How to sell your least desirable tourism product.

April 17, 2024

Nearly every hospitality business faces this challenge:  how do you sell your least desirable tourism product? The smallest hotel room. The worst table in the restaurant. The windowless meeting room.  Marketing folks NEVER put those in the spotlight for sale.  In fact, they do their best to hide them.

But there’s untapped potential within those “flawed” products…and I don’t just mean by selling them at a discounted rate.  With a little branding polish, they could become marketable AND generate more robust revenue streams.

The trick is…lean into the flaws.  Don’t try to hide them.  Make the flaws the sales hook.

That sound bonkers to you?  It’s not, and here’s why.

WHO SELLS FLAWED PRODUCTS SUCCESSFULLY?

While the tourism industry isn’t fully adept at this yet – see below for tips – other industries are raking in the dough from selling their least desirable products.  For example:

The diamond industry has “rebranded” flawed diamonds – those with a lot of inclusions, which are imperfections that look like chips, marks, and bubbles – as Salt & Pepper Diamonds.  Instead of relegating flawed diamonds to the worthless pile, they virtually champion them. Marketing for these gems includes language like…

  • These captivating inclusion patterns resemble tiny salt and pepper specks scattered throughout the stone, ensuring that no two are alike and making your stone unique.
  • Salt and pepper diamonds symbolize the “wild child”…they’re fun and their flaws work to benefit the overall appearance of the gem.
  • Their quirky look helps couples match their unique love story with a similarly unique diamond, turning their “flaws” into their biggest asset.

In the handblown glass industry, uniformity can’t be guaranteed but there’s a certain standard of quality that must be maintained to make products “sellable.”  Luxury brand Simon Pearce does a masterful job at marketing the glassware products that don’t *quite* meet that standard but are still perfectly usable products.  Sold under the collection heading “Seconds,” the marketing for these products actually celebrates the flaws:

“Unique beauty lives in imperfection. Each Seconds piece captures a moment of the human hand at work, where unique conditions lead to slight variations and differences, preserved in glass… a thoughtful option for those who value character and an organic quality to their household objects.”

And of course, there’s the booming industry of imperfect foods – from produce to packaged goods and everything in between.

A variety of colorful fruits and vegetables sit on a white background, with each item being slightly deformed, like a twisted carrot, a strawberry with four prongs, and a tomato that looks like two tomatoes smashed together. The copy reads: Tourism can learn a lot from these veggies.

It’s a spectacular win-win that combats food waste. Indeed, there’s a wildly successful brand actually called Imperfect Foods (though they are not alone), and all of their products are considered “substandard” by the businesses that produce them because of:

  • Cosmetic imperfection
  • Contains leftover ends and pieces
  • Size or weight imperfection
  • “Ugly” produce – tastes as expected but looks deformed
  • Made with rescued or upcycled ingredients

And yet… there’s a market for them.  And no one is trying to hide the flaws.  In fact, the flaws ARE the sales hook.

HOW MIGHT THE TOURISM INDUSTRY DO IT?

Generally, the industry sells the least desirable tourism products in one of two ways:

  1. Position it as a “value” item and charge less. This goes for everything from interior cabins on cruise ships to off-season time periods. The marketing focus here is on PRICE.
  2. Provide misdirection by mitigating the perceived flaws with a special benefit. The clever folks in Nova Scotia do this by recasting winter as “lobster season.”  They’re essentially saying sure, it’s freezing cold but this is when lobster is the freshest and most abundant… come up and eat!

Those two options require you to either give a discount OR create circumstances for misdirection.

But that third option – leaning into and marketing the flaws themselves – is underutilized and has great potential.

Consider these ideas:

Brand your “low season” and create excitement for what it is.

Vancouver Island promotes their Storm Season. This is not “come here during Storm Season and we’ve got a lot to keep you busy.”  This is, “come here to experience the storms.”  THAT is a perfect example of leaning into perceived flaws to sell your least desirable tourism product.  Suddenly it’s not so undesirable because there’s a hook.  You may not have awe-inspiring Pacific Coast storms at your location, so you’ll have to figure something else out. What can you highlight during your low season so you can make some noise about it?  Is it Quiet Season, Astronomy Season, Windy Season, Unpredictable Season…hell, even Frostbite Season could have appeal if positioned properly.

