Nicole Mahoney: 00:17 Hello listeners. This is Nicole Mahoney, host of destination on the left. Welcome to this week’s episode with another very smart guest Marie Forbes. Marie is director of development and marketing for the national scenic byway foundation as America’s road trip expert. She has traveled by car in all 50 States, enjoying hundreds of scenic byways and scenic drives passing through thousands of historic towns in our conversation. Marie talks about the importance of scenic byways to the small towns and communities that they encompass. We discuss creating itineraries based on the visitor experience, how storytelling helps enhance that experience and the importance of collaboration. A little more about Marie, her love of the road trip began at age seven and even her high school was on a scenic byway after a career in architecture and facility management ending at the world bank in Washington, DC. She was able to transform her love of the road trip into a successful career since beginning to develop road trips and driving travel packaging for destinations throughout the United States, Murray has assisted over 300 locations to develop and promote new travel products in their areas while managing an international inbound tour operator.
Nicole Mahoney: 01:39 She included scenic byways and every possible driving trip for the overseas visitor, even though Marie still assists destinations and regional locations to develop road trip experiences more recently, she contracted to take on the role of director of development and marketing for the national scenic byway foundation, and also management of the effort to develop a comprehensive website to include all scenic byways and scenic roads throughout the United States. In addition to those roles, she serves as professor of destination management and marketing for the temple university masters in travel and tourism program. He is conversant with the economic impact of scenic byways and scenic road, along with methods to create economic development in areas where it is hardest to come by. We will get into experience design and road trips with Marie. But first I wanted to share this important information with you, Mary, thank you so much for joining us. I’m, I’m really excited to be having this conversation with you. And I know our listeners are going to learn so much from you today, especially during these times when scenic byways and road ship travel are so important, but before we dive into the, can you
Dr. Maree Forbes: 03:00 Share a little bit about your story with our listeners in your own words? I find it adds so much more context to the conversation. Uh, Nicole thing, thank you very much for having me. I’m excited to have this interview actually, and you’re right road trips are just emerging as the GoTo for travel right now and expanding exponentially. As people figure out how to keep, do their leisure experiences, which have basically turned out to be a wellness product and still stay safe. So, um, I have devoted an entire lifetime to road trips. Um, I’ve been traveling scenic roads, um, starting with my family at age seven. We took the parts of the great river road from Wisconsin to Texas. And the next year we traveled the Pacific coast highway, um, in Oregon. And, uh, my high school was on a scenic byway in Northern Wisconsin. So any roads and travel have been a part of my life, my entire life.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 04:04 Um, and it made sense. Um, I’m actually trained as an architect, um, and, and then a professional interior designer in when it became time to raise a family and make a career change. Um, it made sense to professionally go into the love of my life because I had continued traveling, um, even through all of that. And it made sense to turn that into a career. So I’ve been involved in road trips and, uh, designing trails and, and road trip experiences ever since. That’s awesome. And, and I love that you called it the road trip experience, cause it really is that road trip experience. And like you, I grew up, um, on, on the road taking road trips. My family has been raised that way too. So I’m really, really excited to learn more. And, uh, before we actually get into more of the questions, can you talk a little bit more about what you’re doing now and the organization, just for our listeners, uh, to understand more about the organization where you’re, where you’re working now, the type of work that you’re doing and actually, uh, creating, um, experiential road trips, uh, for scenic byways and scenic drive, um, in conjunction with the national scenic byway foundation, which is the organization that picked up the pieces when federal funding was, uh, eliminated for byways.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 05:33 And we’re looking at the ability, uh, to promote them, um, and to make consumers more aware of them creating a series of, um, experiential road trips for each of America’s thousand byways and then putting them all on one website, uh, which now doesn’t exist. Um, it’s an exciting, and if we don’t preserve those roads and don’t take care of them, they’ll be gone. You can’t, you can’t just recreate one, um, Len the scenic views, et cetera, have been destroyed. So it’s pretty important also in American culture, uh, because they’re not just important to visitors. They’re also important to the communities, um, that exists along the, the scenic roads and byways. Yeah, absolutely. And, um, it is such important work. And especially right now, before, uh, before you and I hit record, we were talking about, you know, this whole idea of road trip travel, which has always been, um, a very large portion of travel.