How an understaffed tourism operation can avoid disappointing guests.

May 23, 2022
A picture that shows the legs of people waiting in a long line, which is something understaffed tourism operations need to avoid to prevent disappointing guests.

Is this going to be the line at your check-in desk this summer?

How can an understaffed tourism operation avoid disappointing its guests?  This is the challenge facing the tourism industry right now, especially with the busy summer season approaching.  Hotels, airlines, attractions, tour companies, destinations, restaurants and more… all are bracing for a hot mess of substandard guest service this summer.

This timing is unfortunate, though.  It’s a cruel joke by the travel gods to plague the industry with unprecedented staffing issues just when travelers are coming back in droves.  They’re eager to shed the restrictive chains that have bound them for the past two years.  They want MORE – freedom, choices, amenities, pampering – while you’re trying to figure out how to even deliver your bare minimum experience with LESS.

Sadly, this is a recipe for disappointment.  And negative reviews.  And social media complaints that need to be managed.

There’s no magic bullet to solve this.  Sure you can offer pay that’s double (or more) what everyone else is paying.  But that will obliterate your bottom line (and set a risky precedent), so it’s not a reasonable solution.

But you can’t just pull the covers over your head and let chaos take its course.  Be proactive with these three tips that will help an understaffed tourism operation avoid disappointing its guests:

Training & Communication

I was in line at the pharmacy recently and the line behind me was growing at an alarming rate while the sole staff person worked with a customer on a tangled issue.  She never looked at the line and never said a word to us.  I could feel the fuming and resentment building behind me and hear the muttered complaints and huffy breaths.  After 20 minutes, it felt like there was going to be a mutiny.

All she had to do was look up and smile every once in a while and say “Folks, I’m so sorry for the wait but I’m the only one here today and I need to give each one of you the attention you deserve when it’s your turn.  Thanks for your patience.”  That would have diffused 90% of the frustration.

The moral here is… train your people to diffuse frustration.  Don’t leave them unprepared to handle difficult guests or situations.  Your team should be fully aware of how challenging this summer is likely to be, and you can’t send them into this battle unarmed.  They need clear and practical training for handling complaints, lack of service/amenity availability, slow service, supply chain issues, and more.  Help them to not fear it and not ignore it.  Give them the communication tools they need to address these situations before they become irreversible nightmares for you.  And reward them when they deliver.

Sweeten Pain Points

Ski resorts plagued with unavoidably long lift times on peak days often provide entertainment, hot cocoa, and other fun distractions to make the wait more bearable for skiers.  This is precisely the concept you need to deploy this summer.

Based on your staffing shortages, you’re likely able to predict where the trouble spots will be and when they’ll occur.  Have a plan ready.  True, in some cases (like the ski resort example) you might need to devote a staffer (from the already depleted team) to implement the plan, but focusing that precious resource to the challenge is a smart strategy. Stunting frustration before it can build will enable guests to be forgiving in other areas where you have less control.  Otherwise frustrations just keep mounting until diffusing them is impossible.

So whether it’s surprising guests with a refreshment cart during long lines, giving a discount or complimentary item for slow room or table service, or providing entertainment where none was expected, be proactive. Have solutions and plans ready to go.  And empower your staff – with training and guidelines – to address such problems on the spot.

Choose Where to Make an Impression

I vividly remember the time (pre-COVID) when I was at the Wequassett Resort & Golf Club on Cape Cod two weeks after Labor Day.  Knowing that such resorts often employ high school and college kids during the summer – and now they were back at school – I was prepared for moderate service levels.  Imagine my surprise when a staffer made the rounds at the pool to polish guests’ sunglasses!  That was completely unexpected and impressed the hell out of me.

This season, hospitality operations need to apply a critical lens to the services and amenities they usually offer and say, “What guest touchpoints make the biggest impression and how can we protect them at all costs?  Or at the very least, modify them so they STILL make an impression without fumbling?”  If you can’t do everything, don’t bother trying or you’ll just do everything poorly.  Better to choose some things that get your full attention and do them flawlessly.

This means your entire staff needs to understand where the priorities are, so everyone knows where corners can’t be cut.  So once again, clear and direct communication with your staff is essential.

The bottom line is that there’s no simple way to solve this problem.  It’s not easy for understaffed tourism operations to avoid disappointing guests.  But proactively addressing the situation with a plan and training your staff to be prepared will help mitigate the damage.  It might even win you some loyal guest ambassadors.

And by the way, the solutions don’t always have to cost money or require a full staff.  These 10 Unexpected (and Fabulous) Tourism Guest Service Stories will give you some inspiration.

What’s the best way to reengage email subscribers?

April 4, 2022

If a segment of your subscribers isn’t EVER opening your emails, it’s time to get them to reengage or…what?  You’ll kick them off the list?  A strong ultimatum (see below) can indeed be one of the best ways to inspire reengagement among email subscribers.

But lordy, that sounds harsh.  And on the surface, it also seems like it would hurt YOU more than it would hurt them.  They clearly won’t miss you, but your list size decreases.  Shouldn’t your goal always be to make your list as big as possible?

No, actually.  It shouldn’t.  Your goal should be to have a healthy list with as many engaged subscribers as possible.  Subscribers who never open your email – for whatever reason – are hurting your overall email program’s success.

That’s not just my opinion…it’s a fact.  If you’re skeptical of that fact, then before proceeding down to the real purpose of this article, pop over and read this article from HubSpot. They do a brilliant job of explaining why you should prune your email list regularly and the steps to make that happen.

But that’s not why we’re here.  We already KNOW that you should prune your list.  The question is…what’s the best way to reengage email subscribers before you take the drastic step of booting them from your list?

When faced with that challenge, you have one laser-focused goal at hand:  getting folks who always ignore your emails to open just ONE of them.  This will determine their fate.  If they open it (or them, if you’re doing a reengagement series), they stay.  If they don’t, they go.

If your emails are not being opened because they’re going to spam and subscribers just never see them, ultimately those subscribers should be removed from your list.  Any reengagement email you send will also go to their spam, so no matter how provocative or seductive your bait, they won’t bite.  Cut them loose.

But the rest of the never-openers?  THAT’S the high-potential pond where your bait matters.  These folks signed up for your email at some point, but they’ve become apathetic toward you:  not disenchanted enough to unsubscribe, but not interested enough to open anything you send.  They’re in “engagement limbo.”  And if you can jolt them into opening just one email, you instantly increase your list’s health AND inspire them to care about you again.

So here’s the million dollar question:  how can you successfully deliver that jolt?

Grabbing the attention of these apathetic recipients relies exclusively on the email’s subject line.  It’s the only tool you have to influence their behavior in these circumstances.  If the subject line doesn’t grab them enough to open it, the email’s content doesn’t matter.

Reengagement subject lines (and their corresponding body content) generally fall into one of three categories:  gentle nudge, rewarding lure, or strong ultimatum.  Which one/s you should use (or whether you should combine them as a series) depends on your brand’s personality, the transactional nature of your business relationships, and how determined you are to stringently prune your list.

Gentle Nudge

This is some version of “we miss you, where have you been?”  It’s a subtle tactic with no hard bite, but it could work with subscribers who are only mildly apathetic.  You could give this tactic a better chance by personalizing the subject line: “Joan, we miss you…where have you been?”  The content in the email body may or may not contain additional lures/rewards to inspire clicks (a special discount, time-sensitive offer, etc.).  But the overall vibe of this approach is soft and subtle, gently reminding them that they once pursued an email relationship with you and why they should stay in that relationship.  It’s often used as the first volley in series of reengagement tactics.  If they respond to this, there’s no need to pursue them with further measures.

Rewarding Lure

This is some version of “bribing” subscribers to reengage.  That sounds severe (and desperate, if we’re being honest), but engaged email subscribers are precious marketing assets.  It’s perfectly reasonable for you to trade something in exchange for wooing them back to caring.  Plus, if you give them a special offer (discount, value-add, etc.) that inspires a purchase, that’s revenue you wouldn’t have had anyway because they were previously ignoring you.

This lure has to be meaningful enough to matter, or the subject line won’t grab them.  So if you send 20% off specials to your general list all the time, this one-time offer to spark their reengagement must be significantly more appealing than that.  Again, personalization matters here to help cut through their desensitization.  “Victor, here’s 50% off just for you until (deadline).”  Don’t get hung up on the use of 50% in that example. The point is to make the offer exclusive and ultra-special, beyond the types of offers you usually share.  Free stuff, exclusive access to something, special perks and more…all can inspire that holy grail behavior you’re seeking here:  open that email.

