Tag Archives: travel

Takeaways from the Oklahoma Conference on Tourism

Another VERY informative Conference on Tourism put on by the Oklahoma Travel Industry Association. I heard many co-conference attendees exclaim, “Information Overload!” Great appreciation to Debra Bailey and the Board for putting together such a great day of education.

OTIA Conference

So what were the key takeaways? Mobile, Content and Customer Service. Let’s break them down…

Mobile – The data shared by Santiago Jaramillo should not be surprising:

  • There are more smart phones purchased each year than babies born.
  • 60% of all web traffic comes from mobile devices.
  • 2 of 3 consumers are less likely to engage further with a brand if they have a poor experience with that brand on a mobile device.

So the key question to ask is ‘what kind of experience are potential visitors having through your website?’ We’ve shared Google search is rewarding mobile-friendly websites on search. Now is the time to build a responsive design website so your potential visitors have a positive experience with your brand on their mobile device.

Content – Daniel Levine encouraged attendees to ‘put online as much information as you can about your destination, hotel or attraction.’ Jennifer Kaulkman shared potential visitors want info so give it to them. ‘Draw them in with great content.’ What is great content? Howard Tietjen said it’s storytelling. Don’t just list the facts about your attraction. Tell the story behind the exhibits. Don’t just list the menu items. Tell the story behind your Oklahoma famous chicken fried steak. The story should also connect with the reader. Answer the question ‘why do they care?’

Content includes visuals. Kauklman encouraged “killer photography” on the website. How many pics? “As many as you can!” Budget to pay for a photographer to take quality photography. Video is probably more important than pictures. Shaun Auckland shared more than 50% of travelers search YouTube in 5 of 6 steps of the travel planning process. Put your story to video!

Customer Service – It’s not sexy. It’s not a cool, hip trend. But it’s what travelers want. Actually Levine clarified that – travelers want OUTSTANDING service! “Forget the sales. Focus on guest happiness.” Jaramillo put it this way: “If we sell a visitor, we get them for a weekend. If we help a visitor, we get them for a lifetime.” If through the website and social media and apps and videos and SEO we forget customer service, we’re forgetting that we are the destination’s brand and the service beyond expectations is what visitors will remember, tweet, post, and share with their friends! It will also be why they return!

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The Fifth P of Marketing

A colleague at a recent tourism function was sharing how her DMO was getting in a “turf war” between the City and the Chamber – both trying to take over the management of the organization. She concluded by sharing ‘I’m staying out of it. I’m not in politics.’ A few of the glancing looks from others at the table communicated that we were thinking the same thing, “Oh yes you are like it or not!”  (And you’d better engage now or you may find yourself in a place you aren’t going to like!)

 

I thought going from a DMO to an attraction I’d find less politics. Boy was I wrong. On the heels of her statement above, I thought I’d dust off this post from April, 2011. Still as timely today! 

 

Remember the Four Ps of Marketing?  Product – Price – Placement and Promotion.  It’s Marketing 101. It’s the core of what we do – destination development (Product), drive hotel rates (Price), advise on the location of the attractions (Placement), and of course advertising and media relations (Promotion.)  But the longer I spend in destination marketing, the more I realize there is indeed a fifth P of marketing.  That fifth P is Politics.

 

I once read that destination marketing professionals are “politicians with marketing skills”.  And while I don’t like to consider myself a politician, I recognize more and more frequently that we do a lot of politic-ing.  Consider that…

 

– The CVB was active in recent City Council elections.  We assisted with candidate profiles and submitted questions for the candidate forums.

 

– Recently we’ve monitored and spoke on City issues related to business lighting and storm water runoff.  Further back, we took a stance on a state education issue and supported both a parks master plan and funding for a business park. (Following this post, we monitored and spoke on high density housing near a popular shopping district and engaged in the passage of a bond issue to improve one of the main corridors into the destination.)

 

– I accompanied our Chamber of Commerce on a ‘fly-in’ to DC to meet with our five representatives and Senators. We also met with NOAA as weather is big business in Norman! (Delighted to see my successor continued the practice!)

 

– In the near future we’ll discuss raising the transient guest tax and the split of that tax to maximize it’s economic impact on the local economy. (It passed increasing the DMO budget by $250,000.)

