Your belly button is an email marketing tool.

November 9, 2022

Picture of a woman's stomach, with her hands surrounding her belly button, which could be an excellent email marketing tool.

Wait… IS your belly button an email marketing tool?  Damn right it is.  Here’s why.

Consumers kinda suck, don’t they?  They need to be rewarded for everything we want them to do…liking things, sharing things, buying things, answering things.  It’s maddening.

Well marketers, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  We’ve conditioned people to chase carrots and respond to hoopla…which means we’ve ALSO conditioned them to ignore stuff that’s boring, predictable, trite, and unrewarding.  If you add in clutter from other sources, their willingness to focus on your boring stuff drops even lower.

Where does this leave email subject lines?  At the top of your “spend brainpower here” list.

Think about it…all the time and energy you spend creating the perfect email content is 100% useless if people don’t open the email.  And when sifting through their barrage of daily incoming emails, consumers use three main criteria to determine which ones will get their attention:

  1. How much they care about you vs. how much they care about the rest of the senders sitting in their inbox.
  2. How much time they have available when your email arrives.
  3. Is the content going to be worth their time?

And #3 is why subject lines should get your brainpower.  You have little or no control over #1 and #2.  

If your email marketing subject lines are things like “August Newsletter” or “News from…” or even something a little more specific like “Winter Packages at…”… you are relying on the first two criteria (which – again – are beyond your control) to supply the magic “open sesame” of consumer response.

But if your subject line is something like…

Procrastination is fine. (From Pacifica Hotels)

I hate purple. (From Chilewich)

Stick Season – Have You Ever Experienced It? (From West Hill House B&B)

The ecosystem of your belly button. (From American Museum of Natural History)

Hydrangea Heaven at Chatham Bars Inn. (From Chatham Bars Inn)

Because our first shoe had to be perfect. (From Everlane)

Caution:  Do not lick this email.  (From Seamless)

…you’re using the subject line as a lure to snap desensitized recipients to attention.  It’s likely that 80% or more of the emails they receive each day have boring subject lines.  Make yours interesting and you’re one notch closer to seducing them into seeing your email content.

Here’s the best part.  If you pay heed to #3 (teasing interesting content)…and then you actually ensure that the content IS interesting…over time, it’s going to positively impact #1 and #2.  Remember: marketers train consumers.  And the more you train them that your emails are interesting, the more that #1- they will care about you and your messages, and #2- no matter when your email arrives, they will make the time to read it.

It’s a delicious cycle of persuasive marketing goodness.  And soon you will find that consumers – those picky, aloof, what’s-in-it-for-me monsters we marketers have created – will suck just a little bit less.

Tourism folks may not easily be able to use a belly button as an email marketing tool – although for years, we worked for Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Times Square and no body parts were off limits for marketing there – but the concept is the same.  At the end of the day, it’s all about making your marketing more persuasive.  And therefore, making all that precious time you spend creating content…worth it.

Four character traits that foster good timing in marketing.

September 20, 2022

One of marketing’s most critical tentpoles is timing, and there are four character traits people (and businesses) should possess that can help foster good timing in marketing.  You should know which of the four are your strengths and weaknesses, and then understand how each is impacting your marketing success.

Why?  Because in marketing, you should play to your strengths.  And if you want to execute the kind of marketing campaigns that aren’t a good match for your weaknesses, you’re going to waste time and money…guaranteed.

Do a little soul searching about yourself and your company’s traits and behaviors to see where you stand on these four essential character traits:

1. The Decisiveness to Act Quickly

For some marketing concepts, especially those tied to a trend or current events, you need to act NOW.  The power of social media only heightens this urgency.  Your window for success may only be 24 hours, and even launching something just two days later will fall flat and yield you zero ROI.

A fabulous recent example of this comes from startup coffee company Cometeer.  When investment bank Goldman Sachs announced it was ending the free cold brew perk previously offered in its NYC HQ, Cometeer had a free coffee table set up right outside of the bank’s building just 16 hours after the announcement was made.  Here’s how they made it happen.  Had they done it even just a week later, the news value would have been too low to make it worthy of notice.  It HAD to be linked in time to the announcement that the cold brew perk was being discontinued.