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 06:42 But now I think during the pandemic, when we’re recording this, it even, it is even more so, right. Well, it’s interesting. The road trip portion of the industry has always been the travel industries stepchild, and it in fact is the largest portion of travel road trip, leisure travel about 85% of the 2.29 billion trips a year taken by car in the United States. Um, so it dwarfs any of the other commercial enterprises, but because most of the road trip is done patronizing local restaurants and staying individuals staying in hotels and such, uh, it just has never gotten the same kind of play as the large corporate airlines and the other players like that. So it’s always been important. It’s a way for people to get away. Um, today’s folks are stressed out where if we have the highest level of stress in America, since the Pew research center started collecting the data and normally it’s jobs and money that are the two biggest stressors right now, it’s the state of America in this, the shape that we’re in as a nation and a road trip is a way to get away from all of that.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 08:08 And people who work with their minds rather than their hands have to get away both from their electronic devices and from their houses where their electronics are always available. You can always be checking your email and involved somehow in work. And so it’s a way to achieve real core relaxation, um, getting out on the road and, and detaching yourself from your, your regular environment and guiding into an experience along the road that can be created with heritage and culture and the arts and all kinds of other things along with the nature and scenic beauty of the road. Absolutely. I think that’s, uh, that’s just awesome. And think I did share with you before we pressed record on this, that actually my family and I are going on a, on a road trip this weekend as well. So I can completely relate to that. So I wanted to talk a little bit about, you know, we like to cover creativity and collaboration, um, ms.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 09:13 Jo, and I think, um, I’d love to talk a little bit about creativity when it comes to road trips and specifically, you know, with your expertise in developing those experiences, those trails and those, um, those byways. And I’m, I’m wondering, you know, as competitive as our tourism and hospitality industry can be, there are so many choices of places to go. Um, I’m, I’m wondering what are, you know, advice you might have for our listeners, or if you’ve experienced some really creative form of, you know, a way that this type of trip can really stand out and appeal, you know, to someone that you’re trying to attract to those visitors. We had to do that. In fact, um, the, uh, tour operator, uh, inbound tour operator, I worked with enforced for nine days, nine years that I managed, um, we were in the, in the driving travel business and we had to figure out a way to elevate the road trip because we had, um, folks coming in from Britain and Germany and all over Europe.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 10:23 Um, some, some Asians, Chinese, um, from India, et cetera. And they knew they weren’t to rent a car and drive in America, but we really had to create, or them an experience, uh, so that they didn’t just wander around and not know what to do, because they were totally unfamiliar with the, they were going to so created what we call personal travel portfolio, which had a story for every day travel and then included detailed information about things to see and do that would make their trip most satisfying. Actually we created, we created experience, um, on paper and then sent them a three ring binder with all the information in it, print in four color with all the maps they needed so that they in fact, could be armed with something that really let them have the most satisfying trip they could possibly have. And we got rave reviews overseas, but it did elevate the road trip into an experience rather than just a sightseeing route fully.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 11:35 I love how you pulled in that idea of the story and storytelling. Um, and, and that, that how you use that to elevate it, to be more than just sightseeing. Um, can you talk a little bit about how you actually pulled that story thread? Well, lots of research and, um, I’ve traveled in all 50 States been on, uh, many of the, of the scenic byways and scenic roads. And essentially you have to, um, you have to take the, the traveler by the hand and pull them into the experience by, with inspiring copy. You have to get them into the experience, showing them
Nicole Mahoney: 12:18 What the experience is
Dr. Maree Forbes: 12:20 Actually going to feel like, and, and what they’re going to be doing. You really have to elevate that whole beginning story so that it’s inspiring and it makes people want to take the trip. Um, it’s original copy. Um, I do a lot of it. Um, sometimes it can be very challenging to capture exactly the right sentiment in that, but just keep working on it until it happens. And so when you start the story with an inspiring description of the experience, then as you move along through the story, and we did, um, we did a story for each day of travel, then you could continue that all the way through, and they’re basically their story is evolving as they’re taking the trip.
