Monthly Archives: December 2010

Time For A Better Conference

Back from another astounding DMAI Annual Convention. The session with Claire Hughes Johnson of Google, the PDM sessions, the “cheap therapy” as you network and realize you’re not the only one dealing with those issues… And the expo is a perfect opportunity for small bureaus to window shop and compare valuable tools that will help their Bureau! If you believe the Convention is only for the major markets, you’re mistaken! Dan Fenton offered a money back guarantee. Perhaps Stephen Perry will offer the same next July.

But, I don’t believe it was perfect. Jeff Hurt has offered his thoughts on improving conferences. Here’s a few other random thoughts as to how to improve the conferences we attend every year – August’s Five @ 5:

1. True Descriptions of Session Contents – I swear some of the same people that write the over-exaggerations we tend to put in our visitor guides write the session summaries. If it’s going to be an infomercial, tell me please. If you sell it as a session on marketing to 35-45 year old high school drop out martians, make sure the speaker stays on topic and doesn’t change his mind after a conversation with a friend as he walked into the breakout room.

2. A Frank Dialogue with Hoteliers – we always grumble about the hoteliers. We wish we could get them to understand us or just hear us. Have we ever invited them to a round-table dialogue? Get the HLA leadership(s) to attend a session, listen and encourage them to take the message back to their membership. (Better yet, hold the HLA and DMO conferences concurrently and have joint sessions!)

3. No Motivational Speakers or Celebrities – Save the money. The celebrity will just say something stupid and show he/she doesn’t have a clue about the group they’re addressing. And I’m motivated enough being out of the office. No rock climber or fighter pilot or former athlete will help me with my job. Save the hour and give me more time to network.

4. More Time to Network – Ten minutes between sessions is not enough time to start a serious dialogue. (Perhaps I’m stupid in that I go to sessions.) But the time to chat with the colleagues about their ‘best practices’ or mistakes they’ve made that will help me is invaluable! Give me more time!

(Oh, and when a niche specific round table session is held, don’t spend half the time writing down 20 topics leaving us with enough time to only touch on 3. Especially if you polled the group in advance and already have a list!)

5. Hold the Conference in a Small Market – “small market” is a relative term. If it’s a state conference, hold it in really small community. One that will really value the attendance. I know there’s logistic issues but figure it every fourth year or so. Nationally, go to a Des Moines, or Lincoln, or Topeka, er, I’m sorry, Google, Kansas. Do we always have to go to the same major markets? Besides, it will be a lot easier for smaller bureaus to sell it to their boards if you’re headed to Fargo (with all due respect Fargo!)

This is certainly not a knock on Michael Gehrisch and the staff at DMAI. The convention is outstanding and DMAI is moving in some great directions! Stay tuned for some incredible offerings in the form of a tool kit from the Advocacy Committee! And this certainly wasn’t directed just at DMAI. My state’s conference could use a refreshing I’m sure. I’m not going to suggest #5 to them this year though ’cause it’s scheduled to be in my city!

(Originally posted August 2010)

Too Eager Out of the Gate

A friend and colleague, Craig Molitor, recently landed the Fond Du Lac, WI, CVB gig. As I emailed congratulations, I was completing my first year review. Naturally my mind started thinking of all the changes I would have made that first year and, if asked, what I would advise Craig or any other colleague starting their first year at the helms of a DMO.

I fear the first trap we first year execs fall into is the “we-need-to-change-everything” trap. Sure, there are probably some things that need changed. I inherited a bureau that was using three different logos and many different communication styles. Additionally we were not a part of the greater community. That had to change. But often no change is needed. Instead five simple steps the first year on the job – July’s Five @ 5:

1. Meet, meet, and meet – You had better get a membership to the Y or a new pair of running shoes ’cause if you’re doing it right that first year, you’re eating breakfast and lunch with someone every day. Hoteliers, attractions, Mayor, City Councilmembers, City Manager and department managers, business leaders, the Chamber and ED execs, sports clubs, University President and department heads… and that’s the first month.