Strong Ultimatum

This one’s not for the faint-hearted marketer, but it can be incredibly effective.  Here, you essentially threaten to remove them from the list by giving them one last chance to show you they want to stay.  You want to deliver a shocking jolt?  Human nature compels people to want what they can’t have.  So telling them they’re being removed from the list unless they deliberately request to stay is bound to grab their attention.  This tactic is the most direct and yields the most definitive action.

But be prepared, because this tactic comes with risk.  If not done with situationally-appropriate grace, you risk sparking a negative reaction/perception of your brand…whether or not they choose to stay on your list.  No one loves being threatened, so while you may get the initial result you want (they stay), you may have some branding repair work to do there.  Their affection for you may have taken a hit.

Ironically, a helpful “real life” example of this comes from HubSpot, the same folks referenced above for their brilliant explanation of how/when/why to prune email lists.  The irony is that the tactic worked, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I’ve been on HubSpot’s daily email list for ages and hadn’t opened one in a while.  One day, I got an email from them with this subject line:

“We’re signing off.  Here’s why…”

Of course I opened that immediately because I thought they were closing up shop (as I’m sure they intended).  Turns out, when I opened it… they were threatening to break up with ME because I haven’t been opening their emails:

 

a copy of an email that shows the best way to reengage email subscribers

 

Now, I’m a marketer and this was a marketing newsletter from a marketing company.  So I get why they did this and don’t begrudge them the tactic.  They got their “open” from me, and that was the primary goal.

But I have to admit…despite that allowance for marketing kumbaya, the email’s execution just rubbed me the wrong way.  Telling me that “my subscription habits are bigger than my capacity for reading everything” is rather obnoxious.  It seems to be accusing me of poor time management skills. Like it’s my fault for not being able to keep up with reading their emails…not their fault for sending emails whose subject lines don’t pique my interest enough to open them.

The rest of the approach in the email body is on point.  There are plenty of lures in there to catch my attention, and a nice big button that says “Re-Subscribe,” which is another emotional tactic designed to move me to action.  It’s as if I’ve already been booted from the list, and now I need to proactively do something to get back on it.  (Hilariously, this wasn’t true because I didn’t click on anything and still kept getting their emails.  Yet another thing that annoyed me – the empty threat.)

The point is…be careful how you approach the strong ultimatum tactic.  This is especially true if you’re in the hospitality business.  Threatening to kick someone off an email list because they haven’t engaged with you in a while can come across as VERY inhospitable, no matter how gracefully you word it.

Overall bottom line:  quality over quantity is always the best pursuit with email subscribers…and indeed with most marketing efforts.  For another highly illustrative example of this, check out the time we had to break up with Google because it was sending TOO MUCH traffic to our website.

20 Tips for Tourism PR and Marketing Agency Clients

March 22, 2022

a red colored lightbulb with illumination marks signifying 20 tips to help tourism PR and marketing clients get the most out of their agency.

We’ve been serving PR and marketing clients in the tourism industry for 20 years.  Big global brands.  Tiny obscure companies.  Obscenely huge budgets.  Shoestring budgets.  Individuals with personalities that range from Type A to Zen.  Doers.  Procrastinators.  Screamers.  Huggers.  Savvy marketers.  Marketing agnostics.  Marketing skeptics.  No two clients are the same…and there have been thousands of them in our history.

So, we’ve learned a LOT about what it takes for a client to get the most out of both marketing and its agency.  Here, drawn from our extensive experience, are 20 tips to help tourism clients succeed in public relations and marketing:

  1. Changing marketing goals too frequently, or lacking them completely, can only achieve short term results for your efforts. Either be ok with that or make a solid plan and stick to it.
  2. If you water down a BIG BOLD idea, adjust your expectations down from BIG BOLD results. All too often, circumstances cause a client to dilute an idea’s execution…but then expect the same powerful results associated with the original concept.  That just ain’t how it works.
  3. If you feel you have to micromanage your agency, they’re not the right match for you. Let ‘em go, even if it’s us.
  4. Positivity works magic in PR. If you have faith it will produce…it will.  If you don’t…it won’t.
  5. It helps results tremendously if your entire organization is aware of your marketing plans. Devote resources to educating and engaging them, and you’ll see a greater ROI in marketing.
  6. Make the time to collaborate with your agency. If you skip meetings, miss deadlines, and sit indefinitely on things awaiting approval, you’re only tapping around 50% of their potential.
  7. If your boss doesn’t understand marketing, won’t leave, and remains skeptical about every campaign… dude, find a new job. We’ve seen it.  It never ends well.
  8. Tourists want visuals. Invest continually in photos and videos…every itinerary, every package, every story angle.  Without them, you’re losing marketing opportunities…which means you’re losing money.
  9. If you have “marketing envy” and always wish your organization could do things as cool as your competitors (or your agency’s other clients), learn what it takes operationally to execute such things. Then decide if your organization can make it happen.  You may not be nimble enough, your pockets may not be deep enough, or the concepts may be the complete wrong match for your brand.  If your organization is not equipped for it, stop being wistful.  Invest your energy in what will work best for YOU.
  10. It’s totally OK to put some marketing initiatives on a steady low flame temporarily (or even permanently) while you focus your resources elsewhere. Just make peace with it and don’t expect them to yield big results.
  11. It is totally NOT OK to turn PR on and off completely. It’s the one marketing medium that doesn’t respond well to fits and starts.  Either do it consistently (at any flame level) or just don’t do it.
  12. Use tailored landing pages for your digital campaigns. Without them, you’re losing a ton of business.  For some organizations, this is a no brainer. For others, it’s like pulling teeth.  Every. Single. Time.
  13. If your guest service and/or guest experience is inconsistent or subpar in any way, marketing will not help change that. In fact, the more guests we drive to your door, the more money you’re going to waste.  The damage those guests will do through social media, review sites, and lack of referrals/return quietly sabotages the positive benefits that marketing brings.  And a business can’t survive on new guests alone, who are more costly to acquire than referrals/repeats.  Fix the foundation, and you’ll see marketing pay off in spades.
  14. You can’t find love on a spreadsheet.
  15. A website should be both beautiful and functional, but if you had to choose where to put more resources…choose functionality every time.
  16. Forget what we said in #15 entirely.  Stop thinking of “beauty” and “functionality” as two different things.  Together they comprise “user experience,” and if your website doesn’t deliver equally in both areas, you’re losing money.  Period.
  17. Social media is more demanding than any other marketing medium. If you want to deeply succeed here, be prepared to staff it fully and keep up with the breakneck pace of ever-evolving rules, features, and channels.  Doing set-and-forget style marketing only taps around 20% of social media’s potential.  It’s fine if you choose to do it that way in the context of your overall marketing plan.  Just expect your notable results to come from other sources.
  18. If your risk tolerance is low, then PR is not for you. Often in PR, the greatest risks yield the highest rewards, but there are no guarantees.  That’s what makes it so exciting!
  19. There’s a reason creative, clever tourism packages and programs get a ton of press and social media love. Boring things just don’t command attention.
  20. Consistent indecision will tank your marketing ROI more than making a definitive poor choice ever will. That sounds dramatic, but history generally proves it to be true.

And here’s a bonus item, since we kinda negated #15.  Be candid with your agency at all times. Issues and concerns can be overcome easily with open communication. A good partner – as all agencies should be – will welcome the candor.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the client experiences we’ve had, and every relationship has helped us grow. And it’s enabled us to help brands of all sizes achieve their marketing and business objectives.  Big shout-out to all our clients for putting their trust in us, and here’s to the next 20 years!

PR is essential in tourism marketing.

February 28, 2022

PR is an essential part of the marketing mix for tourism.  So says Redpoint, and you may think we’re biased because public relations is one of the marketing services we offer to the tourism industry.  But the facts bear out our claim, and it’s largely due to two critical benefits of PR:  reach and search.

Having been involved with tourism PR for 30 years – before the internet was even really “a thing” – I can attest that, like anything, it has always had its supporters and detractors.  Supporters tout its ability to shape and even change a brand’s image, and its success at building awareness, sparking bookings, and mitigating crisis.

Detractors, however, are most often hungry for a more tangible and immediate ROI.  Editorial coverage is never guaranteed, and even when it happens, the direct impact on sales isn’t always traceable.  Someone could read a story about your destination or hotel in The New York Times this week, but not act on it until next year.  So yeah, that story made an impression on them…but you may not be able to PROVE that story was the origin or even a contributing factor.

But while it’s true that investing in PR does require having a little faith in intangible results, social amplification and online promotion by news media reward that faith with some deeply tangible bite.  And you can see the results in your own website stats.

