Connect Travel’s Virtual Roundtable Webinar Series focuses on “RESET: Parsing the New Normal in Destination Marketing.”
Brighter Days Ahead
Several hundred travel and tourism industry professionals—most of them from DMOs—had a back-and-forth dialogue during the third of the series of virtual roundtables organized by Connect Travel, with the major takeaways from the session as follows:
—Brighter days are ahead. Stay focused and don’t get stuck in the present. —Don’t expect an overnight recovery; think “gradual.” —Target locals as a first and most important visitor market. —Be Bold. Now is the time to open it up, play loose and “Let ‘er Rip” —There’s never been a greater time for DMO leaders to jump to position themselves as leaders on behalf of the income and the economic impact that tourism creates for a community. Work, work, work with Economic Development Councils, Chambers and Business Improvement Districts.
Josh Collins, moderator, director destination activations and marketing, Streetsense
Leroy Bridges, vice president, digital & communications, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater
Tedd Evers, founder & CEO, TripTuner
Andi Thoreson, director of marketing, Visit Fargo-Moorhead
Becca Smith, senior director of marketing & events at Connect Travel
So, what are you doing now to deal with the New Normal?
Andi Thoreson: “For us it’s really just been the new normal—rolling with the punches to a certain extent—and keeping up with and talking a lot with partners … shifting into this new world that is virtual and digital. We’re also getting into those phases of what does moving forward look like; that’s what today is all about.”
Leroy Bridges: “We’ve been fortunate so far St. Pete/Clearwater and one of the things we’re looking at and we’ve done is launched a Brighter Days Ahead—a kind of bridge marketing campaign for our partners, an unbranded effort so that anybody within the destination can get behind. This has been one of the big things early on for us … to help give an umbrella platform for all of our partners our 24 municipalities, all of our hoteliers, attractions and whatnot, to get behind it and pushing the positive message that there are brighter days ahead and, obviously, tying in to our beautiful sunshiny destination.”
Tedd Evers: (In 2001, Evers had an office “that was right near the World Trade Center”). “I remember 9/11 very, very clearly—hat happened there and what we had to do to bounce back. There obviously a lot of things that are different. And then I chose to serve my own company at the tail end of the last financial recession, so I’m kind of kind of tired of these scenarios … We’ve had to take this kind of lean approach. In the day-to-day it’s not that much of an adjustment, but we’re having to employ some of those things that we didn’t think we would be doing nine years into a business. But there’s a lot of energy and creativity and in this business. I love being in this business and I have no doubt that we’re all going to pull together.”
About Visit the Brighter Days Ahead Campaign
Leroy Bridges: “Pretty quickly everybody said we’ve got to create some type of video, and we all did that landscape video with the with the narrative; we wanted to take that a step farther and, with that video we launched a toolkit that included downloadable assets—that destination video was in there— but also email signatures and digital assets for email campaigns or for their websites … again, unbranded. We didn’t put the Visit St. Pete/Clearwater logo on everything because we’ve got 24 municipalities. The city of Gulfport (Florida), for instance; that’s not in our name, it doesn’t want our logo on their branded material. So, we were really stripping our brand from it, but building a platform that they can really get behind. We’ve seen some great responses, with some hotels even putting it on their marquee—you know, Brighter Days Ahead—we are working on a webinar. I know webinars have become all the rage and here we sit on one.
‘But I think what we’re really trying to do is bring forward creative ideas for our partners to be able to leverage that platform—understanding that a lot of staffs have been furloughed and they may not have a ton of resources right now. But here are some very easy things you can do with this campaign, especially a simple hashtag on your social media posts. But I think that’s often one of the biggest challenges for our partners: What do you say in these moments? What do you do? These are difficult questions to answer, and we’ve tried to answer them with Brighter Days Ahead. Stay positive. it’s not a sales message. And to be able to feature that sunshine—a common thread at the heartbeat of our destination.”
Josh Collins: “Have you gotten any kind of feedback from your part nerves that’s unexpected for you as the DMO?”
