I’m sharing more insights from the group travel industry in the second episode of a special three-part series of Destination on the Left episodes from the National Tour Associations Travel Exchange in Reno. I’m excited to share their thoughts on key trends and challenges as we move into 2023.
In this episode, you’ll hear from:
Group Travel Wisdom The National Tour Associations Travel Exchange
I have loved talking with all the amazing, experienced group tour specialists at the NTA about how they envision the future of their sector. During our short interviews, I also asked them about current trends they are seeing in the industry, where their challenges lie, and the one word they would use to describe their experience of the National Tour Associations Travel Exchange. You’ll be fascinated by their answers!
Jim Warren, US Group Specialist at Anderson Vacations
Jim reflects on trends that Anderson Vacations has been seeing in the group travel industry, including the customer desire for smaller groups. He describes how they have leveraged that trend and started to develop smaller group experiences of between 12 and 20 people and why they are keen to move that trend forward.
Lorna Davis, Global Sales Manager at Travel Oregon
In her mini-interview, Lorna talked to me about the number one issue that Travel Oregon is facing right now and how they are moving through that challenge. She describes some of the ways they endeavor to meet the demands of group travel customers despite often struggling with adequate staffing. Lorna also shares the need to be genuinely hospitable and greet guests with a smile no matter what’s going on behind the scenes.
Mark Brodeur, International Tourism & Group Sales Director at Visit Rhode Island
Mark’s word to describe the NTA Travel Exchange is ‘opportunity’. He shares why he loves participating in the knowledge exchange that the event allows and how it helps Visit Rhode Island stay abreast of current trends in the group travel industry. He also digs into some of the trends his destination is seeing right now, including creating personalized experiences within the group travel niche.
Nick Calderazzo, President at Twin Travel Concepts
In our conversation, Nick reveals that his organization is seeing later bookings and reflects on why people are waiting longer to make decisions. He also shares the changes he has seen in the senior group travel market, particularly their growing comfort with looking for and booking their travel online and the need to build unique, off-the-beaten-track experiences.
Peter Pantuso, President & CEO at ABA
According to Peter Pantuso, expectations in the group travel niche are changing. He discusses how they are creating individualized experiences for guests within a group tour and likens the experience to a cruise where people are traveling together but also have the opportunity to split into smaller groups to satisfy different interests. Peter firmly believes that understanding the need to provide something for everyone will be a key theme in 2023.
Ryan Robutka, Senior Manager for Market Development at Via Rail Canada
One of the challenges Ryan Robutka of Via Rail Canada has faced over the past couple of years is doing more with less. He describes how despite their staff being extremely stretched, they have been able to come through and offer the experience that travelers are looking for. They have committed to protecting the core experience their travelers are looking for in addition to catering to some of the more recent trends in the group travel industry.
Todd Read, Trade & Consumer Sales Manager at SoIN Tourism
Todd and I discuss the future of group travel, including the greater need for flexibility. He shares what SoIN Tourism can do as a DMO to help group travel organizations set up fantastic experiences for guests and how their intimate knowledge of their destination can help. As he says, ‘you can’t just sit back and do what you’ve always done.’
2023 and Beyond in the Group Travel Sector
My guests make it clear that the future outlook for the group tour industry is bright, and its evolution is opening up new opportunities for all stakeholders. They highlight the small group trend that started before the pandemic and continues today, and how that trend opens up new destinations in group travel. We also discuss the importance of remaining flexible and continuing to change with the industry, and move through challenges with grace.
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For this first episode in a special three-part series of Destination on the Left episodes, I visited the National Tour Associations Travel Exchange in Reno and spoke with several experts in the travel and tourism industry. My guests shared some of their wisdom in mini-interviews, focused on the trends, challenges, and future outlook for the group travel industry. The brilliance each of these leaders shared is certain to be invaluable as we seek new opportunities in group travel.
In this episode, you’ll hear from these extraordinary leaders:
The National Tour Associations Travel Exchange is an incredible event that allows experts in group travel to exchange ideas about the trends in the potential opportunities for group tour operators in 2023 and beyond. It was my honor to speak to some of the extraordinary guests at the travel exchange to get their insights into where the group travel industry has been, where it’s going and share key information and strategies for the future.
Amy Larsen – Industry Relations Manager at Wyoming Office of Tourism
Amy shares her perspective on travel trends she has seen over the last few months, including visitors’ desire to see their smaller towns and unique destinations. People are connecting the pioneer spirit and the western heritage which is central to Wyoming. She describes why the COVID-19 pandemic led to a desire for simpler times and why it’s such an exciting trend for Wyoming.
Debbie Jones – Senior Vice President & Client Relations at Trip Mate, Inc.
Debbie and I talk about the number one issue facing the industry today and how her organization is helping to address it. She shares the challenges travelers often face in finding an appropriate insurance plan for a more mature audience. Debbie discusses how her company provides peace of mind and ease of access for people traveling in groups.
Eddie Lutz – Director of Sales at Ark Encounter/Creation Museum
Eddie discusses the number one issue facing his organization right now and how they are moving through it. We dive into the industry-wide issue of a lack of staffing and why it’s so concerning for group travel companies. Eddie describes why his organization has committed to taking on a leadership role in their region, working with hotels and attractions to ensure they are ready to offer guests exemplary hospitality.
Jay Smith – President at Sports Travel and Tours
I talked with Jay about what he believes the group tour operator of the future will look like and how they’ll get there. He shares why he thinks group tour operators will have to be a little more creative to continue bringing unique experiences to the plate that people just can’t do independently. We also discuss how we can educate the younger community of travelers on the benefits of group travel.
Lee Callicut – Destination Sales Manager at Visit Montgomery
Lee shares how Visit Montgomery flipped from a destination marketing organization trying to bring travelers into the area to what they call a destination management organization focusing on serving people who live in the area. He shares the lessons they learned and how they have translated into providing small-group outdoor-based experiences for visitors and locals alike.
Marcel Perkins – General Manager at Latin Trails
Marcel discusses the issue of sky-high flight costs facing the touring travel market and how his organization is responding to it. He shares why many travelers are waiting for flight prices to Europe to drop before they plan their trips and gives his recommendations for what destinations should be doing to be ready for guests when the time comes.
Michael Collins – Group Tour Coordinator at Nebraska Tourism Commission
Post-COVID-19 travelers are rediscovering the wide open spaces and rural areas of the USA. People are looking for destinations that are quirky, out of the ordinary, and a fun place to visit, and Michael describes why that describes Nebraska to a T. He also shares what his team is doing to capitalize on that trend.
Key Trends for 2023
According to my guests, trends for 2023 include active itineraries, small-town visits, and a definite focus on seeking the simpler pleasures in life. Our discussions also touched on the importance of having professionals in the industry mentoring new team members at hotels, restaurants, and attractions where tour operators plan to visit and how that might impact the generalized staffing shortage.
In the second episode in a special three-part series of Destination on the Left episodes from the National Tour Associations Travel Exchange in Reno, I’m sharing more insights from the group travel industry. I’m excited to share their thoughts on key trends and challenges as we move into 2023.
In this episode, you’ll hear from these extraordinary leaders:
Peter Johnson, Manager & Market Development at Tourism Nova Scotia
Richard Arnold, President at Atlantic Tours Limited
Tillie Youngs, Sales Manager at Visit 1000 Islands
Anjuli King, Director, Domestic Group Tour & Entertainment Sales at Visit Savannah
Debra Asberry, President & Founder at Women Traveling Together, Inc.
Heather Egan, Director of Leisure & International Sales at Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau
Travel and Tourism Insight from The National Tour Associations Travel Exchange
In my interviews at the NTA, I talked with tour and travel professionals about how dynamic and resilient the group tour industry is. I asked each guest to share trends, challenges, and the future outlook for the tour industry from their viewpoint — you will find a lot of similar themes running through their answers.
Peter Johnson — Manager & Market Development at Tourism Nova Scotia
Peter discussed the number one issue they are facing in the industry right now and how Tourism Nova Scotia are moving through it. He shares what they’re doing to combat labor shortages with innovative ways to bring people back to the industry, including working closely with partner organizations.