Tip:  What if this is your weakness?  Steer clear of marketing concepts and campaigns that will be a complete failure without tight, precision timing.  You may want to do them oh-so-badly, but you’ll just be frustrated that they didn’t work as well for you as they did for other companies you envy.  Years ago, on the day American Airlines announced it would now charge a $25 fee for checked baggage (an industry first at the time), we put our client Loews Hotels in the media spotlight by announcing ON THE SAME DAY that Loews would give a $25 credit to all incoming guests who flew American and checked a bag.  That Loews Baggage Buy Back Program was in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and more the moment we pitched it.  Media wanted to share it in conjunction with news about the American Airlines fee.  Had we pitched it a week later, the airline fee story would have been old news, and no one would have cared.

At the time, we had another hotel brand client who saw what we did for Loews and said, “we want an idea like that for us!”  And it’s just not that simple.  That was a client who took four weeks just to approve a simple weekend package press release.  They would never be able to turn around such operational decisions across dozens of hotels (and approve the pitch copy) quickly enough to catch the news wave.  So we’d be doing them a huge disservice and wasting their money if we forced them to try.  A business that can’t make decisions quickly has more success with marketing concepts that have a nice long runway and lots of wiggle room for timing bottlenecks.

2. The Willpower to Wait

OK so maybe you’re awesome at making decisions and acting quickly, but sometimes good timing requires that you have the willpower to wait.  Jumping the gun – before the facts are in, before the campaign is REALLY ready, before details are agreed – can not only tank your marketing ROI, but it can also cause you real harm.  A few examples we’ve seen in our time as marketing and PR counselors:

  • A government official at a destination wouldn’t wait for talking points following a violent hate crime against a tourist. Instead, he insisted on speaking with the press immediately and gave his opinion on the situation without knowing the facts.  Turns out, the facts belied his opinion in a BIG way, and the destination suffered immeasurably for it…not to mention the fact that they had to pay us a fortune in crisis management fees for damage control.
  • I can’t even count the number of times a hotel has pushed us (against our advice, I promise) to launch a package – through PR or an email blast or social post – BEFORE they’ve got all the details finalized on the website and BEFORE they’ve shared it with their reservation and front desk agents. They want to “get it out there and start selling,” but they don’t seem to get how much this harms them.  When consumers want more information (or to book) and can’t make it happen, they get frustrated.  So not only does the hotel NOT get the sale, now they’ve pissed people off.
  • I also recall a colleague being traumatized by the fact that she was “forced” to announce a huge brand partnership in the media and on social channels before the contract was finalized. The owners were trying to secure more hotel management deals and felt it would be a huge feather in their cap to have that cool partnership announced as they were engaging in other negotiations.  When the partnership fell through before the deal even got signed, the harm to their image – and their business – was excessive under the circumstances.  They earned an unwelcome gold medal in backpedaling, for sure.

Tip:  What if this is your weakness?  This one’s tough, because it’s psychological and personality driven.  You need to be aware that it’s in your nature and admit to yourself that your impulsiveness can do your marketing great harm.  In this case, you need to surround yourself with cool-headed sounding boards who can objectively rein you in when you’re about to go rogue.  And then – sorry if this is super blunt, but I say it for your own good – you need the humility to listen to them.

3. The Resistance to Complicate Things

Lack of this resistance is definitely the most common weakness we see (when it comes to marketing), and often goes hand in hand with not being able to act decisively or quickly.

The more complicated you make something – too many goals for a single campaign, too many decision makers, too many layers in a concept – the harder it will be to nail successful timing.  For some reason, it’s an incredibly common human trait to overcomplicate things.  Part of it is time and resource poverty.  Our resources are so precious that we try to force them to serve many masters at once.

But a HUGE part of it in the business world is the (often misguided) need to get multiple people involved in various projects and decisions.  If I had a nickel for every time we were ready to launch a campaign for a client, and at the eleventh hour someone said “hey, let’s get Jeff’s opinion on this before we flip the switch.”  Inevitably, Jeff has something to add that derails the timeline and – I’m sorry to say – is most often not helpful.  But we made Jeff happy by looping him in so… Politics 1; Marketing Success 0.