Nicole Mahoney: 13:10 Yeah, I think that’s really fantastic. And I can, I can see how the story could be evolving and then they could even be, you know, that they’re not only reading and experiencing the story as you’ve written it, but they’re actually now part of the story right. And writing their own story. And I think that that’s, uh, just a, a really neat way to kind of connect, um, to your travel.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 13:34 92% of travelers want to make memories. And so as they’re reading and experiencing the story, they’re experiencing their own made to order move moments. And that’s so important because when you share those with your traveling companions or your significant other, whoever you’re with that, that brings a whole different dimension to the experiential road trip.
Nicole Mahoney: 14:01 Absolutely. I think that’s really great. So, um, this next question I, I really like to, uh, dive into, especially just has taken on such a new meaning right now is we’re in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when I’ve been asking this question for the four years, uh, since I launched this show and I really liked to talk about how creativity appears in the face of adversity or challenge. And I, I’m curious if there is a time that you’ve been faced with a challenge and it certainly could be the one we’re in now, or maybe there’s another one that, you know, we can learn from that will, will help us now. Um, but I’m just curious if you can share a challenge maybe that you have faced, um, in the, kind of the creativity or the creative solution that came from, from that,
Dr. Maree Forbes: 14:49 Um, putting together, putting together those stories. And in fact, putting them together now for scenic byways and scenic drives, um, it is challenging in fact, to capture the experience, uh, in three or four paragraphs that are entering interesting enough and inspiring enough, um, that takes, that takes a good amount of creativity. And we’re challenged every day with how do you say things within the pandemic? How do you still uplift people and change, provide them with the change of perspective so that the trips they’re taking can be something that takes them out of the current stresses. This is, this is a different time in the travel industry that than anything I’ve experienced. Um, we went through a nine one one in things like the ashes over, uh, Iceland, which, which, um, canceled all the flights from Europe and on and on and on with those kinds of things over the years.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 16:05 But there was nothing as pervasive as, as this is in America with the fear factor in people just not understanding whether they’re going to be safe for their families are going to be safe. Uplifting people in this, in this environment is, is a challenge. You know, what are some of the things that you are trying to do to help uplift people, um, through the storytelling and through these experiential roadtrips, or there’s some specific examples of things that you’re working on, or that you’re thinking about when they’ve just, uh, have finished creating, um, they failed itineraries for all of the Colorado’s, um, scenic and historic byways, and also writing an introductory story about each one of the byways. Um, and then an, and then describing the experience that they’ll have driving the byway. And you just have to make certain that you’re just, every word is inspiring and uplifting people so that they can have an anticipation of considering their trip prior to going. And that’s, that’s one of the most important phases of travel is the anticipation phase where they’re, they’re thinking about traveling, they’ve gotten involved in reading and suddenly they understand that they do have a medium and a mechanism to escape the, the daily stresses for some period of time. So it’s been interesting to try to characterize every one of those Colorado byways with the historic we have, that they have that exist within the scenic beauty, Colorado was
Nicole Mahoney: 17:55 A mining environment, and there,
Dr. Maree Forbes: 17:58 There were a lot of other things just strictly going on there
Nicole Mahoney: 18:01 That now are, are replayed through the scenic drives or on the scenic drives, as they, as you unfold on the drive, the story unfolds like the old West, for example, coming out of Durango and other things,
Dr. Maree Forbes: 18:16 It was like South of Silverton. Yeah.
