Secret Shopping Visitor Guides

It really simply started as a curiosity about what other destinations were doing with their Visitor Guides.  But then as co-workers will tell you, my ideas get bigger and bigger!  How are other DMO’s Visitor Guide request processes?  How long does it take Guides to arrive?  Are they sent first class or bulk?  What size are they?   And then to the original question, what features are destinations including in the Guides?

Where else does one get the answers but to ‘secret shop’ Visitor Guides.  So we sent off – or attempted to send off for 60 Guides.  Major destinations.  Smaller destinations but primarily ‘benchmark’ destinations – University cities or cities of 100,000 in population.  The results?

Delivery Of 60 attempts, twice we were unable to even find an ability to request a guide online.  Two more fulfillment pages were broken.  Eight only offered online versions and we weren’t able to order a printed Guide.  So we were only able to order 48 Guides.  Surprisingly, we have only received 39.  Nine requests for Visitor Guides have gone unfulfilled.  Sure there’s got to be some explanation but perhaps that’s the next study – my asking the nine why they never sent a Guide. 

Delivery II The average Guide took 6 days for delivery.  Thus the challenge to our staff – 5 days or less!  Matter of fact, I have a side anecdotal story below about the importance of a speedy delivery!

Delivery III Only one Guide was not sent First Class.  Explains the average six day delivery.

Annual or Multiple Issues per Year We experimented printing three issues per year.  For too many reasons we’ve decided to return to an annual.  We’re right in line as only seven destinations don’t print an annual and those seven – the larger destinations – each printed twice a year.

Size Apparently out is the adage that Guides need to be small, pocket-sized for the visitor to put in their back pocket or purse.  23 of the 39 were magazine sized 8.5 X 11 (or a close size to that, 7.5 X 11.)  12 were digest size (5 X 8 or a close size to that, 4 X 9.)  The other three were 8 X 8, 7 X 9 and 4 X 7.

Length All over the board!  The smallest Guide was 10 pages.  Lengthiest – Orlando’s 233 pager.

Inserts / Enclosures A handful of destinations included a detailed Calendar of Events.  Six enclosed a thank you letter for requesting the guide.  And one destination hand wrote a note and dropped it in the envelope with the Guide!

Content –  Social Media meets print  There are numerous instances in which destinations have included Social Media content in the Visitor Guide.  Detroit’s is the most prevalent.  Detroit includes these “Travel Tips” throughout the Guide which the content is pulled from social media.

Detroit Travel Tip

They even go full-page with the social:

Detroit Social Page

Durham has similar features throughout their Guide:

Durham Fan Favorites

But Detroit keeps pulling from social media and nicely promotes the online world through their “Depict the D” page.  Click here to see the page.

Content – Use of QR Code While I bashed QR Code use last month, I will hand it to Columbia and Grand Rapids for both utilizing QR Codes to bring the online world to the print world.  Columbia offers the reader a chance to scan and have a walking tour of their downtown:

Columbia Walking Tour

Grand Rapids provides a map of their smart phone tour.  The page from the Guide has 10 QR Codes that a visitor can scan and learn more about the public art.

Content – Research back to Detroit where they point blank say ‘We Need Your Help’ and give you a QR Code to scan so you can answer a few questions about their Guide.

Detroit Survey

If you ever wanted to benchmark your Visitors Guide with others, there you go.  That’s a rough summary of what Visitor Guides are looking like today.  Thanks for reading.

Oh, by the way, here’s that story…

In the midst of our Visitor Guide research above, our family is planning our three family vacation next summer.  Thanksgiving Day my brother and I discussed three destinations.  I perused three destination websites.  My wife is still a printed piece person and heck, I being in the industry doing the above research thought here’s two more that I can test.  So, I requested three Visitor Guides.
Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the first one arrived.  (That’s TUESDAY after Thanksgiving it ARRIVES!  Standing O for someone or their mail house working on Friday or Saturday to get that Guide out!)  Wednesday my wife flipped through it while my daughter practiced.  My wife started texting me ads and pictures from the Guide.  She gets home and starts showing the family pages that were dog-eared.  When my son asked ‘can we go there.’  My wife declared, ‘Yes.  This is where we’re going next summer!’
But, what, um, uh, we have two more Guides on the way!  We have two more options!
Not in my wife’s mind.  Destination 1 beat the other two to the mailbox.  She’s already studied the Guide.  She liked what she saw.  She’s made up her mind!
Destination 2’s Guide arrived two days later.  She hasn’t even looked at it.  Destination 3’s Guide is yet to arrive.  Doesn’t matter.  Game over.
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