There’s a principle called Brooks’ Law that was originally created to address communication challenges among software project teams.  But it really applies to ANY type of team working and making decisions together, like a marketing team and its extended family (executives, operations, etc.).  Visually, it shows lines of communication necessary for various team sizes, like this:

 

One of the four character traits that foster good timing in marketing, this diagram of Brooks' Law shows how larger teams require exponential lines of communication.

 

In associations, governments, and large companies, it’s not unusual to find a committee of 10 or more involved in projects and decisions.  Do you see how complicated those visuals are?  That’s an accurate reflection of the logistics required to get consensus.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise that these types of organizations find it hard to achieve perfect timing…it’s just too darned complicated.

Tip:  What if this is your weakness?  There’s no easy fix for this one, other than to say steer clear of marketing concepts that require tight timing or “drop dead precision launch dates.”  You may not be able to capitalize on current events or hot news topics, but you CAN give yourself a lengthy runway to get ducks in a row long before an important event will take place.  See how we did this for the four provinces of Atlantic Canada, making a social media splash the moment the Canadian border opened during the pandemic.

4. The Discipline to Stay Abreast of the News

Marketing needs to sit well within the context of what’s going on in the world.  Being oblivious to current events can have unfortunate timing consequences, from ill-timed insensitivities to launching a product/service you claim is “a first”…when it’s been done before.

A recent, cringeworthy example of this is when the television show Canada’s Drag Race tweeted “This crown is up for grabs” on the day Queen Elizabeth II died.  Obviously, they meant the drag race crown, but ugh… the tweet was pummeled with criticism and had to be deleted.  This is a helpful lesson that pre-scheduling social posts can be a useful tool, but unless you stay abreast of the news, it could backfire.

Redpoint nearly fell prey to this once with our popular tourism marketing newsletter Tickled Red.  For the March 1, 2022 issue, the subject line was supposed to be “Bubblegum and Tombstones in Tourism.”  Tombstones referred to the brilliant concept of Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard… but the issue’s timing was just after the war in Ukraine started and casualties were piling up.  The newsletter draft was written before the war started, but we pulled that story (and the subject line) the day before it was scheduled to send.  It was not the right time to be celebrating tombstones of any kind.

Tip:  What if this is your weakness?  If you’re not someone who immerses themselves in news every day, and you don’t have a marketing agency at your disposal to help stay abreast of news, here’s a quick fix for one-off marketing plans.  Just before you’re about to launch something, hop on a social channel like Twitter or LinkedIn and see what news is trending.  Also, do a search online for keywords related to your campaign or concept.  A quick Google search will likely reveal anything glaring that may conflict with your plans.  And then either make your changes accordingly…or have the willpower to wait (see #2 above).

If you’re scheduling social posts in advance, however, then it’s super risky for you to NOT stay abreast of the news.  So if it’s not in your nature to keep up with current events, it’s best to just change your habits:  either stop scheduling posts or start checking the news often.

Folks, the bottom line is…no one is perfect.  You and/or your company may claim some of these character traits as weaknesses and there’s no shame in that.  But you’ll have more success and achieve a greater ROI in marketing if you choose concepts that play to your strengths instead.  It will make timing your friend and not your enemy.  Reflect on these four character traits to see how well (or not) you foster good timing in marketing.

Want more tips on how to get the most out of marketing?  Check out these 20 tips we assembled from our 20 years of experience as tourism marketing counselors.

Four tips to conquer your frustration when social apps get an overhaul.

July 28, 2022

When a social media app does a major overhaul of its format and features, frustration ensues.  Most marketers go through six stages of emotional grief:  anger, resentment, resistance, resignation, petulance, and… eventually… acceptance.  This is ESPECIALLY true of DIY or “one man band” marketers, who are drowning in general marketing tasks and have little time to learn the new rules of the game in one particular specialty.

Instagram is on a path to emulate TikTok, and even though it’s been a rocky start, they are committed to getting there. Twitter is rolling out a “notes” feature, which lets you tweet long-form content.  YouTube Shorts was launched in 2021 and yet many brands have been slow to tap its potential (even though the platform gets an average of 15 billion daily views).

