Proving Relevancy and ROI: Key Takeaways from the first Destination on the Left Virtual Summit

At Break the Ice Media we are committed to ongoing professional development of our team within tourism marketing. Each year, we invest more than 450 staff hours staying up-to-date on trends, new marketing tactics and deeper learnings. That is why the first Destination on the Left Virtual Summit we hosted in December 2019 was extra-special for us. Not only were we able to bring 16 presentations filled with great learnings on proving relevancy and ROI to our audience, but we were also able to participate and learn new ideas ourselves.

Below is a recap of the 16 presentations and the concepts that stood out to me the most.

Destination 2030: Readiness for Tourism Growth

Dan Fenton, JLL

A recent study that JLL and the World Travel and Tourism Council published identified a framework for assessing a community’s readiness for tourism growth and identified 5 typologies based on their level of readiness. Two of the typologies that stood out to me are the dawning developers and emerging performers. I see these two typologies in a lot of the clients that we serve. Increasing awareness of where you are in development of tourism is the first step to knowing how and where you can grow.

Dawning developers

These are communities with an emerging tourism infrastructure, gradual tourism growth and lower visitor concentration but with potential to grow. I can think of many Destination on the Left podcast guests who represent communities that look like this. Brook Kauffman from Visit Casper Wyoming on episode 159 talked about how preparing her community for the influx of visitors from the eclipse in 2017 shined a light on where they need to build up infrastructure and where they can find new opportunities for tourism growth.

Emerging performers

These are communities with an emerging tourism infrastructure, growing tourism momentum and the start of increasing pressures related to tourism growth. This brought to mind the interview that I did with Andrea McHugh from Discover Newport in Rhode Island when we talked about managing the ebb and flow of visitors to a destination and gaining support from local residents. You can listen to Andrea McHugh’s interview on episode 124.

The Future of Travel as a Brand—Emerging Sentiments Posing Challenges

Erin Francis- Cummings, Destination Analysts

As we look 5 years out for our destination plans, there are several things we should be thinking about. In particular, the contrast between generational perceptions around the impact travel has on the environment. For example, 1 out of 5 Millennials and 1 out of 4 Gen Z travelers think that travel has a negative impact on the environment. These generations are also the most concerned about the environment when they travel. They believe that climate change will have an impact on their travel in the next 5 years. Destinations and businesses that rely on the visitor economy need to be thinking about what they are doing now to help negate these perceptions. Environmental changes take time and changing a perception takes time. How is your destination working to negate the impacts of climate change? What are you doing as a community to help improve your destination overall?

This topic reminded me of the conversation I had on episode 154 with Brian Bossyut from the Poconos region in Pennsylvania. He described a program that his organization started to help beautify the gateways into the region by addressing a litter problem. Their approach involved many community-wide organizations including the DOT, government agencies and the United Way.

Becoming a Shared Community Value

Bill Geist, DMOProz

 I just love the title of this presentation and it is so true. Bill talked about elevating the importance of tourism in our communities to a shared value in a similar way that we prioritize fire, police, emergency services and education. He talked about getting to the “why’ of what we do beyond heads in beds. A focus on heads in beds seems like we are a special interest group and doesn’t resonate with community residents.

What really stood out for me is how far-reaching destination marketing can be and how communities can lean on tourism marketers to help tell their story. This reminded me of my conversation with David Gilbert from Destination Cleveland on episode 128. I loved hearing how Destination Cleveland was working on recruitment and retention strategies with area businesses and economic development folks. We are in the people business and the business of telling our communities stories, why not expand it to help with talent? Also, I encourage all of you to add Bill Geist’s podcast DMOU to your list of must-listens.

Tracking Results from Integrated Campaigns

Julie Gilbert, Destination Niagara USA

 I found Julie’s session particularly interesting because she was able to measure impressions, clicks and even hotel bookings as a direct result from her 2019 campaigns. I also appreciated her insights on choosing to run an Expedia campaign around the World Pride event that took place in NYC last June. She pointed out that although Expedia did not drive direct traffic to her website, she thought the platform was perfect for this campaign based on the international reach that Expedia has. She compared how NYC & Co was marketing internationally when World Pride was taking place in the city.

I love how Destination Niagara USA was able to leverage such a huge event to help draw visitors from NYC to Niagara Falls. I talked to the team at I Love NY on episode 149 about how they leveraged this huge event with the milestone anniversary of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and used it to draw attention to the whole state of New York.

