How to steal travel marketing ideas.

March 22, 2024

Contrary to the legendary commandment “thou shalt not steal,” it’s actually OK to steal travel marketing ideas.  More than that… it’s necessary.  And if you use the proper etiquette (four tips are shared below), no one will mind.

Why is it necessary to steal travel marketing ideas?  Because of this one-two punch:

  1. In tourism, we’re all selling the same sorts of things: summer vacations, oceanfront accommodations, culinary experiences, romantic getaways, learning opportunities, and so on.  A tourism brand needs a constant influx of new ideas to set itself apart from its competitors.
  2. And yet…COMPLETELY new ideas are rare. Sure, someday the first tour to Mars will be new (until it’s not).  But 99.9% of the time, what you think is a “new idea” is just a variation on what already exists elsewhere.  Like…oh you offer swimming with the pigs on your beach?  Well, (here) you can swim with stingrays, and (here) you can swim with manatees, and (there) you can swim with dolphins.  They are all variations on “swimming with the (creature).”

A painted image of the French writer and philosopher Voltaire alongside his famous quote "originality is nothing but judicious imitation."

It is literally impossible for a marketer to continually churn out completely new ideas.  Frankly, a marketer would be lucky to put forth even ONE completely new idea in their lifetime.

Enter… stealing.

If the word “stealing” makes you feel icky, think of it as seeking inspiration.  You’re simply taking an existing idea and adapting it to fit your own brand.

But let’s be clear here. I don’t mean innocent coincidences.  I’m talking about doing this DELIBERATELY.  Regularly.  As part of your idea development strategy.

So even if you’re not ok with the word “stealing,” you might have to get comfy with “aggressively seeking inspiration.”  Because this is a proactive effort that’s 100% necessary if you want to keep your tourism marketing – and offerings – fresh.

However, there’s a proper way to steal travel marketing ideas.  You can’t just mimic EXACTLY what a competitor offers – same name, elements, pricing, timing, etc. – because that truly would be “stealing” and is just not cool.

These four tips will keep your stealing respectful:


Take a competitor’s existing idea and make it exclusively yours.  Examples:

Their hotel is offering a family package that includes extra pillows and linens in the room each night to build pillow forts, with a social media contest for the best fort.

YOU think about the idea of kids creating forts and look at the huge courtyard space that your rooms overlook… and see a space for a bunch of small tents.  And the idea of “Hotel Camping for Families Weekend” is born.  Hire an overnight security guard to keep watch on the tents.  Kids get the tents.  Parents get the room.  You can offer walkie talkies to families whose kids don’t have phones but want to keep in touch (or who just love the novelty of walkies).  Build a campfire.  Make s’mores.  Play games.  <charge a fortune, they’ll pay>

Or… their restaurant has a “Wine Down Wednesdays” special with a half-priced second bottle…so you – with your legendary and creative cocktail menu – offer “Tipple Tuesdays” with a half-priced second cocktail.  First it was “theirs.”  You made it “yours.”

#2 – FIND IT

Research brands just like yours but located in areas well outside of your geographic radius.

This actually *might* be the only scenario where it’s possible for you to completely mimic an idea.  Like, does a small Maine inn really compete for business with a small Tasmanian inn?  Not likely.  Neither of you are trying to make international headlines with your offerings, so the exact same thing can coexist without conflict in two disparate locations.

Get in the habit of studying what brands like yours are offering in other areas.  This works for lodging, attractions, restaurants, tour companies, destinations, associations, and more.  It helps if you find a place that’s similar to yours – forest, desert, mountain, ocean, etc. – but it’s not necessary.  A tour operator in a desert location may have a clever romance tour that could translate equally as well to a mountain location.  Inspiration can come from anywhere.


Use the magic question, “what could we do with this?”

Like a second cousin to “Tailor It,” this entails taking something someone else is doing to the next level.  This evolution could be simple, like their restaurant offers a Pasta Lovers Night… and your restaurant evolves that into “Free Pasta Week,” where diners get a complimentary pasta appetizer with a purchase of (whatever).

Or, the evolution could be elaborate and daring.  Like the time we suggested that Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Waterparks offer a fine dining “Breakfast in the Sky” gourmet experience on their Ferris wheel.  Plenty of amusement parks were offering breakfast.  We took theirs next level (literally).

Or, plenty of restaurants and catering venues offer an oceanfront dining opportunity.  But in Nova Scotia, there’s a caterer that offers dining on the ocean floor.  That level of evolution would be hard to beat… <checks notes, finds Dinner in the Sky>…or maybe not.


A competitor is doing something for THIS.  You do it for THAT.

They have their chef give a weekly presentation to guests with cooking tips… you have your gardener give one on flower arranging.

They have a resident dog at their hotel, you have a resident dog on your cruise ship.

This is super helpful in the tourism industry because trends – especially media trends – tend to catch on like wildfire.  When everyone and their grandma in the tourism industry were first crowning specialty “concierges” in their organization – Romance Concierges were a dime a dozen – we created the Sleep Concierge at the Benjamin Hotel in NYC.  Concierges weren’t new, but this was a new type of concierge… and one that touched a pain point lamented by humans everywhere: how to get a good night’s sleep when you’re on the road.

Westin had previously debuted their Heavenly Bed, but the Sleep Concierge – and corresponding Sleep Program – at the Benjamin eclipsed that by a mile in editorial coverage (here’s one of the many New York Times stories about it over the years).  That’s because it was an idea that was Tailored, Evolved, AND Shifted.  A trifecta of idea stealing, if you will.

The point is, if you’re going to steal travel marketing ideas, don’t be a jerk about it with a blatant rip off.  Be creative, use these four tips, and make the ideas your own.

Need more inspiration?

How to Develop Creative Tourism Marketing & PR Ideas

How to Create PR-Worthy Tourism Packages

One Small Question Can Lead to Big Ideas

Do you sabotage your own marketing?

February 22, 2024

You may be the best marketer on the planet and still inadvertently sabotage your own marketing.


By being a marketing contradictionist.

Yes, that’s a word we just made up – a marketer’s prerogative, duh – but the meaning is pretty clear.  It’s a person who acts in ways that go counter to their stated goals.

Tourism marketers do this often.  Sometimes, they’re aware it’s happening but just can’t manage to tame the external forces causing it.  But other times, they’re just not aware of their behavior or how it’s obstructing success.

So, the first step is awareness, y’all.  Here are five common contradictory behaviors we often see in tourism marketers.


What do we mean by “nonsense?”  When budgets don’t support the ACTUAL goals and objectives of the marketing plan.  Some indicators here:

  • Budgets spent habitually despite goal evolution. For example, if we hear one more tourism brand say they want to grow their off-season…and then continue to spend the majority of their budget supporting high season…we’re going to scream.
  • Budgets that are spread too thin. Throwing a little piece of money at an initiative or marketing channel, without enough for it to make an impact, is a waste. Choose fewer things and do them justice.
  • Budget numbers are carried over from year to year with no particular allegiance to each year’s specific goals. The goals just get shoehorned in to fit the budget.  Even if your total budget can’t change annually, you can always redeploy the line items to better support the goals.
  • Budgets with no contingency cushion. Worthy opportunities will pop up, so prevent “decision agony” by having funds available to take advantage of them.