Brand your smallest rooms as “Cozy Rooms” or “Tiny Rooms.”

Deliberately PUSH the fact that they’re small. Yes, they can be priced lower than rooms with larger square footage but by branding them, you’re making them more desirable. And you’re also managing expectations up front. You might say that these rooms are a more intimate size, perfect for snuggling up tight with your partner or kiddos. Also, could there be some kind of special perk for folks who book these rooms…one that allows you to sell it at a higher rate?  Does the Cozy Room come with a Cozy Blanket to take home?  Are the walls of the Tiny Room decorated with dozens of tiny paintings?  Do guests of these rooms get a complimentary appetizer or dessert in your restaurant?  The possibilities are endless.

Brand your noisiest rooms as “Night Owl Rooms.”

That room near the service elevator, or the one directly over the ballroom or bar area?  You know… the one you get the most noise complaints about?  How about you call it what it is and promote it as a room for folks who don’t like to go to bed early?  This also manages guest expectations and will preempt many complaints. You might also offer a perk here to be able to charge a higher rate – complimentary movies/streaming after 11pm, minibar credit, special late night snack basket.

Brand your worst restaurant table as “The Family Table.”

Or call it whatever name you want – like if your restaurant name is Tom’s Bistro, call it “Tom’s Table” or “The Bistro Table.”  The point is position it so that anyone who sits there is like part of the family.  This is usually the table right near the kitchen doors and so lacks ambiance… but what if instead, you lean into how it’s closest to the action?  Maybe guests at this table get a “whim of the chef” appetizer or amuse bouche that’s not served to the rest of the tables. Maybe someone from the kitchen comes out to chat with them for a few minutes. Like the kind of thing that would happen if the guest really WAS family. And suddenly…presto, you’ve got a marketing hook and you might even generate a waiting list for that table.

Brand your hard-to-find, windowless meeting room as “The Seclusion Room.”

There’s something mischievous about the idea of positioning such a room as a place where secrets can be discussed safely. A place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted. A place where groups can be sequestered for deep thinking, creative brainstorming, and concentrated strategic planning.  You can have a little fun with this – playful do-not-disturb signs for the door, have special complimentary amenities available for this room (doodle paper and crayons anyone?), and offer upsells in keeping with the theme like a Seclusion Station with snacks/drinks that makes the meeting self-sufficient. It’s important to note that ANY meeting can book the Seclusion Room – they don’t need to be discussing secrets – but the branding has given the room a personality, and now it seems more desirable.

Got a challenge you don’t see here and want an idea?  Drop me a line and I’m sure I’ll think of something. 😉

Most importantly, if you’re going to take an approach like these to sell your least desirable tourism product, you really need to lean into it fully.  That means:

  • Promoting it on your website with the right language, images, and/or videos.
  • Describing it with the right positioning in your sales collateral.
  • Ensuring your guest services or sales staff is aware of the positioning and has the right words to sell it.

Need more tips like this?  Here’s how to promote your brand’s weaknesses strategically.

How to steal travel marketing ideas.

March 22, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

Enter… stealing.

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

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

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

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

These four tips will keep your stealing respectful:

#1 – TAILOR IT

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

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

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

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

#2 – FIND IT

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

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

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

#3 – EVOLVE IT

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

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

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

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

#4 – SHIFT IT

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need more inspiration?

How to Develop Creative Tourism Marketing & PR Ideas

How to Create PR-Worthy Tourism Packages

One Small Question Can Lead to Big Ideas

Do you sabotage your own marketing?

February 22, 2024

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

How?

By being a marketing contradictionist.

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

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

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

1) BUDGET NONSENSE

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

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

2) FORMULAIC LOVE-HATE

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

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

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

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

3) INITIATIVE PETTING

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

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

4) IDEA ENVY

This one’s a snap to explain.

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

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

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

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

5) HURRY UP AND WAIT

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

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

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

* * *

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

But the point is awareness.

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

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

How to leverage a travel trend.