Richard Arnold, President at Atlantic Tours Limited
The impact of COVID-19 on the group travel industry included reducing numbers on tour departures for health and safety reasons. Richard describes how this pivot has led to Atlantic Tours developing an offering of small group departures and why he believes that offering individual, unique experiences are among the key trends of 2023.
Tillie Youngs — Sales Manager at Visit 1000 Islands
Tille describes the impact straddling two countries has on her destination marketing organization. She discusses their notable collaborations on both sides of the St. Lawrence River and why they have always seen themselves as a two-nation destination. We also talked about the opportunities to collaborate and work as closely with international partners.
Anjuli King — Director, Domestic Group Tour & Entertainment Sales at Visit Savannah
There are so many great destinations that have a huge amount to offer groups, and Savannah is undoubtedly one of those places. Anjuli shares some of the trends she is seeing right now in the group tour industry, including the popularity of their black history tours. She also discusses why she believes that Georgia as a whole has opened up to new opportunities in the last couple of years.
Debra Asberry — President & Founder at Women Traveling Together, Inc.
Debra tells me about why she founded Women Traveling Together and describes the ethos of their exclusively small group women tours and why they embed a tour leader to manage group dynamics and just show guests a wonderful time. Debra also gives me her word to describe the NTA Travel Exchange, which is ‘ready’ and dives into how it relates to relationship building within the group travel and tourism industry.
Heather Egan — Director of Leisure & International Sales at Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau
Heather and I discuss some of the problems that have become evident in the group travel niche over recent years. She shares how her organization balances the needs of the group tourism industry with the requirements of individual travelers and why they remain committed to finding the best way to accommodate groups and maintaining key relationships in the sector.
Moving Through Challenges
These brilliant travel professionals join me in exploring key trends and challenges for 2023 and how the COVID-19 pandemic has informed what’s going on in the group travel niche right now. My guests also describe the NTA Travel Exchange in just one word, and some of the key themes you’ll hear in this episode center on partnership, invigorating the industry, and strong connections. Get ready to be inspired!
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Sarah Howe has a 25-year career leading marketing and sales for organizations of varying industries, each with its own thread in the love of the outdoors. Her joy is ignited by energizing teams around common goals and passion projects, building support through stakeholder involvement, creating clear and effective messaging, as well as giving back to the community.
She currently holds board member positions with the Vermont Lodging Association, New England Inns and Resorts Association, Accelerate Woman Leadership in Hospitality, and StepsVT (Steps Against Domestic Violence). Sarah is an avid downhill skier, sailor, hiker, mountain biker, or anything else outdoors.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, Sarah and I discuss the importance of forging strong connections with both guests and staff at the Lake Morey Resort and how it has helped them strengthen their positioning within the community. Sarah also describes some of the unique community partnerships her company is building and how they help them deliver a better experience for guests and staff alike.
Sarah shares why she appealed to the resort staff to understand what makes Lake Morey resort different. She shares how the team came up with their slogan, ‘you come as friends, and you leave as family,’ and why it’s important to her that guests leave connecting more deeply with each other. Sarah discusses how she leaned into that philosophy in her marketing and updated their website and printed materials to highlight how important connectivity is at Lake Morey.
Sarah and I discuss how COVID-19 inspired her team to take a step back and look at how they were doing things and really try to be creative. Change can be hard, but once you start making change, the next change is easier and opens those doors and lets the creativity flow.
Sarah describes how the input from other hospitality leaders in Vermont and New England helped her team to really understand what was happening and what was working and what wasn’t. Creativity often involves stepping out of your comfort zone, starting new projects, and embracing creativity.
Looking into the future, the team at Lake Morey is most excited about their community partnerships. Although they offer their guests a fun and engaging time at the resort, they are planning to offer other community engagement opportunities too.
They also plan to grow their free outdoor concert series and extend their winter markets and trivia nights. The Lake Morey resort is being creative and offering different experiences to different types of people so that the whole community can come and enjoy themselves.
We value your thoughts and feedback and would love to hear from you. Leave us a review on your favorite streaming platform to let us know what you want to hear more of. Here is a quick tutorial on how to leave us a rating and review on iTunes!: https://breaktheicemedia.com/rating-review/
Bree Nidds is a tourism, travel, and hospitality professional. She is often found speaking, facilitating, and presenting as one of tourism’s biggest advocates. She is Vice President of Sales & Operations at Discover Lehigh Valley, where she resides in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Bree was honored with the Smart Meetings Catalyst Award: Rising Star in 2021 and has been named “20 in Their Twenties” by the Professional Convention Management Association and “30 under 30” by Destinations International. In her free time, Bree enjoys competing in triathlons and swim competitions.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Bree Nidds about the importance of the travel industry working collaboratively to elevate travel in the minds of consumers. She shares her insights about how in-market advertising helps drive visitation and why working collaboratively in the meetings builds enhanced future visitor numbers.
People have so many choices about where they spend their money, and destination marketers need to understand where travel ranks on that list of people’s priorities. On the podcast, Bree shares why it’s a personal goal of hers to look beyond how Lehigh Valley is competing with other destinations and understand how we compete with other industries.
Marketers help travel and tourism to remain a high-ranking option on visitors’ to-do lists. In the industry, we need to think about the bigger overarching story we need to dig into as a community to stand out. Collaboration is the key to bettering ourselves in destination marketing, and Bree explains why, in Lehigh Valley, they are keen to leverage as many opportunities as possible.
We dive into the data and discuss the valuable insights it generates about a destination. Bree shares why their partners are interested in that information and why the COVID-19 pandemic gave them the impetus to look at the figures and understand the forecasting.
She goes on to describe how that information allowed Lehigh Valley to think about what their destination needs to do to gather the right data and use it in a resourceful way to make decisions about their tourism economy.
Bree and I also talk about why she is so excited about moving forward into 2023 and the development in terms of their hotel room supply coming into the market. She discusses Lehigh’s impressive growth over such a short period, what that means for their tourism economy, and how it drives their marketing strategy.
Camille uses her creative magic with words combined with strategy to create and execute high-quality marketing campaigns for Break the Ice Media’s clients. She approaches projects by looking at the big picture, whether as a project manager, writer, or problem solver. She oversees accounts and provides strategic direction for destination clients and their stakeholders, as well as directing and executing Facebook advertising campaigns. When Camille’s not at work, she loves experimenting with new craft projects and playing clarinet in a community orchestra. She also sits on the board of a local non-profit organization focused on personal growth, providing strategic marketing and direction.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Camille Zess. Camille is part of the Break the Ice Media team, and she joins me on the show to share her expertise in digital marketing. She discusses how one of our tour operator clients rejuvenated their marketing after the COVID-19 pandemic and gives examples of how she was able to work with them to spread their message. Camille also dives into the details of how you can prepare your marketing plans for 2023.
Client work always starts with strategy — we need to ensure that everything we’re planning aligns with the business’s goals and focuses on their target audience. Digital advertising follows the customer journey on their path to booking, from their spark of inspiration when they start dreaming about where they’re going to go to the planning and booking phase and finally experiencing their destination and sharing their reviews.
So as part of the marketing team, we need to consider strategies that will reach people dreaming of a vacation to find your destination, product, or service.
Landing pages are so crucial for every kind of marketing campaign, but a true landing page has no additional navigation. It doesn’t give the user any opportunity to click away from the information we want them to interact with. On your landing page, it’s essential to include great visuals and a call to action as high on the page as possible — to guide visitors to take that action.
Facebook has its flaws, and there has been a certain amount of controversy about the platform, but it’s still such a valuable channel that gives good results. In 2021, prices increased in terms of cost per click and cost per result on Meta’s channels but compared to many other types of digital media advertising, they are still relatively cost-effective.
