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 Destination Marketing - Is there a Better Way
to Spend Your Dollars?
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by J. Ragsdale Hendrie, May 2007

All our Destination Marketing Organizations have a Budget, directed to encourage visitors to their particular location.  For some the dollars are vast; for most, they are quite limited with high accountability.  Our results are captured by a variety of means, not particularly sophisticated or reliable, but they are tracked.  Typically, the number we watch the most is “New Visitors” to the area. 

The public is wary and fickle and the vagaries of Tourism incalculable.  We may be battered by a Katrina or a Tusnami, made squeamish by Legionaire’s Disease, stricken with labor unrest or reluctant to make that trip in the US with gasoline now over $3.  But, we continue to push for those “New Visitors” the only way we know how – throw money at those Marketing Strategies and high priced Marketing gurus.  

We have forgotten two maxims, which those who deliver the goods (our Hospitality Businesses) know very well:

  1. It is easier to retain an existing Customer than recruit a new one, and
  2. The most effective referral is by word of mouth. 
So, why do we spend millions of dollars every year seeking that elusive “New Visitor”, when currently we have throngs of satisfied and exuberant “Fans”, who already think we are great and are ready, willing and able to carry our message to their friends,  neighbors and associates? Some of this is business as usual, wrapped in bureaucratic ennui or lack of decisive leadership.  In other cases, we are swayed by the Marketing Professionals, who own the stage, waxing and emoting our message with that bag of tricks – smoke, mirrors and dreams.  Let’s not forget that marketing is as close as we can get to theater. (Remember the “Emperor’s New Clothes”.)

We want our message to be distinct and differentiate ourselves from our competition.  Yet, every year, we go to the usual sources, “tickle” the words and hope for the best.  Some Destinations are absolutely marvelous.  You need to relish Las Vegas’ success with the naughty, suggestive messages.  Others are quite sad.  Two years ago, the great State of Maine basically wanted to target (the local media said “steal”) Visitors from their neighbor – New Hampshire.  That was a strategy.  It makes you wince. 

The Tourism Landscape has changed, and, unless you adapt and are innovative, your future is marked.  What to do?  You have finite resources and specific budgeted monies.  Your mission has not changed, but you must.  It is time to look inwards, rather than externally. 

Your existing Fans are the answer.  Show your love, demonstrate your thanks, make them feel special.  Honor them, those Ambassadors, and they will deliver the message you have crafted. New Visitors will travel to your Destination.  This is a guarantee, and this is how you do it!

Pardon my audacity, but let’s use the State of Maine as a Case Study.  Truly a Destination treasure with a cachet of its own – boundless forests, striking seacoast, history, lobsters, wonderful people.  It has it all but does not have easy access.  You really need to want to visit Maine, and with gasoline prices, in particular, this is not an easy decision for your average Consumer.  So much allure, but a tad too far away we surmise.

The majority of their Tourism Budget is externally directed, attempting to woo new Visitors to the Pine Tree State.  But, any given Friday night, especially during the summer, the traffic back-up on Interstate 95, as it turns into the Maine Turnpike at York, ME, is in gridlock.  Let me in, please!  And, most are not first timers. 

The initial step is to gather information on your Visitor, and what better a spot than the major entry point. Airports and train stations are others. No innovative Marketing plan will work without this Visitor data – who they are, where they are from, why are they visiting, where they are going, and most importantly, may we have your e-mail address. Information is power, and it can be gathered both coming and going.  Do not forget to thank them, too.

Now, you have some workable data on your Fans and potential boosters.  How do we make them feel special, a part of the Maine Experience?  Interestingly, another US State, Kentucky, has had in place for perhaps forty (40) years a terrific Program they call “The Kentucky Colonel”.  The concept is very simple. 

An individual is recommended to the Governor’s Office, usually based upon a contribution to the betterment of the State of Kentucky.  The Governor issues a splendid looking Certificate – commissioning that person as a Kentucky Colonel.  Then, on a yearly basis, you are contacted and for a nominal fee “maintain” your Commission.  Plus, you get a fancy wallet card and decal, and a portion of that fee goes to a charity, sponsored by the Kentucky Colonel Association.  As an added tidbit, you are also invited to a special party the night before the Kentucky Derby.  Also, you can purchase related goods, such as a mint julep cup, a belt buckle, cap, coat and more.  What a brilliant program in its simplicity.  I have been a member for 27 years – I can easily handle the yearly fee, and I like the affiliation, although I have not lived in Kentucky for many years.  “Madam, may I present Colonel Hendrie.”  It makes you proud, creates a swagger!  Folks, it works!

Now, jump to your Destination and apply the same concept to your Fans.  This could work in Maine, as well as Myrtle Beach, the Lakes Placid and Tahoe, Colorado Springs, Seattle and Idaho. The global application is just as valid, whether Cyprus, Anguilla, Mozambique or Singapore.  Create a name:  Down Easterner, Grand Strander, Potato Head (think Jimmy Buffett) – you get the idea.  Establish some protocols for inclusion and administration.  Affiliate with a charity or cause - Maine and Lake Placid have the environment, for example.  What makes your location unique?  What is meaningful to your community?  Lastly, create or recast a festival/event where your faithful can gather.

What have we accomplished here?  We have met the earlier mentioned Maxims.  We have identified our greatest Fans (existing Visitors), we have recognized them (brought them into our family), we have tied our Destination to a meaningful cause (rather than lucre), and we have identified an annual gala to celebrate our Fan Base, their dedication, support, and their love.  They will happily promote our Destination (word of mouth with a bit of exclusivity). They become the most effective Ambassador of your Destination.  If you plan and execute this properly, the Program will be close to self-sustaining, and you can use your Marketing dollars to add further value for your current Visitors (much like a Frequent Flyer program).  You will make history!

Innovation moves the world.  How frequently we overlook the obvious. Consider!  What would move you as a Consumer?  Flashy marketing has its domain, but most of us give far more credence to someone we know, extolling the virtues of a product or place.  Put your Marketing dollars to work creatively, harness that vigorous and connected Ambassador, who already thinks you are great, and enjoy the success.

The Author, Colonel John R. Hendrie, believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal to the extraordinary Guest Experience.  Seek solutions at:  www.hospitalityperformance.com

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Contact:

John R. Hendrie
jrhendrie@aol.com
www.hospitalityperformance.com

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Also See: A Prescriptive for Destination Marketing / John R Hendrie / November 2005
Destination Marketing – How to rebuild your Reputation and the upcoming Season after the Hurricanes / John Hendrie / September 2004
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