This is applicable to recurring events and programs.  I’ve seen countless marketers do the same…exact…thing every year, every season.  It’s so easy to just follow a pre-scripted checklist for an event or package/program and then cross that baby off your list with relief.

But for recurring events and programs to grow – and increase ROI – they need to evolve.  A new hook, new element, new name, new ANYTHING.  Doing the same-old-same-old each time desensitizes your audience.  And come on, marketers…we all KNOW THAT.

Hence the love-hate.  We love formulas because they tend to make our jobs easier (oh so much easier when we don’t have to think!), but we hate them because we know they tend to sabotage our marketing success.

A tan and white dog with mouth open in a smile, with ears laid back while a woman's hand pets his head.


Second cousin to Budget Nonsense (because lack of money is often a contributing cause), “Initiative Petting” is when a marketer knows the value of a particular initiative but doesn’t devote the time/money to do it thoroughly.  We call this “petting” because it’s like giving a dog a quick pat on the head distractedly while focusing on other things.  Some common examples here:

  • Wanting to make a splash with standout PR, but watering down every package and program idea so they’re operationally easy but super duper boring.
  • Saying you’ve got to beef up your email game…but still writing drafts at the last minute to “just get it out the door,” ignoring previous engagement metrics when planning new content, and not doing any (or enough) lead generation to cultivate your list.
  • Treating your website like an online brochure (create it once, then let it sit until it gets stale and needs an overhaul) instead of a living, breathing resource that stays fresh.


This one’s a snap to explain.

This is seeing cool things your competitors are doing – say, through their press coverage and social channels – and wanting to do equally cool things too.  But then continuing to resist doing what it takes – operationally, financially, whatever – to make it happen.

It’s completely fine if you shoot for equally cool things but then realize that for whatever reason, you can’t do it.  Budgets, labor, operational feasibility…they all may conspire to block your goal.

But then you have a choice to make:  let go of your envy or remove the obstacles.  That’s it, those are your two options.

Marketing contradictionist behavior is when you do NOT remove the obstacles but still push ahead unreasonably because you really really want it.  In the end, it’s just a waste of time and money… and I’ve seen this happen too many times to count.


We’ve all seen it.  Heck, we’ve all DONE it.  Push to get creative, copy, press releases, plans, or whatever done ASAP…only to then have them then sit in a pile for an eternity before being finalized and deployed.

Yes, we know there’s a deadline.  Yes, we know other people may have moved mountains to deliver those things to us quickly. And yet, we let those items languish.

This kind of behavior isn’t usually malicious, but it can definitely sabotage your marketing.  Why?  Because it usually causes some kind of last-minute scrambling.  And as we all know, last-minute scrambling rarely produces a successful ROI.

* * *

Listen, we’re not perfect at Redpoint.  And heaven knows we’ve engaged in marketing contradictionist behavior ourselves on occasion.

But the point is awareness.

If you’re aware that your behavior is contradicting your goals, you can choose whether or not to do something about it.  And that can help ensure you don’t inadvertently sabotage your own marketing.

Get more tips here with Five Ways Tourism Marketers Often Fool Themselves.

Using AI in tourism marketing requires secrecy.

January 17, 2024

Picture of a small white robot with blue eyes and a smile holding out one hand like a greeting. Text on the image says "you will love it here trust me my program says so."

The successful use of artificial intelligence (AI) in tourism marketing rests on one key factor: secrecy.  Not secrecy from your colleagues or organization…secrecy from your audience.  You need your use of AI to be invisible to them for two main reasons:

  1. Blatantly apparent AI-generated copy is generic and robotic-sounding.  And even if it were written by a human, that kind of soulless, impersonal copy doesn’t engage the audience and wastes your time and budget.  The rest of your marketing will have to work that much harder to spark a sale, let alone close one.
  2. If they sense you’re using AI to influence their decisions – and done incorrectly, they will – you’ll lose their trust. People are increasingly sniffing out AI-generated copy and then doubting its credibility.  Humanity just hasn’t yet reached the point where we’re comfortable being persuaded to do something by a robot.

Let me be crystal clear.  Using AI in tourism marketing is smart.  Tools like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard can be useful in many ways.  But YOU have to be smart in how you use them.  Until you become proficient in prompting and re-prompting to produce successful output, you are at risk for – essentially – sending out a stoic, unfeeling salesperson to promote your offerings.

And that won’t end well for you.

As a tourism marketer, you’re trying to sell potential guests an experience that makes (hopefully) everlasting memories and creates (hopefully) a lifetime relationship with them.  Robotic-sounding, generic marketing copy is incapable of igniting the spark required for that love affair.  And when used incorrectly, that’s EXACTLY how AI-generated copy sounds…like a robot wrote it.

To guard against this, you need to be aware of six telltale signs that content was written by AI.

Jodie Cook wrote a fantastic piece for Forbes on the subject, calling out these six dead giveaways:

  1. Lengthy introductions (aka “throat clearing”)
  2. Inclusion of ethical considerations
  3. Generic thoughts and advice
  4. Lack of personal stories
  5. Specific go-to phrases
  6. Signature structure

You can read the piece for more information on all six, but the three most prevalent ones in tourism marketing are lengthy introductions, generic thoughts/advice, and lack of personal stories.  Let’s take a look.

Lengthy Introductions

I call this the “blah blah blah” introduction and AI is famous for churning it out.  A rudimentary AI-generated piece, like that of many unskilled human writers, puts a bunch of fluff at the start and takes a bit of time to get to the meat of the content.  Often it includes clichés (“Once you arrive, you’ll never want to leave!”), or broad-sweeping statements that mean nothing in particular (“Come experience the magic of the outdoors!”).  It’s usually filled with a lot of long sentences and densely packed with a quantity of adjectives that would make a thesaurus blush.  This is the written version of speakers who begin their presentation with excessive throat-clearing…it’s buying them time to get into the rhythm of their speech.

Generic Thoughts & Advice

OMG, if I see one more tourism organization proclaim “We have something for everyone!”… I’m going to scream.  Even if you truly DO have something for everyone to enjoy, that sort of vanilla claim has zero chance of actually luring a potential visitor.  Without specific prompting and sculpting on your part, AI programs like ChatGPT are likely to generate generic content like “breathe the fresh air as you wander through our beautiful forests,” and “hop on a boat to get out and feel the ocean mist on your face as you watch an orange-hued sunset,” and “sip and taste your way through our vibrant dining scene,” and – my personal favorite – “come away with memories that will last a lifetime.”  None of that is specific and unique to YOU, so why should it compel anyone to choose YOU?  It’s just…uninspiring.

Lack of Personal Stories

First cousin to “generic thoughts & advice,” a lack of personal stories isn’t meant so literally as in “a person telling a story about their experience with you.”  That’s part of it, for sure.  But on a broader level, it’s about your BRAND making a personal connection with the audience.  Doesn’t matter if you’re a destination, hotel, cruise line, attraction, or even just a travel service…whatever.  Sharing your quirks, your variety of unique Instagram-worthy experiences, and other stories that inspire them to feel a personal connection to you… THAT’S essential in successful tourism marketing.  And it’s something you won’t get from AI-generated content without training it to write that way. It lacks the ability to do that on its own because by default, its process delivers one-size-fits-all content that’s impersonal.