This is all due to the glorious PR benefits of reach and search.  Let’s take a look.

REACH

Let’s say you launch something and promote it on your own channels (email, socials, website, etc.).  Your channels only reach so wide (for example’s sake, let’s say that’s an initial audience of 300,000), and your budget only goes so far to help amplify that story.

Then a high-profile media outlet writes about your story.  And since that media outlet’s entire mission is to get visitors to its website (to attract/maintain advertising budgets with impressive web stats), it shares that story on all its social channels and in email newsletters to its subscribers.  Their initial combined audience may be in the multiple millions, but at the very least is far likely to exceed yours and certainly extends beyond it.  And if that story is picked up by dozens of media?  The amplification grows exponentially.

One Specific Example:  Last February, we helped the New England Inns & Resorts Association score a huge feature story in The Boston Globe.  It promoted “Winter Beyond Skiing” and directed readers to a landing page with packages.  The Boston Globe ran the story online, in print, through email, and on Facebook during the weekend of Feb 5-7.  Here’s what the association’s website saw as a result.

Comparing 10 days before and after Feb 5:

  • Page views to the landing page were up 226%.
  • Direct traffic to the landing page had a 488% increase in users.
  • The hotel with the lead offer in the story saw a 1,000% increase in users visiting its offer on the association’s website.
  • Overall traffic to the site saw new users up 14% and sessions up 13%.

That landing page had already existed for a month prior to that weekend.  The Boston Globe story just turned a powerful spotlight on it, helping extend its reach to both a broader and relevant audience.

Hot Tip Takeaway:  If you want to better track the impact PR is having on your overall marketing success, make use of landing pages for story angles where possible and always check your web stats for spikes after key stories run.  Not only does it underscore some of PR’s immediate and tangible results, it also could reveal useful potential media candidates for spending ad dollars wisely.  If it’s clear a media outlet’s audience finds you relevant, then consider dropping your paid ad line in that pond, where the fish like your bait.

SEARCH

In many cases, media outlets and relevant blogs are likely to have far greater success with search results than your individual business will.  This is due the way search engines like Google rank a site’s authority, which is born of everything from how frequently searches find satisfaction in their site’s search result to volume of overall users.

Search engines are notoriously secretive on their ranking cocktail ingredients.  But suffice it to say, for many types of searches, it’s far more likely that – say – a story that includes you in Travel + Leisure will appear higher in search results than your own website’s blog post.  And even if your own website ranks highly in search results for that subject, wouldn’t it be awesome if you were also mentioned in most of the items on the first three pages of search results?  In that way, a slew of different search results on the same topic will lead to YOU.

And with consistent, widespread PR outreach…they can.  Case in point:  There are plenty of hotels and regional destinations in Canada that offer cool vacations for families.  Yet, with a search done for “cool vacations for families in Canada,” none of them turn up on the first three pages of organic search results.  But look at what DOES turn up:

A page of google search results for cool family vacations in Canada.

A search results page from google showing cool family vacations in Canada.

A page of search results from google showing cool family vacations in Canada.

Parenting travel blogs, media outlets, the blogs of booking sites…they’re ranking higher in search than specific hotels or destinations, even if those places have a blog post on their websites about how awesome they are for families.

Hot Tip Takeaway:  It’s only natural to crave the BIG feature stories in PR, but don’t look down your nose at small mentions, especially in round-up articles like the ones featured in the above search results pages. Editorial stories in media outlets that highlight “the best of this” or “the coolest that” do exceedingly well in search results and could lead a ton of highly relevant visitors to your website.

The bottom line is that, with online and social amplification lending its power to the equation, PR is more essential than ever in tourism marketing.  If you’re not doing it, or doing it inconsistently, you should definitely consider exploring how it can help grow your business.  Because even if you’re not…your competitors are.

A meme showing Leonardo DiCaprio raising a cocktail glass with the text Oh you think PR is just fluff? How nice for your competitors.

Not sure where to start?  Check out our experience and give us a shout.  No strings…we’ll just talk you through it.

Four writing tips to make tourism marketing more persuasive.

January 25, 2022

If you do any form of tourism marketing – destination, hotel, cruise line, attraction, tour company, whatever – you know that your number one job is to inspire the itch to travel.  Further, you want to persuade people to travel to/with YOU.  This job is made infinitely harder by humans’ short attention spans.  You’ve only got a moment (or less) to catch their interest.  Here are four tips for persuasive tourism marketing writing, so you can leverage that precious moment.

Choose meaningful, rich descriptors that tell a story without you having to explain.

I’ll never forget this ad I saw years ago for the (former) corporate travel booking app Lola:

Ad for travel software Lola that says they help make business travel buttery smooth.

Buttery smooth?  That is the most delightful way of saying “no hassles, no mistakes, no friction, no inefficiency, and no logistical nightmares” I’ve ever seen.  It evokes a silky, luxurious feeling.  As a frequent business traveler, you can be damn sure I want all my trips to be buttery smooth.  Who wouldn’t?

If you choose words that – by their very connotation – help articulate the story you’re trying to tell, you’ll have to use far fewer of them to get your point across.  How do you find these descriptive gems?  It just takes patience and a thesaurus.  It’s worth investing the extra time to select the words that will hook your audience with a powerful image.

 

Skip the details and capture imagination first with a punchline that resonates.

The best example of this has GOT to be the marketing campaign Las Vegas, NV first introduced in 2002:

Billboard in Las Vegas that says what happens here stays here.

That single sentence says: “when you’re here, you can step outside your normal life and go wild, have fun, behave differently, be a little naughty, take a few risks, make outrageous memories, do things your friends and family would never in a million years think you would do.  And then when it’s over, you can go back to your uneventful life and we’ll keep your delicious secret.”  What happens here, stays here. says ALL THAT in just five words.

That “aspirational punchline” writing style works well in tourism marketing.  Many people use travel as a way to reset their lives, shed frustrations, experience new things, and escape tedious daily routines.  Marketing slogans used in campaigns are naturally one way to tap this style…slogans lend themselves well to punchlines.  You’ll never want to leave.  Find yourself here.  Come back new.  Paired with imagery that nods to the underlying story, this type of punchline crisply delivers the benefit you’ll experience with that journey.

But slogans aren’t the only way to leverage the aspirational punchline writing style.  Social media captions are a perfect channel for it.  I remember seeing an Instagram post a few months ago for a quintessential New England inn.  It featured a carousel of charming inn-and-surrounding-area photos…the covered bridge blanketed with fresh snow, the magical twinkling lights at night on Main Street, the horse-drawn sleigh rides, etc.  And the caption simply said:  Vacation in a snow globe.  I hate being cold, and yet suddenly I wanted to buy a pair of cute furry boots and catch snowflakes on my tongue while drinking hot cocoa wrapped in a plaid blanket during a sleigh ride.  But I read that sentence after seeing those photos and I literally pictured myself inside a snow globe.

 

Use FOMO wisely.

Fear Of Missing Out can be a huge motivator in any purchase decision, but it’s especially useful to writers in hospitality and tourism marketing.  One obvious place for inserting copy that pokes someone’s FOMO nerve is in the booking process.  Seeing that there are “only 5 rooms left” or that “47 people looked at this deal in the past hour” or that “only 2 dates remain at that price” really creates a sense of urgency.  If the person is wrestling with indecision, FOMO can nudge them over the edge.

But the booking process isn’t the only place in the travel decision-making journey where evoking FOMO is a useful writing tool. People will often play out in their minds how they’ll share an experience on social media with friends…BEFORE they’ve even booked the trip.  They picture themselves taking THAT selfie, or THAT food photo, or proving they were on THAT adventure.  Lean into that sometimes.  “Make your friends jealous.”  “We only have 10 cabanas.  Is one of them reserved for you?”  “Instagram was made for this view.”

In a more dramatic example, a restaurant in Freedom, ME puts FOMO at the very core of their entire marketing strategy.  The Lost Kitchen is an intimate seasonal restaurant that seats only 48 people per night.  And to snag one of those coveted reservations, you have to enter their annual lottery by sending in a postcard.

 

Dozens of colorful postcards sent to the Lost Kitchen restaurant requesting reservations.

The restaurant receives more than 20,000 postcards each year for those precious few seats.  Oh, and to know when it’s time to send it, you need to follow their socials and sign up for their newsletter.  FOMO marketing at its finest.  <chef’s kiss>

 

Pair words with imagery that tells most of the story.

If you look at these images of the Faroe Islands, what comes to mind?

Three dramatic images of the Faroe Islands that show rocky coastline, high cliffs, and rich greenery.