Leroy Bridges: “Nothing unexpected yet, but I do think and, I know, it feels like we’ve been in this for a long time. I think we’re still very early. We’ve got still the rest of April and everybody wants to keep talking about a date, but this platform—I think we see it as our marketing once we start to ramp that up. it’s much easier to go back in the market with paid channels. We’re not doing that now right. We’re paused and we’re using this across our own channels, but as we start to reintroduce paid marketing, maybe that’s our national NPR buy, maybe that’s some in-state stuff. We have elements and assets that we will be firing back up over the next month to eight weeks and this gives us a nice toe-in-the water before we ramp back up to full full-fledged sales mode. So, I think it’s a little early still, too, but I’m optimistic that we’ll continue to hear more and more from our partners and perhaps be surprised at some of the creative ways they’re leveraging.”
“A day feels like a week and a week feels like a month.”
Josh Collins: “It’s great that you have created that and positioned it in a way with options to even be longer term. I think that is so key because we don’t know it feels like this being normal has been—you know, a day feels a week and a week feels like amonth already. It really is it does have that sense to us.”
Leroy Bridges: “We know the battle is stay on top of mind. Right? We all know that, midst this very difficult time, we don’t want to be necessarily forgotten trying to drive awareness and … using a positive message to be able to do that, you’re able to be productive but also cautious and cognizant of everything that’s happening around this.”
Josh Collins: “Andi, I love that your DMO has created this kind of idea around the hometown tourists—similarly looking to engage your locals and not just help them in the short term, but empower them to become your best messengers looking forward to talk to us a little bit about that yeah.”
Andi Thoreson: “Well, it was actually a campaign from five years ago where it was aimed at encouraging locals to get out and discover their own city. Locals have always and always will be your best advocate, so ensuring that they know what it is that’s there and available to them, as it has been, pushes in the past. So, now I’m taking what we’ve already had in place and looking—we know that once it’s okay to get out and start traveling that’s going to really start on a local front. So, having something in place for them to latch on to, and giving them some guidance and getting out into the community, definitely helps.
“Restaurants are going to change, I’m sure, the way that they operate when it first starts be okay to go back to zoos or museums. it’s going to be considerably different, so we’re working with them quite a bit, too, as we can, to understand what that will look like so we can have that prepared and have something for people to latch on to safely get back out and be those initial tourists for us is definitely something that we’re trying to work out right now and get in place for planning ahead.”
Josh Collins: “Have you guys come up with any kind of anticipated timeline for how you all might roll that out?”
Andi Thoreson: “I think it could play in a lot with what we’re doing right now because we’re already asking our locals to essentially be our visitors to take the place of that money that’s going into takeout delivery restaurants—donating and getting out and doing the museum visits, virtually, the downloading or going onto our classes through our art museums and things like that. As such, a lot of what we would be rolling out is already in place and what we’re already relying on and asking them to do. I think in terms of timeline … putting that in place to have around what we’re doing virtually already so that when it transitions to the okay-go-out-and-actually-visit-these-place. It’s already kind of packaged in that hometown tourists that messaging around it and kind of go from there; it’s still fairly in those beginning thoughts. We’ve been really reactionary still, so now it’s getting to that phase of we don’t know exactly what that budget will look like. There’s still so many unknowns, so trying to be as prepared for it as possible and at least have those ideas in place.
Josh Collins: “Before we started today Tedd, you were talking about how we foster local demand. How do we think about loyalty? What should we be actually thinking and doing for those on the call.”
Tedd Evers: “In the category of what I would like to see come out of this when we have a chance to reset and to do things differently: we’re so focused on trying to bring that demand from the outside in, I think, to do this from a practical terms, the more likely demand we’re going to get in the short term is going to be local you know. Earlier, we talked about being hyper-local, but also just in terms of taking care of our local partners. Right? The restaurants, the venues, the activity providers, et cetera.
“How can we generate that local demand in the short term and maybe in terms of incentives? Maybe there are some ways that you could create something like a pass or a coupon or something that could engender a future loyalty or a future visit—much in the way that your local health facility or gym or something like that tries to get you to buy, say, with gift certificates for future visits or something like that.