November 14, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

1) Is this a legit trend?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sweet spot between overthinking and under planning.

October 23, 2023

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Because with overthinking, you miss opportunities.

Because with under planning, you miss opportunities.

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

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

Here’s some advice.

STEP ONE:  AWARENESS…DO YOU RECOGNIZE YOURSELF HERE?

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

Overthinkers tend to…

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

Under planners tend to…

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

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

STEP TWO:  DO YOU (OR YOUR ORGANZATION) CARE ENOUGH TO CHANGE?

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

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

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

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

STEP THREE:  HOW TO MOVE INTO THE SWEET SPOT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five real-life stories and their marketing morals.

September 7, 2023

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

The Country & The World Cup

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

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

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

 

The Surgeon & The Flowers

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

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

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

 

The Meerkat & The Photographer

 

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

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

The Front Desk & The Dumb Answer

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

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

The Biscuits & The Masking Tape

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

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

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

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

Should your brand have a Threads marketing strategy?

July 21, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask yourself some questions surrounding these three points:

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

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

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

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

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

What inspires word-of-mouth in tourism marketing?

June 16, 2023

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

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

Wait…what?

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

And voila.  Word-of-mouth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A brilliant tourism marketing case study.

April 14, 2023

A red British phone box sits among the green rows of grape vines at the Luckett Vineyards in Nova Scotia, which is an example of a brilliant tourism marketing case study.

 

No one ever expects to find a phone booth in the middle of a vineyard…and that’s what makes this such a brilliant tourism marketing case study.  The folks at Nova Scotia’s Luckett Vineyards have scored the brass ring of branding with this creative move.  But it’s no fleeting stunt; it has brand and marketing legs for days.  And spoiler alert…the phone actually works.

Let’s break down just what makes it so brilliant, especially from a tourism perspective.

  1. It’s totally unique…and let’s be honest, very few ideas actually ARE unique.  Most often, ideas billed as “unique” are just riffs on existing ideas.  But this one embodies the very definition of the word unique.  An iconic British phone box (which we call a phone booth here in the US), set smack in the middle of a vineyard in Nova Scotia?  Nobody saw that coming.  And that makes everybody pay attention to it.
  2. It sets their marketing photos apart.  We’ve all seen gorgeous pictures of vineyards.  Many with gorgeous surrounding backdrops.  Often with the light catching the landscape just right, and especially at sunrise or sunset.  Never with a British phone box featured in the scene.  On social media, such photos stop thumbs from scrolling.  And in media relations, it catches the interest of journalists.
  3. It provides bragworthy photo opps for guests.  Guests share in that halo effect of capturing unique photos…and it does the same thing for their own social media feeds that it does for Luckett’s brand marketing.  It makes for a cool photo that a visitor just can’t get elsewhere.  And to be quite frank, in this way, it helps establish their presence as a tourist destination.  Visitors to Nova Scotia who want to explore the province’s wine country in the Annapolis Valley region make Luckett a must-do stop.  And if they stumbled upon it accidentally…they’ll never forget it.
  4. It provides a surprise experience for guests.  Wait… you thought it was just a photo opp?  So might guests…until they go check it out.  It’s actually a working original rotary-style telephone, and guests can make free calls from it to anywhere in North America.  (TBH, just the experience of using a rotary phone is a surprise experience for many of the younger generations… are there instructions on how to dial?  LOL)
  5. OH THE BRAND EXTENSIONS!  Luckett is the only brand in the world who can credibly name a collection of wines Phone Box Red, Phone Box White, and new for 2023, Phone Box Rosé.  Besides the fact that these are delicious wines even for locals, what tourist who’s visited the winery and taken photos and called home on that rotary phone WOULDN’T also want to take home a wine called “Phone Box?”  It’s not easy for a winery to get people to remember the names of all their different types of wines.  These are unforgettable.
  6. It’s an opportunity to have fun…everywhere.  Their website’s home page touts “wines worth calling home about.”  It’s little things like that which make this entire concept so fabulous.  There’s always a way to weave the phone box subtly and cleverly into the brand’s marketing.  And kudos to Luckett, they never devolve into the realm of cheesy with it.  Everything is done with an edgy sophistication.