Kathy Condon is a travel writer who has visited 29 countries, 49 States, and 16 islands. She formally trained throughout the nation on face-to-face networking. When the pandemic hit, she made the decision to become a travel writer and made a solid base while sequestered at home. Now Kathy is using her face-to-face networking skills to make a thriving travel writing career.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Kathy Condon, a travel writer who used the COVID-19 pandemic as a chance to start a totally new career in a niche she loves. Her dedication to the craft and her finely honed networking skills have ensured that her travel writing business has progressed at a tremendous pace. Kathy also shares her tips for building productive relationships with PR professionals and how she has raised her professional profile using Google Maps.
On the show, Kathy describes why she is so fascinated by so-called secondary cities. She shares some of the incredible, off-the-beaten-track places she has explored and dug deep into to find their hidden gems. Kathy highlights that PR companies are usually thrilled to work with her because of her willingness to delve into what makes an underlooked destination so unique.
We also discuss how Kathy’s previous career as a trainer and coach on face-to-face networking skills has made getting her new business off the ground so quickly possible.
If you’re trying to attract people to a destination that doesn’t usually top the ‘must visit’ lists, you have to be creative in your marketing. Kathy explains why travel writers provide the most bang for your marketing buck because of their skill as storytellers. We discuss the value that writers like Kathy provide, including increasing a destination’s visibility on social media and using clever tools such as Google Maps to add pictures and reviews.
Authentic travel writing is firmly based on the writer’s experience of a destination, and Kathy is very clear about where she stands ethically on only writing about places she has visited herself.
We discuss the importance of staying true to your values as a travel writer in everything that you do professionally. Kathy describes why when she approaches new publications or PR organizations to pitch a story, she always commits to spending real time in a place and understanding what it offers. We also touch on the fact that as glamorous as being a travel writer seems, it can also be hard work with lots of time spent on the road.
Alex Bickers, President and Creative Director of Reveal Events Group, is an award-winning event producer and creative consultant. He is driven by creating the best experience for his clients, team, and, ultimately, the audience.
In September 2020, he was named the Meeting Planners International (MPI) BC Chapter Event Planner of the Year. In April 2021, he was listed for the second time as one of the top 250 Canadian Event Professionals by BizBash, and the top 30 Canadian Event Producers and Designers. In July 2002, Alex was named Event Professional of the Year by the International Live Events Association (ILEA) Vancouver Chapter.
In 2019, Alex was awarded the coveted title of Canadian Event Professional of the Year by The Canadian Event Industry Awards, which are the hallmark of achievement in the Canadian event and meeting industry.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Alex Bickers about his 25 years in the events industry and why he loves creating joyful experiences for his guests. He shares his outlook on virtual and hybrid, and live events in the future. We also dig into community building, and Alex describes some fabulous celebrations hosted by and for the Vancouver event industry.
The technology that enables us to serve clients’ needs in a very tailored way has come on in leaps and bounds, and the way people work today means that event organizers can work around the needs of several different subsets of event attendees.
On the podcast, Alex describes the pent-up demand for live events and the effect on people of having to miss out on in-person interaction. We talk about the huge demand in 2022 for face-to-face conferences and hybrid events, and Alex shares the kinds of creative touches that event producers are making to differentiate themselves from the competition.
We discuss the upsides of being forced to develop global relationships due to the pandemic and how the Reveal Events Group has been able to create some exciting projects. Alex shares that his company has been able to establish bonds with organizations in the UK, Asia, and Australia because much of the world has turned to virtual events for so long. Now, there are no borders for businesses — from their studio in Vancouver Reveal that can work their magic across the world.
Alex also shares his opinions on the importance of collaboration in the travel and tourism industry. He gives a fantastic example of one of the collaborations in which he has been involved — the Vancouver event industry holiday party dating back to his time as President of the International Live Events Association (ILEA). Alex discusses how the team was able to bring together professionals from across the industry to create fabulous themed events, even inviting guests through the wardrobe into the fictional snowy world of Narnia to celebrate the winter holidays.
Leah is the Chief Marketing Officer for the Puerto Rico Destination Marketing Organization, Discover Puerto Rico. As CMO, Leah is responsible for providing strategic marketing leadership for the organization, overseeing the DMO’s paid media, creative, public relations, brand development and management, and digital strategy.
Before her move to San Juan, Leah was the Chief Marketing Officer for Explore Branson, where she led the growth of the community’s tourism industry for five straight years, repositioning the destination’s brand and posting back-to-back years of record ROI for the organization’s marketing program. In previous years, Leah led the Missouri Tourism account at H&L Partners, the agency of record for the Missouri Division of Tourism. In this role, Leah developed and guided the strategic direction of the Divisions marketing, managing paid and earned media, creative and interactive development, and campaign implementation. Leah led Missouri Tourism’s brand repositioning effort in 2013, introducing a new brand identity and corresponding campaign featuring Enjoy the Show.
Leah is a travel and tourism industry veteran, having directed the Indiana Tourism account for five years prior to joining H&L Partners. Leah earned her Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME) credential in 2014. This designation from Destinations International is the tourism industry’s highest individual educational achievement.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Leah Chandler, who describes what community lead tourism means to the team at Discover Puerto Rico and how they have built partnerships across the island and internationally. She shares how her organization is building brand equity through creative collaborations, including establishing a Pantone color called Puerto Rican sunshine, teaming up with a UK fashion designer for New York Fashion Week, and pitching and landing a Spanish language countdown with Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin Eve with Ryan Seacrest that was hosted and broadcast from San Juan.
Tourism destinations aren’t always considered a brand, but according to Leah Chandler of Discover Puerto Rico, they certainly are a brand. She describes why it can be hard for a brand to develop equity when it’s constantly changing and how her team is creating a space in potential visitors’ minds for the type of experiences they can have in Puerto Rico.
Leah also highlights the importance of finding Puerto Rico’s point of differentiation, which is the culture, and ensuring everything the DMO does ladders up to that positioning throughout all of its messaging, earned media, and paid channels.
At Discover Puerto Rico, they are super serious about their research and data to ensure that before they put something into the market, they can be confident of what consumers are looking for. This is how the idea for the Live Boricua campaign was born – the term is used to signify someone of Puerto Rican heritage and brings to mind a way of life, a spirit, and a flavor of the island.
Leah shares how the concept highlights how visitors can enjoy Puerto Rico like a local and acts as a love letter to the island, its residents, and its visitors.
We dive into some of the creative collaborations that Discover Puerto Rico has been involved in, including an innovative project that involved distilling the unique color of Puerto Rican sunshine, then working with the Pantone Colour Institute to turn it into a Pantone color they could leverage across several different verticals and work streams. Some of the partnerships that enjoyed this infusion of Puerto Rican sunshine included New York Fashion Week with designer Christian Cowan, an eco-friendly paint brand, and a local popsicle shop.
Alvaro is a Creative with diverse talents and accomplishments. He co-founded CRANT, a creative machine learning company that has become one of the most innovative companies in Brand Intelligence Marketing today. They have developed an AI-backed platform that helps brands improve their Brand Love and DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) strategies by using machine learning on public data to make their programs trackable and actionable, allowing brands to be methodical in finding insights and making decisions about how best to serve their communities on a daily basis.
His over 35 international awards, including Cannes Lions, Effies, Webbys, Clios, and more, led him to lead Miami Dade Beacon Councils’ “Created in Miami” program to turn Miami into a diverse Crea-Tech capital.
Alongside his friend and Indycar race car driver Tatiana Calderón, he also started the Ladies Start Your Engines program, which helps girls worldwide have a fair chance to succeed in a world designed for men.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Alvaro Meléndez about his new company CRANT, which stands for Creativity and Technology, and why he was inspired to start the business. He shares insights on how brands can help transform people and why being purpose-driven and mission-focused is critical. We discuss brand love, what it really means, and how focusing on one thing leads to more customers.
Alvaro started CRANT to combine all the branding frameworks he had learned over the years, including new technologies such as AI and all the data in the digital space. His tool helps marketers track and measure what they are doing on a brand level. Marketers often avoid doing brand studies because they are so expensive and are, therefore, unable to demonstrate progress in digital campaigns.
The theory behind defining a brand can be complex. Alvaro describes why they went right back to basics and began thinking about why every brand has the same end goal, which is to be relevant and to mean something to people so that they are willing to exchange time and money for a service, experience or product. Brands must have a promise or purpose that is very well defined and offers a solution to its customers.
