Five real-life stories and their marketing morals.

September 7, 2023

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

The Country & The World Cup

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

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

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

 

The Surgeon & The Flowers

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

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

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

 

The Meerkat & The Photographer

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

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

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

The Front Desk & The Dumb Answer

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

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

The Biscuits & The Masking Tape

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

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

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

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

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.

~~~

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.  😉

 

The use of experience guarantees in tourism marketing.

December 12, 2022

With a looming recession in a post-pandemic world, you may – should? – be considering the use of experience guarantees in your tourism marketing.  Why?  Because travelers will be less willing to risk their precious dollars on an unpredictable experience.

A rare black Amami Island rabbit sitting nestled in the forest in Japan, showing how the use of experience guarantees in tourism marketing can be successful.

 

But offering a REAL guaranteed experience of any kind could be risky for you.  Sure, you can say “we guarantee you’ll have a great time” (and by the way, here’s why you should never say someone will have a “great” time).  But that’s quite different from “we guarantee XX will happen or we’ll give you a refund.”  So much of the hospitality experience is subjective that it’s hard for you to TRULY guarantee that certain things will happen.

So what CAN you money-back guarantee without exposing yourself to excessive risk?

First, embrace these two key factors:

  1. Most consumers don’t have a clue how much risk is involved to you. All they’re thinking about is the guarantee to them.  So your low-risk guarantee – which may seem like a “duh” to you – still has marketing value.
  2. The bolder the guarantee, the higher the risk. And the higher the risk, the more powerful the marketing proposition.  You need to decide your comfort level on the financial-risk-vs-marketing-power spectrum, and it’s different for every brand.

Second, remember that tourism experience guarantees serve a MARKETING purpose, not an operational purpose.  Indeed, marketing and ops departments often have polar opposite views of guarantees:  marketing would love to guarantee everything, and operations would love to guarantee nothing (because they aspire, but what if circumstances don’t allow them to deliver consistently or are completely beyond their control?).

And since these guarantees serve a marketing purpose, they must be marketing-worthy…or else what’s the point?  Such guarantees set you apart from your competitors and, if they’re cool enough, can attract hefty attention in both traditional and social media.

Gather food for thought from these examples:

No Brainer/Low Risk

  • There are so many whales in the Juneau, Alaska, area that Princess Cruises can offer a whale sighting guarantee on their paid shore excursions. You can spend 200 bucks on your ticket, knowing that if you don’t see a whale, you’ll get $100 back.  VERY attractive for travelers, VERY low-risk for Princess.
  • Also on the wildlife front, tours on the remote Amami Island in Japan offer guaranteed sightings of the island’s rare black rabbit, an animal exclusive to that area. If you don’t see a rabbit, you’ll get a 50% refund.  If you’re up for some light reading, check out this deep scientific study that assessed the benefit of these guarantees on both the tourism economy and the conservation of the rare Amami Island rabbit.  The punchline:  that guarantee is good for everyone…the tour operators, the visitors, and the rabbits.
  • A few years back, thanks to some crafty fine print, Priceline promoted a Sunshine Guarantee for its packages. The promotion covered a shockingly wide variety of destinations (really…July in Seattle?) and the bottom line is that if it rained more than the expected amount on your vacation, you get your money back.  You’re probably thinking… were they nuts?  No. They just had great lawyers that mitigated their risk:

Bolder Options with Financial Bite