Understanding Facebook Advertising for Destination Marketing

Camille Zess and Jess Reilly, Break the Ice Media

Camille and Jess took attendees behind the curtain of how they run successful Facebook ad campaigns for our clients.

What stood out for me was the discussion on target audience and the different ways that you can develop audiences in Facebook. If you get the audience right, you will have a much more successful campaign that will bring you stronger results. Of course, this reminded me of the very successful golf getaways campaign that the Genesee County Office of Tourism runs each year, which is supported by a Facebook ad campaign.

I interviewed Lauren Humphrey from the Genesee County Office of Tourism on episode 149 and she explained how her office runs the program, how it converts to packages sold, how they manage the fulfillment of the packages and the benefits it brings to their stakeholders.

Using Live Videos at Events and Tourism Destinations

Reagan Burns, Lime Creative

Reagan shared great insights into creating live video and how video can help improve exposure and attendance at events and destinations. Some of Reagan’s pro tips included a framework of preparation, recording, editing, posting and engaging. In particular what stood out to me was the tip on engaging. This includes online comments, tagging participants and sponsors, adding captions, creating unique tracking links for measurement and repurposing the video. 

Many of our past podcast guests have shared their successes with video. One that comes to mind is a recent interview that I did with Ben Handfelt from Catch Des Moines on episode 157. We talked about the humorous video content that they developed under the new Catch Des Moines’ the “S’s are Silent” brand campaign in an effort to draw more visitors. In addition, Break the Ice Media used live video for a virtual toast to celebrate our tenth year in business last October and I go into detail about how we celebrated our business anniversary in episode 155.

Going Beyond Demographics

Susan Baier, Audience Audit

Susan shared a different way to think about visitor research with a framework for getting to the “visitor’s why’. Focusing on the problems you solve for the prospective visitor is a great way to think about how you target in a different way.

For example, you may be an outdoor destination and one of the problems you solve is to help busy professionals slow down and experience the simplicity of the outdoors. In this case, your target audience is a “busy professional,” and you may have a lot of demographic data on who they are in terms of where they live, work, income levels and so on. Understanding that the problem they have is slowing down changes how you communicate with them, the messages that you send, the content you develop, the creative that you use and so on. 

This concept reminded me of my conversation on episode 140 with Gina Nacey from Adventure Creative when we talked about Minnesota’s “Find your True North” campaign.

What Destination Marketers can learn from non-Destination Marketers

Matt Stiker, Capital M Media

Matt took us through many examples of breakthrough creative campaigns from destination brands and non-destination brands to illustrate how brands can really stand out in a crowd. You know that is a favorite question that I like to ask on my podcast. There are so many choices out there; how can you break through the noise and the clutter to stand out?  I loved the ideas that Matt shared and appreciate his encouragement to look outside our industry for creative inspiration. 

This session reminded me of a conversation I had with Adam Johnson from Visit Sant Paul and the chance they took when they created an Adele parody “Hello Minneapolis, Love St. Paul”. The parody played on Adele’s hit “Hello from the other side” and was a way to remind folks in Minneapolis, just across the Mississippi river, there is a lot to do in St. Paul. The video took off and on episode 98 Adam Johnson shares his experience of the parody video from creating it through to its results. Breakthrough creative doesn’t have to be at a high cost. It is looking at something with fresh eyes and thinking outside of the box that can help you create something that stands out.

The Changing Chinese Traveler and Travel Trends

Humphrey Ho, Hylink

China is an important international market for the U.S. and will continue to grow. What I found exciting about the changes that Humphrey shared with us is the shift in the types of travelers that are coming to the U.S. from China. Historically, Chinese travelers came to the U.S. in large groups. Sometimes multiple motor coaches would be necessary to tour them around to the top U.S. sights including destinations such as NYC, Las Vegas, LA and others. Humphrey shared that 60% of Chinese travelers are now considered FIT, free independent travelers. They are increasingly booking through Online Travel Agents and doing research on their own, versus relying on large tour operators. This provides an opportunity for smaller destinations and attractions to capture this lucrative travel audience as they do not have to be the largest destinations or have capacity for multiple motor coaches all at once.

I see this as a tremendous opportunity for beyond the gateway destinations. In episode 118, I talked to Sally Berry about the China market and how she has helped smaller destinations attract the Chinese traveler. We focused a lot on how she grew the international marketing program at the Corning Museum of Glass in the Finger Lakes of NYS, a great example of a smaller destination getting a share of this market.