Standing out in a crowded marketplace is tough, so CRANT is super purpose-driven, which has helped them stay very authentic, very humble, and very mission-focused. Often the problem is that brands have difficulty tracking their output or finding ways to be more relevant, more engaging, and different.
Alvaro describes why they focus on what they call a very narrow doorway with their marketing and do just one thing really, really well. He explains why niching down has attracted even more right-fit clients, particularly in the travel and tourism business.
Willma Harvey has more than 25 years experience in the tourism industry. She is Director of Sales and Business Development for River Parishes Tourist Commission in Louisiana. Proud to be born and raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Willma is passionate about her region and promoting destinations. She has her Master’s Degree in English and is currently collaborating with movie and film industry professionals in her position as Director of Sales and Business Development.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Willma Harvey, Director of Sales and Business Development for River Parishes Tourist Commission in Louisiana. She shares the story of over 25 years in the tourism industry and walks us through her region’s decision to change their brand from Plantation Country to River Parishes. Wilma also shows us why it is essential to know what is indigenous to your region and how leaning into it will help your destination stand out from competitors. We also discuss a creative collaboration that Wilma created recently, and she gives us a great recipe for setting successful collaborations.
Willma shares why she makes it a priority to know what her competitors have to offer visitors. She shares her in-depth knowledge of the Deep South coastal regions and the various tourism products in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. She outlines how that knowledge allows her to offer tour operators, or meeting planners, a great product because she knows how to collaborate with local partners (and competitors) for the visitors’ benefit.
We discuss a recent challenge that Willma’s team in Louisiana had to work through in making the difficult decision to change their brand from Plantation Country to River Parishes. Willma explains why it was such a big challenge but also why they viewed it as an inevitable change they would have to make. She shares why they decided to move quickly rather than go through a long brand analysis process and whether they got any pushback from local people on the rebrand.
The Deep South has always been popular as a movie destination. Willma describes some of the film and TV collaborations she has been involved with in the River Parishes region. She explains the importance of building relationships with key players to ensure that your region stays top of mind when they’re searching for the right location for their next project.
Of course, if you’re hoping to attract Netflix or movie companies, you need to have the organizational infrastructure to make a collaboration run smoothly. Willma outlines her role in developing policies and procedures for films and movie companies coming to her area and explains why River Parishes decided they needed to have a strategic plan in place for dealing with those inquiries.
Jay Kinghorn leads Zartico’s data and analytics team, helping destination marketing organizations (DMOs) use data-centered insights to market and manage their destinations more effectively.
Zartico’s mission is to provide the clearest perspective of the visitor economy. As the world’s first Destination Operating System®, Zartico combines science, technology and domain expertise to create SMART destinations and positively impact communities. Through its proprietary integrated data model, Zartico answers the “why”. With decades of destination and travel experience, Zartico is uniquely positioned to lead the transformation from global destination marketing to global destination leadership.
Jay was previously the Associate Marketing Director at the Utah Office of Tourism, where he led the agency’s content, social, marketing analytics, and digital marketing initiatives. In 2017, Jay received the Peter Yesawich Award for marketing excellence from the Travel and Tourism Research Association and MMGY Global.
Jay is a Colorado native living in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and two children. He enjoys trail running, watching his son’s soccer games, and skate skiing.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Jay Kinghorn about the challenges that DMOs face when trying to interpret data. He shares how the right tools can help destinations make better decisions that will lead to better outcomes for their communities. Jay also describes the five foundations for the contemporary DMOs that he hopes will solidify into industry-wide standards in the not-too-distant future.
Jay shares why he didn’t want Zartico to be just a passive reporting platform but something that helps you understand your destination’s rhythms and flows. He describes why the critical components within their destination operating system rest on three core data sets – anonymized geolocation data, anonymized credit card data, and predictive event-related data, all of which help you understand visitor data.
We discuss how destination operating systems can really make an impact and help drive visitors from big attractions into smaller local businesses. DMOs have leveraged digital tools to become expert multimedia storytellers to communicate the story around the people, places, experiences, and historical and cultural touchstones that make your destination unique.
A DMO can play a vital role in layering in how to have a local experience and experience the unique cultures that form part of the region. DMOs need to think creatively about how to tell their stories, and that’s where Zartico’s operating system connects the dots between actions and outcomes.
According to Jay, the five foundations that will help to solve a DMOs marketing challenges are demand generation, visitor distribution, economic opportunity, accountability, and stability. He shares why he hopes that DMOs will start to adopt this as a framework and help flesh it out so that, as an industry, we can grow around the five foundations by understanding how the data can help you strategically drive demand in your location.
Scott is a longtime travel industry data guru, having served in senior executive roles at United, Adara, and Orbitz. He was instrumental in the founding of Orbitz and is CRO at Journera, which has been recognized as one of the World’s “10 Most Innovative Travel Companies“ by Fast Company and a “Technology Pioneer” by the World Economic Forum. Participating companies include United, American, Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, IHG, and many others.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Scott Garner, Chief Revenue Officer for Jounera, about the brand’s unique data collaboration model that sees hotels, destinations, and airlines working together. He describes how the shared data helps marketers to create a 360-degree view of the travelers’ journey, identify potential customers and anticipate their needs seamlessly.
Journera was founded to take advantage of the insights that the travel and tourism industry can take from sharing data to make the visitor journey as seamless as possible. Scott talks about why it’s so important to bring together travel companies, even companies that are competitors, for the common good, which is to make the travel experience better. Travel involves piecing together many components, and you need companies, from airlines to car rental agencies, to enhance the traveler experience, and sharing data is the way to do that.
There are times when Journera partners compete fiercely against one another, but there are also times when they’re stronger and need to collaborate and work together to create more efficient marketing solutions. Scott describes how he and his team create a win-win scenario while also being mindful that there are some parts of that relationship that have to be fenced off. The critical thing is to focus on the areas where cooperating benefits everybody involved, especially the consumer.
At the core of what Journera does is assess data and then distill the findings to make them more usable in a marketing context. Scott describes how the team integrates individual partners’ data into their broader digital ecosystem, enabling marketers to target their potential visitors with greater precision. He outlines how data drives intelligence, which in turn helps DMOs make sound investment decisions to put themselves in the best position to move forward with confidence.
Michelle Ng brings people closer together by creating rewarding experiences through her two businesses – Vancouver Foodie Tours and Granville Island Gifting. Forbes has named Vancouver Foodie Tours one of the top 9 food tours in the world. They offer food walking tours, introducing guests to the culinary gems, vibrant cultures, and history that make Vancouver unique.
Michelle’s second business, Granville Island Delivery Co, was founded at the start of the pandemic as a way for the community to support local artisans and to send Granville Island gift boxes to friends and colleagues. Michelle has been recognized by The Entrepreneur magazine and Vancouver Sun for her contributions to uplifting the community during the pandemic.
What excites Michelle the most? She loves to generate happiness and appreciation by creating rewarding experiences that uplift the community. Michelle’s story is of resilience and optimism.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Michelle Ng about how she built her Foodie Tour business over 12 years and how her pandemic pivot led to the formation of a second company. She shares what she sees as a successful food tour in other destinations and why technology is core to both of her business’s success. We also dive into a collaboration Michelle kickstarted involving other small tour operators and how that collaboration has subsequently resulted in an injection of funding.
Michelle Ng, founder of Vancouver Foodie Tours and Granville Island Gifting, shares why she is constantly in the process of tweaking and refining the experience she offers her customers. She describes why it is so important to her to be constantly listening to her customers, what they’re asking for and what they’re interested in. Pursuing excellence and creating rewarding experiences is very important to Michelle, and she highlights why it’s at the core of what she does as a business owner.
We discussed how Michelle got involved with her local destination marketing organization and details the two most effective steps she has taken to develop her business. She walks us through what she has learned from some of the world’s most successful examples of food tours. Michelle also shares how the DMOs in Vancouver, in British Columbia, and in Canada have supported her work and provided access to the international markets by showing her how to pitch and win the business of tour operators worldwide.