  • One of the boldest and riskiest tourism marketing experience guarantees I’ve ever seen actually hails from Redpoint’s own client portfolio. Years ago, we launched a Sleep Guarantee for The Benjamin Hotel in NYC as part of its comprehensive sleep program that included a 12-pillow menu, a Sleep Concierge, and rooms specially designed for an ideal night’s sleep.  The guarantee, which offered a full refund if you don’t sleep as well or better than you do at home, added MAJOR strength to the hotel’s sleep positioning and attracted the attention of high-profile media from Good Morning America and The TODAY Show to The New York Times (multiple times… here are two), The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, and more.  It was a strategic component designed to attract media attention and you know what?  In the ten years we worked with them, fewer than 10 guests asked for that refund.  So let’s say that total refund cost was (generously) $10,000.  The PR value of the sleep guarantee easily exceeded $1 million in that same 10-year period.  ROI:    The hotel knew their high-end clientele wouldn’t be out to make a quick buck on this offer, so in reality it wasn’t as risky as it seemed.
  • And the Uzbekistan government also did the math. In summer 2020, they offered US $3,000 to any visitor who contracted Covid-19 while staying in the country.  This seems like a hefty financial risk to them but 1) were people even traveling internationally at that time?  And 2) It sounds mercenary but that potential $3,000 per person was definitely way LESS than the value of the marketing attention they gained.  So, even if they ended up paying out the money, it was a sound investment.
  • Aruba also realized how skittish folks would be about booking travel amidst a pandemic, so they offered a “Happily Ever After Guarantee.” Billed as “the first postponable pandemic destination booking policy,” it allowed bridal couples and honeymooners to reschedule without penalty for up to a year if Covid-19 wrecked their travel plans.  A bold move, for sure, as multiple properties had to agree to honor the policy.  But it worked, and it set them apart from other Caribbean destinations.

If you’re considering the use of experience guarantees in your tourism marketing, heed this advice:  be playful, be bold, and be strategic about your fine print.  For example:

When you evaluate carefully and do the math, such guarantees may not be so risky after all.  Consider any claimed refunds as a “marketing investment.”

And hey, while we’re doing math and looking at your P&L, see here why you can’t find love on a spreadsheet.

Six surprising things you can rent by the hour.

October 13, 2022

The tourism industry changed dramatically when platforms like VRBO and Airbnb enabled travelers to forgo hotels for a vacation home rental. But not only did this change traditional tourism lodging models…it gave “regular people” a thirst for renting their stuff to tourists, thrill seekers, and folks looking to relax.  I mean…why stop at lodging?

And suddenly, the apps and online matching platforms were born.  Here are six surprising things you can rent by the hour, from regular people who have something you want and don’t/can’t own yourself.

A Garden

Love gardening or want to try growing some veggies, and don’t have your own patch of land for the pleasure?  The platform Shared Earth matches people who have plots of unused land with aspiring gardeners in their area.  Through the in-app messaging system, you can get information about the sunlight, soil quality, and other pertinent facts to help you determine if that particular land is suitable for the types of things you want to grow.  Tourism professionals…take note here.  Got some land you could share with the community this way?  Worth considering.

A Swimming Pool

Want an escape but can’t afford the time/money for a vacation?  Rent someone’s swimming pool and yard by the hour through Swimply (which might be the most perfect brand name on the planet). You plug in your desired location and time and voila…a list of pools for rent and their photos are shown.  Then you just book and go.  One gent raked in nearly $200,000 just renting out his pool over the course of two years.  The only downside to such a perfect brand name comes when you want to develop new revenue streams:  Swimply is beta testing Swimply Spaces, through which you can rent people’s tennis courts, private gyms, and more.  Cool idea but it dilutes the power of the name.

An aqua blue swimming pool with a stone waterfall feature is just one of the six surprising things you can rent by the hour.

A Boat

Why buy a ticket for a boating experience with lots of other tourists?  Rent your own for an hour or two – even with a private captain and/or crew – from someone who has a boat to rent out as a side hustle.  The Boatsetter app will match you with your perfect boating experience in your preferred location.  Yachts, fishing boats, party boats, pontoon boats, sailboats…even jet skis are available.  And the locations are pretty diverse, with both ocean and lake options across the US.

Outdoor Sporting Gear