2. Listen – it’s not enough to just meet with all of those community leaders, but listen. They may actually have a great idea. “Something I always wanted to share with the CVB…”, “Something that was really successful years ago but then just dropped…”, “What (your predecessor) did real well was…” You’ll miss some real good advise or promotions if all you are thinking is “what can I share from my resume to impress them?”

3. Read everything – Your predecessor may have had a great marketing plan. No sense ‘fixing what wasn’t broken’. By-laws, research, contracts, research, visitor guides, research, history books research, board minutes, oh, and if there’s any recent research on your community, visitor profiles, etc., peruse it. (If not, call someone and have some done. Then read it!)

4. Set Goals – Quite frankly, they can be very modest goals but set goals. I didn’t set any goals and at times I truly wondered what I was targeting. I knew we were getting some stuff done but hadn’t prioritized. What needs reviewed? What is fully functional and doesn’t need looked at? Which employee needs guidance and which one should I leave alone?

5. Check the Attitude – Harsh I know but first, you got the job! You don’t need to impress anyone any more. Secondly, your predecessor may have left in good graces! You aren’t coming in to ‘clean up a mess’ ’cause he/she may not have left a mess. And finally, you’ll be appreciated for what you show a year from now or 18-months from now. Again, you don’t HAVE to change anything just to say ‘I’m the new sheriff’.

If you’re 15, 20, 25 years on the job, the above can still apply. When’s the last time you sat down with everyone to chat and listen? Do you still read new things or ‘just know it’? And maybe everything is still working and you don’t have to change anything ’cause it’s been used for a long time.

(Originally posted July 2010)

Get In The Game

Indicators and research show stable growth and longevity in the sports event industry, an industry that has been resilient at a time when other markets are showing signs of decline. – National Association of Sports Commissions

So when the motorcoaches aren’t coming by as much, its harder to get your message to the leisure traveler through all the clutter, and the local banquet hall just isn’t attracting the conferences, where to turn? Sports Marketing. And once again NASC’s Symposium provided the perfect messages at the perfect time! Sessions on Partnerships, Economic Impact, Risk Management, and Sponsorships; plus the ‘trendy’ Green and Social Media.

And how about that line-up of speakers? Mr. March Madness Analyst Clark Kellogg, Indians GM Mark Shapiro and Olympic Medalist Paul Wylie. If you’re looking to “get in the game” – the sports marketing game, NASC’s Symposium is a ‘must attend’. But it’s not as simple as hanging a For Use sign on the local softball diamond. There are basic but serious considerations before ‘lacing them up’ – May’s Five @ 5:

1. Fields or facilities – “Got a field. Check!” Nope! Truly how available is the complex to outside uses? Most school facilities are for the students and most public facilities are for the residents. Period. Ask the school district or parks and recs about the fields’ availability before shopping them. You’ll appreciate it less you truly attract someone and then have to say ‘I guess it’s not available this summer.’

2. Transportation Infrastructure – Can teams get to the fields or even your community? Reasonably? How easily can they fly in if you are able to attract a national event? Is there an interstate system close to your community/facility that will make it easy to drive in? And is there ample parking? If there’s an open ditch county road leading to the facility do you expect participants to park along the road? May work for the beer and church leagues but not AAU!

3. Relationships – Gonna bid on a tiddly winks event… who is the first person you call? The local tiddly winks guy or gal! You sell the community – the hotels, the restaurants, the attractions during down time. The local tiddly winks guy or gal sells the venue that the tourney will be held in, the knowledge of the sport and the local tiddly winks nation that will rally and volunteer!

4. Volunteer Base – Probably the worst thing is attracting an event and not having the volunteer base to staff the event. Your staff can’t do it! You’re selling the community for the next event! Have the volunteer base in place before you bid on the event!