Both of Michelle’s businesses are built on a foundation of collaboration, and she shares how that has contributed to her success. Michelle describes why she really believes in uplifting the community in everything she and her team do and why, whenever they are looking at partnerships or any other business decisions, they’re striving to create win-win relationships. They view their foodie tour experiences through the lens of setting up an experience, interaction, or initiative in a way that serves everybody that’s involved.
Michelle also shares why she reached out to some of the small group tour companies in the city, who she felt were giving the highest quality experiences in the city, to suggest they form the Experience Vancouver Group so they could learn from each other and share their expertise.
Kelly Blazosky is President of Oneida County Tourism & Founder/Partner of Adirondack Barrel Cooperage. She is an experienced President with a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit organization management industry specializing in Destination Marketing. Kelly is skilled in Nonprofit Organizations, Advertising, Marketing Strategy, Public Speaking, and Tourism.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I welcome Kelly Blazosky back to the show. Kelly was my second guest way back in 2016 when the podcast launched, so I’m excited to learn more about her journey in destination marketing since then. Kelly also shares her three-prong approach to marketing Oneida County and explains why moving from generalized messaging to specific detailed messaging has helped her county stand out from the crowd.
Kelly explains how her community has found that when it comes to consumer engagement across the various marketing platforms, it’s most effective to focus their efforts on three things; events, experiences, and exhibitions. She and her team have found that it pays to be very specific in their messaging and regularly highlight particular art exhibitions or events happening in the area.
We also discussed how she overcame resistance to that approach and was able to show that by stepping outside of the box, they were able to attract potential visitors’ attention.
Kelly and I discussed some of Oneida County’s current collaborations, including their partnership with the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute (MWPAI), a wonderful free museum housing paintings from artists from Van Gogh to Pollock. She describes how the MWPAI moved to a changing exhibition model and began planning them further out, which enabled Oneida County Tourism to prepare promotions and highlight the events, such as curated talks and lunch and tea events.
This is just one of the ways that they can work within their framework and attract people to engage with the specific events that interest them. It also means that when they’re talking with their other partners locally, they can direct them to the month-by-month programming for a particular exhibition which gives them more to talk about and helps them evolve.
Finding the right partner to collaborate with can often be a sticking point for DMOs, so Kelly shares her best practices and advice for listeners planning to create their own collaboration. She shares the importance of first defining which market you’re developing the product for, travel, trade, international, or domestic, then finding who are ready for those kinds of visitors.
We talk about why a key part of collaboration is finding common threads that have some relation to the story you want to tell and demonstrating why creating a well-rounded experience helps draw visitors by giving the DMO a better product to promote.
Karen Kuhl is the Executive Director at Cayuga County Convention and Visitors Bureau. She is a tourism and management professional with hospitality and F&B experience and has 15 years of experience as a tourism destination manager. As the former Director of Tourism and Hospitality Operations for Selva Negro Ecolodge and as Owner of Tastefully Nicaragua, she focused on sustainable tourism in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Her responsibilities included: marketing, sustainability certification process, human resources, long-term planning, and itinerary management. Karen’s experience in the public and private sectors makes her an excellent advocate for the Cayuga County CVB’s role in marketing and product development in the tourism industry.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Karen Kuhl, Executive Director for the Cayuga County CVB. Karen shares the programs her destination is currently working on and how their offerings are evolving as they dive deeper into how the internationally known abolitionist Harriet Tubman lived and worked in the region. Karen’s team is also making a significant impact in DEI in the rural community and championing and supporting economic development as much as possible.
Karen describes how her destination, the Cayuga County CVB, draws visitors in through their connection to the internationally famous American Abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, and how they use that link to elevate and support economic development in the region. We discuss how Karen and her team live Harriet Tubman’s legacy in Auburn by ensuring that the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusivity were built into the DNA of their organization.
The visitor experience in Auburn is a thriving story that continues evolving as the CVB finds out more and more about the businesses that were in town while Harriet Tubman would have engaged with them. Karen has also made a concerted effort to identify the broader individual Harriet Tubman was and uncover the human connection that so beautifully reveals all the facets of her character from the conductor of the Underground Railroad to a military leader, spy, nurse, and forger.
We discuss why it’s important as a destination marketer to appreciate all facets of why visitors might want to connect with a historical character and how CVBs can form partnerships that help them dig through the data to paint a fuller picture.
Karen shares how her organization works with local businesses and community leaders to share their message, including putting together a grant to support the promotion of events around the Harriet Tubman bicentennial year in 2022. We also dive into why the tourists of today and tomorrow are traveling with a focus. And the importance of building a solid and authentic foundation as a destination and living it through your decisions.
For the second episode in a special two-part series of Destination on the Left episodes, I talked to ten inspiring leaders in the world of destination marketing all about successful partnerships that their destinations are taking forward into the post-pandemic world. My interviewees also share the most significant challenges they are facing today and how they are moving through them creatively to serve their residents, visitors, and partners alike. I’m excited to share these mini-interviews, and I hope you find them as fascinating and insightful as I did.
In this episode, you’ll hear from these extraordinary leaders:
I love coming to the Destinations International Annual Convention because it provides a unique opportunity to come together as marketing specialists, network, share ideas and discuss our wins and our challenges. I asked each of my guests this week to share the word that they would use to describe the convention, and each of these wonderful leaders shared a word or idea that really encompassed the experience of attending the event, from ‘opportunity’ to ‘camaraderie.’ I was also excited to learn about the creative partnerships all of the destinations represented in this show have built to move forward.
Louise Bishop of South County Tourism Council
Lousie joins me to share why she feels it is so important for her destination to partner with environmental and coastal resource management organizations, in addition to the cities and towns that make up the South Country region. She also discusses techniques she uses to get all of the stakeholders in a project on the same page and going in the same direction.
Olivia Novak of Discover Lancaster
Olivia is one of the Destinations Internations 2022 30 under 30 honorees, and she joins me to discuss the key partnership her organization started with the Lancaster Farmland Trust, food producers, and local restaurants to promote an amazing restaurant week in Lancaster that became a win-win for everyone and enabled all of the partners to realize their goals.
Paul Nursey of Destination Greater Victoria, BC
Paul and I talk about Destination Greater Victoria’s goal to lead the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in a sustainable way. He shares the details of the Impact Sustainability Conference that his destination launched and how and why it has become a leading international conference.
Racene Frieda of Glacier County Regional Tourism Commission
Racene tells us all about the challenges her destination faced during the COVID-19 pandemic when a whole new type of visitor discovered the state of Montana as a desirable destination and how the solution to managing these unexpected tourists resulted in new public-private partnerships that have lasted beyond the pandemic.
Rachel Ludwig of Tourism Canmore Kananaskis
Rachel shares how her DMO in the Canadian Rockies started up as a new destination and why forming a new destination marketing organization intent on building a solid foundation of trust in the community and partnerships takes time, effort, and skill. She also shares why her words to describe the Destinations International Convention are ‘opportunity’ and ‘connection.’
Rachel Riley of Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board
Rachel highlights the importance of partnerships in destination marketing and shares how a collaboration between the County Commerce Department, Chambers of Commerce, and the Tourism Office created the ‘Make It Main Street’ campaign and hashtag as a way to help the community out of the pandemic and boost local businesses.
Rebecca McKenzie of the Culinary Tourism Alliance
Rebecca shares how the Culinary Tourism Alliance, a not-for-profit Destination Development Organisation based in Toronto, Ontario, works with member destinations to help them grow partnerships. She also very rightly points out that those authentic partnerships are the key to creating those unforgettable experiences that the consumer is looking for.
Sarah Hughes of Visit Norfolk
Sarah tells us all about the City with Bite video series that Visit Norfolk launched and why it’s doing so well that they’ve just finished filming their second season. She discusses why her destination was inspired to focus on a chef-owned restaurant in each show highlighting everything from why they opened a restaurant in Norfolk to their specialties in the kitchen.