A blond woman in a blue dress holds her head in frustration over the latest social media app overhauls.

For marketers, changes like that can be utterly exhausting.  Sure, if you’re an Instagram marketer (for example), and that’s ALL you do… you’ll dive in immediately and figure out how to harness all the new opportunities.  But if managing a brand’s Instagram account is only one of your 100 diverse responsibilities, a dramatic overhaul of the app is a roadblock that can tank your productivity and wring you out emotionally.

Resentment and resistance can only be indulged for so long before results start to suffer.  So give yourself a brief period to pout and then figure out how to embrace the changes in a way that works best for you.

And if you’re NOT a social media specialist whose entire job is to immerse yourself in these apps, here are four tips to help you get past your frustration when social media apps do an (annoying) overhaul:

  1. Divide & Conquer: There are two things contributing to your exhaustion.  One is figuring out what the new features are and if they’ll benefit you, and two is learning how to use them.  Both things take time, which is likely in short supply for you.  So, don’t do it all at once…research first, worry about learning the skills later.  The world won’t end if you don’t adopt the new features quickly.  In fact, if social media is only a fraction of what you do, your presence isn’t likely to be that robust and so your audiences won’t be expecting cutting-edge marketing here from you anyway.  Take your time.  It’s ok.
  2. Do Research:  The best thing about the internet is that someone, somewhere will have written a helpful article within a day of the overhaul.  You can find summaries of what’s changed, how to use the new features, and why they’re useful (or not).  A Google search for things like “Instagram update” or “Twitter Notes feature” (or whatever) should bring you to the latest articles the day overhauls are announced.  Wait a few days and “how to” articles are bound to follow.  You can also check sites like Social Media Today and Search Engine Journal.
  3. Create and Use a Test Account:  Part of the emotional frustration you feel comes from worrying you’ll screw up and not use the new features correctly…and your audience will see it.  This is where having a secret “test account” comes in handy.  Setting up a second account on a channel that’s private, with only you and a few friends/colleagues as the audience, is an easy way to play with all the new features until you get comfy with them.
  4. Watch and Learn:  You may not have the bandwidth to do EVERYTHING a social media app allows you to do, but you can certainly cherry pick features that make sense for you.  So, watch what other accounts do and try to recreate them in your test account.  This means you may need to follow more than just your local or regional competitors, because if they’re in the same time-poverty boat as you, then you won’t learn much by watching their accounts.  Follow BIG brands, that are bound to have expert social media teams using the latest cool stuff.

And above all, relax.  I know it’s frustrating when overhauls like this disrupt your routine.  Suddenly things you finally learned how to do efficiently are no longer efficient to do.  It’s annoying as hell.  But social media apps will continue to evolve constantly…it’s just the nature of that marketing medium.  So if you’re going to have a presence on those channels, this is a necessary evil.

Just remember:  It’s perfectly OK if your social media marketing isn’t robust because you’re spread too thin.  As a marketer, you have to make choices…and as long as you’re choosing to be robust in OTHER areas that bring you a strong ROI, it’s fine for social media to get less attention.  In fact, we flagged that as #17 in our list of Top 20 Tips for Tourism PR & Marketing Agency Clients.  It’s worth a look.

Because really, at the end of the day, success in marketing is about how much time you can spend on it.

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.

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.

 

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!

Here’s a smart idea for tourism content creation.

August 12, 2021

Recently, I came across the National Aquarium of New Zealand’s Instagram page and thought:  now there’s a smart idea for content creation in tourism.  Their “Penguin of the Month” feature awards both a “naughty” and “good” category.  The award post captions are hilariously descriptive and draw the audience into the ongoing competition.  I even admit to being disappointed this month when little Mo reclaimed the Naughty award after finally winning the Good award a few months ago.

Smart tourism content creation idea, showing National Aquarium of NZ's Penguin of the Month Award.

The beauty of this concept isn’t just leveraging the cuteness of penguins.  It’s the fact that they’ve established an interesting, personal, and sustainable stream of content that eases the burden of content creation.