And that right there is the problem. In the world of tourism, people are choosing where to spend their precious time and money, and this is VERY personal to them. Tourism is a passionate and deeply engaging purchase decision that goes way beyond transactional.  They may not care if a robot wrote their appliance user’s manual (which is simply delivering information), but they sure as hell want – say – their honeymoon suggestions (which requires the dance of persuasion and has a lot riding on the outcome) to come from a credible source.

Which brings us to the best news of all, and a hilarious silver lining for tourism marketers.  A brand is now no longer the LEAST credible source for promoting its own offerings.  The “credible believability” pecking order currently stands like this, from most believable to least believable:

  1. Someone I trust.
  2. Someone I know casually.
  3. A stranger unaffiliated with the product/service, which could be a media outlet or a random person on social media.
  4. The organization itself.
  5. A robot.

Y’all, we’ve moved up a notch.  So don’t squander that gift by making it obvious you’re using AI in tourism marketing.  Make that your little secret.

Not sure how to get started doing this properly?  Check out these ChatGPT tips for tourism marketers.

Feel like you suck at writing and so you can’t properly judge AI’s output?  These two quick reads will help you:

How to stop being an impatient writer.

Write better copy with patience and a thesaurus.

How “trigger phrases” sabotage effective communication.

December 11, 2023

You may not even realize that you’re using trigger phrases that sabotage effective communication…but I’ll bet you realize when you’re on the receiving end of them.

For example, when you ask someone’s opinion on something and they begin their response with “If I’m being honest…” doesn’t that immediately ruffle your feathers?

Here’s why.  The phrase “if I’m being honest” brings several negative implications with it:

  • It has a reputation of preceding bad news.  It’s as if the person needs some kind of justification for delivering disappointing news, so they claim “honesty” as their reason.
  • It implies that the speaker isn’t always honest, but THIS time (because the situation is so bad) they’ll speak the truth.

So it makes sense that this phrase would put the recipient on high alert.  People rarely (if ever) say stuff like “if I’m being honest, you look fabulous” or “if I’m being honest, that was the greatest presentation you’ve ever delivered.”  When they are sharing what they think is good news, there’s no reason for them to invoke the honesty clause as an introduction. They don’t reach for justification to soften the blow.

The problem with using trigger phrases in our communication is that we intend for them to soften blows and/or get the recipient to embrace what we say.  However, in reality, they do the opposite:  they make people instantly defensive and usually causes them to resist what we say.

There are several reasons contributing to this reaction:

  • Trigger phrases are often insincere and the recipient knows it…probably because they themselves have used such phrases when THEY are trying to soften blows.
  • Often, trigger phrases signal that some type of disagreement is coming, or some other bit of negativity that challenges the position of the original speaker.  These phrases have earned this reputation over time, so the pattern is easily sensed.
  • The overuse of trigger phrases has diluted their power and made them trite.  So even when we really do mean them sincerely, they fall flat.

Here are a few other common trigger phrases that sabotage effective communication:

    • With All Due Respect:  The moment you say this, everyone knows you’re about to disagree with them.  So why use this trigger phrase and get their back up?  You can use your tone and word choice to disagree without being disrespectful.  If you don’t feel comfortable just stating your differing opinion with no preamble, you can use a phrase like, “perhaps I can offer a different point of view here.”
    • I’m Sorry:  Ugh, talk about an overused phrase that’s become trite.  The words “I’m sorry” are used to apologize for everything from spousal cheating to asking someone to repeat a sentence you didn’t hear.  Some folks even habitually start random sentences with it for no reason (lookin’ at you, Canadians).  It’s made the phrase fairly meaningless, so even when you’re being sincere, it doesn’t have the impact you intended.  In fact, so many people sense this about the phrase that “how to apologize without saying I’m sorry” is one of Google’s most popular search queries.  See how we learned that the hard way here and here are the tips we wrote for rephrasing to avoid those two words.
    • I May Be Wrong, But:  Besides the addition of that pesky word “but” (more on that below), starting a sentence with “I may be wrong” is like a first cousin to “if I’m being honest.”  It shares that similar vibe of “I disagree with you and I need something to soften the blow, so I’ll throw you a bone that maybe I’m wrong and you’re right…but really we both know you’re wrong.”  How you rephrase to avoid using it will depend on the situation, but “perhaps I can offer a different point of view” could work very well here also.
    • You Need to Calm Down:  When someone is agitated, telling them to calm down is more likely to trigger further agitation than make them calm. “You need to calm down” tries to appeal to their rational thinking.  But agitation, anger, and frustration are emotions, and rational thinking is usually overshadowed by intense emotions.  Try this instead.  Ask “how can I help you calm down” or even just “how can I help you?”  It shows you’re willing to help/listen, and it forces them to override their emotions and think about solutions.
    • I Hear You:  Chalk another one up to misuse.  Somewhere in history, therapists and communication coaches suggested (and frankly, still suggest) that saying “I hear you” when someone is speaking signals that you’re listening.  But – because we’re human and we can’t have nice things – this phrase has been so misused and overused that it’s actually devolved into a phrase that pretty much means someone is NOT listening, or at the very least is being dismissive of what we’re saying.  It’s often a way for people to make a show of listening when really they don’t want to engage in whatever it is you’re saying.  So, instead of saying “I hear you,” SHOW IT.  Engage in the conversation with more than just pretense.

And finally, let’s talk about the peskiest word in the world of communication… BUT.

An image of spaghetti and three meatballs on a white plate with red sauce on top and green herbs in the background. The text that says "these meatballs are great, but..." as an example of how trigger phrases sabotage effective communication.

No word in the English language (and probably all other languages) triggers defensiveness faster than the word “but.”

“But” is a signal that negativity is about to follow:

  • Your presentation was great, but…
  • I was going to invite you to be on this team, but…
  • I loved your proposal, but…
  • That style looks pretty on you, but…

It’s possible to avoid using the word “but” in many circumstances.  In some cases, just stop talking after the first phrase.  You may WANT to add the negative phrase, but do you really NEED to add it?  Are you really the person responsible for sharing that bit of negativity?  And is that negative point fact or just your own opinion?  Sometimes we offer opinions because WE want to, not because they need to be heard.

Another way to avoid using the word “but” is to choose your timing.  You may very well have feedback to give on that presentation, and you might indeed be the appropriate person to deliver it.  But does it REALLY need to be delivered in the same sentence as when you say the presentation was great?

My friend is a master at timing, particularly when it comes to her appropriate and selective use of the word “but.”  Instead of saying stuff to her husband like “Those meatballs were great but next time use more cheese,” she says, “those meatballs were great” and then later, even days later, she says “I’ve been thinking about those delicious meatballs you made.  Next time, can we try them with a little more cheese in the recipe and see what that does?”

It’s pretty brilliant.  It shows her husband that she’s savoring them even days later, and that she loves his cooking enough to make requests and get him to experiment with recipes.  She’s happy, he’s happy.  No buts.

In some cases, the simple trick of replacing “but” with “and” is effective.  Like, “your presentation was great and if you practice making more eye contact with the audience it will be even better!”  See a few more of these “simply replace or drop the triggering word” tips here.

Overall, trigger phrases that sabotage effective communication are extremely common and frequently used.  They’re phrases you hear – and likely use – all the time.  But just because they’re used, it doesn’t mean they work.  So, be aware of situations when you need to communicate effectively and try to avoid these phrases if you can.  You’ll get a better result.

How to create PR-worthy tourism packages.