In another example of a perfect brand name getting diluted through expansion, Spinlister began as a way for folks to rent bikes of all kinds, from touring to mountain and everything in between.  Over time, it grew to feature a wide range of outdoor gear like surfboards, stand-up paddle boards, skis, and more.  This makes total sense for folks who are casual outdoor enthusiasts that have neither the inclination nor the storage space to own their own gear.  Tourism professionals…take note here:  there’s a Spinlister Pro version available for businesses, so if you want to lure in all those folks staying in Airbnb’s around your community, this might be a gateway.

A Yard for Your Dog

The brilliantly named Sniffspot – and please for the love of branding, Sniffspot…don’t you too start renting out other things that make no sense for your name – will allow you to rent someone’s backyard for your dog to play in by the hour.  And not just a backyard…the listing options include private hiking trails, fenced in/roam free areas, yards with pools the dogs can use, yards for private use, yards for playing with other dogs, yards with doggie agility courses, and more.  At prices that range from $5 – $20 (ish) per hour, it’s an incredible value…even if you have your own yard for your dog, but occasionally want to rent one with a pool or agility course to give your pup its own mini-vacation.

A black dog and a brown dog running fast in a large yard, one of the six surprising things you can rent by the hour.

Your Driveway

If you’re fortunate enough to have a driveway, garage, or any kind of owned area that could be a parking spot in a densely populated area (where scoring a parking space is like winning the lottery), you can rent it out through SpotHero.  At first glance, the website looks like it’s only used by big companies and parking garages, but regular folks can rent out their home spot here too…by the hour, day, week, or month.  It’s a super helpful service for people who don’t have time to waste looking for a parking spot, but don’t want to pay the exorbitant fees often charged by garages, stadiums, and (sorry tourism industry) urban hotels.

And in addition to these six surprising things you can rent by the hour, here’s a bonus:  Fat Llama.  Want to rent a painting?  A photography lighting umbrella?  A scooter?  A sewing machine?  A ukulele?  A drone?  A power drill?  You can find it all (and more) at Fat Llama.

Now THERE’S a brand name that can handle expansion into any category.  Because…random.

For some memorable examples of when tourism businesses treated me with the same kind of personal relationship vibe you get from these “regular person” rentals, check out these 10 unexpected (and fabulous) tourism guest service stories.

Four character traits that foster good timing in marketing.

September 20, 2022

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

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

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

1. The Decisiveness to Act Quickly

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

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

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

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

2. The Willpower to Wait

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

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

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

3. The Resistance to Complicate Things

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

4. The Discipline to Stay Abreast of the News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six cool examples of marketing.

September 19, 2022

At Redpoint, we geek out over marketing success and recently, we’ve discovered these six cool examples of marketing worthy of applause.

Utterly Unexpected Trade Show Booth

When we were kids, those claw machines at arcades and amusement parks were irresistible.  But as adults?  Imagine BEING the claw, and swooping into a giant tank to grab as many prizes as you can.  Hats off to Squishmallows for this standout trade show booth at VidCon, where fans waited in line for four hours just for their 20-second turn in the Human Claw Machine.

One of six cool examples in marketing, this image shows a trade show booth filled with Squishmallow stuffed animal toys and a person hanging above them ready to grab as many as possible.

Seriously Clever Video Ads

It’s quite reasonable to assume that not EVERYONE will be interested in watching The History Channel’s documentary series about the Roman Colosseum.  But their marketing folks have produced a series of video ads that give it wider appeal and the best possible chance of luring in non-history buffs.  Meet Gaius Falco, head groundskeeper of the Colosseum (by way of New Jersey?), in these two ads.

 

Brilliant Branding Concept

