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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Five cool tourism marketing campaigns that may need post-Covid tweaks.

July 15, 2021

Will marketing ever be the same after we’ve spent so long viewing the world through a Covid lens?  Lingering hesitancy toward close social interaction with strangers adds a new risk element to advertising, imagery selection and especially cool, interactive tourism marketing campaigns.  Yet, isn’t getting to know strangers – and being enriched by the experience – a fundamental selling point in tourism?

This makes all our jobs as tourism marketers just a bit harder.  So, for fun, let’s reminisce about a simpler time…when worrying about portraying germ exchange wasn’t so high up on our marketing radar.   Here are five cool tourism marketing campaigns that may need some post-Covid tweaks if implemented today.

THE SWISS VILLAGE PHONE PROMOTION

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  Swiss villages in the region of Graubünden are so quiet that everyone who lives there can hear the pay phone ring in the town square.  And if you called that phone in the village of Tschlin (population 166) and someone doesn’t pick up…you could win a free trip and other prizes.  30,000 people called in just six days.

Post-Covid Tweaks:  All 166 people answering the same phone without showing it being wiped down and sanitized even once?

 

THE KLM BONDING BUFFET

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  Get 20 strangers to share a Christmas dinner buffet together in an airport.  The catch?  The buffet descends from the ceiling (in its futuristic Star Trek way) in stages, each time a new person fills a seat.  And once all 20 seats are filled, the table laden with food locks in place.  KLM Airlines really knocked it out of the park on this one.

Post-Covid Tweaks: “Tweaks” just ain’t gonna fly here.  Sharing food?  Hugging?  Cozying up for selfies?  This utterly brilliant marketing concept can only reign supreme pre-Covid.

 

EUROPE – IT’S JUST NEXT DOOR

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  French national railway company SNCF wanted to encourage people to take a train journey to other European countries.  So, they placed THE coolest freestanding, interactive doors in unexpected places all around Paris.  People who opened the door experienced real-time interaction with engaging locals in other cities.

Post-Covid Tweaks:  Dude, that door handle needs serious sanitizing, and mesmerized groups of spectators can’t stand six feet apart and still watch the interaction!

 

CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE – THE FAROE ISLANDS

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  This is an incredibly genius idea to both combat and draw attention to the overtourism problem…while at the same time promoting tourism for an off-season weekend.  Visit Faroe Islands “closed” to visitors the last weekend in April.  Instead, that weekend it welcomed volunteers from abroad to help with maintenance and clean-up of the islands’ many natural sites and attractions.  In return, visitors get a free room and meals during their stay.

Post-Covid Tweaks:  Wide open spaces and lots of fresh air working outdoors?  They almost skated through with that.  But the vague “free room and meals” leaves one in doubt:  will I have my own room and is it clean?  Communal meals?  How intimate is the contact I’ll have with strangers?  Ah, Faroe Islands… you were so close with this one!

 

THE GREAT ESCAPE TO GRAUBÜNDEN

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  Wow, the folks at Graubünden Tourism must really eat their marketing Wheaties, because here’s another winner from them.  In this promotion, people at the Zurich train station could interact in real time with a friendly, welcoming, grandfatherly-type gent in the village of Vrin.  He even prints free tickets for spontaneous-minded folks to hop a train and go visit him that day.

Post-Covid Tweaks:  Has that guy been vaccinated?  Have my fellow adventurous travelers been vaccinated?  Because if we’re all going to shake hands, hug, and share a meal in Vrin, I need to know.

 

OK… I’m not REALLY suggesting that we need to see the people of Tschlin wipe down the phone.  Nor am I saying there should have been a bottle of hand sanitizer hanging from the doors in the French railway ads.

The point is, as marketers, we just got a new dimension added to our lens.  How will people perceive our messaging, images, and attempts at interaction in this uncertain world?  There’s no easy answer, and no permanent one either.  This will evolve over time as the pandemic ebbs and flows…and eventually recedes completely.  But for now, we’ve all got to add this to our growing list of “considerations we must factor into our marketing material.”

Still, it’s pretty cool to reminisce, right?  Those were the days.  One time, a group of strangers at a tourism conference even baked me a bunch of homemade cakes!  Yeah… those WERE the days.

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