have made finding information so easy that we have begun to use it like an external hard drive for our brains. As DMO’s and tourism operators, it is important to recognize this shift in the way people are finding and storing information and use it to position our destinations in the best possible way.

Recently I went on a hike to Bruce Peninsula National Park. Having never been there before, it was only natural for me to gravitate to the internet for information to help me plan my adventure. I knew there would be a Parks Canada website, and several local tourism organization websites available with useful information… But even typing their website addresses into my URL field seemed like too much effort for me at the time. My brain can type “Google” without even thinking about it, and then by typing in the name of the park, I had over 300,000 websites to choose from in less than 0.16 seconds.

How does your destination perform in a Google search like this?

Like it or not, Google is making the internet smaller and smaller as the amount of information increases ever day. If your website does not rank in the first page of a Google search, it basically does not exist to the average consumer.

Case and point, if you asked me today how to make the perfect hard boiled egg, I could not tell you right away. However, if you gave me 0.29 seconds to search Google’s 3,640,000 results, I could give you this link: http://www.goodegg.com/boiledegg.html …. And I did not leave the first page of results to find it!

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Filed under Destination Marketing, Tourism Marketing

Airports – The Launch Pad for your Destination’s Brand

If you are a frequent traveler, you have the pleasure or displeasure of spending way too much time in airports. With increased security and a heightened sense of awareness, it seems as though the airport authorities are forgetting about the image that their facility portrays about the destination.  Do they have to be so sterile, grey, and institutional? Do staff learn how to maintain a scowl during training seminars to purposely make people feel uncomfortable?
The airport is often the first impression a visitor has to a destination. In marketing we all understand that that 2.3 seconds is some of the most impressionable face time you can have with a potential customer. In the case of an airport it becomes more like 1 hour of impressionable time upon arrival. Why not use it to our advantage, to welcome our guests, and create a positive environment that is the starting point of their journey to this new and exciting destination.
Lets look at a Canadian facility that does it right.
Calgary – It must be the western hospitality that shines through that even the Calgary based Westjet has based its entire brand around. You arrive into this facility with broad smiles from the white cowboy hat touting ambassadors. They are friendly and are there to assist visitors with any needs or questions. While waiting for your luggage the centre of the luggage carousels are decorated with themed western messaging that creates a sense that you have arrived in cowboy country. Two simple approaches that work. It is no longer a sterile institution but is a themed welcome centre that is a direct extension of what Calgary stands for.
For an example of actually doing a disservice to a destination brand lets look at the Toronto Airport. Recognizing that the larger the facility the more utilitarian they become, but I see it as even more ‘wall space’ to create a very unique portrayal of the destinations identity. The Toronto facility is all business with any space available for displays or imagery is sold for advertising value, that turns it into a very generic place.
Start at the arrival level, it could be anywhere in the world, there is absolutely no connection of where its located. Standing, waiting for your baggage is often stressful, and this facility’s prison like feel doesn’t make you excited to be in Toronto.
Airports are gateway points of entry to spectacular destinations. Lets make the facilities themselves more exciting and celebrate the beginning of a great vacation, productive business meeting, or reconnection with friends and family. Destination managers need to get engaged with their local airport authority.

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Filed under Destination Marketing, Tourism Marketing