BALTIMORE: A number of state and local destinations are launching summer campaigns prioritizing outreach to tourists within driving distance, in an attempt to offer value as gas prices continue to rise and recession threats remain.
Although many states began planning these campaigns prior to the recession chatter and before gas prices hovered close to $4 a gallon, they are using PR to fine-tune their messages to the current economic climate.
For the first time in years, the Maryland Office of Tourism turned its marketing focus from a national level to the Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, regions, according to Camila Clark, PR and promotions manager for the office. Media outreach for the campaign, termed Pretty. Close., is tapping into interests like the Preakness horse race held in Baltimore, as well as local historic sites.
"People are not going to give up their vacations," Clark said. "They are going to take shorter ones, or day trips. There are strained pocketbooks, so they may want to visit their own back yard."
Seattle launched a public education campaign May 9 called Why Tourism Matters, coupled with a microsite, http://www.whytourismmatters.com/, with the aim of getting Washington residents excited about Seattle's tourist attractions. It targeted state media - print, Web, and broadcast - including multicultural media.
"During times of a recession looming and gas prices rising, people look to the drive [the] in-state market," said David Blandford, director of PR at Seattle's Convention and Visitor's Bureau (SCVB), which plans to use that knowledge to shape its PR.
"Historically, when the economy is bad... we see more traffic in our own state," Blandford said.
Even upscale markets like Las Vegas shifted their pitches to be "more conscious" of the economy and gas prices, said Jo Crimmins, PR group account director at R&R Partners, AOR for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Its 2008 summer tourism campaign, Vegas Right Now, was established to encourage the drive market, Crimmins said, and its PR team is pushing a tool from the Web site that lists property's room specials in media outreach.
In Florida, Lou Hammond, founder of New York-based Lou Hammond & Associates, said this year's media blitz for its Palm Beach client targets Atlanta instead of a national audience.
Some of the local tourism campaigns continue to target out-of-state visitors, but are instead using financial incentives to lure them into taking trips to their states.
The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation partnered with American Express to offer $50 gift cards to visitors who book hotels through Philly's More Summer Fun Hotel Package.
"Travelers are looking for the extra value," said Jeff Guaracino, VP of communications for Philadelphia.
The economic-savvy approach might be paying off.
Massachusetts created a localized-tourism campaign called It's All Here last summer, but didn't launch until this season. The campaign is faring well based on the current economic situation, according to Amy Gallagher, account supervisor for Mullen PR, which is handling the account. It aggressively targeted community papers within the state, as well as nearby New York; Hartford, CT; and Rhode Island. It's the first year the state put a local drive at the center of its tourism push, Gallagher said.
Blandford noted that the media is also showing interest in the trend. He has received several media inquiries about "staycations" - taking time off from work or school, without actual travel.
Not all destinations are looking to embrace the cost-conscious trend. The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau rolled out a campaign, Express Yourself, that expands its sultry, hip brand with an added focus on art and culture, said Rolando Aedo, SVP of marketing and tourism. Proximity and value are not key components of the campaign.