 

Using such images, they never EVER have to say things like this in their copy:  remote, peaceful, breathtaking, natural landscape, small villages, wide open spaces, the opposite of big city life, undiscovered, fresh air, enviable and memorable vacation photos, not a tourist trap, crashing surf, unspoiled, vast, and dramatic views.  I hate to say it, but they could even simply write “come visit” as the caption for these photos and it would still work.  Words can be powerful and persuasive, yes.  But in tourism, often the visuals do the heavy lifting on persuasion.  That isn’t even the official tourism account of Visit Faroe Islands and I still want to go.

While it’s true that the Faroe Islands has a built-in advantage on the dramatic imagery game, other types of visuals can lift the persuasive burden off words.  In a much less dramatic example, take a peek at Charleston, SC’s Instagram feed.  Every Wednesday brings a photo of a flower-filled window box that can be found hanging outside buildings throughout the city, using essentially the same exact caption: “Happy #WindowBoxWednesday from Charleston!”

 

Three images of Charleston South Carolina showing colorful, flower-filled window boxes outside homes.

That consistent pairing of photo-and-caption does several things.  It positions Charleston as a charming neighborhood where pleasant strolls can be taken.  It gives the impression that Charleston is awash with flowers at every turn.  It evokes the image of a welcoming and neighborly small town.

There’s something about window boxes that make a place seem more friendly and filled with personality.  A single window box does that for a single house.  So, collectively, hundreds of window boxes achieve that same goal for a destination.  And the copywriting team barely has to write a word about it.

Does it work?  You bet it does.  I’ve been dreaming about planning a trip to Charleston and – after following their Instagram for so long – it actually crossed my mind to try to go when the window boxes are at their most colorful.  And I’m not even a gardening enthusiast!

If you want to up your photography game to give your copy a better assist, see here to learn secrets of a great tourism photo.

And if you’re looking for more inspiration beyond these four writing tips to help make your tourism marketing more persuasive, here’s a handy resource:  Copywriting Examples.  Bless the gent who pulled all those examples together on one website and made all those teachable moments sortable.

The secret to a great tourism photo.

October 26, 2021

Tourism is a highly visual industry.  Photos are a key tool used to tell tourism stories, but there’s a secret behind the great ones that make the biggest impact.  Someone took the time (and often, money) to get it right.

More dramatically put:  someone resisted the temptation to use photos that were easy to get but kind of “meh” in terms of quality.  “Meh” photos serve the functional purpose of photography, but they are completely uninspiring and make no impactful impression on the viewer.  So, yeah…you have photos to put on your website.  Check that box.  But are they seducing site visitors into considering a trip?  That box stays unchecked.

Fear not, there are a whole bunch of “great” and “meh” photo examples down below.  But first…

Sucky (and Silent) Consequences of Using “Meh” Photography

When tourism businesses choose to settle for “meh” photography, it causes much heartbreak.  Throughout my career as a tourism publicist and marketer, I’ve seen:

  • A hotel client who lost a highly-desired Architectural Digest story about their opening launch because their photography wasn’t good enough. (AD wasn’t being snooty…their photography was NOT good enough.)
  • Another hotel client whose online booking conversion rate absolutely sucked…and a website audit revealed that people were leaving the site after looking at the photo gallery. (Tragic, as a photo gallery should inspire people to hit the “book now” button.)
  • A destination client who was included in a syndicated news editorial round-up…and the only one of the eight destinations included without a photo accompanying their blurb because their photo wasn’t “quite right.” (Seven destinations with glorious vibrant photos and only one with just text… which one do you think got overlooked by readers?)

But those are examples where the consequences were traceable and known.  Far more dangerous are the silent consequences of “meh” photography.  No one ever leaves your website unimpressed and without booking…and then calls you up to say, “hey, I was considering a stay at your hotel, but just wanted to let you know that the photos didn’t really sell me on the place so I just left the website without booking.”

So, the bottom line is…you don’t even know how many sales you’re NOT making because your photos are just “meh.”

But trust me.  If they’re “meh,” it’s happening.

Why Is This So Hard?

Why do so many tourism businesses settle for less-than-great photos to use in marketing?  Three common reasons.

  1. They feel it takes too much time and they don’t have the bandwidth to organize/oversee it.
  2. They don’t want to spend the money for a photographer and/or stylist.
  3. They don’t understand the difference in impact between a “good enough” photo and a “great” photo.

It’s a real head-scratcher to me, but I’ve seen clients spend $20-$30 million building a gorgeous hotel, and then fight with me about spending $20,000 on photography for the website, brochures, and socials.

In other scenarios, I get the… “My sister-in-law takes great photos as a hobby – you should see her Instagram.  So I’m just going to have her do all our photography.”

Or the… “I don’t have photos of THAT specific program even though that’s what we’re promoting, so can we just use a general photo instead?”

Or the… “These brochures are really old and our hotel rooms don’t look like that anymore, but that’s all we have so just use those at the trade show.”

To spend all that money building your business and brand, and then NOT spend the money on a professional photographer to produce photos that help you sell it?  That’s fumbling at the goal line.  And it’s sabotaging the ROI of all the money you spent on building the business itself.

What Should a Great Photo Do?

A great photo is like an assist in sports:  it should assist you to close a sale.  That assist might come in the form of (for example)…

  • An Instagram photo that stops thumbs while someone is scrolling and makes them want to explore your entire Instagram profile…and ultimately your website.
  • Photos on your website that evoke emotion, inspire a desire to visit, make them want to check pricing and logistics for a trip.
  • Photos in a magazine that arrest people’s attention as they’re flipping through the pages and make them want to read the accompanying editorial story…which hopefully makes them want to visit your website.

Here’s a great case-in-point.  Years ago, I was in Armenia with a photographer getting shots of a collection of new boutique hotels launching that year.  We had no staff with us (literally no staff – the hotels weren’t even open yet) and no stylist.  It was just her and me trudging around the countryside with tons of photography equipment.  And FYI – while I’m eager and helpful, I know zip all about being a photographer’s assistant.

Here’s what one of the hotels looked like, with a simple “point and shoot” approach.

 

A castle-like building sits beside a rushing river and in front of green mountains.

 

It DOES look like a historic castle, and you DO see it’s right next to a rushing river and nestled in the mountains.  So, it definitely gives a sense of place and is “ok.”

Here’s what it looked like when the photographer got done with it.

A nighttime view of a castle-like building with dramatic lighting, which sits beside a rushing river and in front of a backdrop of mountains. This is the secret to a great tourism photo.

 

Listen, folks.  This was NOT a simple point and shoot.  We had no cell service and no radios to communicate with each from opposite sides of the river, and crossing that river was no picnic either.  Her trying to signal to me which lights to turn on or off, which umbrellas to move slightly left or right, and could I tilt that ONE light on the side to angle more toward the patio?  No, not THAT one.  THAT one.

Getting this shot took HOURS.  Actually days, because we had weather issues intervene.

But look at those two photos.  Which one stops your thumbs while scrolling and which one makes you say “OMG that place looks breathtaking and I want to go there?”

Great photographers do more than just click a button on a camera.  They harness the power of lighting, tone, context, perspective, props, spatial relations, and emotion.  In this case, the photographer studied the situation and said, “what photo…what angle…what perspective…what styling is going to show this building in the best, most seductive, most appealing way?”  And after taking a lot of test shots from various positions at various times of day, this nighttime photo won the honor.  (Should I mention how many design and travel magazines made this photo their centerfold?)

I mean…if your sister-in-law can do all that, then by all means lets hire her.

What’s My Point?

Getting great photography isn’t easy.  It takes time, planning, and commitment.  You may need to invest in props and other items to achieve the objective… flowers, food, drinks, people, and more.  You may need to reschedule (and spend money on a wasted day) because of weather.  If you’re already open, you may need to clear entire public spaces for several hours or a day – losing revenue from paying guests who don’t have access during that time.  You may need to take a shot over and over and over and over again to get it just right.  And damn it, you definitely need a professional photographer and/or stylist to do it justice.

Yes, all that costs time and money.  But the difference between “meh” photos and “great” photos is entirely about MAKING MONEY.  Skimp elsewhere if you must.  But do not skimp on great photography.

To further illustrate the difference, here are a few examples of photos I’ve come across in my tourism work.  Some of these businesses know the secret to a great tourism photo, and some clearly don’t understand what makes an impact.

By the way, there are deliberately no business names here.  This isn’t a commentary on who’s doing it right and who’s doing it wrong.  It’s an objective look at how photos do or don’t make a worthy impact.

Everything about this charcuterie board screams “dig in.”  Lighting, color, texture, positioning.  This delicious photo was no happy accident.