5. Hotels – Here’s an interesting question to ask your hotels – Do you want youth sports? Believe it or not, most may answer ‘no’! Those rowdy teen boys tear up the place and cost the property more in repairs than they make on the room nights. As we fight for every room night and validation of what we do, the worst thing is to attract an event only to have the hotels not offer any room blocks and all the room nights go to the neighboring community.

I’ve spoken on the subject of sports marketing and have more on the site including a copy of the PowerPoint presented. Find it under Resources.

(Originally posted May 2010)

Lessons from a 6-year-old

I believe my son is an average 6-year-old. He likes Star Wars, Transformers, Wii and sports. When we moved to Norman, Okla., he saw the OU football poster and wanted one. So up one went on his wall! Then he wondered if he could get posters from the teams OU was playing. And thus, the quest began!

Because the DMOs in the cities of the Big 12 have a strong relationship I was able to drop the other eleven a line and make the request. As some went unfulfilled, I started contacting the universities’ athletic departments myself. The result is 25 posters – and counting – covering all sports in 8 universities! And daddy has one interesting lesson in customer service – April’s Five @ 5:

I received one of five different responses from the universities. They are the “cold shoulder”, “play by the rules”, “absurdity”, “just do it” and “above and beyond.”

1. Cold Shoulder – it was interesting that I didn’t get even a simple return email from two of the universities. I realize they’re busy, but really, how hard is it for some graduate assistant or secretary to click reply and type “I’m sorry but we simply can’t fulfill your request.” I would have understood that reply. I don’t understand being completely ignored!

2. Play by the Rules – I get that the NCAA has more rules than the US Government, but to receive a one page email explaining all the rules bewildered me! KISS! “The way we interpret the NCAA rules do not allow us to fulfill your request.” Simple enough. I’ll buy that. If you have a rule restricting a potential visitor’s request, don’t go into details or attach the policy, just simply explain – or break it!

3. Absurdity – one university’s email reply stated they’d be happy to send us a poster if we’d send them a check for $10.00 to cover postage and handling. Really!? You didn’t think I’d check other packages to see what the postage ran to see how much you’re pocketing? Is your athletic department that broke? I’d revisit any policy like that that borders on absurdity. Think like your customer! (Oh, and when I questioned them on it, I got #1. I didn’t like that university anyways!)

4. Just Do It – with proper credit to Nike… You can probably guess – they just rolled up a poster or two and mailed ’em! (At a much lower cost of postage than $10.00 I might add!)

5. Above and Beyond – the only university I’ll name is Colorado if only to give them proper credit! They went above and beyond in that they sent two posters, a bumper sticker and schedules. Yeah, we’re probably not going to Boulder from Norman to any games, but they didn’t know that! It was a very nice surprise!

How are our responses in comparison to these? I’m reminded of a break-out session at a tourism conference one time. The title of the session said/says it all – “Yes is the answer! Now what’s the question?”

Share more with you next month!

(Originally posted April 2010)

Fall 2008 Travel Forecast

Pictures of trees turning those glorious colors of red, yellow and rust are now featured on your website. You are now promoting pumpkin patches and advising visitors to pack long sleeves to cope with the cooler temperatures as they shop the farmers markets! Fall in the Midwest is a beautiful time of year, but are visitors discovering your community? Are people even traveling in this economy?

This month’s Five at 5 suggests a resounding “Yes!” TripAdvisor surveyed 1,900 travelers worldwide, and 82 percent of U.S. respondents plan to travel for leisure this autumn, up from 70 percent who said they took pleasure trips last fall.

Five other things to note this fall:

* 48 percent of those travelers plan to drive to their destination. Continue to market to those markets within driving distance.

* 21 percent of U.S. travelers plan to take a trip to view the colorful foliage this fall. If your website is not featuring fall pictures, get with your webmaster today.

* 26 percent of U.S. travelers plan to visit a winery this autumn. Is there a winery within driving distance from your community? It’s okay to promote a neighboring attraction if your community is serving as the hub.