Scott McCray of Fairbanks, Alaska
I was excited to hear all about how the Tourism Office and Chamber of Commerce in Fairbanks rallied up their business partners and members of the local community to participate in positive picketing by holding pep rallies outside of local hospitals during shift changes to show support and thanks for health care workers during COVID-19. Scott shares their behavior’s effect on hospital staff and why the business community was inspired to take action.
Stuart Butler of Visit Myrtle Beach
Stuart shares how his team rallied the brilliant people in the agencies that his organization at Visit Myrtle Beach works with, who are used to working in siloed organizations to perform cross-functionally. He goes on to explain how connecting people and organizations has led to better problem solving, more efficiency, and more effective campaigns.
Challenges and Silver Linings
In all of these mini-interviews, I asked similar questions about some of the challenges that destination marketing organizations face. Many of my guests cited workforce as being an issue they needed to put time and thought into currently, and although that didn’t surprise me, frankly, I was wowed by the breadth of creativity that the travel and tourism community is putting into solving the problem – and some of the unexpected positive side effects of that creativity. We also discuss the importance of partnerships to DMOs, and they shared their predictions for the future of the travel marketing industry.
I hope you enjoy the second part of the two-part Destinations International 2022 Annual Convention series. I’m excited to share it with you.
For this first episode in a special two-part series of Destination on the Left episodes, I visited the Destinations International 2022 Annual Convention and spoke with several attendees who are experts in the travel and tourism industry. These convention attendees share valuable insights, and the common thread woven through our conversations was the importance of building strong relationships and partnerships for the future of destination marketing. I’m excited to share these mini-interviews, and I’m sure you’ll find them invaluable in navigating your destinations’ challenges. The brilliance each of these leaders shared is certain to be invaluable as we continue to navigate the pandemic.
In this episode, you’ll hear from these extraordinary leaders:
The Destinations International Annual Convention is a memorable industry event that brings together marketing specialists focusing on the travel and tourism industry to exchange ideas, share strategies and forge relationships. In 2022 the convention continued to focus on cultivating the need for marketers to take an innovative approach to overcoming the problems the industry has faced over the last two years and how they can continue to serve their communities. I was delighted to be able to speak to ten experts in the field about building successful partnerships, how to move through shared challenges, and get their insights on what they think the future of destination marketing will look like.
Barry Biggar of Visit Fairfax
Barry shares how the creation of the Northern Virginia Visitors Consortium has helped Visit Fairfax tap into visitors to Washington DC and how together, they can make a more significant difference in their region. He goes on to describe what Visit Fairfax does to continue to be relevant and the valuable lesson about connecting with the residents of the local communities that the pandemic taught them.
Beth Gendler of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism
Beth shares a recent example of a partnership with the local Fire Department Beach Safety Team that has worked well for her organization to improve the beach experience for visitors to the area. She also shares why workforce development is a problem for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, how the pandemic exacerbated the problem, and their amazing education solution enabling them to move through the challenge and still provide their fabled southern hospitality.
Celestino Ruffini of Visit Beloit
Celestino explains the number one challenge for Visit Beloit, why community engagement is so low, and how his team is trying to ensure that residents feel connected to the travel and tourism industry. He highlights the reasons why he would use the word ‘visionary’ to describe the Destinations International Annual Convention, not least because of the wonderful opportunities to share plans and strategies with others in the travel and tourism industry.
Dave Herrell of Visit Quad Cities
Dave details how Visit Quad Cities has collaborated to elevate their community by aligning more strongly with the Chamber of Commerce to create a tourism master plan through their new regional brand initiative, QC, That’s Where. We also discuss why the Destinations International Annual Convention is a fantastic chance to connect with colleagues and take back so many valuable golden nuggets of information, inspiration, and insight to his community.
Deana Ivey of Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp
Deana discusses why the key to partnerships is going into it as a long-term relationship, not just a one-off. She shares why her organization goes into relationships like they’re a marriage to be in it together and help each other out and describes why Jack Daniels has been a fantastic partner of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp for 30 years. We also dive into why a large part of the future of the travel and tourism industry includes ensuring residents are happy and proud that there’s tourism in their locations and creating a balance that benefits the community and visitors alike.
Dominic Bravo of Visit Cheyenne
Dominic and I discuss the power of partnership, and he shares how Visit Cheyenne created their plan, engaged with partners on their vision, and put their plans into action as a team. Dominic also highlights the importance of being nimble and dynamic as a destination marketing organization and describes why he views the Destinations International Annual Convention as a game changer for marketers.
Jason Outman of Explore Branson
Jason talks with me about how Explore Branson works closely with one of their largest developers Bass Pro, and why an emphasis on relationships has led to a broader vision for the entire region. We discuss why funding is the number one issue facing Jason’s organization currently, how they are overcoming the challenge, and continuing to advocate for their community.
Kelly Groff of Visit Montgomery
Kelly joined me to share how the pandemic contributed to Visit Montgomery building critical, long-lasting relationships and how that opportunity paved the way for the future of how they plan and approach their marketing and strategies together. She also digs into what she sees as the future for destination marketers and why she feels the Destinations International Annual Convention is bringing sunshine to the travel and tourism industry.
Lance Woodworth of Destination Toledo
Lance and I talk about the importance of clear expectations of what the goals are when partnering or collaborating. We discuss how to measure success and ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding the project. He also emphasizes the power of partnership when hosting large-scale events and shares the story of how his destination hosted the Solheim cup in 2021.
Lindsey Steck of Visit Pensacola
Lindsey, Destinations International 30 under 30 honoree, shares her insights on why destination marketers must be connected to their local community in order to tell the unique stories of the businesses and experiences that are found there. She describes why she believes that the future of destination marketing organizations hinges on their ability to continue being dynamic and engaging with others.
The Future of DMOs
All our visionary leaders shared why they believe that the future of successful destination marketing organizations lies in their ability to be flexible. We discuss the myriad ways in which relationship building has helped marketers do their best to serve the communities that they live in.
I hope you enjoy this first part of the two-part Destinations International 2022 Annual Convention series. Next week, we’ll catch up with several more exemplary leaders to dive into how they have overcome the challenges of the past two years, their vision of the future of destination marketing, and the importance of bringing the community with them in their mission.
Thomas Dunne is the founder and CEO of STQRY. As an experienced Chief Executive Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the computer software industry/SaaS Companies, Thomas is skilled in Start-up Ventures, Sales, Leadership, Emerging Technologies/Trends, and Entrepreneurship.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Thomas Dunne about his company’s strategic initiative to grow by acquisition and how that intersects with the theme of collaboration and partnership. He also shares his knowledge about how self-guided audio tours can enhance guest experience and how easy it is to get started with offering this type of experience to visitors.
STQRY’s tagline is ‘connecting people, places, and stories,’ and guest on the podcast Thomas Dunne explains why that resonated with him when he was building a company that makes audio guides. He shares why they spell the company’s name with a QR in the middle and how that links into their mission of providing destinations with a simple way for destinations to share their stories with visitors via whatever platform they choose.
Thomas explains how STQRY works as a digital storytelling platform using an app that destinations can share with visitors to enhance their experience with audio. The platform works for destinations of all sizes and supports the sharing of images and audio to create a wonderfully immersive experience that they can use to draw visitors into with their unique story.
Thomas also shares how some of their clients, from small museums to the Empire State Building, use the app to connect with their visitors.
Thomas shares his advice with destinations who are interested in sharing their stories via audio guide. He describes why, although it’s helpful to have a script to keep you on track, it’s also a great idea to seek out the educator or docent who is so passionate that they make it their mission to share their destinations secrets and stories. If you record your audio in that meaningful way, it helps connect the visitor with the experience.
We also discuss how long an audio tour should be, how long you should talk during each stop on the route, and why it helps listeners if you break a story up into different, easily digestible chunks that form an overarching narrative.
Jason Jordan joined Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance in February of 2022 with a diverse background in the areas of nonprofit organization management, journalism, public relations,, and public policy consulting.