A charcuterie board of food including apples, cheeses, veggies, crackers, nuts and more. This colorful, vibrant, well-light view is the secret to a great tourism photo.

 

This cocktail gets completely lost in this photo.  It’s a gorgeous color, but sitting on that similar colored surface, the vibrancy doesn’t pop as it should.  Plus the background is super distracting.  If you’re a DIY Instagrammer for your business, and just taking quick snaps like this “on the fly” for posting, at least do this:  take that glass and snap pics of it in in a few different settings, and from several angles – high, low, above, side, etc.  If you take a dozen photos of this cocktail – which can be done in just a few moments – you’ll immediately be able to spot the one that shows the cocktail off to its best advantage.

An orange colored cocktail sits on an orange colored surface.

 

Let’s talk about dramatic architectural features, such as floating pools.  We once had a client that was debuting a floating pool and they fought us like the very devil about getting overhead drone shots of it.  They didn’t have easy access to a drone and didn’t want to pay for it.  But honestly, a straight-ahead shot of a floating pool just sucks all the drama out of that super-cool architectural feature.

To illustrate, here’s a picture at another hotel of their floating pool taken from different angles.  You can see how one showcases the floating pool and in the other, it gets lost.

Left side shows photo of a large, many-windowed hotel, with a floating pool sitting in front of it. Right side shows that same floating pool at night, from an elevated perspective so the light blue of the pool glows brightly sitting inside the dark blue lake.

 

And these folks REALLY did their floating pool villas justice, ensuring their website gallery shows them from multiple angles and various times of day:

This captures the secret of a great tourism photo. A floating pool sitting on the edge of the ocean, with an attached deck that shows two lounge charis.

 

From the perspective standing on a deck looking out at the edge of a floating pool and the Indian Ocean just after sunset.

Standing on the edge of a floating pool at sunset, showing the perspective of multiple villas with their own floating pools stretching out before you. Sunset of bright orange, yellow, and purple.

From the perspective of laying in bed, looking out terrace doors to a deck with table and chairs, aqua colored floating pool, and the deep blue ocean.

 

Food shots need special attention because visuals aren’t necessarily the main sensory trigger for humans when it comes to food.  Taste, sound (sizzling, pouring, sauteing, etc.), scent, and texture all play a role in our emotional connection to food.  And that’s hard to communicate in a flat photo.

Here, capturing sugar in mid-shake on this cannoli gives more energy, life, and interest to the photo than just a static pic of a cannoli.

A person shaking powdered sugar onto a cannoli that's covered with chocolate chips.

 

But these pancakes are nearly unidentifiable in this photo.  In the quest for a close-up to show the dripping, oozing goodness, perspective gets lost here.  If you’re scrolling quickly, you can’t even tell what it is, and that super-crisp piece of bacon on the side doesn’t help… it almost looks like the pancakes are sitting on a wood shelf.  Perhaps backing up the camera to show the whole plate, and catching the moment when the chocolate syrup is being poured onto the pancakes might achieve the objective better.  But – you know what I’m going to say – try it a dozen different ways before deciding which one makes the right impact.

A close up photo of pancakes with bananas and chocolate syrup on them and a crispy piece of bacon on the side.

 

Oh, you’re taking pictures of animals?  NEVER just snap one-and-done.  You take tons of photos from multiple angles in order to get one that will stop people in their tracks.  Like this:

Picture of a baby lamb facing front and smiling.

 

And finally, these folks are rebuilding a really important and historic wall.  But this photo will stop no thumbs.  I’m sure the dude on the right won’t be pleased that his behind is on Instagram, and everyone milling around looking down at rocks doesn’t do the story justice.  A close-up of a volunteer holding up a piece of rock with a huge smile on his/her face… or better yet, faux-kissing it?… could better tell the story of the passionate volunteers involved.  Or have him/her sitting on the wall and get enough context in the shot to see “kissing the rock” and the wall itself.  Or… hey, I’ve got an idea… take a dozen different shots and see what works best.  😊

Five people standing around piles of rocks, some of which are half-formed into a stone fence.

 

So, in conclusion, please do what it takes to get great tourism photos.  There’s really no secret to capturing ones that make an impact… just spend the time and/or money to do it right.

And let me just clarify:  by “great,” I mean photos that achieve your objective of inspiring people to emotion and action.  “Great” is one of those vague words that always need clarification and shame on me for using it so liberally in this post.  See why you should be careful using that word here.

 

How to Develop Creative Tourism Marketing & PR Ideas

October 25, 2021

The tourism industry is a hotbed of juicy, creative marketing and PR ideas.  Who develops them?  Opportunists.

Opportunists are a breed of “idea people” that draws inspiration from anything and everything around them.  And, of the four breeds of idea people we cover here, these are the folks you need in your orbit for creative marketing and PR.  You don’t need to have ALL opportunists on your team, but if you don’t have at least one in your mix, you’re going to struggle in marketing.

Can folks who are NOT opportunists develop creative tourism marketing and PR ideas?  Sure.  But likely not in a steady way that makes ongoing marketing reliable and brand image consistent.

FOUR BREEDS OF IDEA PEOPLE

In my long experience in tourism marketing – working with clients from all walks of life, at organizations large and small – here are the four breeds of idea people I’ve come across:

Opportunists:  Show them anything and they’ll springboard it right into a relevant idea for your business.  They’re the people who say “what could we do with this?” a dozen times a day.  If obstacles arise as the idea takes shape in their mind, they work around them.  If the obstacles become insurmountable, they just take the idea in a different direction.  Creative idea generation is like breathing to them.  These folks are the lifeblood of creativity in marketing.

Stiflers:  They’re not opposed to ideas, but they just can’t give them room for success.  They layer on that one more thing.  Try to get each idea to achieve too many disparate goals.  Add unnecessary complexity. They won’t let ideas get off the ground until they’ve been so overthought and wrung dry that ideas ultimately fall flat when launched.  If you’ve got stiflers on your team, checks and balances are needed to be sure they don’t smother every good idea to its slow death.

Slammers:  These folks basically shoot down all ideas.  This could be driven by fear of risk or change, love of veto power, or just a tendency toward negativity that only sees the downside.  And really?  Some people just like being contrary for contrary’s sake.  Extreme Slammers can’t be reasoned with; every rationale you offer will face an objection.  If you’ve got slammers in a position of power over marketing, be prepared.  Your marketing ROI will always be super low.  Best to move them where they can’t prevent good ideas from seeing daylight.

Obliviouists:  Yeah, I made this term up, but hey…I’m a marketer.  Obliviouists (oh-bliv-ee-ists) are actually the most dangerous of the idea person breeds.  They don’t deliberately generate ideas, but nor do they actively hinder them.  They just don’t see opportunities at all.  They read stuff, watch TV, surf socials, interact with folks…and none of it ever inspires ideas.  These people may have plenty of other talents so it’s not dangerous to keep them around.  But it IS dangerous to rely on them for creative marketing and PR ideas.  They’re just not wired that way.

So, the best way to ensure your marketing is fresh, creative, and interesting is to ensure there are opportunists on your team.  Whether in-house or at an agency, these folks don’t need to be assigned ideation.  Just stand back and let them create.

How do they do it?  Listen, I’m no neuroscientist.  All I can say is:  they just do.  They watch, listen, read…and poof.  An idea is born.  Ask any opportunist how they came up with an idea and I guarantee they’ll say something like “I saw this and thought of that.”  There’s no way to explain it.  If you could, then I suppose anyone could be an opportunist.  “Just follow these 10 handy steps and you too could have big creative ideas.”  It just doesn’t work like that.

To illustrate that point, here are a bunch of marketing ideas seen out in the wild lately that definitely originated with opportunists:

 

Blue ice cream carton with pink band, showing Geico's new Scoop, There It Is ice cream with hip hop duo Tag Team and Mikey Likes It Ice Cream.

Geico made a hilarious TV commercial featuring the hip hop duo Tag Team, which transformed their 1993 hit song “Whoomp! (There It Is!)” into a song about an ice cream sundae (Scoop!  There It Is!).  The commercial was so insanely popular that some clever opportunist said: hey, why don’t we actually make and sell that ice cream flavor?  And thus, the partnership between Geico, Tag Team, and Mikey Likes It Ice Cream was born.

 

Partial painting of woman showing head and bare shoulder, an example of a creative tourism marketing and PR idea from the Vienna Tourist Board.