November 14, 2023

There is a secret to creating PR-worthy tourism packages.  But first, let’s be clear.  This isn’t about just creating tourism packages in general.  Anyone can do that.  It’s as simple as – for example – adding a meal to lodging or giving a third night free, and voila…you’ve got a package.

But a PR-worthy package?  Something journalists will care about, and then write about and spread the word about?  THAT takes some doing.

Picture this.  You’re a hotel working on creating a dog-friendly package, and your BIG thing is that you’ve got branded dog bowls to put in the room and a little bag of treats given at check-in.  You’re excited about it and can’t wait to send out the press release to the media.

Then you come across this article including photos like this one highlighting the Pampered Pup Program + Moving Meditation/Forest Bathing Therapy session for you and your dog at the Mandarin Oriental, Boston:

With a fireplace in the background, two golden retriever dogs lay on brown dog beds with red stuffed animal lobsters and silver bowls in front of them filled with food and drink. This photo from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Boston is an example of how to create a PR-worthy tourism package.

Suddenly you hear that sad trombone sound (womp womp) that accompanies the realization that your package isn’t newsworthy.

Listen, don’t be sad.  That doesn’t mean your package won’t SELL.  Put it on your website, send it in an email blast, share it on socials… it’s not “bad” or “wrong.”

It’s just not really that newsworthy.

So if your goal is to get media attention, here are four criteria to help you create PR-worthy tourism packages.  If you’ve got all four of these criteria covered in a single package, chances are you’ve got a PR home run.  But sometimes even having only one is enough if it’s exceptionally strong.  However, if your package meets NONE of these criteria, then don’t waste your time with a press release.  The news just isn’t there.


Tourism is a fun industry so a boring name just lacks allure.  Calling a package with room and breakfast your “Bed & Breakfast Package” is just so blah.  How about Pajamas & Pancakes?  Even just calling it a “Sleep & Eat Package” would make it a bit more interesting because something that basic is unexpected.  Things like Girlfriend Getaways, Romance Package, Family Fun… they’re all pretty yawn-inducing from a news standpoint.  Try to make them less generic and more specific to what’s included in the package.

And it’s not even just for hotels.  When creating a roundup of winter romance packages for the Miramichi region of New Brunswick, Canada, we titled the program “Making Whoopee on the Miramichi.”  It’s different, and different has the potential to get attention.


If boring names don’t get attention, boring elements certainly don’t.  Again, remember that so-called boring elements CAN STILL SELL.  Add a bottle of champagne to the room package…it can sell.  Make it a bottle that’s engraved with the couple’s name and special occasion date…it piques interest.  Add in a butler to serve it with a rare cheese platter and a trio of musicians to provide ambiance?  NOW you’re talking.

The more unique, unusual, and unexpected your package’s elements are, the more likely they are to get media attention.  Often those things can be operationally challenging, but there’s a reason the phrase “no pain, no gain” exists.  For more inspiration here, see How to Develop Creative Tourism Marketing & PR Ideas and What’s a Newsworthy Animal Experience in Tourism.


When trends are happening – whether it’s the Olympics, a new blockbuster movie opening, a holiday season, a viral TikTok trend, or whatever – if you can find a way to align your organization with them, you instantly raise your own newsworthiness. Journalists often want to write stories that tie into what everyone is talking about…and YOU could help them do that. The trick here is catching the trend when it’s on the way up and BEFORE it peaks.  For example, Barbie (the movie) was released in US theaters on July 21, 2023.  If you had a “Think Pink” package ready to promote in July as part of the movie release hoopla, great.  If you suddenly decided to do a Barbie package a few months later in October… that’s random, with no timely hook or context to make the Barbie tie-in relevant.

This holds true even for seasonal packages… if you get your Thanksgiving Weekend Package (hopefully with a better name than that) out the door to the media the week before Thanksgiving, very few journalists will have time to write about it.  They were covering that weeks (and months) ago.

A trend could be pop culture, seasonal, sports-related, something going viral on social media… anything that’s capturing the general public awareness.

More trend inspo here:  How to Foster Good Timing in Marketing and How to Leverage a Travel Trend.


And finally, one of the most essential things needed to create PR-worthy tourism packages:  make it easy to book.  You’ve got to remember that the media outlet is the middle-man here, and journalists have limited space to use when communicating their stories to their audiences.  If your amazing, creative, clever package requires a full set of instructions for how to book, or you can’t get it up on your website in time… or it’s on your website but not connected to your booking engine…or (insert other complex challenge here)… it makes it less attractive for a journalist to include.  Don’t make it hard for them to communicate, and don’t make it hard for consumers to book.

Overall, it’s just important to remember that PR isn’t always the goal. You can certainly sell packages that aren’t newsworthy!  And sometimes packages can be newsworthy even when you’re not trying… you may just happen to catch a journalist’s interest with the right topic at the right time.  But if you are setting out to actually CREATE some PR-worthy tourism packages, these four criteria will help guide you toward success.


How to leverage a travel trend.

November 14, 2023

They’re everywhere you look as year-end approaches…but how do you really leverage a travel trend?  Forecasted trends are great for media clickbait, but it’s not always so clear how to turn them into opportunities for your business.

Take the latest 2024 travel trend report from metasearch engine Skyscanner, which the hertelier website does a fabulous job of summarizing here.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, I’ll spare you the click with these highlights.  The seven trends Skyscanner forecasts for next year are:

  1. Gig Tripping – traveling to see a concert/show
  2. Main Character Energy – traveling to a destination you’ve seen in a TV show or film
  3. Budget Bougie Foodies – traveling to a destination for a specific restaurant or food experience, but not necessarily a super expensive one
  4. Destination ZZZZ – sleep retreats and sleep tourism
  5. Analog Adventures – disconnect from devices and “switch off”
  6. Celebration Vacationers – travel to mark an occasion like birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
  7. Luxe-for-Less – self explanatory

That’s all good and well…but what do you DO with that information?  How can you tap into trends like these to grow your guest base and increase your revenue?

Here’s how.  When thinking about pursuing a trend, ask yourself these four questions.  If the answer to any of them is “no,” then you should probably take a pass.

1) Is this a legit trend?

Not all trend reports are grounded in worthy statistics, so dig a little deeper than headlines and summaries to assess what’s credible and what’s media hype.  For example, the Skyscanner report says that the number of people searching online for sleep retreats (and asking what they are) “has increased.”  That’s great, but…increased from what?  From four people to 10 people?

There is indeed compelling evidence out there that people are becoming more aware of sleeping better and how lack of quality sleep impacts their health.  But does that mean they’re willing to spend TRAVEL dollars to find solutions?  It’s not a straight line.  It might be generally true that more people are considering things like sleep retreats, but that doesn’t mean you can just offer a – for example – “Sleep Better Package” and see your sales skyrocket.  The market may not be big enough and you may not be specialized enough to cater to those few who seek it.  Also, if you’re going to offer a package like that, you’ll need a better name.

2) Does this trend have staying power? ***

Sometimes, trends are fleeting.  And by the time you gear up for leveraging them, they’ve already peaked and gone.  So before you go heavily investing time and money into developing programs/packages that lean into that trend, assess how long it will remain “a thing.” Some trends are really evergreen, like in the Skyscanner case:  Celebration Vacationers and Luxe-for Less travelers will ALWAYS be around…even Budget Bougie Foodies, though they may not always go by that name.  You could tap those trends whenever you want.