“You tie that into some of your local partners, not only in the short term but in the in the longer term, letting them be your voice. We always talk about authenticity, etcetera, but there’s an opportunity in which, instead of having influencers coming into your destination as arbiters of taste and trotting all over your destination in your venues and everything, you could take someone and have them be a local ambassador; use them to be the voices. You come out of this telling their story and the process connects them in the longer term even, because this is going to be a process.”
Now is The Time. Let ‘er Rip
Josh Collins: “It’s incredibly difficult to know what to do and there is some trepidation around—I don’t want to say the wrong thing, Right?—So, how do we how do we steward that well with our partners? How do we do that collectively.”
Leroy Bridges: “I’ll be honest. We’ve really opened up our social channels and, I think, for a long time we’ve viewed them as being very tight. They’re very curated and that’s great because that’s what we’re here for … we’re able to really customize content and bring exactly what we want.
“We’ve opened it up we’re playing loose. We’re highlighting local artists who are doing their own lives with watch parties on Facebook. About leveraging locals to tell that story? if you’re not doing that as a DMO or you have never done it, now is the time. We’re trying and it’s tough. I get it. Staffs have been cut. Budgets have been cut. And it takes time to coordinate those efforts, but I know that there are restaurant tours, there are attractions, there are local influencers or artists trying to drive their own buzz right now. And you can help shine a spotlight on them by doing a watch party or giving them a call and going live together. Help them write a script, maybe, or walk them through it.
“You can also do Facebook lives with tape recorded video, which is a nice little hack. You still get that drive, the attention to that Facebook live, but you have a little bit more control over the content. If you’re a little bit nervous about that the local artist maybe drop in an f-bomb or something, I think, let it rip. Now is the time to test and try that stuff on social if you haven’t. And don’t try not to be as nervous as I know I can just speak from my own channels. it can be tough, sometimes, to loosen the reins and now is the time to do that.”
Easing Traveler Anxiety
Becca Smith: “What steps will destinations and tourism-related businesses need to take to address traveler anxieties and ensure traveler safety since we’re all worried about that?’
Andi Thoreson: “First off, those conversations need to be taking place with your partners: understanding what their comfort is and understanding how that how they’re preparing to be better able to put that messaging in place. It makes no sense to drive out your own messaging. Bring people in and have it be kind of a complete disaster when they start going to these places. That’s just going to increase the anxiety, so I think there should be some rolling in and understanding the different steps that that attractions and restaurants have taken—and including that in some form or in some way shape or form into your messaging—because there is going to be a lot of anxiety when people start getting out and about into the community and looking at what it is that those partners need from you in terms of whether that’s helpful with guidance and understanding what they should be doing or helping to craft what their messaging looks like. A lot of our partners right now are so on top of their game and have switched their platforms so quickly that I’m not terribly worried about them in that respect but I think that it’s going to become a little bit clearer, as things continue, to progress to understand what that’s going to look like. It’s such a tough question to answer right now.”
Tedd Evers: “I mean, I was actually thinking about that earlier—you know 9/11 we had you know the shoe bomber and everything so almost everybody has to take out the shoes and we’d go through the security process and psychologically we maybe feel safe, and that’s kind of addressed that and in this situation. I don’t think there’s one thing that could be done to kind of be a visible symbol. I mean you’re not going to have like a little Dyson-like hand washer you know as soon as you enter somewhere. But I people are going to want to know what’s your status. And if you have the antibodies. People are going to be taking more precautions but I think something that was mentioned in a previous webinar is that it’s a good time to really get to know your customers better—the ones that are going to be those kind of early adopter types that will visit first, and maybe they will be less likely to stay, unfortunately, at a larger hotel. Maybe they want to go to an alternative accommodation. There’s a couple of different places they could go so that they can kind of disinfect themselves because they’ll only trust it themselves, rather than the opportunity that the chain or larger hotels have to create some sort of a certification program on that. But all those hygiene things—the cleanliness and all of those things—are going to have to be touched upon in a very credible real matter.”