In his new role, Jason leads the organization’s multi-channel approach to public relations, social media, and communications and facilitates marketing strategies. Former places of employment include Institute for Human Services, Inc., Gatehouse Media, and Giesta Racalto LLC. Jason is a Political Science/Political Philosophy alumnus of Syracuse University. He is a native of Hornell, NY and now lives with his wife and son in Bath, NY. The entire family is avid “Finger Lakes people.”
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Jason Jordan about the creative projects that the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance are involved in to promote their destination in New York State. We discuss how they are standing out in a crowded post-COVID travel market and encouraging visitors to spend time in the region. Jason also shares how the FLTA is using partner programs to build an engaged network of brand supporters.
Jason highlights the FLTA’s enthusiasm for the concept of coopetition. He explains why having in many services and businesses promoting the Finger Lakes in several different ways all at the same time works fantastically to draw in visitors. One way the FLTA stands out in this crowded travel and tourism market is by drawing on their long history in travel and tourism.
The Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance has been around since 1919 which makes them one of America’s longest-running destination marketing organizations. They are an association of over 700 tourism-reliant and hospitality-based businesses, and span 14 counties in 9000 square miles. Jason shares why he has been digging through articles in the FLTA archive to inform how to communicate their point of differentiation through their social media campaigns.
Collecting data is a critical part of understanding the story of the visitor economy, particularly when there have been ups and downs as in recent years. Jason shares with us some of the key industrial indicators that FLTA are looking at to help guide them in how widely they can expand drive traffic right now.
Jason describes some of his lessons learned and gives his advice on how to make a partnership successful. His best practices in getting a getting a collaboration off the ground successfully hinge on keeping planning simple, keeping it regular, and making it engaging.
Everybody should know what the expectations are coming in, and it’s absolutely critical not to over promise. and underdeliver when it comes to building partnerships.
Professor Joe Conto:
JoeConto is a Professor at Paul Smith’s College in the Northern Adirondacks of New York State. He has nearly 40 years of experience in the hospitality industry in all facets, from food & beverage and events to high-end lodging and country club management. After visiting the Frankenstein Wax Museum in Lake George, New York, he proclaimed that he wanted to live in a tourist town for the rest of his life. His hospitality industry career has allowed him to fulfill that dream with stops in Las Vegas, Martha’s Vineyard, Old Montreal, Jupiter Island, and now, Lake Placid. For the last 15 years, he has shared his knowledge of the industry with students and connected them with the broad range of career choices available to those interested in the world of hospitality and tourism through experiences both in and out of the classroom. Outside of his academic life, Professor Conto also teaches and performs improv comedy at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts and Montreal Improv Theatre.
Professor Eric Holmlund:
Ph.D. in Environmental Studies, Director of Graduate Studies, Instructor of Sustainable Nature Based Tourism
Dr. Eric Holmlund is a member of the Graduate Faculty and Department of Environment and Society at Paul Smith’s College. He holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from Antioch University New England, an M.S. in Teaching from SUNY Potsdam, an M.S. Ed. in Outdoor Recreation from Southern Illinois University, and a B.A. in English from Dartmouth College. From 2000 to 2019, Eric founded and directed the Adirondack Watershed Institute Stewardship Program, which is New York State’s largest aquatic invasive species spread prevention and education program dedicated to protecting the natural heritage of Adirondack rivers, ponds, and lakes. Since 2014, Eric has co-directed a collaboration between Paul Smith’s College and the Tosco-Emiliano Biosphere Reserve in northern Italy, focused on sustainable tourism and community identity. He has served as a wilderness recreation leadership instructor for Outward Bound and the Wilderness Education Association. He is a steering committee member of the Paul Smith’s College Global Center for Rural Communities and the Champlain Adirondack Biosphere Network (UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program).
Associate Professor Kelly Cerialo:
Dr. Kelly L. Cerialo is an Associate Professor and Program Coordinator in the Business and Hospitality Department at Paul Smith’s College and Program Coordinator for the new Master’s in Sustainable Tourism. She is the Co-chair of the UNESCO Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve (New York/Vermont), a steering committee member for the U.S. UNESCO Biosphere Network, and founder/focal point for the U.S. Biosphere Reserve Youth Network. She coordinates international student exchanges with a focus on sustainable tourism and community development in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Italy, Canada, South Africa, and the U.S. She is the co-founder of the Adirondack to Appeninno Sustainable Parks and Communities Project – an international sustainable tourism initiative between the Appennino Tosco-Emiliano Biosphere Reserve in Italy and the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve. Kelly received the David H. Chamberlain Excellence in Teaching Award in 2019 and Faculty Member of the Year at Paul Smith’s College in 2018. Kelly has presented at United Nations and UNESCO conferences in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Africa. Kelly has a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University, a Master’s in Leadership and Change from Antioch University, a Master’s in Communication Management from the Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Southern California, and a Bachelor’s in Public Relations/Mass Media Communication from The College of New Jersey. Research interests include the social impacts of tourism and sustainable tourism in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with three college professors — Professor Joe Conto, Professor Eric Holmlund, and Associate Professor Kelly Cerialo. This week’s discussion focuses on sustainable tourism and how it links into the new Master’s program that Paul Smith’s College offers. My guests share the inspiration behind launching the new program and their vision for how it will support the long-term professional education of those in the travel and tourism space.
What’s unique about the model that Paul Smith’s College has built for their brand new Sustainable Tourism Management Master’s is that it is a low residency model which enables people from various backgrounds and industries to join. Professor Kelly describes the types of students that they are expecting to enroll in the new degree, from mid-career professionals interested in learning more about sustainability who may or may not currently work in the tourism sector, to entrepreneurs working in a tourist destination who are interested to learn more about sustainability, to recent graduates in the travel and tourism sector.
Sustainability is something that the current students at Paul Smith’s College have in mind all the time. Professor Kelly shares more about why the upcoming generation of travel and tourism professionals is drawn to sustainability as a headline theme.
Professor Paul shares his discussions with former students who are out in the workforce about their interest in returning to further study, focusing on sustainability because it is an area they see as the future but also personally important to them. One of the most significant shifts he has seen over the last 10-12 years is the genuine belief that sustainability is a necessity in every industry.
Professor Eric discusses why Paul Smith College is launching the Sustainable Tourism Management Master’s and why they feel that now is the right moment to include the new program in the offering. All three guests share their pleasure that sustainability really is a leading issue in the consciousness, psyche, and future strategy of students graduating in the last ten years. They highlight that sustainability is more than a buzzword; it’s a strategy for both surviving and flourishing into the future.
This episode of Destination on the Left is coming from the 2022 eTourism Summit in Orlando, Florida, held from June 6-8. I was honored to have the chance to interview five notable attendees who are all experts in the field of digital marketing for travel and tourism. I asked each of my guests to give me one word to describe the conference, and awesome, inspiring, energizing, compelling, and the future are perfect descriptions of this unique event.
We discuss tearing up the page and starting afresh, the value of podcasts in promoting the story behind a destination, and the importance of remaining agile and ready to learn.
I’m so excited to share my guests’ insight into the world of digital marketing with you in this week’s special podcast episode. In this episode of Destination On The Left, I know you’ll find value in the words of these five talented digital marketing experts:
The eTourism Summit Roadshow focuses on giving everyone in the travel and tourism industry space to discuss the future of digital marketing and explore some of the creative strategies in use today. In today’s episode, we’re talking about how podcasts can help tell the unique story of your destination, how to boost your organic social media marketing success with sweepstakes and vacation giveaways, and how to leverage short-term, mid-term, and long-term digital marketing strategies.
Ana Reyna Arzate from Visit Florida
Ana Reyna describes how the eTourism Summit is helping her in her role as Marketing Coordinator for Visit Laredo. She shares how the resources she has been able to access as a summit attendee have helped her in her efforts to engage both the US and Mexican markets that are important to her destination. Ana Reyna also describes why the COVID-19 pandemic offered her destination the perfect opportunity to start a podcast that would tell the authentic story of what Florida offers guests.