The most frequent complaint we hear from marketers who are responsible for feeding multiple social and marketing channels weekly is this:  it’s a pain in the a** to figure out what to post all the time.  This is especially true if content creation is only a sliver of the person’s job.  Coming up with ideas for engaging content takes time and mental bandwidth.  And if you’re a tourism marketer who wears many hats, you know those two things are always in short supply.  This is why concepts like Throwback Thursday were born, because it’s an easy reach for a weekly content idea.  (BTW, don’t ever use the hashtag #tbt.  Here’s why.)

It’s always smart to find marketing ideas in the wild and use them to spark new ideas tailored to your own unique situation.  You can get more specific help on how to do that here, but for now, let’s talk about the “of the month” type of content feature.

Obviously, if you’re a zoo, aquarium, or any type of animal farm/sanctuary, this idea is ideal for you.  It doesn’t matter if other attractions are doing it too… it’s not a mutually exclusive marketing concept.  Your “of the month” feature is tailored to your animals, your attraction, and your audiences.

But what if you don’t have cute animals in your content toolbox?  You can still tap the “of the month” magic with an interesting, personal, and sustainable stream of content that makes sense for YOU. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hotel, destination, tour company, restaurant, cruise line, or whatever.  People generally like to be entertained by tourism and hospitality content.  This means you’ve got a blank canvas to craft an engaging concept that works for your business.  For example, you could do fun, funny, and/or tongue-in-cheek versions of…

  • Quirky Object of the Month Award, for which you tell a fun story about an interesting knick knack, piece of furniture, piece of artwork, weird utensil, or whatever else is on your property.  Don’t just describe it…give it personality.  “This pitcher shaped like a rooster is a fan favorite here at the inn.  It was originally used to hold milk at the family’s breakfast table, but now we often use it to hold sangria at our Friday happy hours.  Hmmm.  Maybe that’s why it’s a fan favorite?”
  • View of the Month Award, which could take many forms.  Shots from inside hotel rooms looking out, cool/breathtaking views in your area, secret viewing spots only locals know, etc.  Again…captions shouldn’t be boring here, like “isn’t it breathtaking?”  Rather, add flair, like a recurring theme of “if this view could talk, it would say…” and each time answer it with something that grabs attention.  Like, it would say “…why didn’t you bring a picnic?”  Or “…sell your house, pack your belongings, and just move here already.”  Or “…would you like a side of wine with this?”
  • Activity of the Month Award, which could cover anything from physical/exercise activities (i.e. hiking) to seasonal activities (i.e. berry picking) to “only in your area” activities (i.e. oyster shucking down at the local marina) to quirky/random activities (i.e. instructions for proper stretching after a long car trip).

The categories are endless and would be all the more engaging if they’re unexpected.  A city destination might do a “Parking Spot of the Month” feature, and use it to highlight a cool block of shops in various neighborhoods.  A hotel might do a “Guest of the Month” feature, but it’s all about the dogs, cats, and other pets that visit…not people.  A cruise line might do a “Towel Animal of the Month” feature, and make up a story behind each animal as if it were a live being.

The point is…an interesting, personal, and sustainable “of the month” feature is an excellent way to ease some of the burden marketers face in generating content.

And WATCH THIS SPACE to see if little Mo the penguin ever makes it back to the “Good” list.

Three tips for creating engaging virtual tourism experiences.

May 25, 2021

An opened box of Taza Chocolates shows items available in the virtual tasting kit, including bars, discs, nibs, and pouches. These help provide an engaging virtual tourism experience for participants.

As the pandemic fades and travel resurges, you may be wondering…will virtual travel experiences stay relevant?  The answer is YES, and if you’re a tourism provider, here’s the number one reason why you should continue to invest in creating engaging virtual tourism experiences:

They’re a highly effective marketing tool.

Virtual tourism experiences can play a key role in the trip planning process for consumers.  If done right, they can lure people into your sales funnel, upsell services and amenities, and – a critical benefit – provide rich, engaging texture for your various content channels.