Josh Collins: “I know through some of what we have seen at Streetsense—we’ve got this destination accelerator—that we us to work with destinations, to think things through so that on the restaurant sign, the partner side, we’re seeing things like preparing our partners to think about how do you apply distance, how do you apply a contactless service and these type of things. Do you use single-use menus? Do you use or do you shift now to a digital-based menu. There are lots of different applications into thinking through that. You go through that consumer experience and have to take into consideration the ideas that are certainly becoming more prevalent around safety and cleanliness. What risk is it that that the consumers will feel right with. That’s certainly from those that might not know your brand. They might not know it, and might not be familiar with your destination. This shift toward a hyperlocal thinking about our hometown tours, thinking about those that we can activate quickly they might be familiar with.”
‘Never been a better to time to work with your local partners.’
Question from attendee: “What about educating locals about all the things for which there’s never been a greater time for DMOs to position themselves as leaders?”
Josh Collins: “There’s never been a greater time for DMO leaders to jump at this opportunity to position themselves as leaders on behalf of the income and the economic impact that tourism creates for these bedroom communities. There’s no doubt about that. You can do that through hosting webinars for yourself. Think about who are the partners that you can partner with whether it’s local media, city officials, whoever, and began doing that—even locally for yourself just to generate some of these distribution channels, these conversation channels, and cultivate that kind of local base network.”
Leroy Bridges: “We’ve long debated that in what that “M” in “DMO” means. This is an opportunity to really set forth the management definition of that and help. I think that, as we move from this this lockdown phase to reopen, to vaccine, there’s a large period of time in there that we have to help partners understand what that could look like. Obviously, they’re going to be the ones implementing, but we have to help manage what those expectations could be.
“That’s what we’re going to need to be thinking about and Josh, I think you touch on some creative examples, but we you’re right—we need to lead by example here as a DMO to help our industry come out of this not just thinking how can we cram as many people in here as possible to pay our bills … but let’s do this responsibly so that we can stay open a little bit longer and avoid being right back in the same spot in a month or two, or whomever you know, however long.”
Josh Collins: “Absolutely. The other challenge obviously –this is another good question brought in from the chat box—is about funding. So many destinations are clearly tied to a lodging tax model. Some other destinations benefit from a tax—whether it’s a restaurant tax, a use tax or other things like that. But clearly, this is also presenting us with the opportunity to rethink that in any creative ways. Has anybody here heard of any kind of creative ways being brought to the table?”
Andi Thoreson: “We haven’t figured out any creative ways yet. We are a DMO that is funded through the lodging tax as well, so the next year is looking like we’re going to have to get more creative with more than likely smaller staffs and much more intentional in terms of what else can a source be for us in terms of revenue; that’s something that we really haven’t addressed. It’s still just kind of reacting and figuring out. It’s still so early as to what would next steps are for us and in that respect but I mean marketers are a creative people so if you know it’ll be it’ll be a challenge. But we’re good at that when it comes to figuring out and being able to answer those questions, and being smarter with the very limited dollars and for the staff that we have available.”
Tedd Evers: “I speak from a DMO perspective, from a strategic perspective. Speaking about this hyperlocal take-care-of-the-local-businesses part of that is, I think, there’s an opportunity to reduce the tension between visitor/local and we incorporate locals by supporting these local businesses, by getting them involved in this whole kind of broader recovery effort, I think that, generally, they would probably be more likely to help—whether it’s part of their overall taxes that they pay locally. If they see overall benefits to the community, and I think there’s a chance and an opportunity to establish some of those bonds where you can perhaps, obviously, not make it all up in one fell swoop but at least test that as potential area … “
|“We’ve got a lot of smaller DMOs around the country. Band together. Create efficiencies. Get with your EDC. Find your Chamber and cut down on those duplicative efforts.” – Leroy Bridges|
Josh Collins: “Another great question. I’d love to get your perspective on this: How do you see DMOs now working across industry lines. I know so many DMOs have great mainstream organizations or they’ve got local Business Improvement Districts or Chambers, EDC’s (economic development councils)—whatever it is; they may be called something differently in every destination. This is why we created the Accelerator Street at Streetsense. It is to help foster really good healthy and sustainable integration for all these. But what do you guys see, or what are you hearing, or even experiencing in your own backyard right now—crossing those lines, etcetera, or whatever.”