OK, we can’t even breathe because this concept is so absurdly PERFECT.  Follow me on this:  Heavy metal band Metallica has a famous song called All Within My Hands.  In 2017, the band created a nonprofit organization called All Within My Hands Foundation.  And one of its signature programs is the Metallica Scholars Initiative.  This initiative partners with the American Association of Community Colleges to support scholarships and fund programs for students to learn trades working with their hands, such as welding, electrical engineering, HVAC, construction, and more.  The program supports 32 community colleges across 27 states.  We’re talking millions of dollars in funding here.  BRAVO, both for the initiative and the sheer branding brilliance.

One of six cool examples in marketing, this logo for the Metallica All Within My Hands Foundation shows a light blue hand with a keyhole and guitar neck.

Most Relatable Billboard (possibly of all time)

Score one for “good old fashioned” Timex, who managed – with just ten simple words and a photo – to instantly communicate how their product provides a solution to one of the most popular, gut-wrenching problems on the planet.

One of six cool examples in marketing, this Timex billboard shows a picture of a watch and the caption "check the time without seeing you have 1,269 unanswered emails."

 

Smart…but Creepy?…Product Launch

This product came out a few years ago, but we just stumbled across it recently.  The Shelves of Life product is a bookshelf that can be repurposed into a coffin, so you can be buried in it when you die.  Wait…what?  Indeed, this is true and it can be purchased, and it comes with visual instructions and diagrams for making the shelf-to-coffin transformation.  More about it here, and more about the designer, William Warren, here.

One of six cool marketing examples, this set of bookshelves can be transformed into a coffin when the owner dies.

Video Storytelling That Steals Your Heart

Bravissima, Barilla!  This video tells a story about Izyan Ahmad (“Zizou”), a young tennis player who had a dream of playing against Roger Federer when he was 11 years old.  Watch what happened five years later.

And in addition to these six cool examples of marketing, here’s one of our throwback faves.  When the baker hired Simone, it started a seriously cool chain reaction.

What’s a “newsworthy” animal experience in tourism?

June 20, 2022

In our role as PR counselors, we’re often asked how to make things newsworthy, and tourism animal experiences are no exception.  It’s a valid question because the answer requires more than just adding discounted zoo tickets to a hotel stay to create a package.  To be newsworthy, there must be something extraordinary, unique, unexpected, or timely about it.

Before I review some examples to illustrate the point, let’s just be clear on this:  being “newsworthy” in ANY subject is not easy, nor is it often achieved passively.  You have to pursue it deliberately, and in most cases jump through some hoops to make it happen.  Proactive investments are usually required, whether financial, creative, or both.  Risk – often high risk – is usually involved.  And a thoughtful runway of time and planning is key.

This means that, as a tourism marketer or owner/operator, you must have both vision and patience if you want to create concepts that are newsworthy.

And these folks did.

Here are four illustrative examples from around the world of newsworthy animal experiences in tourism:

Jamala Wildlife Lodge

This hotel is set within the National Zoo & Aquarium in Canberra, Australia. And by “set within,” I mean the accommodations are organically nestled into the entire experience, not a stand-alone hotel that happens to be located on the grounds.  Rooms and suites offer exclusive viewing perches, or share glass walls with animal habitats, allowing guests unrestricted viewing from the privacy of their own space, like so:

A woman taking a bubble bath while watching tigers prowling on the other side of a glass wall is a highly newsworthy tourism animal experience at Jamala Wildlife Lodge.

 

From jungle bungalows to giraffe treehouses and rooms that put guests up close and personal with sharks, meerkats, capuchin monkeys and more… it’s no wonder the website prominently features a “join the waitlist” option.

What elements make this a newsworthy tourism animal experience?

  • The financial and architectural investment to create unique accommodations that offer rare 24/7 access to animals.
  • Only a small handful of hotels like this in the world provide such an atypical experience.
  • Dramatic, unexpected photos/video to promote the experience.

 

The Biosphere at Treehotel, Sweden

The entire concept at Treehotel is extraordinary and newsworthy… a collection of dramatic, high-design treehouses distinctively different from each other.  But one – The Biosphere – takes your breath away both visually and experientially:

A photo of a hotel room suspended in the air from a tree, adorned with 340 birdhouses on the outside is a newsworthy tourism animal experience available at The Biosphere at Treehotel in Sweden.

 