Nicole Mahoney: 18:19 And then array that were the, the silver producing towns, that history is all still there and
Dr. Maree Forbes: 18:28 Has influenced today’s culture tremendously. Um, as we’ve said so many times,
Nicole Mahoney: 18:33 Times every story has a, or every destination has a story to tell it begins with the heritage of the people who settled in the landscape, they found, and culture is what has evolved, um, through to today. And all of that basically can be illustrated, uh, for the visitors so that when they finished their trip, they’ve been immersed in the story the entire way along. I think that, uh, that really, really helped, um, kind of bring us full circle in terms of understanding exactly how the storytelling can work. And I love that you said every destination has a story to tell, and then, um, you know, you highlighted that there’s the heritage of the people, the landscape that they found, and then the culture that has developed from it. I think that sounds like a really, um, great framework actually, to be thinking about it, you know, as our listeners might be thinking about how they might approach storytelling for their destination, is that a general framework that you work from? Yes, yes.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 19:37 That is the framework we work from and no two destinations have the exact heritage and landscape. And we think that those, that distinction
Nicole Mahoney: 19:50 Of the unique, um, heritage
Dr. Maree Forbes: 19:53 Image and landscape and culture is actually what makes a destination. Yeah.
Nicole Mahoney: 19:56 Destination. Absolutely. I think that’s fantastic. So I’d rather talk to you about collaboration, because I actually think that the work that you do is like an ultimate example of collaboration. Um, you know, something I like to talk about on the show a lot is this, this idea of coopertition where perceived competitors come together to do something bigger than they can do on their own. And I think this whole idea of the scenic byway or a trail that you might put together that really connects multiple communities. It’s just a really great example of that. So I’m wondering if you can talk about kind of your viewpoint on how that collaboration really works within the scenic byways
Dr. Maree Forbes: 20:41 Indeed. Um, that collaboration is really important because travelers don’t really care County lines begin and, and other kinds of jurisdictions like that
Nicole Mahoney: 20:53 We create for political purposes. They’re just looking at their experience and the moral,
Dr. Maree Forbes: 21:00 The towns along a route, um, cooperate, and basically hand off the experience from one to the next,
Nicole Mahoney: 21:10 The more likely that they’re going to have the visitor visit all of them,
Dr. Maree Forbes: 21:14 Those towns. And of course they eat, they shop, um, they stay, um, they, they, uh, patronize, you know, local retailers, et cetera.
Nicole Mahoney: 21:27 The more that you can illustrate to people, the entire experience along the route, the more likely they’re going to take it.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 21:34 And that means that each town along the route,
Nicole Mahoney: 21:38 It needs to illustrate
Dr. Maree Forbes: 21:41 It’s best in uniqueness. But then yeah,
Nicole Mahoney: 21:44 The roots serves as a thread to tie all those together. And in rural places, this is bringing economic development to places where it’s hardest to come by
Dr. Maree Forbes: 21:56 And most
Nicole Mahoney: 21:57 Already have scenic roads are in rural places. And this is a way to bring
Dr. Maree Forbes: 22:02 Economic impact economic development to those places. And nobody has to build any schools or give any tax abatements or any of that kind of thing basically are promoting the best of what you have and presenting it to people and they come to enjoy it, leave their money and go back home again. So it could that cooperation between the towns is so important because they’re not going to be able to have lunch or dinner in each town and the experiences really have to be designed. So that,
Nicole Mahoney: 22:37 First of all, you remember that they’re a leisure experience. You’re not rushing through giving people the highlight
Dr. Maree Forbes: 22:43 And then positioning the places for lunch and the places to stay and such in a day
Nicole Mahoney: 22:50 Part manner. That makes sense. So that you’ve created the entire experience.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 22:57 And sometimes towns get testy with that, where they say, well, why can’t lunch be located here? It doesn’t make sense within the daily experience. And so the cooperation of understanding that a rising tide floats all boats to use a cliche cliche is that they will all get a certain amount of economic impacts through them.