Leroy Bridges: “it’s challenging, I’ll tell you. We’ve got 13 chambers locally. We’ve got 24 municipalities. We’ve got a complex region, even once you move out of Pinellas County/ St. Pete/ Clearwater into Tampa and Tampa Bay. So, I think I think what these opportunities do, there’s no doubt, is allows you to at least knock down some of those walls. You have to jump on calls and I’ll be honest: I’m having calls with our EDC for the first time in in my years about at our organization. We call have a call with county communications—again, that relationship hasn’t even really been there at the county level you know because we’re kind of off doing our thing.
“So, at least locally, I think, the hope is, personally, that those types of relationships and that type of the ability to work together and be more regional—may be the hope is that they can continue after this, not just leaned on it in this moment. I think we are a larger DMO, or fortunate with our visitation and resources but if you’re smaller … we’ve got a lot of smaller DMOs around the country. Band together. Create efficiencies. Get with your EDC. Find your chamber and cut down on those duplicative efforts. I understand now that, more than ever, everybody wants to show their value because it’s a difficult time. But expecting a partner to pay, maybe two or three different chamber dues and then, you’re paying your membership fee with the DMO … I mean those are high expectations during a very difficult financial time.”
Andi Thoreson: “As a smaller DMO, we’ve all been working at that the last couple of years already—establishing that working relationship with our EDC, our downtown community partnerships, and our local Chamber, as well. This is, maybe, a silver lining of everything. Those organizations have done a fantastic job here banding together and trying to avoid those duplicate efforts—making sure we understand: here’s what our strength is right now, this is what we can bring to the table, and really understanding that and putting it on a very united front. There’s been some, and are, works of some really great things that have come out of that. And in joining forces, rather than each person fighting for his or her own place at the proverbial table, it’s been it’s been a really good working relationship for a smaller DMO.”
Josh Collins: “I’ll highlight one that I know that is doing that very well—Greenbrier County in West Virginia. They’ve created a whole new tourism partnership, basically, with the Airport Authority, Greenbrier Resort, Greenbriar Sporting Club, the CVB and local officials. I know, because we’ve been working with them. For them many of the conversations have been the first that they’ve had—like you are talking about, Leroy. If you’re on the call, you find yourself in a very similar situation where you’ve not necessarily had those kind of relationships or ongoing meetings.
“So, start them. I mean literally start them now. Invite all those people to the table. Have a have a virtual Zoom meeting and create a regular cadence to at least be in front of one another and think about how you can partner together because you’re going need each other. The vibrancy of your destination certainly does is not a siloed thing. The consumer comes, the traveler comes, then they love what they experience, whatever they want to get and go naturally tell other people about it. But it takes everybody working together to create that for sure.”
Tedd Evers: “Take the opportunity to establish some relationships and have those conversations, and look at things from a visitor’s perspective. So, you talked about more regionalism. Everyone’s so kind of focused on differentiating themselves and putting themselves forward—what’s the best thing about their particular destination that’s absolutely necessary, et cetera. But I do think that, on a macro level looking at things … okay the tourist is coming into this particular region. What makes sense for them on the map below, and on a micro level, when you’re talking about preparing one little thing that people could do, is just make sure you could enter the doors without touching anything. Or just look and that’s where a DMO naturally thinks from the traveler’s perspective.
“Go through your destination and say ‘Okay what could I do if I was super parent and I didn’t want them to touch something? How would I, how could I get by?’ And a commenter had brought a kind of mobile payments and you’re kind of hesitant to touch that screen now. If you have a contact list, you have Apple pay or card or something like that … you know how do you roll that out a little bit more so you can anticipate those concerns upfront and prepare for that.”
Josh Collins: “I think Ted, that you just you just hit the nail on the head. it’s by serving for the voice of the tourists. We put ourselves in that seat of understanding that you know the visitor economy so well, understanding the visitor experience so well, that’s one great way we can come alongside our partners.”
Leroy Bridges: “Yes, I put a lot of personal pressure on myself and carry this forward as a DMO like that’s where we need to step in and make sure that we’re helping educate our attractions, our partners. The silver lining thing Andi mentioned shows that that there’s an opportunity with relationships, but also to look at your business operations—not just what items aren’t selling on the menu, but how can we reconstruct this entire consumer experience. One of my biggest fears locally is that a lot of the places have been terribly creative, amazingly creative, with “to go” foodservice options and curbside pickup and finding ways to really get it done.”