 

US Travel Association has long recognized the fifth P of destination marketing.  DMAI is engaging more and more in advocacy.  A committee is developing a tool kit for a community to utilize.  Not soon enough as we spend less and less time on the Promotion side of our jobs and more time on the Politics of our job. Update: that tool kit has been developed. It and many other resources can be found here.

 

It’s not the customer interaction we crave. It’s not the full conference hall corridors we like to see. And it’s not the dynamic new advertising creative we like reviewing but politicking has become a vital part of our jobs. Again, like it or not.

 

I’d love to hear success stories or best practices.  Please share those below.

What’s the Plus Side? Using Google+ for Business

I do nothing with and know nothing about Google+.  I don’t even believe I can remember how to login to my account.  Not knowing anything about this social network is what made a former colleague’s blog on Google+ appealing.

Amy Garton, is the Director of Interactive Solutions for the Overland Park (KS) Convention and Visitors Bureau.  I share her blog as a guest column this month…

What is Google+ and what do we know about it?

Google+ is a social network that was created by Google. It is the social element to all of Google’s other services (search, Gmail, YouTube, Blogger) – bringing the social elements people love from other social networks to the Google Family.

  • Launched in 2011. Google had previously launched five other social networks, of which only 1.5 exist today. (The .5 is a feature of G+.)
  • More than 540 million users and more than 300 million active users (versus Facebook at 1.19 billion active users.)
  • Average time spent on G+ per month is 6 minutes and 47 seconds (versus Facebook at 15 hours and 33 minutes.)
  • The +1 button is clicked more than 5 million times per day.

What’s the Plus Side?

1. It is Google. This is not meant to say Google does everything right, but rather we know that Google is the number 1 website in the world so it matters by virtue of size.

2. It is not just another social network. While people like to compare G+ to other networks, and it offers similar features to a variety of the networks, it is unique in both implementation and value.

3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Search is now social and Google+ is Google’s answer to this.

Google+ versus Facebook

One of the biggest barriers to success is Google+ is the public’s opinion that G+ is Google’s answer to Facebook.  Some of the key factors to keep in mind include the following:

  • Facebook is designed to connect us to our existing friends. Your goal is to stay in touch. G+ is designed to connect us to new people via shared interests. Your goal is to connect your brand with Google’s platform to raise awareness for your message.
  • Facebook is designed to build relationships with customers and prospects. G+ is designed to build recognition with a niche.
  • For business, Facebook is designed to demonstrate accessibility to your customers, providing them with service and information they need where they are online. Google+ is designed to support search engine optimization, create brand identity and authority and share content including links.

You can think of Facebook as your short-game and Google+ as your long-game.

Facebook Fans already know and love your brand, but your message has a short shelf life. Google+ Circles are very niche, but your message is tied to search and actually gains momentum with longevity.

The Google+ Features

* Circles: While all networks allow some degree of targeting, especially with their ad platforms, Google really understands the importance of niche marketing and messaging. You might not want to share your child’s latest adventures with your business acquaintances, just like you might not want to share your every thought on the state of social media with your friends. For business, this is an extremely important tool and one of the most useful features of Google+.

* Communities: Google’s answer to groups. Give people a place to hangout around a specific topic

* Hangouts: This Skype like feature allows you to video chat with your connections – bringing once tedious conference calls into a new dimension. The plus side of this feature is you can invite people to Hangout or do an “On Air Hangout” which feeds live into YouTube.

* Events: Create events and invite attendees. Unique feature to this events option is that it will add the event to anyone that uses Gmail or Google Calendars if they are attending and automatically adds it to the calendars of those in your Circles.

* Local: A way for people to review your business and find places near them. These reviews will “help” Google determine what to recommend in the future.

* Hashtags: Google gets this right. They actually add tags to your post if you have not added tags that deem appropriate.

Search brings you information from across the web. Now, search recognizes those you think are important and brings you their information in a personalized results based on your connections, interests you’ve established, location, etc.

According to a study connected by MOZ, the number of G+’s a website has is the second most influential indicator for the Google Algorithm, only behind page authority.