The Vienna Tourist Board recently launched an OnlyFans channel… you know, that social media platform that allows posts with sexually explicit content to be shown to subscribers for a fee.  Why does Vienna need such a channel?  Because the destination has tons of beautiful art that depicts nudity in its museums.  Photos of such pieces get struck from mainstream social media platforms due to censored content regulations, so some clever opportunist said:  hey, how about we make world news by being the first tourist board to launch an OnlyFans channel as a way to showcase our city’s art?

 

Pic of front and back of business card from Relief, the debt app, who uses the premise of Squid Games to promote their service.

Relief, the debt relief app, absolutely CRUSHED it with this idea, inspired by the blockbuster Netflix series Squid Games.  If you don’t know the show’s plot, people in significant debt are brought together to play children’s games in the hopes of winning a huge prize…but losers die violent, graphic deaths.  Their invitation to the games comes in the form of a business card with three simple geometric shapes on it, and a number on the back to call that lures them in. Relief put their own message on the back of its card, and the opportunist who thought of it should be given a standing ovation.

 

Four golden retriever puppies playing at the Ojo Santa Fe Spa Resort in the Puppy Patch, as an example of a creative tourism marketing and PR idea.

Plenty of hotels have a dog “on staff” that guests can walk.  Many hotels also have partnerships with rescue organizations to have an adoptable dog onsite for guests to walk, and maybe take home.  Some clever opportunist affiliated with the Ojo Santa Fe Spa Resort said:  hey, why do this with just one dog when we can make a newsworthy amenity/program out of it?  Behold, the Puppy Patch.  Thank you, whoever you are.  I will be petting those puppies at some point in the future.

So, the bottom line is…get some opportunists in your life if you aren’t one and don’t have access to any.  Your creative tourism marketing and PR ideas will improve greatly because of it!

Shameless plug:  Redpoint is full of ‘em.  Mount Rushmore carved into a six-foot block of cheddar cheese to celebrate President’s Day for Ripley’s Believe It or Not Times Square?  It generated the highest-ever holiday weekend sales and visitor count for the attraction. That’s some delicious opportunism right there, y’all.

10 Unexpected (and fabulous) tourism guest service stories.

September 20, 2021

Here’s the way to create indelible tourism memories:  deliver completely unexpected, fabulous, and highly personal guest service.  Also, spoiler alert…there’s a story in this piece about my trip to Spain that’s going to horrify my mother.  (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.  I’m older now and I won’t do it again.)

Tourism businesses – hotels, airlines, attractions, cruise lines, tour companies, etc. – often invest a ton of money and labor developing comprehensive guest service programs and amenities.  And those bring value to the tourism experience, no doubt.  But the simple truth is that PEOPLE create the unexpected, joyful moments that make the most lasting impressions on guests.  Moments like these ultimately transform guests into ambassadors.

I travel for a living because I do tourism marketing and consulting work around the world.  So that means I’ve stayed at hundreds of hotels in dozens of countries and have thousands of tourism experiences under my belt.  Many of these have been utterly outrageous – like the time I stayed at a five-star luxury resort in the Caribbean for a grand total of 12 hours (including sleep) as part of an island-wide site assessment.

At this resort, I had my own butler, who literally unpacked my entire suitcase and pressed all my clothes and hung them…despite the fact that he was just going to fold and pack them all up again 12 hours later.  When I came in from dinner that night, he had decorated the entire bathroom with flower petals and candles, drawn a bath, and had champagne chilling next to the tub for me.  I was tempted to stay awake all night just so I could see what he’d do next.

You’d think an experience like that would be near the top of my “best hospitality experiences” memory list, right?  But no…and not because it was too short-lived to enjoy it.  It’s because there’s nothing extraordinary about that level of service at that type of resort. Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely lovely and I enjoyed every second of it.  But it all followed a carefully planned script that was delivered uniformly to all guests.  Plus, for the price of that suite, it was completely expected.  Indeed, I’d have been disappointed if the service had been anything less.

So no…those types of experiences don’t top my “best hospitality experiences” list.  In fact, all of the experiences that have made a lasting impression on me and turned me into a loyal, enthusiastic ambassador for each organization have just two things in common:  1) they were completely unexpected, and 2) they happened because an employee I encountered went out of their way – and off script – to bring me joy.

And here’s the best part:  most of the experiences cost the business absolutely nothing to deliver.

So here, in no particular order, are 10 of my most unforgettable, unexpected, and completely fabulous tourism guest service experiences.

  1. I was offered a home-cooked meal.

When I called the Torrent River Inn in Hawke’s Bay, Newfoundland to make a one-night reservation that split up a 10-hour drive for me, I asked what dinner options would be available for my late evening arrival.  Turns out, the inn is in the middle of nowhere, AND their restaurant would be closed, AND it was Canadian Thanksgiving that day.  Guess what?  The employee on the phone – who was not the owner, btw – offered to bring me a plate of food from her family’s Thanksgiving dinner when I arrived.  She wasn’t even going to be working that night.

  1. I was sent the souvenirs I regretted not buying.

As I was checking out of the Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart, Tasmania, the bellman asked me what I was going to regret most about leaving their beautiful island.  I didn’t even have to think about it:  I had seen a mug at a touristy store in town that cracked me up and was just sooooooo Tasmania.  But not being “that kind” of a souvenir buyer as a rule (I’m more likely to buy a local recipe book or items made by a local artisan), I didn’t buy it.  But as soon as he asked me what I would regret about leaving, not buying that mug was the first thing that came to mind.  When I got home to New York three weeks later, guess what was waiting for me?  A set of four of those mugs, compliments of the hotel.

Picture of souvenir mug that says Send Tassie More Tourists the Last Ones Were Delicious

 

  1. They brought me handpicked wildflowers.

My stay at the York Harbor Inn in Maine began horribly:  the night I arrived, I realized I had strep throat.  It took a bit of time to get the right meds, so for 72 hours I stayed feverishly holed up in my room. Ultimately I even had to extend my stay because I was too sick to leave.  On the day I emerged from the room for the first time, I let housekeeping know I was stepping out for a while so they could go in and fumigate (bless them).  When I got back, besides the room being sparkly clean, there was a jar filled with wildflowers and a note:  “We’re so glad you’re feeling better.  Love, the Housekeepers at the York Harbor Inn.”

  1. They made me a pillow.

In what might just be the greatest guest service experience of all time, this housekeeper made history for me.  At the hotel that has since been rebranded as Hotel Halifax  in Nova Scotia (but don’t worry, the staff is the same and the service is just as exceptional), Sandra the housekeeper recognized that I was using a towel in a pillowcase every night during my stay…and then she started making towel pillows for me on her own. Let me be clear:  I do this in hundreds of hotels and no housekeeper has EVER done anything other than remake the bed with fluffy pillows intact and towels hanging back in the bathroom where they belong. So to discover Sandra’s towel pillow with a special note to me was like the greatest surprise of my tourism life.  In fact, when I blogged about the story, it was shared over 100,000 times and even earned Sandra and the hotel an award from their corporate brand.  Read here How One Housekeeper Won My Brand Allegiance…and My Heart.

 

A note to Chris Miranda from the housekeeper at the Hotel Halifax as an example of unexpected, fabulous tourism guest service.

 

  1. I was given free coffee and treated like a celebrity.

To this day, I still don’t know how she did it.  When I walked into the sundries store at Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont to get a cup of coffee, the cashier told me she knew who I was and the coffee was on the house.  Yes, I was there to deliver the inspirational keynote speech at the resort’s season-opening employee rally.  And yes, it’s not like they had a ton of guests roaming around just before ski season started.  Maybe they had sent around my picture to all staff or posted it in the employee breakroom, or maybe she just figured the one stranger in the shop HAD to be the day’s guest speaker.  Or maybe – could it be? – she remembered me from when I spoke there a year prior, even though we hadn’t met.  But you know what?  I don’t want to know.  It’s way more magical not knowing.  I was just recovering from a grueling, white-knuckle nine-hour drive in a snowstorm to get there, and to be unexpectedly recognized by a random staffer and given free coffee was just the BEST THING EVER.

  1. There was a dog waiting in my room.

While presenting a tourism community workshop on developing hotel packages and experiences at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel in Miramichi, New Brunswick, I jokingly suggested that it would be awesome if hotels could offer a dog as part of a stay.  As there were many dog lovers in the audience, we bounced that fun topic around a bit and everyone learned how passionate I am about dogs.  Turns out, the general manager of the hotel happened to be in the audience for that workshop.  He secretly texted a hotel staff member to quickly go buy a toy dog (It barks!  It moves!).  By the time I finished that workshop two hours later and went up to my room, that dog was waiting there for me…complete with dog bed, treats, and a special note from the hotel.  Tourism guest service doesn’t get more unexpected and fabulous than that.