“When these restrictions are relaxed, don’t throw that stuff out the window. Let’s not take steps backwards. I don’t know maybe I feel too passionately about it. But we have to step in and really make sure that we’re encouraging these restaurant tours and other partners that this isn’t just a light switch that we flip off-and-on. There’s going to be phasing. Don’t just try to get back to normal or get back to what you knew, which is comfort, comforting … and I get it. We’ve got bills to pay, but we really, really have to caution them to lean into the things you’ve done to get by in this moment and rethink that customer journey.”
On Staying Relevant and Unique
Josh Collins: “We’ve received another good question: How do we as DMOs not overwhelm the distribution channels with everyone doing the same to stay relevant?”
Tedd Evers: “I think it’s not going to be like an off-and-on switch. You’re right. People are going to be flooding in and then media costs are going to be a lot higher and you’re just going to be kind of waiting. I thought there’s some sort of opportunity here, and that is to kind of start now with these micro contacts or these micro relationships and establishing them now, and having a conversation that’s relevant and respectful now—so that you’re not kind of all rushing in. I think that’s where you can kind of help differentiate yourself and the way to do that is not through kind of like more mass campaigns, but kind of like honing back. Like those people who have visited before and finding out who are your most loyal repeat visitors are or who are the ones that are most adventurous and who will come back. Really prepare little, small kind of micro campaigns or communication strategies around that so that you were not all rushing in.”
Leroy Bridges: “All of our customers are unique to us. To a certain degree my visitor is not necessarily who Andi is targeting all of the time. And certainly, seasonality plays a great part in to that. I think it’ starts with research. Right now, a shout out to all the data partners—Adara and Arrivalist. They’re doing a lot of great work and making a lot of data available to everybody. I think one of the challenges at the DMO level is that we have very little specific data for St. Pete/Clearwater right now. And we have to wait six weeks to get the bed tax and STR is only so good it’s hard to really understand what our customer, the St. Pete/Clearwater visitor is thinking about.
“So, we’re commissioning some research. I get it that not everybody has those dollars to do that, but to really try to understand our in-state visitor and then some key feeder markets, what are they thinking about us, what are they thinking about travel, and what are they thinking about potential restrictions or items in place to help mitigate whether that be a mask or test or whatever that might be so, I think it starts with research and then from there, whatever that data tells us, leaning into knowing who our previous customers were.”
Go for the free stuff.
Leroy Bridges: “I’ve mentioned it and I think—again, depending on budget—you can lean into third parties, third party vendors, to help you understand and target your past visitors. And then smaller budgets—and not to jump in on Andi—every DMO should have some own data. That is, we should all have email lists and that’s a very free beginning in my opinion.”
Andi Thoreson: “it’s definitely honing in on that ‘free.’ Keyword ‘free.’ For the time being and hoping that, as things let up and we move into 2021-2022, that comes back and we can start really investing in those awesome data research companies. in the meantime, for smaller DMOs, it is looking at what you already have in place, really diving into those analytics—Who is it that is visiting your site? What is it that they’re looking at? And then, our partners have very useful data. I think that moving forward … rather than trying desperately to throw out as much free messaging as possible and hoping something sticks, is approaching it as strategically as possible, so working with some of our larger attractions to compile our data with theirs, see what that tells us, and get very specific with our messaging.
“But I can’t say, for a smaller DMO, I’m not sure when we’ll be able to pick back up with paid campaigns and large pushes like that. So, the more collaborative we can have with partners and the more creative we are—and we’re marketers, we’re good at—it’s just getting those conversations going and using what we have.”
Josh Collins: “I love the idea of data co-op with your partners. I mean if there’s ever a better time to do that … I think we oftentimes find hurdles right on either side of ways to not make that work … our hotels need visitors and you have, potentially, platforms that they can help leverage and combine that data. Obviously, you’ve got to watch out for some of the privacy issues and things like that, but that’s a great idea.”