Nicole Mahoney: 23:19 Cooperation. Yeah. I love that. Please say actually, I’ve used it several times. The rising tide floats all boats, but I think it’s just, so it’s such a good illustration for, you know, exactly what we’re talking about. Um, I’m curious if there are some examples with all of the projects that you’ve worked on, um, whether it’s the current projects or some of the things you’ve done in the past, um, where there are different scenic byways or trails that you’ve worked on that were more successful or really stood out in your mind. And if you could talk about them or give us an example and then kind of share why you think that those, you know, worked so well,
Dr. Maree Forbes: 23:57 This finished, um, creating a agricultural heritage trail for believe this is not what used to be. Um, the Penn state, um, uh, visitor Bureau. They’re not called happy Valley and they have
Nicole Mahoney: 24:14 Incredibly beautiful, um,
Dr. Maree Forbes: 24:17 Through farm lands with historic buildings and historic properties on both sides where farming and the agricultural landscape is still beautifully intact. And that trail they’ve now turned it into an, an official trail. And we’re looking, in fact, even today,
Nicole Mahoney: 24:38 You get into a heritage area so that the farming areas can be preserved.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 24:42 But that was an example of going somewhere that, you know, when you think of people don’t even realize it’s called center County it’s Penn state is what everybody everybody’s perception was. And folks had no idea that there was this real historic gem that they have kind of over on one side of the County that could be promoted as a beautiful trail. And at the same time you’re driving
Nicole Mahoney: 25:13 Your basic basic
Dr. Maree Forbes: 25:14 Basically can visit several of the farms who are producing organic agriculture, et cetera. And it was, it’s such a change of pace for, for a County that has, has focused on Penn state. The world is focused on Penn state over on the other side of the County. There’s a historic town called Philipsburg. And we created an entire experience in Phillips Phillips Virgo walking tour that we dug out of the history, filing cabinets, et cetera, and discovered that they had an entire compliment and collection of attractions that they could promote that nobody had really pulled all together in one, in, into one experience. And so that was really an interesting project for a destination that has not focused on anything except the college up to this point.
Nicole Mahoney: 26:15 Yeah, I think that’s a really great, a great example. And I’m curious with the walking tour, even with the heritage trail example that you just talked about, um, you had mentioned experience design earlier, and you started to kind of elaborate in terms of remembering that it’s a leisure, you know, it’s a leisure kind of experience. So not to be rushed. You talked about highlighting things that make sense. I’m wondering if there’s a framework that you, when you approach,
Dr. Maree Forbes: 26:44 You know, these trails or the walk, the walking tour, the walking tour was those are, those are very localized and actually creating a route through the town that people that was feasible to walk. And we went there and walked in and made sure it made sense, but even in that case, um, you couldn’t do the whole thing in an hour and a half. So there had to be somewhere for lunch and that those kinds of things you had to intersperse the places to stop within the places that are just drive-bys. But in terms of, in terms of a road trip, you need to think from the Traveler’s perspective, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re tired. You took a road trip and you’re not going to get up at seven or eight in the morning. You do that at home. You’re probably going to finish your breakfast and get on the road, maybe nine 30, 10.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 27:38 Well, that gives you an opportunity to have one major attraction stop, maybe two in the morning before lunch, and then you stop for lunch and then you have one major stop in the afternoon, or maybe, you know, maybe two, but you’re never going to do more than three or four things in a day. And you know, then by five o’clock, you’re ready for a glass of wine and put your feet up at your commendations. And you need to keep in mind that these are a way for people to relax and engage their minds at the same time. So we find that because destinations don’t want to pick and choose, they try to cram too much into things, or they don’t give specific guidance on, this is the best series and sequence of attractions that that is going to give you the most satisfying experience. And so we, we put a lot less into the trips and it turns out being a lot more because people actually do take those stops.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 28:54 I think the old adage less is more absolutely in this case. And they’re able to take the time and learn the story. If you’re visiting a historic site, you know, you don’t have to feel rushed. You can actually learn the story of, you know, what happened there when it was built, et cetera. Um, through going to an art museum, you know, you have, you, you know, you have the time to take, to go through the whole thing. One of the most interesting museums in the entire United States is in the Phoenix, Arizona, the music museum, where you walk in front of a transponder and you’re in a cultural, basically in a cultural setting and it plays the music that goes along with that particular culture and you easily spend three hours there. So that kind of special thing, that’s the afternoon. And then you’ve, you’ve had all of that intellectual stimulation and you really don’t want any more than afternoon. And so then you go on to the next morning, you’re ready to do some other things, but because these experiences are intellectually stimulating and that’s part of the point it’s getting immersed in the story of those places is that you really want to concentrate on a few really good ones.