 

Christina Miranda showing a fabulous and unexpected tourism guest service example while she sits in a dog bed holding the toy dog delivered to her room at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel.

 

  1. I got extra dumplings just because I asked for them.

While at legendary restaurant Buddakan in NYC, my indecision between two appetizers prompted me to order one and then mischievously ask if I could just taste ONE dumpling from the other… just so I’d know for next time.  Imagine my surprise when – in addition to the appetizer I ordered – the server brought out an ENTIRE dish of Szechuan pork dumplings instead of just one…and then told me there was no charge for them. That simple act of kindness (and investment) earned them my loyalty, return visits, and about a zillion referrals.  In fact, I did the math at the time and their ROI for that one gesture was so strong that I wrote about the experience here:  You Can’t Find Love on a Spreadsheet.

  1. I got into a sold-out bullfight in Spain against all odds.

There was not a ticket to be had for the high-profile bullfight happening when I was staying in Madrid.  Watching a bullfight is not for the faint of heart, but I had no intention of leaving Spain without experiencing such a rich cultural tradition.  When I asked the concierge at my hotel, which has since been rebranded as the ME Madrid Reina Victoria, I learned that there was no way I could snag a ticket without giving up my retirement savings.  I went away sad.  Until the next day, when he took me aside at breakfast and told me a family he knows agreed to let me join them, no charge.  TBH, it was like being in witness protection:  I was taken to an appointed street corner on the back of a motorbike by one of the hotel’s dishwashers, met there by a niece in the family, handed off to a cousin in a café near Las Ventas Bullring, and then – no lie – smuggled into the arena by the family.  This incredible group of nearly 30 people shared their food & drinks with me, educated me on the whole spectacle of bullfighting as it unfolded, and introduced me to nearly every person in our section of the arena.  And they wouldn’t accept a dime.  It was truly one of the best days of my life, being embraced by these strangers and immersed into their culture.  It was only the next day that I realized I was lucky that all those witness-protection-style-logistics didn’t end up with me being sold on the black market to a world of unpleasant things.  Ah, to be young and blindly trusting again.

  1. They protected my cupcakes to the death.

When I arrived at the WestJet check-in desk at LaGuardia Airport enroute to Newfoundland by way of Toronto, I had 875 cupcakes in tow.  My goal:  get those cupcakes all the way to St. John’s, NL, in one piece – frosting intact – to deliver as a surprise at a tourism industry speech.  I was a nervous wreck because we all know baggage handlers aren’t always the most gentle caretakers, but there was simply no other way to get these cupcakes there fresh and on time.  Enter Jesse and Alex at WestJet.  They dove right into being co-conspirators on “Operation Cupcake Surprise,” and took personal responsibility for marking the boxes and shepherding them to the plane.  Then, at the gate, they introduced me to the baggage supervisor who personally stacked my boxes on board in a cool dry area, making sure they were all upright.  And they alerted the flight crew of the precious cargo to ensure my cupcakes and I got the same extraordinary treatment when we changed planes in Toronto.  The cupcakes were in perfect condition upon arrival.  PS – they even gave me an upgrade.  #fan4life

Chris Miranda stands between two WestJet employees at the gate in an example of unexpected and fabulous tourism guest service experiences.

 

  1. Someone bought me a hairdryer.

While staying at The Peninsula Chicago, I needed a hairdryer with a special attachment as mine broke during the arrival flight. They didn’t have it at the hotel, so on my way out to my dinner meeting, I asked the concierge for help locating a place to purchase one.  Requirements:  it had to be on my route to/from dinner, open in the evening, and definitely have it in stock.  I told him I was absurdly pressed for time that night, but needed it for 5am the next morning to groom for a big presentation.  The concierge instantly responded to my stress level and just said “go to your dinner, I’ll take care of it for you.”  When I got back to my room that night, the hairdryer was sitting on my bed with the money I gave him to buy it and a note on the box: “This one’s on me.  Knock ‘em dead tomorrow.”

 

You see?  It’s PEOPLE that make the most lasting impressions.  PEOPLE create the unexpected and fabulous guest service moments in tourism.  And those moments become marketable.  They create ambassadors for your brand.

So if you’re a tourism business, the moral of the story here is this:  1) hire kind people who like to make others happy, and 2) give them the freedom – within reason – to put that skill into practice with your guests.

Oh and here’s a tip:  do NOT let ridiculous and out-of-touch corporate policy override guest happiness.  The chocolate chip cookie policy at this resort is another experience I’ll never forget…but not in a good way.

Four Brilliant and Unexpected Marketing Partnerships

September 14, 2021

All good marketing partnerships need to be a win-win for the brands involved.  But brilliant marketing partnerships are also clever, unexpected, and make people say, “ok, now THAT’S cool.”  It’s not just that the benefit to consumers is valuable…it’s that the creation of the partnership itself makes an impression.

The partnership gods must be working overtime lately because I’ve seen four spectacular ones pop up in the past month.  These are worth a salute, plus they offer inspiration and learning opportunities for smaller, less well-funded businesses.

Before we explore them, it’s worth noting that in this context, a partnership is defined simply as two distinctly known brands coming together for a shared purpose.  It doesn’t matter who paid whom, or how the financial outcome gets distributed.  It’s about the brilliance of two brands unexpectedly aligning.  Ready?  Let’s go.

 

Cover of new book by Dolly Parton and James Patterson called Run, Rose, Run.

The Players:  Legendary country music artist/entrepreneur Dolly Parton and prolific author of thriller and mystery novels James Patterson.

The Partnership:  A thriller novel to be released in 2022 entitled “Run, Rose, Run” about an aspiring country music singer with a dark secret. The two are collaborating on plot and story elements for the novel, and Parton will simultaneously release an album of the same name, with 12 original songs inspired by the novel.

Why We Love It:  It’s a completely new idea.  An original book that promotes an original album…that in turn promotes the original book?  Each one draws the power of its distinct audience (Patterson book fans and Parton music fans) to inspire interest in the other. The cross-marketing opportunities are absolutely bonkers on this concept (“bonkers” being a highly technical marketing term for “limitless and insanely exciting”).  The book and the album are organically linked, so as you get vested in the characters and story through one, you are bound to be curious about the other.  And we’re just calling it right now:  there’s a Run, Rose, Run movie or streaming series in all our futures.

What You Can Learn:  Just because something’s never been done before, doesn’t mean it’s not possible.  Don’t just look for your partnership options among the usual suspects.  Can a hotel or destination partner with a band to write an original album based on its history and offerings?  Can a local coffee house partner with a local gardening supply store?  Can an amusement park partner with a haircare products company?  You bet.

 

A picture of the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, which is a vehicle shaped like a hot dog. This includes the signage of the Lyft brand.

The Players:  Food brand Oscar Mayer – well known for its wiener hot dogs – and popular ridesharing service Lyft.

The Partnership:  From August 25-27 in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, riders who hailed a Lyft XL could have been surprised by a pickup from the legendary Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.  Not only did that come with bragging rights and shareworthy content for the lucky riders, but the ride was free and they got swag.

Why We Love It:  First of all…it’s hilarious.  And after the wet blanket purgatory we’ve all experienced from the pandemic, frivolous fun is a welcome change.  But also, it’s a brilliant partnership because it has so many layers.  There are PR opportunities before, during, and after each rideshare blitz. The Wienermobile gets to cruise the streets for three days in four major cities.  Odds are at least some of the riders have decent social media followings and will share with glee.  And highly arresting video/photo visual opportunities exist across a ton of marketing channels.

What You Can Learn:  This partnership is all about providing the element of surprise to guests.  Lyft ride hailers expect a typical SUV to arrive for their pick up… they will lose their minds with joy when the Wienermobile shows up instead.  Where can YOU provide a pop of unexpected joy in what would otherwise be a typical, ordinary experience for your guests?

 

Rap artist Ludacris takes a spoonful of Jif peanut butter from the jar while standing in front of a microphone in a recording studio.

The Players:  Popular peanut butter brand Jif and successful rap artist Ludacris.

The Partnership:  The two teamed up for a commercial that shows Ludacris trying to record a new rap song and failing miserably with each take.  Then, after eating a huge spoonful of Jif in between takes, he nails it…because the way the peanut butter sticks to his mouth and makes him mumble is the PERFECT style for his new song.

Why We Love It:  Whether you love rap or not, it’s a common observation that it’s often really hard to understand what’s being said in a rap song.  And whether you love peanut butter or not, everyone knows peanut butter has the pesky tendency to stick to the roof of your mouth.  So the fact that BOTH brands involved were willing to poke fun at themselves with this collaboration?  Genius.  Whoever thought of this partnership deserves a medal.

