Summer is finally upon us. It’s a welcome change for Chicagoans, or anyone else living in the confines of a polar vortex last winter. The warming means we can finally grill, swim, beach and parade. It’s also a popular time for family vacations, for travel and for tourism. No matter the locale, summer is a time when all cities see an influx of travelers. Ready to guide these folks through their respective cities are local Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs), tasked with the responsibility of drawing and satisfying visitors through marketing efforts. As with the media, tourism marketing has enjoyed its share of evolution in recent years, particularly with the advent of social and digital media. Enhanced technology has brought its share of change, challenge and opportunity to tourism marketing.
Laura Chmielewski, director of marketing and communication for the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau is quick to point out digital and social media’s effect in evolving her trade. “Social changed everything,” she said. “The conversation was always going on about your brand, but now you can see it and be a part of it. You have to listen to what your consumers are saying.” She also acknowledges the importance of digital media and synergy across platforms:
“What we’re looking at is a complete change in the game,” she explained. “You’re looking at your media mix not only across digital, broadcast and print, but also in multi-platforms when you’re talking about digital. The way people are using their devices now is really dictating the need to be on all platforms. Your media mix has to be heaviest in digital. If you’re not offering co-op opportunities across all platforms, then you’re doing something wrong. That means social, digital and print.”
Scott Bort, communications manager for the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau, agrees with Chmielewski in the digital and social presence demanded by the state of the industry. The bureau recently launched a new blog, which significantly upgraded their digital efforts. Bort wanted to take the blog beyond its previous WordPress-based incarnation, particularly enhancing the visual elements.
“We wanted to make sure we had a lot of video integration as well,” he said. “YouTube is your friend in tourism marketing and exceptionally powerful for us as a tool. Some of the visuals we can push out are so much more powerful than a thousand-word story. I can spend ten minutes talking to you about this great location we have, or I can spend two minutes showing you photos of this tremendous location and those two minutes will be a lot more efficient.”
Also on Bort’s agenda is a focus on social infrastructure and integration.
“I have been beating the drum of social infrastructure at a local level, making sure our restaurants, hotels and attractions have free Wi-Fi to offer people an opportunity to promote themselves,” he explained.
With upwards of 70 thousand visitors coming to Chicago Southland for events such as Gaelic Park Irish Fest or to visit attractions like BalmoralPark, Bort asks, “Are there opportunities for them to share photo and video on their social sphere? Are you providing ample opportunity for this to become a social moment? Are you creating social opportunities for your visitors?”
Travel writer and blogger Nancy D. Brown also identifies this social infrastructure, perhaps a user-friendliness of sorts, as a key component when marketers work with the media:
“If social media is an important component of your campaign,” she said, “make sure we have access to complimentary internet and please, build in down time so that we may caption photos, edit video and reply to online media demands from tweeting, instagramming and posting photos and updates to Facebook.”
Like the Chicago Southland CVB, the Lee County CVB has enhanced its digital and social efforts in recent years, capitalizing on new developments in consumer tech. One such innovation Chmielewski identifies is Awaken, a short film created with a local fine art photographer who was beta testing 4KP resolution technology. The film won a Webby Award this year and enjoyed Vimeo editors’ picks.
“[I]t’s being shared virally in a way that traditional advertising never is,” Chmielewski noted. “When you’re talking about creating content, you’re talking about content that’s relevant to the people you’re in the conversation with, trying to create something that will delight people and that they’ll want to share.”
Another recent Lee County CVB campaign utilized Google Glass by outfitting five high Klout scorers with the gadgets to beta test the technology. “We invited them down for a challenge,” Chmielewski said. “We had something like 72 million impressions over five days. None of them were traditional journalists, but all of them are really active voices across all social media platforms.”
The notion of non-traditional media outlets is a trend that Chmielewski embraces. “We’re providing the same traditional PR services to non-traditional writers and I think that’s important,” she said.
As a freelance travel writer, Brown has experienced tourism marketers’ interest in non-traditional media firsthand.
“Like most dynamic industries, changing supply and demand and shifting markets require flexibility and creative approaches to problem solving. While some CVB’s & DMO’s have been slow to embrace social media and online content creators, I’ve been impressed with many of the creative ways travel/tourism marketing folks have partnered with print and digital media.”
Working with non-traditional media writers and outlets does necessitate similar methodology, however, and may even offer greater opportunity for uniqueness. Brown noted that “each writer/blogger/vlogger is looking for their own unique angle to explore a destination. Target your media, build relationships and work in partnership to deliver an experience that can be replicated by the reader/viewer/listener.”
That need that Brown mentions to engage the potential visitor is key. One trend Bort sees developing is gamification. “The gamification aspect of tourism is going to be very important: can you eat at all ten of these hot dog places, can you hit all the brew pubs on the brewery trail?” he explained. Chicago Southland’s CVB, for example, features a trail of art exhibitions for visitors to follow.
Looking ahead to the future, Bort notes the unpredictable nature of his industry but does foresee it pushing further into social. “Social marketing is going to be the biggest push in the next five years. Now mind you, five years ago social wasn’t as big as it is now, so who knows where we’ll be in five years? Social is still a rapidly evolving medium. Strategies we think up at the beginning of our fiscal year may seem completely off the wall at the end of our year,” he explained.
Chmielewski also notes her industry’s capacity for change, particularly in the medium. “When I came here three years ago, they were only buying ten percent digital. I shifted that. Now over 50 percent of our media mix is digital. We have increased bed tax over 30 percent in those three years. Is there a correlation there? I think there is.”
One already present trend that will continue to grow is a focus on visuals over text. Visual communication is everything in tourism marketing and in some ways, has dictated both the medium and the message. “Words are less important,” Chmielewski said. “Image has always been the most important thing, but words are even less important, even in how we communicate with our own industry. Everything has to be easier and quicker to understand.” She also mentions her bureau’s practice in social meetups, inviting colleagues to their bureau for Instagram and social media training.
While Bort sees the social media component of his industry growing, he also notes its unpredictable nature. “Some of the biggest marketing campaigns I’ve seen in the last five years have been these very interesting moments people were able to capitalize on,” he said. “You really can’t game plan or budget for that. You never quite know what’s going to happen and we’re always looking for that moment.”
That moment Bort refers to is possibly the greatest challenge tourism marketers and travel media both face: how to capture that lightning in a bottle and use it to the best effect. However, whether it’s taking advantage of new technologies, enhancing a social media presence or utilizing digital reach to its utmost, some tourism marketers have captured modernity and evolved their industry and practices as a result. Though some, like the media, have been slow to embrace change.
Nevertheless, there is the sense that marketers and the media are in this together, as Brown said: “I think many of the goals of travel writing and tourism marketing are the same; at the end of the day, it’s about creating lasting memories.”
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Contact InformationScott Bort Communications Manager Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau (708) 895-8200 http://www.visitchicagosouthland.com/ Laura Chmielewski Director of Marketing & Communications Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (239) 338-3500 http://www.leevcb.com/ Nancy D. Brown Travel Writer & Blogger http://www.nancydbrown.com/ http://writinghorseback.com/
Image by Ben Lee, courtesy of Flickr