Andi Thoreson: “Also, when you start reaching into your drive markets look towards those who are the DMOs and who are those people in those drive markets? There have been some really fun creative campaigns in the past with those DMOs working together being really playful and what that message is, but identify those people have the communications of what they’re seeing in their market and understand if there’s any cross promotion or teamwork that can be done from a drive market standpoint.”
Josh Collins: “That’s a really good point, I think—in determining your previous visitors and how you can go about using that. I think that speaks back to the data co-op. Certainly leveraging all of those tools that you have access to. You brought up email; every destination or attraction should have access to their own first party data, which is those that have given you permission by signing up on or through your database.
“If you collect that database, think about running very easy kinds of surveys to them, and sit in and ask it to create a feedback loop through there: Have you visited and, if you have, what was your favorite thing? And there you go. It’s is a very easy and free way to segment that and begin a campaign to activate them for you in any kind of recovery.”
Tedd Evers: “it’s an opportunity to really to try to create the first-party data that doesn’t really exist now. And that can involve looking at your local partners. If you’re talking about bringing local or drive markets involved, talk to some of the restaurants. Talk to them about what they see they come into town. Is it just weekends? Or, what are some of the things from the anomalies that might stand out there—just to kind of bring some or get an idea of it, but that’s actual visits. That’s first party data rather than surveys, because with surveys in some cases, things can change are changing daily now … and based on what happens that could determine someone’s feedback. So, unless that survey’s very recent, or it’s uncovering things that are going to survive all the vicissitudes that are going on right now, it gets very, very difficult.”
How do we how do we, as a destination, respond to over-tourism?
Josh Collins: “Two questions we wanted to cover are: How do we how do we, as a destination, respond to over-tourism; and what have you guys seen and what are you what are you doing right now?”
Leroy Bridges: “it’s a great question. I know that I recently saw a quick piece telling us that the St. Pete mayor was getting pushed to shut down Central Avenue in downtown and turn into a pedestrian area. And his very astute comeback was ‘I am not trying to create more gathering areas during this event right now. It’s something we’re definitely going to look into down the road, but you bring up a very interesting challenge to destinations not being able to have it both ways. We can’t complain about not having people and that we can’t also complain about over-tourism. It’s a challenging dynamic and I think everything that we need to do it should be done responsibly but we don’t have a ton of ton of examples locally.”
Andi Thoreson: “Over tourism is not a problem that we’ve dealt with a lot (laughter). I can’t really speak to that in answering the questions you asked. As for what we’re doing right now to help—and this kind of goes back to working with your chambers and your EDC—is like the healthcare workers we’re talking with a lot of hospitals right now who have all of this information and who have requests coming to them such as ‘I want to donate, what can I do, I want to buy pizza for the workers,’ which is kind of a big no-no right now—you can’t have food coming in and out of the hospital with deliveries. So, it’s working with those different entities and setting up how can we put together a means for people to do this that also supports other segments of the community, like the restaurant industry. It gives people a way to donate, to help, and it brings all of these different entities together. We’ve done a lot of different initiatives like that that.
“I am interested in, curious, to see if, moving forward, since I’ve noticed that within a lot of these research studies they cover travel sentiment—that is, what’s the travel sentiment looking like. People are still excited to go to beaches and the big resorts but, number two is that people are considering more of those rural destinations—smaller areas that are wide open with fresh air, and we have a lot of that—so we’re definitely going to try to relay some of that messaging around what is there in North Dakota/Minnesota and, specifically, in Fargo-Moorhead and which are in both of those states … as to what there is to experience on those fronts. Again, I can’t really speak to over-tourism, but looking at what that research is telling us, that, for moving ahead, is definitely something that we’re going to work into our overall messaging and which hasn’t been a big thing that we’ve done in the past.”
Tedd Evers: “Having lived a couple of years in Barcelona, which is kind of like the epicenter of over- tourism, I do think that there’s an opportunity now to help prepare for that. You may not have that issue now, but it also can help—even on a micro level—if, say, it’s a very popular attraction or a museum or something like that, how do you, maybe, time the visits or just kind of staggered entries. For some of the museums, you have to assign it for the more popular ones—a certain time to go in. These are, in the end, mathematical problems that can be solved. it’s just like we just haven’t done it.
