Creating Experiences to Create Memories

Earlier this week I attended the Empire State Tourism Conference by NYSTIA in Lake Placid. Talk about gorgeous! While each presentation provided great information in and of itself, the best lesson that I learned was an overall idea strung together from bits and pieces of various presentations.

In the keynote presentation “Traversing the Disruption,” Bill Geist, President, DMO ProZ talked about the importance of disrupting the status quo in order to drive brand awareness and visitors to your destination. Within his three steps for making a destination stand out, I saw an underlying theme for all the presentations during the conference.

Be the Storyteller

We need to make our brands come alive by telling the story. When someone googles a destination, they see many links and results. They don’t see the stories or explanations as to what makes your destination so thrilling. That’s for you to tackle.

As Josiah Brown, the New York Sherpa, explained in his presentation on “How Thinking ‘Branding First’ Captures Today’s Travelers,” we need to be inspirational marketers. None of us own our brand. Our brand is the emotional response others have to our product, and lives within the minds of the consumers. Because of this, we need to make sure we’re telling the right story. Most brands say what they do, some explain how, but very few explain why. The consumer experience is the most important piece, and they want to know why they should choose your destination over any of the others. Which is why we must tell – and show – them.

In the panel presentation “Marketing the Adirondacks to Millennials: The Adirondacks and the Next Generation,” representatives from The Wild Center and Trampoline Design highlighted millennials’ travel behaviors. Millennials (in the debated age range of 18-35) use their phones for almost everything. Think online banking where they can snap a picture and deposit a check right into their account. They also use the internet, and especially social media, to research travel destinations – oftentimes asking their friends for suggestions on food and activities before ever looking at a CVB’s website. In fact, 86% of millennials know where they are going to eat before picking what hotel they will stay at. It’s important to show content that highlights the experiences people can expect and look forward to.

In a wholly different mode of storytelling, Tait Wardlaw and John Bourbonais from Adworkshop dove into how Virtual Reality (VR) is disrupting the tourism industry. Consumers want to get a real look and feel for a destination before ever deciding to travel there. In fact, 360-degree video ads earn 41% more desired actions than 2D traditional video ads. By 2020, 82% of all consumer internet traffic will be videos. Eventually, they posit, VR will be just as important as a website because consumers will want a chance to “try before they buy.”

Be the Choreographer

It’s great to have one attraction that draws people in, but if you want them to stay and be engaged, you need to create overall experiences, not just one event. The example that Geist gave was of an owner of a candle-making studio who wasn’t getting much traffic. Eventually he partnered with a wine tasting shop down the street to offer a unique and complete experience of making a candle, while enjoying a wine tasting – and business boomed! It’s our job to help orchestrate experiences by helping different aspects combine.

Based on the research findings of Schireson Associates, The Wild Center and Trampoline Design understood how far millennials are willing to drive for experiences: 1-2 hours for a day trip, 2-3 hours for one night with 2-3 days’ worth of opportunities – because although visitors won’t get to all activities, they wanted the variety and abundancy of opportunities to choose from.

A great way to present this information is through sample itineraries. Although millennials are not likely to follow an itinerary from start-to-finish, they enjoy having enough information to choose from, while allowing them to curate their own trip.

In short, collaboration is key. If you’re still not convinced, check out our blog on the importance of collaboration in tourism.

Be the Glue

Engage the attractions and visitors. Make sure you’re chatting “with” the consumers, not “at” them. You can do this by regularly checking social media (through hashtags, geo-tags, etc.) to see what people are saying about your destination. Then join the conversation. If you see a great photo that a visitor took of your destination, reach out and ask if you can use it on your own social media channels. That will a) provide you with great content and b) get the user excited that you saw and liked their photo!

Be the reason that people come to visit for one day, then come back for a weekend, and then stay for a whole week.

Last October at the NYSTIA membership meeting and awards dinner, Elizabeth Anne Shaw, Editor in Chief of Meredith Travel Marketing’s FamilyFun explained that we have to create experiences that last way longer than just the few days a person is at our destination.

  • Pre-trip: Most people start getting excited by an upcoming trip a few months in advance and begin discussing it with family, friends, and coworkers. Virtual Reality may soon become the initial step in the traveler’s path to purchase, and could be the first thing people gush about (and share!) with their peers.
  • During the trip: Most travelers share posts and pictures on social media. (If you didn’t post a picture of yourself on vacation, did you really even go?)
  • Post-trip: Once someone returns from vacation, they continue to share their pictures and stories with family, friends, and coworkers. These stories and memories will last longer, once “re-experience” becomes a thing with VR.

Josiah Brown wrapped up his presentation by saying that people’s strongest, best childhood memories are from their family vacations. By creating these experiences, you’re not only giving visitors something to look forward to; you’re giving them memories to last a lifetime.

So don’t think of the time and money you’re investing into your marketing, advertising, or collaborating, think of how much you’re investing into people’s strongest, best memories. And we all know, nothing sells like emotions.

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