But if a popular TV series or film has a connection to your destination?  You may only have a short window to capitalize on the Main Character Energy trend.  Once the show isn’t splashed across headlines anymore, it’s likely a less appealing time for you to launch an offering tied to it.  Not every show/movie hits evergreen fanatic status, the way (for example) the Lord of the Rings movies will perpetually inspire travel to New Zealand.  More often, you’ll need to be nimble and quick to harness that trend’s power for your benefit.   Get tips on how to maximize your timing here.

A panoramic view of the Anduin River in New Zealand, set among green forests and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The text reads: We can't all have LOTR as travel inspo.

3) Can you authentically deliver what those trend seekers want?

You may want to leverage a travel trend, but does the trend naturally align with what you offer or do you need to work hard in order for it to “fit?”  If you’re a rural/remote destination or a hotel in a rural/remote destination, you’re a natural for leaning into the Analog Adventures trend.  But if you’re located in a big city?  You might be tempted to offer some kind of package where the guest locks their phone in a box at the front desk and enjoys a weekend at your property doing “digital detox.”  That’s cute, but if someone REALLY wants a digital detox, are they traveling to a big city to get it?  Not likely.  Then you end up putting stress on your ops team for very little return.

If the trend isn’t an authentic match for what you offer, you’re just going to work twice as hard to create programming for dismal results.

4) Can you make it easy for such trend seekers to find and purchase your offerings?

If you don’t have an easily updatable, searchable, findable, and bookable website, then even if you have the best offer that aligns with a trend, it’s likely no one will see it/book it.  And if you’re not doing proactive digital marketing using keywords that such trend seekers are likely to be using, you won’t even be able to lure them to you.

For example, if you REALLY decide you want to launch a Sleep Retreat package like referenced in #1 above, you’ll need to invest some marketing dollars in – say – Google Adwords to find that limited slice of people who are searching for it.  So here’s where you need to evaluate ROI:  if I need to invest in making this work operationally AND put marketing dollars behind it, is there enough of a credible market who would find my offerings to be a good match for this trend?  It’s amazing how often that simple question can stop you from going down an unprofitable path.

Besides marketing through your own direct channels, digital marketing and social media have made this sort of targeting much more accessible for all kinds of trends.  You may not have Taylor Swift coming to your area, but plenty of people travel to see their favorite bands.  If there’s a venue near you, even if you’re not listed on their website as a local hotel option, you can still do marketing around popular bands who are coming to the area.

*** Before this piece wraps up, there’s ONE exception to the “does this trend have staying power” rule.

If the trend is NOT likely to have staying power, BUT it’s got enough of a shelf life for you to create and promote something relevant, then you absolutely should consider it.  Here you might be seeking promotional value, even if you’re not seeking bookings.

And this isn’t just the case with projected annual travel trends…this is the case for ALL trends that pop up and can be leveraged in the travel industry.  You just have to jump on them quickly and catch the fleeting wave before it disappears.

For example, remember the dude who drank a half-gallon of Ocean Spray cranberry juice while skateboarding down a highway to the sounds of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams?  If, that week when the TikTok video was a viral sensation, a hotel offered a “Dreams” package that included a skateboard, a half-gallon of Ocean Spray cranberry juice, and a $2 statement credit for a song download on iTunes… THAT would have gotten a ton of media coverage.  Would people have booked it?  Who knows?  But it would be pretty operationally easy for the hotel to create and “sell” immediately.

Or, if Cape Cod – a destination famous for its cranberries – were to immediately create a list on its website of the 10 Best Places to Skateboard on Cape Cod…that too is operationally easy and would likely garner press.

But if that hotel or Cape Cod were to offer those things even a month after all the hoopla passed?  Yawn.

So, if you want to try to leverage a wildly popular trend that doesn’t have staying power – even if it’s not a travel trend – then just be sure you can get your offer out before the buzz dies down.

The sweet spot between overthinking and under planning.

October 23, 2023

How do you find that magical sweet spot between overthinking and under planning in your marketing efforts?  It can be elusive, for sure.  I know this because we’ve worked with thousands of marketers in our agency’s history.  So we’ve noticed that there’s an “approach to planning spectrum” that looks like this:

On one end, there are the people who say stuff like, “can’t we just launch the website now and worry about the booking engine later?” and “we’ll loop operations and guest services in later, for now let’s just push it out.”

And on the other end, there are the folks who say stuff like, “we don’t have a decision on that (thing that was due last month) because we’re still waiting for (insert random department here) to get us their feedback.” and “I know we approved that logo three times already but can we just see it again with this change?”

Those are the two extremes on the spectrum.  And the sweet spot is in the dead center of those polar opposites.  Dropped into a handy Venn Diagram, it looks like this:


A Venn Diagram that shows the sweet spot between overthinking and under planning using a red circle and aqua circle, overlapping into a grey section.


It might seem obvious, but here’s why you want to operate within the sweet spot between overthinking and under planning.

Because with overthinking, you miss opportunities.

Because with under planning, you miss opportunities.

Either way, you’re fumbling at the goal line.  But it’s so interesting that such extreme opposing behaviors could have the same result:  missed opportunities.  What kind?  ALL KINDS.  Lost sales, being left out of editorial coverage, loss of competitive advantage, and much more.  And tourism is such a seasonal business, so missing a marketing window here often means waiting an entire year to get that opportunity again.

If you or your organization tend to operate within one of those extreme end zones, fear not.  You’re not alone.  Both extremes are incredibly common.  But since they cause your marketing efforts to miss opportunities, you might consider how to nudge habits toward the sweet spot.

Here’s some advice.


First, you need an honest assessment of how you operate.  Scan this checklist to see where you land:

Overthinkers tend to…

  • Be uncomfortable with risk, so they try to wrap a chokehold around every little detail to control outcomes.
  • Worry that something that’s already been decided isn’t good enough, so they continue to go back to it and revise it or add that “one more thing.”
  • Seek multiple opinions – often uninformed opinions – on both big and small decisions.  Then the resulting disparate opinions only make them more frozen because now there’s TOO much input, and it’s not unified.
  • Make things complicated in an effort to serve too many goals with one item.  There’s almost a fear of curation, trying to check multiple boxes with everything they do.  And that’s usually not effective.
  • Literally – there’s no other way to say it – they tend to ignore deadlines.  It’s like their decision and planning process – whatever that is, and however long it takes – is sacrosanct, and the deadlines are irrelevant.  There’s just no sense of importance placed on timing.

Under planners tend to…

  • Want to get to the finish line without running the race.  They blindly focus on the goal and overlook obstacles in the path.
  • Underestimate the amount of time things realistically take.  And then, when deadlines loom, they cut corners to “make it work.”
  • Not admit – to themselves or others – that they don’t have the necessary skill set or knowledge to effectively plan.  So, they just wing it.  Spoiler Alert:  sometimes “fake it til you make it” can end in disaster because you don’t see the blind spots.
  • Be visionaries.  Listen, visionaries…we love ya.  But you often want a finished car produced without giving the team time to properly build the engine.  Forcing an arbitrary deadline to see your vision come to life isn’t always wise. (*cough* Twitter becoming X)
  • Ignore and undervalue the consequences of under planning.  There’s some ostrich syndrome going on there… it’s like “if I don’t think about them, those things won’t matter.”