* 58 percent of U.S. respondents plan to go to a festival this fall. Have you emailed your database informing them of your fall festival?

* 50 percent of business travelers are exploring ways to extend business trips with leisure.* Each front desk of your hotels should have a placard of “fun things to do.” Perhaps the hotel will allow you to distribute a flyer in each room!

“Fall is shaping up to be a strong season for TripAdvisor travelers and even a modest drop at the gas pump, fuels their enthusiasm,” said Michele Perry, vice president of global communications for TripAdvisor. With continued marketing efforts this fall, your destination will be able to attract those visitors.

*from Orbits for Business and Business Traveler Magazine trend report

(Originally posted October 2008)

Lobby with the Big Boys

Did your tourism friendly candidate win yesterday? Were we tourism professionals as active in this past election as all other interested parties? All too often we leave it to the Chambers to host the candidate forums, to publish the candidate profiles and talk the issues that impact business. Then we wonder why our Representatives and business community doesn’t pay respect to the tourism industry. Health care, taxes and education impact tourism just as much as the manufacturing plant the Chamber represents.

November’s Five at 5 suggests actions to take today to make contact with that newly elected (or re-elected) legislator. Share with him/her the impact tourism has on his/her district and the key legislative issues before them this session:

* Invite him or her to lunch, breakfast, coffee, dessert… But don’t allow them occupy the conversation talking about the election. Make sure you stress your issues.
* Send a letter to him/her outlining your key initiatives. Don’t make it long. A simple “Congratulations. Please keep in mind how you can assist tourism”, will suit for now. Hit them with the meat later.
* Host a “sending off” reception. Be sure to include your board members and contacts through out the community’s tourism industry. Stress to them the importance of attendance! If the legislator attends a reception with five people, it won’t make a good impression on the industry.
* Schedule in your Outlook a reminder to call and schedule one of the first meetings with your legislator in his/her new office at the capital. You don’t have to be a registered lobbyist. You’re a constituent visiting your legislator.
* While you are contacting elected officials, drop a line to your city council members. When was the last time you talked one on one with them? They shouldn’t only hear from you at budget time.

When you do meet with the legislator, include something to show off the district (read – your attractions.) I have visited many offices and noticed they are proud to display a picture, poster or commemorative from their home. Marketing is marketing whether you get those impressions in the state capitol or DC.

(Originally posted November 2008)

Tourism Christmas Wishlist

When you climb onto the lap of our joyful Tourism Santa Claus, what will you be asking for? Okay, beyond the obvious three: a raise for you, a sold out year in your hotels at an elevated ADR, and peace on earth between your hotels and the DMO.

On this months’ Five @ 5 – the Tourism Christmas Wish List. These five marketing tools have been the hot items discussed and presented at fall conferences. Should Santa deliver one of these in your stocking, your destination could see increased visitors and you could realize a little progress towards the first two wishes above.

1. A dressed up website. “The internet will play a bigger role in 2009.” Bigger? 94% of North Americans research, plan and book their vacations online. If it’s been years since you’ve updated your site, look to do it soon. What do you dress it up with?

2. Video on your website. All reports are Google and Yahoo! are searching more for sites with videos. Add an inexpensive video to your site and increase the chances of search engines moving you closer to the top.

3. Podcast available through your website. In addition to the printed visitors guide, you will want to make a podcast available through your website. Visitors download the message to their MP3 player and listen to your recorded narrative about your community. Others have recorded a guided tour as a podcast.

4. An introduction to social media. Use online marketing and media to build brand advocates for your community. Pictures on Flicker, videos on YouTube, user comments on your website, blogs… it’s not just pretty printed brochures anymore

5. Any Peter Drucker book. “The dean of this country’s business and management philosophies” according to the Wall Street Journal. Help yourself and your organization with some continuing education.

If the jolly old elf doesn’t deliver under the tree, let me know. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss how we might be able to help. If we don’t chat, best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year! May you find peace through the ultimate gift of love found in a manger!

(Originally posted December 2009)