Creating a welcoming environment: The Travel & Tourism Roundtable

Amid a still-uncertain economy, the travel and tourism industry remains challenged to win over consumers. Sector leaders gathered in Columbus, Ohio, at this Fahlgren Mortine-hosted roundtable to discuss evolving consumer expectations, unique crises destinations face, and effective blogger partnerships.


-Karyl Leigh Barnes, managing partner, tourism practice, Development Counsellors International
-Tamara Brown, PR manager, TourismOhio
-Amanda Dempsey, marketing director, Bermuda Tourism Authority
-Mollie Hansen, VP of marketing, Airstream
-Matthew MacLaren, SVP, member relations, American Hotel & Lodging Association
-Joe Marinelli, president, Visit Savannah
-Marty McDonald, SVP, leader of integrated tourism practice, Fahlgren Mortine
-Greg Staley, SVP of communications, US Travel Association
-Christina Steed, EVP, Flowers Communications Group
-Chris Thompson, president and CEO, Brand USA
-Claudia Vecchio, director, Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs

What lessons can be learned from Ferguson, Missouri, or Baltimore that can help destination marketers? What does the rise of Airbnb indicate about what travelers are really looking for in their experiences? These topics and more are tackled in the highlights below from the roundtable.

Understanding what audiences want

McDonald: We are talking to a generation of wolves, not a generation of sheep. They want to be invited in halfway and then they’re on their own – and they’re happy to get just enough information to entice them, but then discover the greatness of a destination for themselves.

Barnes: The rise of Airbnb perfectly captures how people are increasingly embracing the concept of living like the locals do. They want to go to the hotspots those who live there do. That’s been a huge shift for our industry that some DMOs are doing better than others.

Thompson: You really have to understand the travel lifecycle of your intended audience. There are emerging markets for whom America’s allure rests in their dreams of opportunity, but there are other been-there, done-that markets that need to be approached differently.

Go here to learn about Discover America, A TV series representative of Brand USA’s innovative marketing strategy.

Content offerings

Brown: You must have the discipline to say content is not good enough if it’s not going to evoke the type of emotion it must to draw visitors.

Dempsey: In many cases, it’s best to focus content on your audience’s attitude over their age. So much marketing targets Millennials, but there are many folks older than that who still have a much younger attitude.

MacLaren: Whether online or mobile, the challenge we increasingly face is consumer deception because there are so many websites that purport to be the hotel site, but are not. We must educate consumers so they know how to find the proper sites – and subsequently benefit from doing so.

Out-of-the-box thinking

Marinelli: What lessons have we learned from Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore? How are those cities dealing with the conventions that might have cancelled or no longer want them to bid? As a destination marketing organization, we have to think about such crises and how we prepare.

Hansen: Our dealers are crucial to the premium travel experience we want our customers to have, so much of our time is spent educating them about our customers so they can add value.

Steed: Working with bloggers can be really effective in the travel and tourism space. When we worked with the Illinois Office of Tourism, we employed a dedicated blogger to travel the state and highlight specific places. People followed her, interacted with her, and got tremendous insight.

Foundations of effective marketing

Staley: I’ve led marketing teams for two DMOs. The foundation I never veered from was that the brand should reflect what’s authentic about a destination. It can’t be manufactured because a traveler can see right through that.

Vecchio: Destination brand marketing is not for the faint of heart. It requires hard decisions. But even more than that, it requires partners to take off some of their personal agendas and embrace a collective spirit.

Go here to see a key element of Nevada’s efforts to create a brand that embraces the duality of the state.

Go here for an extended version of this roundtable, including examples of specific campaigns that facilitated consumer activity and a look at how our esteemed panelists handle concerns about safety and security.

A brand new day for the USA

Prior to the Fahlgren Mortine-hosted Travel & Tourism Roundtable, Chris Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA, spoke about the steps being taken to turn around America’s reputation with international audiences. Below are some highlights from his conversation with Gideon Fidelzeid.

The origins of "Marketing the welcome":
"When Arne Sorensen, president and CEO of Marriott, joined our board about two years ago he said to me, "We have to make the world realize we welcome them and we thank them for coming to our country. Marketing the welcome is very important." So we coined that as part of our marketing foundation. So many of our programs and activities are built around that philosophy."

Unique partnerships:
"We understand that security is a huge issue we have to worry about as it weighs on the minds of potential visitors to the US. So we work very closely with Customs and Border Protection, among other entities, to make sure that when travelers first enter the States, things are handled in a hospitable way."

Go here for an extended version of PRWeek’s conversation with Thompson, where he digs deep into Brand USA’s efforts while offering counsel to all marketers gleaned from his nearly 30 years in the travel and tourism sector.

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