Once you are aware of your planning tendencies, you can start thinking about how to address them.  But first, you need to go through step two.


Habits are hard to break and they feel comfortable.  It’s not easy to change a dynamic, whether it’s internal within yourself or – even harder – among a group of people.

So you may recognize that you or your organization doesn’t tend to operate in the sweet spot, but you’re willing to live with the missed opportunities because it’s too hard to change them.

If that’s the case, you can stop reading here.

But if you DO want to change the habits, then step three is your mission.


This is simple to say, not easy to do.  It takes time, self-introspection, and honesty.  You must:

    • Face up to the consequences.  Review your past few years of work and make a list of all the opportunities that were missed because of your (or your organization’s) overthinking or under planning.  Seeing this list in black and white will be jarring and serve as a continued inspiration for your transformation.  Keep this list handy and review it often.  I will go to my grave mourning the missed Architectural Digest feature for a new hotel who couldn’t get photos to the journalist in time because of internal politics and overthinking.
    • Give yourself a year.  This kind of change doesn’t happen overnight, and also, you don’t work in a bubble.  It takes time for you to make change, and it also takes time for those you work with to adapt to that change – whether they realize it or not.  You don’t wake up one day and just “be different.”  Science says it takes 66 days to solidify a new habit, but we all know life working in tourism can be seasonal and complicated.  So, give yourself a year to make change that sticks.
    • Write down your plan.  Not a 12-page, complicated plan.  Just one page.  What behaviors are you going to change?  Look at your missed opportunities and where things went wrong, and identify what behaviors led to those outcomes.  Trust me, you’ll notice patterns.  Focus on those.  For example, if you notice that you always start promoting seasonal packages and programs too late to really capitalize on sales and marketing, you’ve got to figure out how to start planning earlier.  Maybe you might even skip a season in order to get on a cycle that gets ahead of seasonal marketing.  I fully support that.  It’s like cutting away dead wood so the tree can flourish more healthfully.
    • Look at that one-page plan every week.  Or every day if you like.  You’ll need to constantly remind yourself that you’re going to do things differently.  Otherwise you will likely slide back into the comfortable habits that are causing you to miss opportunities.

Changing habits is not easy, so if you want to move into the sweet spot between overthinking and under planning, you may need some help.  Here are a few resources:

Check out these four tips to foster better timing in marketing decisions.

If you’re a reader, dive into Atomic Habits or Good Habits, Bad Habits – The Science of Making Positive Changes that Stick.

If you prefer interactive learning, get some coaching to learn better planning habits.  Alexis Haselberger is our FAVE coach for this.  She has webinars, group sessions, and one-to-one coaching options.  And the playlists on her YouTube channel are fabulous micro-doses of coaching support.

Want to dig a little deeper into choices you may be making that fall into the overthinking or under planning category?  See these Five Ways Tourism Marketers Often Fool Themselves.

Five real-life stories and their marketing morals.

September 7, 2023

While Aesop had his legendary fables and their educational morals (I mean…who doesn’t know The Tortoise & The Hare?), hospitality marketers can learn from these five real-life stories and their marketing morals.  Behold:  The County & The World Cup, The Surgeon & The Flowers, The Meerkat & The Photographer, The Front Desk & The Dumb Answer, and The Biscuits & The Masking Tape.

The Country & The World Cup

A newspaper ad that shows a young woman with a soccer ball in the foreground and a group of kids playing in the background on a beach, with the headline "England, if we don't knock you out, the views will."

The morning that Australia was playing England in the semifinals of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, these full-page ads appeared in England’s newspapers.  BEFORE the match was played.  Why is that so cool?  Because it’s pretty likely all of football-crazed England was thinking about Australia that morning (and not in a good way), and the message is just cheeky enough to earn the respect of that crowd.  Had Tourism Australia placed an ad AFTER the match…what could they really say that would be clever and make people care about them?  Win or lose, any post-game messaging would be likely to fall flat.  And in fact, if Australia had lost (which they did), the messaging opportunity would really disappear:  once that match was over, all England cared about was Spain, their next opponent in the upcoming final match.  All thoughts of Australia were in the rear view mirror.

The Moral of this Marketing Story?  Timing is everything in marketing.  A message can lose its power – or worse, cause harm – if not perfectly timed.  For more tips on this, see these four character traits that foster good timing in marketing.


The Surgeon & The Flowers

A vase of pink, purple, and yellow flowers, which is a surgical recovery gift from ModernEyes Opthalmology.

This story may not come from the hospitality industry, but it sure feels like it does.  Someone close to me recently had cataract surgery and was referred to ModernEyes Ophthalmology.  Every touchpoint with this office was fabulous, from intake and testing to exams and scheduling.  It seems like there are hundreds of people working there, and yet we never felt like a number during our visits.  Random technicians said hello to us in the hallways, staff remembered our names at every visit, and everyone was ALWAYS cheerful and upbeat.  So we loved them from the start…and we got used to it.  It was something we appreciated, but it’s not like you walk around telling everyone you know about your eye doctor.  Until we arrived at the office for the first post-surgical checkup…and were given flowers to wish the patient a speedy recovery.  WTF?  What doctor does that?  Next thing you know, we’re literally telling everyone we know that that surgeon cares enough to give patients flowers after their surgery.

The Moral of this Marketing Story?  Shock even your happiest of guests with something completely unexpected and you will instantly transform them into proactive ambassadors.  Whatever investment you make in this arena is worth it and then some.  For more inspiration, check out these 10 unexpected (and fabulous) tourism guest service stories.


The Meerkat & The Photographer

A meerkat stands on a scale and stretches up to peek over a clipboard held by the hands of a zoo worker.

The London Zoo recently got fantastic global press coverage for its annual animal weigh-in.  Now let’s face it…checking weights of animals is a mundane behind-the-scenes operational process at a zoo.  It’s not the kind of hook PR folks would normally reach for, favoring “sexier,” more newsworthy hooks like bold new exhibits, renovations, expansions, and such.  Yet, if you stop and think about it, how DO you weigh exotic animals like Squirrel Monkeys, Walking Stick Insects, Sumatran Tigers, and other animals – like Frank the Meerkat above (credit: AP News) – who aren’t likely to cooperate?  It’s something non-zoo people have likely never considered. All that was needed to turn this story into media catnip were arresting photos and adorable videos.  And take special note:  a meerkat on a scale is cute.  A meerkat on a scale peering over a clipboard – which implies mischief and is an unexpected action for a meerkat – has news potential.

The Moral of this Marketing Story?  There are actually two here.  1) If you have no sexy or big news to share, look at your operational processes and annual checklists. “How we do (this)…” stories, when showcased right, could be made interesting to non-hospitality folks.  2) The right images can turn even the most mundane of happenings into something newsworthy.  Invest the time and labor to get it right, whether that means arranging for a high-profile media photographer to come shoot (as the London Zoo did with Associated Press) or hiring your own professionals to secure the shots.  For more tips on this, check out what makes a dramatic tourism marketing photo and the secret to a great tourism photo.