Using Pop Culture to Market your Brand

Stacy Jones, Hollywood Branded

Stacy went into detail about how destinations can use celebrities and influencers to elevate awareness and drive visitation. Influencer marketing grew immensely in 2019 and we expect it to continue to be an important part of the marketing mix in 2020. We have covered this topic a lot over the past few years on the podcast and there are so many episodes that can help you learn more. One of my favorite episodes that provided so much insight was episode 83 with Dalene Heck. She is a travel influencer who has built her career around travel, helping brands work with influencers and helping influencers be better partners. Dalene’s answers gave marketers insight into how influencers operate, how to find the right ones and other useful tips.

Building Relevancy with an ROI Plan

Jennifer Barbee, Destination Innovate

I love Jenn’s smart, no-nonsense approach to marketing. Her presentation on building relevancy with an ROI plan was full of great advice and new ways to think about your marketing plans. What really stood out to me was the importance of setting your KPIs, or key performance indicators, up front and thinking all the way through the campaign to what matters the most for measurement. There are a lot of tools that you can use to measure campaign success but Jennifer pointed out you need someone on your team that can interpret the data. They need to be able to look at data and read it with logic and behavior analysis. 

She also suggested the most coveted position for future DMOs are data storytellers. And I love that concept! This presentation reminded me of the conversation I had with Erin Francis-Cummings from Destination Analysts on episode 89. She described using Google Analytics, the voice of the customer and the advertising campaign to get insights into the mindset of the consumer and what they are truly looking for from your digital footprint. This type of data storytelling can help us see if the advertising is indeed delivering new customers to a destination.

The Evolution of Destination Marketing Funding

Tiffany Gallagher, Civitas

In her presentation on the evolution of destination marketing funding, Tiffany gave a great overview of the process that communities can go through to form a tourism improvement district and the benefits to forming those districts. She reported that there are now 16 states with TIDs, with recent ones being Baltimore, Maryland and Newport, Rhode Island. I was excited to hear that Newport Rhode Island recently passed a tourism improvement district, remembering all of the exciting developments that they have. Andrea McHugh from Discover Newport shared these with me on episode 124.

Evaluating Public Relations

Sarah Blackwell and Colleen Onuffer, Break the Ice Media

This presentation covered the Barcelona Principles 100-point scoring system for evaluating PR campaigns. What I loved about this approach is that it forces you to consider what you are really looking for from a PR campaign. In order to apply these principles, you need to first identify the top media outlets where you would like to receive a placement and identify the geographic areas that are most important to you. Points are assigned based on a placement getting into one of your top outlets, meeting your geographic locations, inclusion of a link, hashtag, photo, quote etc. Gone are the days that just knowing impressions is good enough to measure success of a PR program. When you take the time to think about your goals before starting a PR campaign, you will have greater success.

That reminded me of a successful PR campaign Visit Ithaca did around being the birthplace of the Ice Cream Sundae. There were two communities that laid claim to that historical fact: Ithaca, New York and Two Rivers, Wisconsin. With planning and strategy, the two communities gained national exposure on CBS Evening News and other national news outlets. You can learn more about how this PR stunt played out in my conversation with Fred Bonn in episode 110.

Vibrant Destinations

Josh Collins, Streetsense

This presentation gave us a lot to think about. Specifically, Josh dove into the evolution of the experience economy and how destinations can capture more visitors by building trust, listening to the data, curating the culture and embracing the challenges.

This reminded me of the conversation I had with Paul Leone from the New York State Brewers Association on episode 122 when we talked about marketing the hyper-local through cold, locally crafted beer.

Measurement Tools and Responsible Metrics

David Holder, JLL

I loved how David broke down measurement tools into three buckets. One bucket represents the overall destination condition metrics such as travel spending, visitor profiles and lodging performance. A second bucket represents travel activity indicators such as website activity, social media engagement, sales leads and travel media coverage. And a third bucket includes the annual market results such as group bookings, data driven results of campaigns and using technology to measure ROI. And then analyzing all of the data compared to the business plan. A destination’s ability to get buy-in from its funders and stakeholders is crucial for its ability to be successful in attracting visitors.

The US Travel Association has a lot of data and information around this on their website. I had a great conversation with David Huether, Senior Vice President of Research on episode 101 where we dove into many of the metrics that US Travel is tracking.

If you missed the virtual summit, you can still access all of the presentations by purchasing an all-access pass. We will be hosting a second virtual summit in the Spring of 2020, stay tuned for the announcement coming soon!