“Why not space things out? it’ll be a much more enjoyable experience for everyone. Could that be extrapolated to like the beach and, in terms of involving the locals, could there be locals’ hours or a local section of the beach versus others. There are a lot of different, creative ways to solving that tension between locals and visitors—as well as mitigating the impact that that visitation has on over-tourism. There was someone in my local community that was advocating for shutting down the Main Street so that people could have more distance to walk and it was kind of 50/50. People like ‘No, I’m driving” because everyone feels safe in their cars now. So that’s another consideration. But what a beautiful experience to have some of these kind of closed-off walkways that are possible now. if you ever wanted to, or thinking about doing something in this area, now is the time to strike with such a plan.
Josh Collins: “Tedd, your point is right. Now is a perfect opportunity to invite more people, more voices, to the table and create a more sustainable plan for what we would do in the future. Because some stakeholders may in fact say, ‘You know what, you’re saying we want X number of visitors, but we don’t think that’s sustainable because of what it does to the local economy or what it does to the visitor experience or etcetera.” It’s really, really important to foster those dialogues right now and then create a strategy to communicate that outward. That’s one way that we can perhaps win people over to our side—not is it not that it’s about sides even but it’s one way to perhaps engage those that haven’t been fans of tourism in a new way.”
Leroy Bridges: ‘I think, though, and I’ll be honest, all of that sounds really needed. But the dollar. the dollar, is hard to ignore. And I think that, for us at least, I can I can speak about our local situation. You build. You build aggressive marketing plans. You grow a destination but, yet, you’re not really talking about transportation solutions. You’re not talking about overall initiatives that can help the whole region. But it’s going to be hard. You’re going to be hard-pressed to try limit people’s expectations to get back to where we were six weeks ago from a production-visitation-economic-impact-dollars perspective.
‘And I get it. it takes difficult conversations, and certainly ambitious plans, to get there. But just that’s going to be really difficult to do. And I personally think that’s responsible and smart and taking advantage of this this really, terrible situation we’ve been put in. But realities have been built around that success, and it’s going to be really challenging to break those realities that everybody desperately wants back.’
Andi Thoreson: ‘The other side of the table on that—where it’s being in a destination where your locals don’t really think of you as being as a tourist destination—that’s been a problem for us, now that all of those dollars are missing, of what the visitor actually does bring in. I think that it’s a really good time to be able to touch on this. Actually, the impact that visitors have is how important it is to our community … that it’s a great time to be able to help people understand or prove that value, if you will, from a destination that’s not a big tourist destination.’
Josh Collins: ‘That’s really important I think because, certainly, every destination right now is feeling the impact the lack of the visitor dollar. So, specifically, the visitor economy is suffering tremendously inside of our destinations, and we’re able to see some grassroots efforts—for instance, the Great American Takeout—that we can use to infuse some vibrancy from locals. But you can start to really see what’s missing in the visitor economy side of that, so, and that’s the zero to what you’re saying … what we’ve been expecting and what we have experienced before and think about as normal, I think you know we keep saying this. Will Secombe (president of Connect Travel) has certainly said this so eloquently but need to be able to put that aside because we are entering into a “new normal” and so we really do need to think about how do we engage moving forward as best we can.’
Final Question—Attracting Visitors Inside the 40-Mile Radius
Josh Collins: ‘One attendee says, historically, that he’s had trouble attracting people from 40 miles away—or he’s had more trouble attracting people from 40 miles away than from 400 miles. What does he do in the post-COVID marketplace?’
Leroy Bridges: ‘I think we need to be leaning on that data and research to help us answer that question. Don’t just rely on that historical gut feeling or whatnot. For us and for every destination, it’s different. Tampa Bay has always been our bread and butter, and Orlando is huge for us. And in-state is massive for our destination. So, I’m not quite sure that’s the case for others. Locally, certainly it’s easier to get somebody to stay longer and spend more if they’re farther away. So, that’s something that we’re weighing as we come out of this shutdown into remarketing. We can’t just necessarily completely get away from, potentially, those fly markets or redefining what you view as a drive market.
Use that data to help you define drive market. It might not be the market you think is a drive market, but use the data to tell you that, because people are all the sentiment and research that we’re seeing says that people are going to be driving.’