Moreover, the pandemic has made people really comfy with online interaction in all aspects of life, business and personal.  This means a turnkey, willing audience now exists…whereas before the pandemic, virtual experiences were much less of a mainstream opportunity.

“Virtual tours” have been around for a while, but largely in the form of online 360° tours and pre-recorded videos.  These can also be helpful marketing tools in a tourism provider’s toolbox… but nothing beats live interaction for making strong connections with guests.

The pandemic has catapulted such virtual, interactive experiences onto a global stage and into the norm. It’s not that they didn’t exist before.  It’s just that the labor and budget resources required to do them justice felt like a heavy lift for a possibly elusive audience.  Now, all that has changed.

If you’re seeking to up your game (or get started) in the virtual tourism arena, here are three tips to help you create effective, engaging virtual tourism experiences that are both memorable and shareworthy:

1.  Include live human interaction.  A live host can create the kind of dynamic experience essential to establishing bonds with guests.  And let’s face it…this gives guests as close to an in-person experience as possible without leaving their computer.  Participants can ask questions – vocally or in a chat function – and converse/interact with the host in various ways as the experience unfolds.  The most effective hosts are vibrant, charismatic storytellers who are quick on their feet and extensively knowledgeable about the subject at hand.  One of the greatest examples of this online right now is WildEarth.tv.  These daily live safaris do an extraordinary job of broadcasting with guides in multiple locations to ensure viewers can always go where the action is.  And the more you watch, the more you get to know (and love) the guides.  They are passionate, funny, experienced, and inspiring.

2.  Optimize real-life elements for virtual settings.  Nothing sabotages a virtual tour like being reminded it’s not as good as the real-life experience.  You never want your host to be forced to say things like “if you were here, you’d be able to see…” or “you can’t see it that well through your screen, but…” or “when we do this in person, we…” A virtual experience shouldn’t be a substandard, repurposed version of your real-life ones.  Even if it’s based on an experience you offer in real life, it needs to be built from the ground up AS a virtual experience.  Also, your hosts should be fully trained on the virtual technology being used (or else you have an experienced crew running point).  And further, they should be specially trained on how to deliver this experience virtually, especially if it’s one they’re used to hosting in person.  Organic, stone-ground chocolatier Taza does a spectacular job of this with their factory-tour-turned-virtual-tasting. Sign up for one to get some inspiration…plus get a delicious virtual tasting kit (pictured above).

3.  Create visual assets that enhance (and guarantee) effective content delivery.  Virtual experiences can’t rely on the rich immersion of real life, nor the chemistry that emerges organically when groups are brought together.  People sitting at a screen need substantive visual interaction to keep them engaged.  It complements the host’s vocal delivery, punctuates the session with visual texture, and underscores memorable moments within the experience. Further, it helps blend education and entertainment, which is one of the best ways to forge connections.  These folks – Airbnb hosts Lucie & David – created an absolutely brilliant online tourism experience taking people on a walking tour of Prague, Czech Republic that follows in the footsteps of a 17th century plague doctor.  The Redpoint gang took this tour together and afterward, every single one of us said “I want to go to Prague.”

All types of tourism and hospitality providers – hotels, resorts, inns, attractions, DMOs, restaurants, cruise lines, tour companies and more – can do this…and continue to do it as part of their marketing efforts.  Tour the area, do interactive kids programs, host cooking demos with chefs, tour grounds and gardens, meet and greet with local businesses, explore nooks and crannies of a lodging property… whatever.  Think of things your guests could experience and bring that to life virtually.

Does this require more logistics and is it more labor intensive than just producing a pre-recorded experience to slap up on your website?  Yep.  But the live, interactive experiences can be more powerful, more shareworthy, and more effective at generating conversions than a recorded video.

Think you don’t have time to do all this?  You do.  Read why here:  Marketing…It’s About Time.

And as a parting gift:  here’s some inspiration to help you in creating and cultivating your own engaging virtual tourism experiences:

Footprints of London does a beautiful job of presenting a blended calendar of in-person and virtual tours, showing how these can sit side-by-side and complement each other.

And the incomparable Laura Begley Bloom created this stellar list for Forbes of some of the best virtual tourism experiences available today