You need to establish a personal and professional network on G+ to demonstrate authority in the industry. And then create a Business Page with a Network to establish authority directly connected to your company’s web presence.

To optimize your Google+ account for SEO, you should:

1. Give your Google+ Page a Name.

Visit Overland Park is the name we use because it is our social profile and our website address.

2. Customize your Google+ Page URL.

To set your custom Google+ page or profile URL:

  • Go to your page or profile and click About.
  • Scroll down to the Links box. You’ll see your existing Google+ page URL.
  • Click on the link and Google+ asks you if you want to convert to a new custom Google+ page URL.

3. Local Page

Merge your Local with Places for easier management. Here is an article on merging the two.

4. Establish Authorship.

Authorship is a form of HTML coding that tells Google that your Page is being managed by an authority related to your website. Your email address must include your website (example agarton@visitoverlandpark.com). You can go further and establish Publisher, which connects all your employees as authors, which is especially useful for blogging.

Seeing Success

* Posting

* Be sure that the information is keyword rich.

* Use links to your website and blogs.

* Use hashtags and review the hashtags Google creates for the post.

* Reshare your evergreen content to increase the number of +1s and increase your SEO.

* Ask for +1s and shares.

* Share your posts publically, unless best fit for a specific circle or needed on a targeted basis. This will reach those in your Circles, but will also go public so more people can find you.

Beyond the Post

* Grow your Circles to grow your Circles. You need to network here. This is one social network that does not punish you for following more people than follow you (and the best way to get new followers is to follow someone else). In fact, it rewards you for having a large network and degrees of connectivity (note that you can only circle 5000 people for your Page). This is a true content-contact marketing effort.

* Add Google +1 Button to website pages.

* Include +1 Button in emails.

* Measuring

* Review posts to see what is getting +1s, comments and shares to drive content curation.

* Establish unique URLS for links to follow in Google Analytics.

Some great tools are available to measure success in a variety of areas. For more

on these tools, go here.

Other Tools that are Available:

* Friends + Me is a website application that allows you to set up an auto share from your google+ page to your other networks. This app allows you to customize what people see by network.

* Chrome Do Share allows you to schedule posts in Google+, but the Chrome browser must be open at the time you want a post to share.

* SteadyDemand.com will give you an analysis of your Google+ page and how it can be better utilized to gain the full SEO benefits of your G+ account.

Thanks for reading.

How To Create An Exceptional Experience

While it appears as if the need for customer service is going away, eventually the consumer has to have human interaction. We in destination marketing know a traveler can make a hotel reservation and book a flight online. They can get tickets to a show or attraction online. They can check luggage with minimal personal interaction and the flights offer minimal personal interaction. Eventually though they get in a taxi, get to the front desk of a hotel or are greeted by the wait staff at a restaurant. There is where the visitor must encounter exceptional customer service.

 

Pete Winemiller is the Sr. VP for Guest Relations for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He shared recently that 32% of customers leave a business due to death, moving away, friends’ influence, being lured away by the competition or dissatisfaction with the product. 68% though are turned away by an attitude of indifference on the part of a company employee. That visitor center volunteer’s customer service wasn’t necessarily poor, but it wasn’t so good either that the consumer felt that it truly mattered to that volunteer that they were visiting Anywhere-ville!

 

Pete puts it another way: “People will forget what you did. People will forget what you said. But they won’t forget how you made them feel.” The Certified Tourism Ambassador Program suggests we exceed customer expectations making for a memorable experience. I’ve been delighted to experience customer service at its best or at least to the point that it created a truly memorable experience!

 

customer service

 

Last summer, my family traveled with two other families to Wisconsin Dells. After a night at an amusement facility (think Chuck E Cheese on crack), on the way back to the resort we stopped at a convenience store to get something to drink. I went in with four kids under 10 years of age. You don’t typically think of convenience store clerks as the most customer friendly but this guy gathered the kids around the counter and did a magic trick! It was a simple thing with a quarter and a slight of the hand but to a 10, 9, 9 and 6 year old, it was cool! And after spending a week in the Waterpark Capital of the World, you know what they talk about just as much as the water slides? The magic trick! Clearly a memorable experience!