And the real gem of a lesson behind this brilliant tourism marketing case study?  There was no grand master branding plan involved when they originally decided to do this.  It was just a fun, cool idea tossed out one day by their vineyard manager, Marcel Kolb.  It just seemed like something whimsical that would give visitors something unexpected to remember.  But the owner, Pete Luckett (a British Canadian who was born in Nottingham, England), loved the idea and immediately started making calls to buy one for the vineyard.

All the other nitty gritty details that make this such a brilliant marketing case study came later.  It all started with “this is cool, let’s just make it happen.”  And then – very wisely – they built upon it to give it brand equity.  If they had just stuck the phone box out there among the vines, and never absorbed it into their DNA, it would lack the branding power it has today.  Instead, they gave it a stronger foothold and made it part of their identity.  Not ALL of their identity.  Just enough to set them apart.  Super smart.

Parting tip:  if you go visit, try their Fizz, which is my fave.  But then again, I’m a notorious bubbly drinker, so perhaps I’m biased.

And here are a few related topics you may find of interest:

Six cool examples of marketing.

The secret to a great tourism photo.

Four brilliant and unexpected marketing partnerships.

 

Five ways tourism marketers often fool themselves.

March 17, 2023

Listen up marketers…we like to think we’re always making wise choices, but sometimes we stick our heads in the sand.  When budget, staffing, or timing is tight, it’s soooooo tempting to cut corners and say to ourselves “it’s fine.”

 

A cartoon image of a dog with a small brown hat sitting on a chair surrounded by a room that's on fire, while he is sipping coffee calmly and saying "this is fine." This is meant to illustrate what's happening as part of the five ways that tourism marketers often fool themselves.

Y’all…it’s really NOT fine, and deep down inside, you know it.  Here are five ways tourism marketers often fool themselves, and how it comes back to bite them in the booty.

1)  We can water down this BIG idea and still get BIG results.

The excitement and energy that accompanies a big idea is invigorating, infectious, and lasting.  This is especially because the magnitude of the potential results makes us star-struck.

Here’s the rub, however.  When – due to budget, operational challenges, timing, executive indecision, or whatever – that big idea gets watered down before implementation, often marketers are super bummed that the results aren’t the ones with which they originally fell in love.  They conveniently “forget” that they dramatically pared down the idea, and never shed that infectious, lasting excitement they had at the start.

If this describes your organization, fear not…you’re not alone.  I can’t tell you how many times clients have asked us for a BIG BOLD IDEA, which they love at first hearing.  And by the time it comes back to us after several washings through their various committee discussions and lengthy decision-making processes, we don’t even recognize it.  This phenomenon is quite common.  In fact, it’s so common that we even have a term for it at Redpoint:  vanillafication.  That’s taking bright, colorful, tasty ideas…and wringing all the flavor out of them until they’re just vanilla.

Folks, there’s no harm and no shame in paring down ideas.  Necessity (and the reality of your situation) often demands it.  But if you pare down your ideas, you must proportionately pare down your expectation of results accordingly.  Not doing so is just one way that tourism marketers often fool themselves…and then they’re disappointed.

2) It’s fine if we just replicate last year’s event as is.

No, it’s not.  Whether it’s a trade or consumer event, whatever tourism thing you’re selling…it’s being sold to people.  And people get desensitized so easily.

It’s essential that you add at least one new element to your annual events each year.  It doesn’t have to be huge or cost a lot of money.  Just something different than your audiences have experienced at that event before.  It keeps the event fresh, makes an impression, and gives folks something to talk about…and maybe even post on social media or share in other ways.

Moreover, if you seek news coverage of the event, you actually need “news.”  If the event is 100% the same as it was the last time they heard about it or attended, there’s literally nothing for them to cover.  They need a nugget of something new to make their editorial coverage interesting and timely.

I know, I know.  Tourism marketers are so busy and often stretched so thin that it’s a relief when you can finally put something on autopilot and not have to invest new creative energy or logistical planning into something that’s already “done.”  Sorry, friends.  This is yet another way tourism marketers often fool themselves.