James Flint from Visit Durango
James explores some of the most significant changes that Visit Durango has made recently in their digital strategy. Including a wildly impactful organic social media marketing strategy of running sweepstakes and competitions that they decided to use over paid social media advertising. He describes how to tie your digital marketing to a destination and experience, such as riding the historic train in Durango or skiing in Purgatory, and how marketers can pull from different pieces of their organization’s priorities and weave it into marketing campaigns to make them meaningful.
Melea Hames of Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourists Association
I discuss with Melea some of the biggest changes in their marketing strategy that are having an impact and leading to impressive results. She discusses Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourists Association’s amazing trails, including their waterfall trail, craft beer trail, and new agriculture adventures trail, and why they are aggressively promoting them in digital ads. Melea also shares more about her podcast and how they’re leveraging audio to get their message out there.
Patrick Harrison of Visit Tampa Bay
According to Patrick, almost every technology or service we were using five years ago is no longer relevant. He remarks on the speed of the transition to new digital marketing methods and highlights the need to be agile in our thinking about how we spread the word about our destinations. Patrick also talks about finding a harmonic convergence and fitting in seamlessly into potential visitors’ lives with something they may not have known they needed before we shared it.
Vivian Mur of AKI Technologies
Vivian explores why the eTourism Summit is a wonderful opportunity in an intimate setting, not only to learn from one another and talk and engage with other marketers to find out what’s new, what isn’t working, and what isn’t. She shares the values of connecting with others in the travel and tourism industry about recent trends and the value of getting an alternative perspective from destinations and suppliers of all sizes and scopes.
Creative Ways of Sharing a Unique Story
I hope you enjoyed this episode coming live from the eTourism Summit Roadshow; as all these talented marketers shared, a key thread woven through the travel and tourism destination marketing industry is that it is critical to be open to new ways of attracting visitors to enjoy what they have to offer. So many of these organizations are at the Summit to connect with others, share insights and learning, and open themselves up to all the possibilities digital marketing channels offer to share a destination’s authentic story and flavor.
Marlin is the quintessential Renaissance man and has led a life that reads like a novel—running away with the circus, seeing the world with his juggling act, living in a tree house in the jungle, writing and illustrating a book, dreaming up an illuminated show that would go on to play internationally, inventing a one-of-a-kind toy, and building a homestead where he lives in a solar-powered house.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Michael Marlin, known as Marlin, about his fascinating role as an astro tourism consultant, speaker, and author. I was so excited to discuss what dark skies tourism means for businesses and how destinations can begin to create a story that offers an amazing experience to their visitors. Marlin also shares some examples of where destination marketers can find creative examples of how businesses can leverage their proximity to a dark sky destination.
Visitors interested in taking advantage of the experience of visiting a dark skies certified park have to stay overnight, which is a massive boost to the local economy. Marlin suggests how businesses, including hotels, restaurants, boutiques, and entertainment venues close to dark sky parks, can create content to enhance the experience they offer to astro tourists.
Destinations need to connect the dots for visitors and create an experience for when people come out to see the dark sky covering themes such as astronomy, music, and the culture and storytelling that connects us to space and the stars above us. Marlin shares the most important things destinations can do to enhance visitors’ view of the stars, including ditching white LEDs and going back to an amber-colored light in outside areas.
On the podcast, Marlin discusses how dark skies connect to other key themes in the travel and tourism industry, such as sustainability and climate change. He shares why people who are interested in dark skies have an interest in protecting dark skies and are therefore more likely to be drawn to those causes.
Marlin explores how central Idaho dark sky reserve, Ketchum, Sun Valley, changed their lighting to achieve a dark sky certification and how that impacted on their contribution to slowing climate change. The International Dark-Sky Association works to protect dark skies and can also provide lots of resources on dark sky friendly lighting that destinations can seek out.
Parts of North America are in the path of the upcoming solar eclipse in 2024, and on the show, Marlin shares advice and insights with communities in the path of totality. He discusses how they can prepare to give their visitors and residents the best experience possible by incorporating music and folk stories into the astro tourism offering to help people connect with what they see in the night sky.
Introduced to the industry by a random internship application to Visit Baltimore, Andreas Weissenborn began an unexpected career that left him with a continued passion for tourism. He is currently the Vice President of Research and Advocacy for Destinations International, and he leads the research and advocacy efforts of the entire organization with an eye toward developing data-driven tools to help destinations around the world tell their story.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Andreas Weissenborn shares his philosophy that DMOS are caretakers of the data and information on the visitor economy. He also dives into why tourism has become a community shared value and explains why DMOs should view their role as serving the people of their communities as a central priority.
The fundamental definition of effective research and analytics is taking massive swathes of data and making it comprehensible, easily understood, and applicable. Andreas shares his experience of working at Visit Baltimore and why he feels it was the start of the golden era of data analytics for Destination Marketing Organizations. He dives into why it is so critical to have individuals in the travel and tourism space who can help diagnose, dissect, and explain what this data does.
That ability to translate bookings, data, or visitor spending into understandable information that is meaningful to stakeholders was where Andreas found his niche in the industry. And those skills still feed into the broader and greater mission of Destination Marketing Organisations.
Destination Marketing Organizations are the stewards of the visitor economy, but they also serve their community. This is why it’s so important to change how DMOs talk about themselves and how they get involved.
Destination organizations are the most uniquely qualified entity for the next normal in representing a brand because the brand transcends the physical and virtual realm. DMOs are uniquely qualified because they’re the only entity that can sit at the table with civic, social, cultural, and historical entities and bring everyone together.
According to Andreas, destinations can take some tangible next steps to be successful. DMOs are often the most influential voice of a brand because of the reach of their website and their social media channels.
They need a mission or a vision statement that reads in an emotional, storied way so visitors don’t have to question who and what you are. DMOs also need to teach, train and advocate not only their entire staff but their entire membership so that everyone understands the value proposition and the work they do and is clear on why tourism matters for the community.
Big-picture and detail-oriented, Debbie is a marketing communications specialist who has worked in digital marketing, content development, and social media for over 15 years. A motivated digital marketer, she brings a unique perspective from her brand, agency, and consulting experience.
Debbie debuted Social Hospitality as a side project in 2011 before transitioning to the brand full-time in 2017. As founder and president of Social Hospitality, Debbie leads the operational side of the business while working directly with clients to build and execute marketing strategies. Social Hospitality is a boutique digital marketing agency that helps brands develop their online identities, create engaging content, and build their social media presence. The Social Hospitality blog is a leading industry resource, too.
Debbie has an English degree from UC Irvine and is HubSpot certified in social media and content marketing. She has been invited to speak at events like Social Tools Summit, PubCon, IABC, as well as various universities and other local organizations. She has been quoted in publications including USA Today, Inc., Forbes, Huffington Post, Social Media Today, Search Engine Journal, Todays Hotelier, Business2Community, SEMrush, and more.
Debbie is a lover of good eats and is always adventuring, traveling, learning, and spoiling her two dogs.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Debbie about how her boutique destination marketing business Social Hospitality helps clients stand out from the crowd online. She also shares strategies for finding where your customers are online and the importance of understanding and being ready to respond to the changing algorithms of different social media platforms.
In terms of differentiating yourself as a business from the crowd knowing your audience is key. On the show, Debbie describes why you need to look at where your audience hangs out online, and if you’re not on a specific channel, but your competition is — you might need to make some changes.
Lean into the initial heavy lifting and research and figure out where your audience spends their time and where your competitors spend their time and make sure you’re there too. Then you can create those conversations and the stories around what makes you distinct from those competitors.
As a hospitality business, or any type of organization in the travel, tourism, or hospitality space, we need to get really focused in on who we’re targeting. Because if we don’t know who our ideal customer is, we’re not going to be effective.
Marketers need to tailor strategies to their ideal audience, and one of the ways that you can maximize your chances of developing a great strategy is to do your homework. Debbie also describes how she uses carefully honed strategies to take advantage of current trends in social media, such as Instagram’s promotion of the Reels feature.
In the destination marketing space, there are plenty of opportunities for collaboration which are win-win situations. Debbie shares some of the partnerships she is currently involved in and how she has built a network that thrives on supporting one another. She discusses the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats and gives her advice on best practices for planning an effective and mutually beneficial collaboration.