Nicole Mahoney: 30:20 Yeah. I think that’s a really great advice. And, and I’m, I’m curious if, uh, when you’re working with these communities or these byways, um, do you look at different market segments? Like for example, would there be a different set of stops maybe for a family trip versus say, you know, um, someone who might be retired or, um, you know, a couples trip.
Dr. Maree Forbes: 30:48 Yes. Yeah. And you, you really have to look at your market. Um, the primary, one of the primary markets in America, the cultural inheritance travelers, they spend more than stay longer. So they’re a great market for anybody that has good cultural and his good culture and history, but children don’t necessarily enjoy all of those kinds of things. So if you’re preparing an experience for the family, you’re really looking at a different set of, of attractions that you’re, that you’re including or for couples. Um, even those on a romantic weekend still want to engage their minds and things. And the majority of us these days are educated and we work with our heads and we just need something to get in there to displace thoughts of work. And so even in that kind of experience, you want to include things that allow the couple to have a made to order moment and give them something to talk about over dinner. So you really have to look at the attractions that you’re putting in and make sure that you focused on the market that you’re trying to reach plus the communications. Um, if you’re trying to reach, um, the adult market, don’t show family with kids, um, people have to relate to what they’re looking at to envision themselves in the experience and see people like them. And they, they respond much better. The communications. Yeah.
Nicole Mahoney: 32:19 That’s a really good point, too. And, um, to, to be, to understand who your market is, and then to make sure that what you’re communicating is actually, um, communicating to that market and paying attention to those details. So I, um, I think this has been fabulous and, uh, I really have our conversation and learned so much. I love this idea of storytelling, um, in thinking about the scenic byways or trails or itineraries, whatever it is that you might be creating in terms of the traveler experience, but also the story that they’re going to experience as well. So before we say goodbye, I’m curious if you have any final thoughts or words of wisdom to share with our audience. I think that every destination needs to understand that the current moment, what an incredible opportunity they have, um, coming out of this massive, um, disruption that everybody has experienced since 75% of travel is within a four to six hour radius.
Nicole Mahoney: 33:29 Every destination, even large cities, um, have an opportunity to attract the auto traveler. And I’m hoping that finally, the, the industry as a whole can understand this is literally the foundation of travel in the United States. And we need to begin elevating those experiences so that the people taking them can feel like they’ve had an elevated, satisfying trip. I think a, I think that’s such a great point. And, um, I I’ve loved that you pointed out that we have an incredible opportunity because that is one thing that we’ve really been trying to, you know, look for is, are the silver linings and how can we be stronger when we come out and we come out of this, uh, disruption as you, as you called it, which is a perfect word for it. Um, and, uh, I think that this is just a really great conversation and I appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us and giving us so many new ideas to think about.
Nicole Mahoney: 34:34 Thank you so much for joining us. And, and we’ll look forward to connecting with you again, thank you to call, enjoy it a lot. Thank you for listening all the way to the end of this week’s episode. This gives me a chance to ask you for a favor. We have a goal to reach 100 ratings and reviews on our podcast. By the end of 2020, we are already well on our way to meeting this goal, but need your help. I love sharing my interviews with you, and if you enjoy them too, I would, uh, greatly appreciate you giving us a rating and review click the iTunes or Stitcher link on destination on the left.com or leave one right in your favorite app where you listen most often, it only takes a minute and your support means a lot.