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Attention Destination Marketing and State Tourism Officials - You Probably Have Limited Money in Your Budgets - Time to Get Creative

By John R. Hendrie,
May 20, 2011

Your fiscal reality is grim, and it is time to be innovative.
Marketing Strategy sessions always began with an interpretation of the Marketplace, particularly focusing upon the Visitor numbers. Our Feedback results were captured by a variety of means, not particularly sophisticated or reliable, but they were tracked. Make no mistake, unless you know what your Visitor or Guest says about their experience with your Destination’s hotel, restaurant, convenience store, taxi service or museum, any marketing initiative is flawed.  “Feedback” is the crucible!
Typically, the number we would watch the most is “New Visitors” to the area. Then, we would slap up those marketing ideas on the wall, and, whichever ones were the slowest to slide, we crowned as new tactics.  And, we threw money at those sexy Marketing Strategies and high priced Marketing gurus.  Can’t do that anymore.
 Even more so today, the public is wary, and the vagaries of Tourism are incalculable.  You may have forgotten two Maxims:
1.  It is easier to retain an existing Customer than recruit a new one.
2.  The most effective referral is by word of mouth.
But, have you learned and what will you do differently?   Why spend millions of dollars every year seeking that elusive “New Visitor”, when currently you have throngs of satisfied and exuberant “Fans”, who already think you are great. They are ready, willing and able to carry your message to their friends, neighbors and associates? What a great idea!  But, some of our attitude is colored by “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.
It is time to be audacious and fiscally prudent.
We want our message to be distinct and differentiate ourselves from our competition.  Yet, every year, we go to the same 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.  Several years ago, the 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, new Guests and Groups to your community businesses. This is a guarantee, and this is how you do it!
The initial step is to ramp up how you gather information on your Visitor, and what better a spot than the major entry points: highway installations (tolls or Welcome Centers), airports and train stations. No innovative Marketing plan will work without this Visitor data and insight – 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. The next step is to create a Program which makes them feel special, where they become part of the Destination Experience.  Many Lodgings already have a Loyalty Program.  Most Destination areas do not; create your Destination Program. 
Step one, create a name:  Down Easterner, Grand Strander or Teton, Longhorns or Matterhorns, Parrot Heads or Coconuts) – you get the idea.  Secondly, establish some program protocols for inclusion and administration.  The Program should include collaterals (decals, wallet cards, documents suitable for framing), displaying the exclusivity of membership. Goodness, you can even offer tee shirts, pens, belt buckles and coffee cups (for purchase, of course). The third facet is a minimal annual fee for continuation of membership with a portion going to an established charity or cause –Vermont, Lake Placid and the Caribbean have the environment, for example.  What makes your location unique?  What is meaningful to your community? (The remaining funds support the Program, making the Program close to self-sustainable). 
Everyone enjoys affiliation and supporting a cause. The great State of Kentucky has the Kentucky Colonel program, wrapped around a grand event - the Kentucky Derby.  Identify special events, festivals or activities which become the exclusive purview of membership. And, of course, lastly, communicate throughout the year – keep them informed and excited. It makes one (your Fan) proud, creates a swagger!  It works and will not break that budget!
What have we accomplished here?  We have met the earlier mentioned Maxims.  We have identified our greatest Fans (existing Visitors/Guests), we have recognized them (brought them into our family), we have tied our Destination to a meaningful cause, 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 almost pay for itself, 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 place, 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 old marketing paradigm is whacked; the “bus has left” for business as usual.

The author believes that Remarkable Service is the portal to the Memorable Customer Experience.  Seek solutions at:

John R. Hendrie
Your Customer Experience Resource
(W): 978 346-4367

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Also See: Accelerating Into 2011, Hoteliers Beware Those Speed Bumps And Traps / John Hendrie / January 2011

Casino Customers Attitudes and Behavior: Even Though They Might Lose, Treat Them Like a Winner / John Hendrie / September 2010

Have it Your Way – Design of the Personal Guest Experience / John Hendrie / August 2010

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