The Front Desk & The Dumb Answer

While I have no desire to bash hotels by name, I’d be remiss not to share their mistakes as a learning opportunity for others.  When I was checking into a Santa Monica based hotel at 5pm – well after check-in time – there was some sort of issue going on because my room wasn’t ready.  And it was clear to me that the front desk staff was all in a tizzy about it.  I’m one of the world’s most easygoing travelers, but having just landed on a cross country flight from NYC to CA, I was naturally eager to check into my room and refresh.  So I simply (and calmly) asked when my room would be ready.  This incident was perhaps a decade ago and yet I will never ever forget the front desk agent’s response: “Ma’am, too many of our guests requested a late checkout so you’re just going to have to understand and be patient.  We’ll let you know as soon as housekeeping can get to it.”  That is VERBATIM what she said to me.  Whether it was true or not, it was truly the dumbest answer possible. Telling one guest she’ll “just have to understand” that due to the hotel’s own poor operational planning, her own standard expectations are being sacrificed so other guests can get special treatment?  Not cool.  It was just salt in the wound that the room ultimately wasn’t ready until 6pm, and worse that they didn’t even offer me a complimentary snack/drink in the lobby lounge restaurant while I was forced to wait.  This was a four-star hotel brand and while such a response may have come just from that one person on that one day, I never stayed in a hotel of that brand again.  And while my position in the tourism industry makes me unwilling to bash hotels online publicly by name, I did tell several of my personal friends and family the story (by name).  Imagine if I were just a “regular” guest?  Tripadvisor, here I come.

The Moral of the Marketing Story?  Train your staff to graciously handle curve balls and crises because if you don’t, it will become a marketing problem.  Something similar happened with these chocolate chip cookies at a Turks & Caicos resort.

The Biscuits & The Masking Tape

A package of biscuits wrapped in a clear plastic bag with masking tape across the top that has a written message "biscuits May 14, 5.50"

At Anchors Away, a small family-owned restaurant and dairy bar in Clyde River, Nova Scotia, the biscuit packs sold in bags at the front counter are labeled with masking tape and handwritten marker.  While I was there helping the owner with a business and marketing strategy as part of a government tourism program, she apologized for the homegrown approach and said she was planning to invest in a label maker so the packages would look more professional.  Now, this is a restaurant that doesn’t even have a website and whose entire operation – from staffing and menu choices to processes and marketing – is homegrown.  Professional looking labels would be SO out of place here.  And in fact, handwritten labels on a package of homemade biscuits are absolutely PERFECT for their branding…and sets them apart from the chain grocery store up the road.

The Moral of the Marketing Story?  “Branding” doesn’t mean “fancy” or “formal.”  Branding means making sure that every touchpoint a guest has with your operation feels authentically “like you.”  Read the whole biscuit story here.

And now that you’ve enjoyed five real-life stories and their marketing morals, go indulge your inner child with a revisit of some of Aesop’s most legendary fables and their morals.

Should your brand have a Threads marketing strategy?

July 21, 2023

It’s hard to look beyond the media hype to decide if your brand should have a Threads marketing strategy.  Threads burst onto the social media scene in early July with the kind of massive fanfare that induces FOMO.  And that kind of shiny-new-toy buzz sends marketers – and usually their well-meaning but uninformed bosses – into a tailspin asking themselves:  how can we start using this new marketing channel ASAP?

Y’all, that’s the wrong question.  What you should be asking is:  does my brand NEED to be using Threads?

And the answer isn’t an automatic “yes.”

Is Threads a marketing opportunity?  Of course it is.  But you don’t seize every other opportunity that’s available to you, so why should you give more weight to this one?  Just because everyone is talking about it?  That’s a hard “nope.”

First of all, let’s get one thing clear.  The thirst for Threads is already dying down and it’s only been a few weeks since launch.  Indeed, many are now speculating that Threads might be just another a flash in the pan that will go the way of BeReal.

But it IS owned by Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram), and it IS anchored by Instagram users. That means there are some chops under the hood.  So while you shouldn’t just dive in blindly, you also shouldn’t just ignore it completely without first asking yourself a few critical questions.

Should your brand have a Threads marketing strategy?  Here’s how to tell.

Ask yourself some questions surrounding these three points:

1) RESOURCES: Do you have, or can you get, the resources required to manage yet another social media channel?  If you’re not doing justice to the channels you’ve already had for years, adding a new one is only going to dilute the effectiveness of them all.  And in social media marketing, success comes with going deep not wide.  It’s better to go “all in” on fewer channels – reliable posting, proactive interaction with followers, tapping into current cultural trends – than just giving a light touch to many channels at once.  Just “having” a channel doesn’t make it effective.  “Working it” does.  This advice even made the list (at #17) of our Top 20 Tips for Tourism PR & Marketing Agency Clients.

An image from the Barbie movie of Barbie and Ken dressed in pink and driving in a pink convertible. Barbie is saying they are deep diving into the new social media channel Threads and Ken is screaming that they can't even keep up with the channels they have now. This is a perfect illustration of the debate faced by companies when deciding if their brand should have a Threads strategy.

2) AUDIENCE: Because Threads is connected to Instagram, when users establish their Threads account they are asked if they want to follow the same accounts on Threads that they do on Instagram.  So when your Threads account goes live (if it hasn’t already), your base of followers will be pulling from your existing Instagram following.  Do you need to be speaking to the same group on two different channels?  Will you share different content on Threads and Instagram, so that the same audience has a reason to follow you on each?  Do you have a plan (and then the resources – see #1 above) to grow your audience on Threads beyond your current Instagram followers?  And most importantly, is your target audience likely to be found on Threads?  It’s too soon to tell what the typical Threads user will be like, but before you dive in and invest heavy resources there, you should see where that lands.

3) GAPS: Does your current marketing strategy have a hole in it that Threads can fill?  Or can tapping Threads enhance work you’re already doing and/or accelerate results?  There’s no point in doing any sort of marketing initiative that doesn’t tie back to the big picture strategy goals.  So don’t let FOMO push you into “doing Threads for the sake of doing Threads.”  There needs to be a legit reason why it’s the right channel at the right time for the right audience and at the right resource level.

So, with all that in mind…SHOULD your brand have a Threads marketing strategy?  Maybe not.  And that’s OK.  There’s no absolute rule book in marketing.  Just remember that the biggest resource drain in marketing – and the one that’s most often underfunded – is time.  If you can’t invest the time to do it justice, it might be best for you to keep Threads on the shelf until you’re ready.

What inspires word-of-mouth in tourism marketing?

June 16, 2023

Here’s an example of what inspires word-of-mouth in tourism marketing.  Say I brought you a box of chocolates from my trip to Connecticut.  That’s nice and you’d thank me.

But say I brought you a box of “single origin cow chocolates” from my trip to Connecticut.


Suddenly, you have questions.  And the answers will likely make you want to share the story with other people – in person, by text, by social media, whatever.  And some folks who see/hear it may think it’s cool enough to share with THEIR circle of friends.  And so on.  And so on.

And voila.  Word-of-mouth.

The secret there lies in the phrase “make you want to share the story.”  People don’t share boring, ordinary, or typical things.  They share things that are new, cool, interesting, unexpected, funny, poignant, or extraordinary.

Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates is a Connecticut tourism attraction that knocks the word-of-mouth concept out of the park.  Though, to be honest, I really don’t think they think of themselves as a “tourism attraction.”  They seem to think of themselves more as cow-tenders, which just makes the story even better.

A barn crafted from weatherbeaten grey wood with multiple windows and oversized doors sits against a bluebird sky. This is the home of Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates, which inspires excellent word-of-mouth in tourism marketing.

