Carolyn J. Feimster just might be able to help.
Talking with Carolyn J. Feimster, who heads up her own shopping/tourism/attraction consultancy (CJF Marketing International or CJFMI) and has been doing so for some 35 years, is always a good use of one’s time. When I mention her name to other tourism industry acquaintances, I hear reactions that, through the inflections in their voices, tell me right away that she is definitely knowledgeable and worth talking to.
INBOUND’s editor can’t recall exactly when we first met—we agreed, however, that it was at one of Connect Travel’s RTO Summits either in New York, Los Angeles or Orlando—but I have never stopped being impressed by the depth and breadth of her knowledge of, and achievements in, travel and tourism’s international marketplace.
How CJFMI Took Off: It was not always such smooth sailing promoting shopping as a stand-alone product because, officially, travel and tourism did not have dimensions that were readily recognized by the U.S. government. That is, due to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s census of transportation not beginning until in 1963 as a set of surveys covering travel, transportation of commodities, and trucks. Starting in 1987, census publications also reported on business establishments engaged in several transportation industries, paralleling the data on establishments in other sectors.
It was about the same time—the mid-1980s, when Feimster first got into the tourism business—that the Commerce Department established an account in its data program for travel and tourism. Feimster, a University of Florida graduate who spent time in New Jersey, Baltimore and Curacao before returning to Florida, connected, at one point, with Shop Miami, an early alliance of shopping and dining businesses in the area.
Then in the wake of Hurricane Andrew on August 16, 1992—marked one of the early occasions that local government allocated funding to help the shopping and dining businesses in the area to re-start and recover. And, unlike the aftermath of previous weather disasters, the industry had the data to show how much it had lost and, better still, how targeted funding helped it recover.
The Journey and Where it Led to: Over the years, client after client signed on for both short- and/or long-term help as CJFMI expanded, with offices in New Jersey and Miami. Along the way, she came to be highly regarded by the travel trade in both the United States and Europe.
And then came March 2020, COVID-19 and the global pandemic and crisis that it wrought. CJFMI’s response showed what it had done over the years and how it shaped the company’s response.
What’s her advice to her friends and colleagues?
● Make do with what you’ve got. The lowest point came when, basically, all businesses had to shut down, per government policy and orders. Jobs, salaries and sales revenue were lost. Yet, as there were partial re-openings later in 2020, businesses that operated outdoors (i.e., shopping malls), such as the Outlets at Tejon—it’s about 84 miles from downtown Los Angeles—were able to re-shape the physical operation of their properties. Outdoor operations were able to open in many states. So, shopping mall operators were able to make a bleak situation a learning moment and stay alive—even if the challenge was severe. And like other mixed-use malls and attractions, CJFMI’s client base was able to adapt with carry-outs, pick-up stations and delivery service.
Also, in a fortuitous confluence of events and one year after the pandemic blunted any major, new developments in tourism, Fifth + Broadway Nashville (it is a project marketed by CJFMI), a mixed-use attraction with both retail and restaurants, and is home to the new National Museum of African American Music, opened in Nashville and has been operating full-throttle since then.
● Stay alive, alert and communicate regularly. CJFMI had always had a clean list of international tour operators and U.S.-based receptive tour operators (people Feimster knew and knows well from sales missions and trade shows such as the Connect Travel RTO Summits and other trade shows). So, CJFMI sent out regular e-mail info blasts to this base—a move that also enabled the company to make corrections and updates to their lists.
● Be Social-Media Minded. Perhaps the Feimster way is best described by recommending that you go to LinkedIn.com and look at the steady—almost daily, it seems—stream of messages, posts, shares that are, in effect, a message board through which she communicates with business friends and acquaintances. Her activity on Facebook tends to be more of a personal nature (which, by the way, is how most of my FB friends use it), but serves as a channel for staying in touch with someone at a different level.
(The sum of the above three strategies comprises a more-or-less pocket-size packaged communications and marketing plan. Use freely.)
But what about the product? Aren’t shopping malls on the way out? It is true that there was a decline in the number of conventional shopping centers in the 00s. This, was followed by an ascendency in the number or online shopping products and sites beginning around 2010 and continuing since then.
However, according to a survey report issued in August by Raydiant, a San Francisco-based store equipment supplier, almost half (48 percent) of respondents said they prefer to shop in-person at a physical store when given the choice. And 47 percent of the respondents estimated that they’ve spent more than 51 percent of their shopping budget in physical locations so far in 2021.
Feimster feels the same way, telling INBOUND that being able to hold, inspect and study your prospective purchase is an essential part of the dynamic of going to a mall or shopping center: “It’s always been popular to go to a mall. It’s not just shopping – it’s an experience that includes shopping.”
And, finally—for international visitors to the United States—There is the cachet, the popularity and “the bragging rights” of having visited a store in the U.S. that features American clothing, jewelry, accessories, smartphones and sporting goods store that have (very important) popular name brands.
And about the future? Quickly, how does it look, with vaccinated travelers now allowed to visit the United States, for overseas source markets?
Feimster told INBOUND that, among world regions, Europe will emerge strong, and South America could do well because its transportation grid has been in operation throughout the pandemic. Much depends on how well Brazil comes back. She was tentative about projecting how well Asia and China will do in the next year, particularly since China is still working on bringing COVID-19 under control. In fact, the worldwide travel and tourism industry, as a whole, still needs to get the virus under control before it can safely predict a full recovery.