3)  We can wait to fix this website issue.

There are days when I feel like it would be easier to raise a child than properly maintain a website.  Platforms evolve, things break, algorithms change, content gets stale… the list is endless.

The mission to keep everything current and in excellent working order is so relentless that it’s tempting to ignore some of the issues for a while.  Like… “until I have the budget,” or “until I have the time,” or “until next year.”

Because of this, often tourism marketers fool themselves into thinking, “oh, it’s not that bad if that one part of the navigation is wrong,” or “it’s only a few broken links on pages people don’t use much,” or “yeah, the site is slow to load but it’s not that bad,” or – my personal favorite – “these photos aren’t the best, but they’re fine for now.”

This sort of ostrich mentality does your business grave damage.  Why?  Because it’s quietly and invisibly turning away potential customers…AND YOU DON’T EVEN HEAR ABOUT IT.  Trust me, no one ever calls you up and says, “I was going to book with you, but your website annoyed me so much I decided against it.”  They don’t do that…they just walk away.

Sure, if you look at your website analytics, you can see symptoms of this.  But that’s easier to ignore (if you’re even looking…and many businesses, especially with DIY marketing, aren’t).  Imagine if all those folks who walked away actually DID call you up and say that?  You’d make fixing your website the highest priority instantly.

Your website is your virtual front door. Stop losing business because of it. On both desktop and mobile, it needs to be visually appealing AND fully functional.  That means it’s fast, easy to navigate, informative, and current, with no broken links or wonky formatting.  Users care about all of that, but as importantly…so do search engines.

Tip:  here are six common website issues to look for on your site.

4) These photos are good enough.

I can’t tell you how many times tourism operators have handed me a brochure or a business card (sometimes even at a trade show!) and said, “This is us, but don’t look at the photos; they need to be updated.”

Here’s a story that puts that situation in perspective.  During a website audit, we showed a hotel client that the highest number of people were leaving their site from their photo gallery page.  Sweet lordy.  A photo gallery page should inspire people to check dates and start the booking process, not leave the website.

Investing in a major photo shoot had seemed like something they couldn’t afford.  But that audit showed them that they couldn’t afford NOT to do it.

Photos are an essential selling tool in tourism marketing.  They can’t just be “good enough.”  They have a job to do, which includes things like catching attention among cluttered social media feeds and capturing the imagination of website visitors.  Ultimately, you want your photos to inspire action, whether it’s to read a caption, click a link, or inquire about booking.

Please don’t fool yourself when it comes to the quality of your photos.  You will lose money because of it.

Note:  for tips on this, see The Secret to a Great Tourism Photo and What Makes a Dramatic Tourism Marketing Photo.

5) It’s fine if no one else in our organization knows what marketing is doing.

In so many of the organizations we work with, marketing lives in a silo.  And it’s sooo tempting to keep it that way.  No scrutiny, no one chiming in with opinions, no questions about how budgets are being spent.  We hear that a lot: “I just gotta keep my head down and churn out the marketing stuff.”

If this is you, hear me out.  This is a major way in which tourism marketers often fool themselves.  In the tourism industry, the relationship between marketing and all the other departments is crucial.  Our product is experiential, and its delivery is dependent on operations, guest service, human resources, and more.  It’s an ecosystem that needs to be in harmony at all times.

Because of this, EVERYONE needs to know what marketing is doing.  Marketing is bringing in the guests who fuel the engine that delivers the experience.  So, that engine needs to know what marketing is doing to make that happen…especially so they can live up to those promises.

Distribute a monthly update, make periodic presentations, even go door-to-door Erin Brockovich style and tell folks what’s happening.  One business I know hosts a monthly “snack time,” at which they lure folks from other departments in with free snacks and share the upcoming marketing tactics while soliciting input for the future.  Figure out whatever works for your organization’s culture and just do it.

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Overall, it’s likely that time poverty and budget constraints are the two biggest culprits behind many of these unwise choices.  So I get it… it’s not easy.  But awareness is the first step toward change, so grab yourself a beverage and think about where YOU might be fooling yourself in your tourism marketing activities.  Feel free to make that an adult beverage… you might need it.  😉