At this magical farm – which requires you to leave the paved roads to access – the level of quintessential New England barn and local purveyor adorableness is just perfect.  But that’s not the story-sharing headline here.  The headline is that they produce a variety of chocolates that each use only a single cow’s milk.  Like, you can get chocolates made exclusively with milk from Daydream, Creedance, Supreme, and other special cow ladies so earmarked for the purpose.

Not only that, but the type of chocolates each cow helps produce is determined by the distinctive flavor of her milk.  For example, ONLY Daydream’s milk is used for caramels (I’ve had them and can see why), and ONLY Queen’s milk is used for the “Zesty Lime & Licorice” chocolate (they weren’t available when I visited because apparently Queen had the day off).

At the sweet little chocolate shop attached to the barn, visitors can find out which cow’s exclusive chocolates are available that day, depending on who is being milked.  And there are a variety of other chocolate confections available too… as well as single origin cow milk, with each bottle branded with the cow’s name.

You can build your own box of chocolates by the piece and – this is my favorite part – they put a full menu in each box that fully describes each chocolate and which cow is connected to it.  So if you’re giving it to someone as a gift, they get the whole story.

What was in the box I assembled during my visit?  Clockwise here, from the top left:  Daydream’s Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel, Supreme’s White Chocolate Raspberry Cream, Creedance’s Milk Maid Irish Cream (with a Bailey’s ganache inside, of course), Creedance’s Dark Chocolate Madagascar Vanilla, Vail’s Double Cream, and Valor’s Dark Chocolate Double Espresso.

A gold box with pink tissue paper houses six individual chocolates, two milk, three dark, and one white one shaped like a heart with red designs on it.

There’s also a deep and effective amount of authentic brand integrity everywhere you turn on the property.  For example, they tell their story – amidst fun facts – with a collection of laminated signs arranged on the barn wall.  Kudos to them for that…a high-tech video screen would be out of place here. The laminated signs scream homegrown, slow-paced, personal attention, and loving care, which is precisely the vibe they apply to managing their cows and their entire operation. Indeed, those laminated signs reminded me of the fabulous dairy bar in Nova Scotia that labels their biscuit packaging with masking tape.

So let’s break it down:  why exactly does this particular tourism attraction inspire word-of-mouth marketing?

  1. They built their business around a unique and unexpected story.
  2. They give people something different to talk about regarding their chocolates. It’s not just that they taste good or have beautiful packaging, which many chocolatiers can claim.
  3. They connect the product to its source in a fun, engaging, and interesting way. The one simple act of naming each chocolate after its source cow tells multiple positive stories about their business practices.  Plus, it’s cute.

The result?  I’ll always associate my trip to the Litchfield region of Connecticut with this extraordinary place, I’ll never forget it (out of ALL the chocolate shops I’ve visited in my time – and that’s a lot), and yes of course I told my friends about it.  So naturally, I stopped by the barn after my purchase to thank the ladies for their efforts.

Chris Miranda, dressed in black with multicolored sneakers, stands next to the barn area where a cow sticks its tongue through the gate to say hello.

Take note of the fact that in everything I just celebrated about this place, I never mentioned if the chocolate is tasty.  It DOES happen to be delicious, but THAT’S NOT THE STORY.  Their word-of-mouth story is inspired by their branding and operation, not their chocolate quality.  The chocolate just has to be good enough to not sabotage the joy a visitor gets from the story.  Like, if the chocolate absolutely sucked, it would make the story less impressive and I’d not be inclined to share it.  Happily for them, their chocolate is the very opposite of “sucked,” and here we are talking about it.

The Newfoundland Chocolate Company – obviously based in Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada – also has delicious chocolate, and yet that’s also not THEIR tourism attraction word-of-mouth story.

Visitors to this Canadian province are universally struck by the distinctive (heartwarmingly quirky?) culture, style, and even language…even though they speak English.

The first time I was there and someone said to me “I dies at you,” I definitely had no clue what they were saying.  And as I spoke to more locals, the joy of trying to decipher conversations that included phrases like “who knit ya?” became increasingly charming and hilarious.  I wanted to bottle some of that joy and take it home for family and friends to experience too.

Imagine my excitement, then, when after delivering a keynote speech at the Hospitality Newfoundland & Labrador annual conference, someone gifted me these chocolate bars:

Chris Miranda holds up a collection of chocolate bars from the Newfoundland Chocolate Company. The six bars are in brown packaging with white typeface, and feature a variety of sayings. This is an excellent example of how to inspire word-of-mouth in tourism marketing.

And that’s when I was introduced to the Newfoundland Chocolate Company, who has made a brilliant art out of comingling tourism branding with a scrumptious product.

Believe me, I’m not trying to minimize the thought and care that goes into making their chocolates.  But the word-of-mouth headline here is the packaging and the product merchandising.  Indeed, they have:

A wide variety of boxed collections that align chocolates with tourism locations around the island of Newfoundland, such as lighthouses, places to explore, and this one featuring shorelines with quiet coves:

The left photo shows the exterior of a box of chocolates called the Quiet Cove Collection, and the right image shows a map of Newfoundland with a picture of each chocolate in the box aligned with a quiet cove along the island's shoreline.


They also have bars wrapped to celebrate the vibrantly colorful and iconic houses of Newfoundland (like the ones on Jelly Bean Row):

A collection of six chocolate bars in a clear package, each with a picture of a different color house on it: orange, pink, yellow, blue, red, and tan.



And of course, those signature NL Sayings bars, whose collection includes a multitude of phrases that allow people to tell stories to the folks back home when they gift these bars as vacation souvenirs:

A collection of six chocolate bars, each with a green, white, and pink wrapper featuring black type with a saying on it. This is an excellent example by the Newfoundland Chocolate Company to inspire word-of-mouth in tourism marketing, as each phrase is a distinctive saying by Newfoundlanders, such as "I dies at you."

The really magical thing is the NL’ers take great pride in their distinctive culture, so they ALSO love buying, sharing, and gifting products like the NL Sayings bars.  They’re not just for tourists.

This is a very different approach than Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates, but this particular tourism attraction ALSO inspires word-of-mouth marketing with their strategy:

  1. They’ve inextricably linked their own story to the destination’s unique story and culture, which will resonate with any visitor who was charmed by it (as I was).
  2. They focus on the things that set Newfoundland & Labrador apart from other destinations, like…you literally can’t get a “Jigs & Reels Collection” of chocolates (nor a chocolate bar that says “arse on dat”) anywhere else in the world.
  3. They make it absurdly easy for visitors to use their products to tell the story of NL to friends and family when they get back home. Why bring home just a map to show where you’ve been when you can show a map that tells a story through chocolates?

When the Newfoundland Chocolate Company was founded, they originally set out to “create great chocolate that tells a story about Newfoundland & Labrador.”  Y’all, they nailed it.

The bottom line is that there’s more than one way to inspire word-of-mouth in tourism marketing.  You just have to give people a story worth telling and make it easy for them to tell it.  Tell them YOUR story in fun, unique ways.  Make it easy for them to take photos and video and remember your story clearly.  Make it easy for them to feel good about you.

I may not yet be fluent in the language of Newfoundland, but when it comes to smart branding that inspires word-of-mouth marketing, there’s one thing I know for sure:  I loves it.