Adorned with 340 birdhouses attached to its exterior, guests enjoy a front row seat to some of the most spectacular birdwatching possible.  The Biosphere’s design is meant to protect and foster the local bird population.  But lordy, it manages to be a showstopper in the process.

What elements make this a newsworthy tourism animal experience?

  • Well, 340 birdhouses to start (duh). Pretty sure it’s the only accommodation in the world with THAT distinction.
  • It’s visually arresting, and photos of it stop people in their tracks, even when mindlessly scrolling on social media.
  • The bold, complex design earns news attention for both its financial and creative investments.

 

Caiman, A Brazilian Ecotourism Retreat in the Pantanal

The Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland, and its 42 million acres spans across Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay.  Caiman Ecological Refuge, with 18 lodge rooms and two private villas, is within the Pantanal in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul.  The 150 miles to get there from the airport are fraught with dirt roads that have no internet or GPS access, but it’s worth the drive because this:

A photo of a jaguar with mouth wide open, showing sharp teeth, is part of the newsworthy tourism animal experience guests can have at Oncafari and the Caiman Ecological Refuge in Brazil.

 

One of Caiman’s conservation partners, Onçafari, is dedicated to the conservation of once-endangered and now near-threatened jaguars with research, protection, education, and repopulation.  Guests can go out with guides to learn more about these elusive animals through up-close interaction.  Nocturnal guided exploration is also an option for those feeling brave.

What elements make this a newsworthy tourism animal experience?

  • The confluence of the Pantanal, jaguars, and deeply meaningful conservation efforts.
  • The Caiman Ecological Refuge itself, which offers guests education and interaction with many other options for sustainability education…from livestock ranching to conservation projects for endangered and illegally trafficked birds.
  • The remote location. There’s no convenient airport shuttle and no public transportation.  You need a special kind of car that can take the dirt roads or a turbo-prop aircraft to get there.  Basically… you have to really WANT to get there.

 

Natural Habitat Alaska Bear Camp

It’s true there’s no shortage of “bear viewing” experiences in the tourism industry, especially in British Columbia and Alaska.  So it takes an unusual one to stand out.  Once again, we lean into the “hard to get to” element here.  With Natural Habitat, you fly in a private bush plan over volcanoes, glaciers, and icefields to get to this remote Bear Camp:

An aerial view of the Natural Habitat Adventures Bear Camp, which is a highly newsworthy tourism animal experience.

 

The weatherproof tent cabins are surprisingly designed for comfort, with climate control, lighting, hard floors and a solid door.  It’s not glamping…but it certainly ain’t “roughing it.”  The three days you spend at the camp gives you extraordinary up-close access to Alaskan brown bears with experienced Expedition Leaders who both educate and safeguard you.  This is no “quick tour to a viewing platform” so you can take a selfie and prove you were there.  This is a full-on bear immersion.

What elements make this a newsworthy tourism animal experience?

  • The remote location. Any place “only accessible by plane or boat” already piques media interest.  The harder one must work to get there, the more interesting it becomes.
  • The layout and design of the Bear Camp. Just one spectacular aerial photo (as shown above) is enough to capture a traveler’s imagination and interest.
  • The collaboration with World Wildlife Fund (WWF). There’s no denying that such respected brand recognition adds credibility to the experience.

These four experiences aren’t all newsworthy for exactly the same reasons, but two things are certain with all of them:

  1. They’re not “news-washing,” which is when a business tries to put a slick bow on something to make it seem newsworthy, without making the under-the-hood investment needed to give the angle true, credible substance. When a program, package, or experience focuses more on “looking good” than “being good”… a credible journalist can sniff that out in a heartbeat, and it’s a turnoff.
  2. They all have extraordinary photo/video opportunities to help tell their story…and the business has invested in capturing the BEST photography/footage at likely a hefty cost to them.

Investing in “hero shot” photography is essential to developing a newsworthy story, as you can see with these tourism animal experiences shared here.  Journalists NEED photography, and it’s only natural that they’d want to use ones that tell the story visually, in just one glance…and that cut through the clutter to get people’s attention.

For more tips on this crucial news element, see these tips on the secret to a great tourism photo.

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.