 

A conference took a colleague and me to Claremore, Oklahoma, in the end of January. We stayed in a Comfort Inn. I’ll admit, my expectations weren’t too high. I considered driving to and from neighboring Tulsa to stay in something a little higher on the hotel food chain than a Comfort Inn. But I conceded and stayed in Claremore. While we were there, overnight a thin layer of ice covered the town. As we left the property, the sidewalks had de-icer tossed on them. When we got to the vehicle, I was pleasantly surprised to find the hotel staff had tossed salt on the parking lot between the vehicles! The ice wasn’t completely melted as we got into the vehicle but it clearly exceeded my expectations of what a hotel staff would do to the sidewalks and parking lot after an ice storm! That exceeded this customer’s expectations!

 

Our family just visited Branson over spring break. We visited a small pizza place in West Branson. As a customer, I expect drinks to be refilled without even asking so I was initially bothered when the nice lady asked the table if we needed refills. When my 10-year-old son said yes, she turned to me and asked if it was okay. As I checked out, another little girl came to the counter and asked for a refill. The waitress told her ‘just a minute’. After she got my credit card slips to sign, she went to the table where the girl was sitting and asked her mom if the girl could have a refill. I realized she was getting parents’ permission before giving kids another serving of sugar water! Greatly appreciated! When she came back, I asked her if she was a mother herself. She said no. “I just assume all families have been at Silver Dollar City all day drinking pop and the last thing they need is more caffeine and sugar this close to bed!” I pulled out cash and doubled her tip! That’s customer service!

 

I am sure you can think of a time when your expectations were exceeded, when someone truly showed appreciation for your business, when they created a memorable experience! I challenge you to model their actions or those examples above. Together we can exceed customer expectations and create a memorable experience for our guest!

Reminder: Tourism IS Economic Development

Another community leadership group has asked me to speak about tourism and it’s impact to the businesses and entities the classmates represent.  No problem.  Do it all the time and am happy to do so!  What shocked me was the coordinator’s request for me to share how tourism works WITH economic development.  In response I replied I would be more than happy to share how tourism *IS* economic development.  She seemed startled at the response and concept.

While CVBs / DMOs are fighting for our relevancy and possible existence, here we are still with some at square one: what we do impacts the community economically and thus, we – tourism – IS economic development.  I know I am preaching to the choir but for the sake of reminding us, here’s in part what I plan to share with them…

1. Even Economic Development defines tourism as economic development!  In the definitions on EconomicDevelopment.net, Economic Development isabout increasing the flow of capital through the community.  They define tourism’s focus as providing services to pleasure travelers and increasing the flow of capital, especially in the form of money, into the places (the communities) they visit. By definition, tourism IS economic development.

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2. DMAI’s CDME courses puts it this way… the temporary movement of people (TOURISTS) to destinations outside of their normal place of work and residence, the activities undertaken en route to an during their stay at these destinations and the facilities / services created to cater to their needs (TOURISM), which leads to economic impacts generated by these activities (TOURISM INDUSTRY).

3. It ain’t just hotels, restaurants and attractions… plumbers fix the toilets at hotels… restaurants deposit money in banks, dry cleaners clean uniforms worn by attraction associates, the gal that cuts my hair has to make someone in the tourism industry look good, printers print promotional material, real estate agents sell houses to hotel employees, car dealerships sell cars to amusement park employees… need I go on?  Those are just the easy ones!  Those amusement park employees put gas in their cars – gas comes from oil – all you oil drillers and refinery workers, we welcome you as members of the tourism industry!

4. Just look at the numbers…  Domestic travelers spent $7.2B in Oklahoma in 2012 making tourism the 3rd largest industry.  Kansas boasts $8.3B in expenditures in 2011.  Your state probably has similar reports to Oklahoma and Kansas.  The US Travel Association has numerous research reports outlining travel’s impact on the economy.

5. But sometimes a simple statement can summarize points better than all the above…Chris Thompson, President and CEO of Brand USA put it this way at the DMAI Convention this past July: There is nothing about economic development that doesn’t begin with a visit.

Take pride!  What you do is important to the community!  You / we ARE economic development!

Thanks for reading!