What You Can Learn:  Let your hair down sometimes.  People love humor and they love when a brand is both humble and confident enough to admit their “flaws.”  Note that the flaw you cop to can’t be a serious thing or else poking fun at yourself will backfire.  Like, if you’re known for paying poor wages or implementing poor environmental practices, you definitely don’t want to draw scrutiny there.  But if – for example – you’ve got notoriously long wait times at your restaurant, you can certainly turn that into a positive and have fun with it instead of ignoring it.  See how this eatery in Colorado made it work.

 

A picture of a subway foot-long sandwich and the mascot from Bob's Discount Furniture sitting on a blue sectional sofa.

The Players:  American fast food restaurant franchise Subway and multiple businesses in local markets, including Bob’s Discount Furniture.

The Partnership:  As a way to break through the clutter and gain attention for its new menu items, Subway is doing a “takeover” of TV commercials from other advertisers.  Here’s what happens:  a Subway ad listing all its new menu items gets cut off before finishing…and then when the next commercial starts for a different advertiser, Subway interrupts the commercial and takes over the ad.  All the partner advertisers still get to hawk their own products.  The “takeover” commercial is a jointly produced, shared spotlight.  See the Bob’s Discount Furniture takeover ad here and see other Subway takeover ad partnerships here.

Why We Love It:  Lordy, it’s hard to get folks to pay attention to commercials.  But this quirky, untraditional approach is bound to cut through the clutter.  Regular TV viewers who are only half listening and already desensitized to hearing endless Subway commercials and endless Bob’s Discount Furniture commercials are likely to stop in their tracks to see/hear something they never expected:  Furniture mascot “Little Bob” selling Subway sandwiches.  This is true of all the takeover ad partners, like the local personal injury lawyer whose long-standing ad you could recite by heart, or the car dealership whose jingle gets stuck in your head all the time.

What You Can Learn:  Never say never, y’all.  Not only are these partnerships completely unexpected from brands that are completely unrelated, but also…really?  Sure companies have bought ad space from each other before, but it’s usually done so one can OWN the space…not so they can share it with a joint “takeover ad.”  Maybe you can’t afford your own local TV ad spots to allow enough frequency to penetrate consumer awareness, but what if you found a partner or two and created collaborative ads?  And this is not “you take the first 15 seconds and I’ll take the last 15 seconds.”  Rather, it’s more like “let’s marry our messages and have some fun.”  Again, going back to the local coffee house and the local gardening supply company…no one would EVER expect to see them marketing together, so a collaborative TV ad might just snap folks to attention.

These brilliant partnerships all capture the spirit of surprise because no one ever expected these brands to pair up.  And the element of surprise is a gift to marketers everywhere.  People love to be caught off guard with something atypical that’s also positive, clever, and joyful… see how we partnered MSC Cruises with automaker FIAT in a way no one ever expected. Tap that vein of “surprise” marketing goodness whenever you can.

And pssst… this doesn’t just work for partnerships.  Look at how Book Culture surprises its shoppers.

Is being the Google Featured Snippet always a good thing?

August 16, 2021

Spoiler alert:  no.  That may surprise you, because you’d think that being a Google Featured Snippet – which scores the top spot in search results – would ALWAYS be a good thing.  Alas, this is only true if it’s for the right topic, which brings qualified and relevant traffic to your site. And if it’s not…you’ve got a problem.

We learned this the hard way.  How hard?  Like…we had to “break up” with Google in order to fix the situation.  Here’s the story.

First, let’s be clear on what a Google Featured Snippet is and why it’s so coveted. When you search for something on Google, very often a meaty search result appears at the top of the page.  This is the result that Google feels best answers your query, and it’s presented differently than the other results.  In a featured snippet, the descriptive text (pulled from the website listed) is shown first, and then the website is displayed underneath.  Like so…

A screen shot of the search results for "what is a google featured snippet."

 

Here are the rest of the first page search results for that query.  See the difference?  The descriptive text is more like a short teaser, and it comes after the website link.

 

A screen shot of the bottom of the first page of the search results for "what is a google featured snippet?"

 

You can see why being the Google Featured Snippet is attractive.  You’re at the tippy top of the very first page of search results and therefore, likely to get the most traffic for that particular query.

And while there are things you can do to increase your chances of scoring the featured snippet spot, it’s basically up to Google’s algorithm to bestow the honor.  It uses historical data and patterns to determine which website page gives the best quality answer that most thoroughly satisfies user intent for that particular query.  This means that Google pays incredibly close attention to what people are searching for and which websites are delivering the most effective answers.

As it turns out, there are a helluva lotta sorry people in this world.  And they’re all searching for the best way to apologize for their actions.

In 2011, we wrote a blog post entitled “Eight Ways to Apologize Without Saying I’m Sorry.”  It was meant to help tourism and hospitality folks respond gracefully to situations that required an apology.  Unhappy guests, frustrated tourists, disappointed meeting planners…all are potential apology candidates in the world of hotels, tourism, and hospitality.  The blog post gave clear, practical phrasing and positioning to apologize without using those two little words:  I*m s***y.  (Yes, we’re wary of even spelling them out here for fear of Google finding us again for this topic.)

The advice shared in the post was apparently REALLY effective, but not just for tourism professionals.  Adulterers who got caught, best friends who had a fight, teens trying to avoid parental punishment… all found their way to our informative blog post.

Shockingly fast after the post went live, this happened:

A screen shot of the google search results for "how to say sorry without saying it" from 2011.

 

It was exciting at first because traffic to our site started to steadily increase.  Actually, we’re not exaggerating if we use the term “skyrocket” here.  We were the featured snippet for many different iterations of that query and our little ol’ company beat out some heavy media hitters.  Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., Reader’s Digest, even Oprah… over time, all had articles on the exact same topic.  All were relegated to the space beneath Redpoint on the search results pages.

And that’s where the problem started.

In time, our website’s bounce rate ALSO started to steadily increase.  Bounce rate measures the number of visitors who leave after viewing just one page on your site.  That makes it a critical metric for your website’s overall health.  (FYI, you can learn more about it here.)

Soon, the overwhelming volume of traffic drove our bounce rate into the high 90’s.  This basically meant that – say – 98% of the people who came to our site left after just looking at that one page.

This doesn’t mean a lot of other relevant tourism industry professionals weren’t visiting our site.  It just meant that there were SO many people wanting to apologize for things like cheating on their spouse that they dominated the percentage of total site visits.  And there was no reason for those folks to visit other pages of our site after getting their apology lesson.  Let’s be real:  the dude who searched for “how to say I’m sorry without saying sorry to my wife for sleeping with her best friend” has no need for a tourism PR and marketing agency.  A crisis publicist, maybe.  But certainly not Redpoint.

So what happened?  In time, Google’s algorithms were trained to see our site as a place people go for a lesson in apologies… NOT as the website of a tourism PR and marketing agency.  This meant we ranked way lower in search results for topics we WANTED to rank for, which are topics relevant to the tourism industry and the services we provide.  And there was absolutely nothing we could do to rebalance the organic search scales.  The power of that post – and our lack of control in being Google’s Featured Snippet – was just too damn strong.

So, we steeled our spines and cut the cord.  The day we took down that blog post was a giant leap toward nursing our inadvertently-bruised website back to health.  But I’m not gonna lie…I indulged in lots of comfort food that day.  I knew it was going to be bittersweet looking at our Google Analytics reports from that day forward.  Bitter, because the traffic numbers would be a tiny sliver of what they had been, which is depressing.  But sweet, because the visitors would likely all be relevant, which is immensely satisfying.

I’m happy to report that our bounce rate is healthy these days and I’m no longer aware of what outrageous evils people are searching for on Google that require an apology.

However, in a hilarious side note, we didn’t delete the post entirely.  We simply moved the content to a new domain we purchased just for the occasion.  And guess what happened within two months?

 

A screen shot of the first page of search results showing the google featured snippet for "how to say sorry without saying it."

 

For goodness sake…we didn’t even make the website pretty!  Just slapped the content up there to sit on a shelf until we could decide what to do with it someday.  And it’s still dominating over all the big media outlets as the Google Featured Snippet.

Hmmmm.  Do I see a new stream of ad revenue in our future?  Your move, 1-800-FLOWERS.

Moral of the story?  If you’re a tourism business and you decide to blog about a common human problem – say, a hotel instructs on how to fold a fitted sheet? – don’t break out the champagne (yet) if you become the Google Featured Snippet for the topic.  And start watching your bounce rate like a hawk!