Destination Marketing: Shift Happens

dmaiThese are tumultuous days in destination marketing.  Quite simply, shift is happening in our industry.

Last week I attended Destination Marketing Association International’s 100th Anniversary Convention.  Underlying many of the educational sessions was a dual sense of urgency and excitement. The urgency was that the world is moving at a faster pace, largely driven by technology, and DMOs need to be solidly in the run. With the multitude of ways travelers get information and make decisions, many Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) are rightfully concerned about being relevant. But there are those (like me) who are excited with the opportunities technology brings and the many resources to inform and assist the people we serve- visitors, meeting planners, travel trade, local citizens, industry partners, civic leaders and others.

At the conference, DMAI unveiled the first phase of DestinationNEXT, a project that helps DMOs grasp the many travel trends affecting them and a variety of ways to capitalize on those trends. It’s an excellent document that will be followed up with best practices and strategies. It sets the path to deal with the ever changing landscape in which DMOs thrive. For a more detailed synopsis of the project read Greg Oates excellent feature he penned for Skift.

Another central theme was the need to nurture future leaders of our industry and communities. DMAI has a “30 under 30” program that recognizes 30 rising DMO professionals under the age of 30. I had a chance to casually chat with about ten of them at the end of the event. Wow, what a sharp group! I asked for their opinions and they were not shy with their answers. They enjoyed the conference and showed interest in additional ways to connect and learn. As a member of  DMAI’s Education Committee it was clear we had presented a good conference, but we need other ways to engage these future leaders after the convention is done. One idea they liked was a mentorship program with more experienced DMO professionals. Definitely we need to include them at the planning level to meet their future educational needs.

A highlight for me was the program that Lee Fisher of CEOs for Cities gave regarding what makes a vital city and how DMOs can be a catalyst and key player in making them so. His points reinforced my belief that we are actually Destination MANAGEMENT Organizations. CEOs for Cities is doing great work to help communities connect and engage.

The networking opportunities and discussions are always a favorite of mine. Getting a chance to chat with long time friends and colleagues is invaluable, priceless even. Technology is important but it will never replace or replicate one-on-one connections and conversations.

So as our industry turns the corner on 100 years, here’s to the next 100!

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Tourism Product Development Is Going To The Dogs

relax2Earlier this week we announced that National Geographic Books had released The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel which includes dog friendly businesses, attractions and outdoor areas in 75 pet-friendly cities and regions across the United States and Canada. The Yakima Valley is one of them.

The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel was written by Kelly E. Carter, a New York Times best-selling author and pet travel expert for AOL’s Paw Nation and Elite Traveler. In each destination she highlights pet offerings including hotels, parks, pet shops and pet friendly businesses. Features of the book include walks to take with your dog, insider tips from local pet owners and sidebars detailing opportunities for people with a dog in tow.

Our office (Yakima Valley Tourism) approached Carter in early 2013 as the guidebook was being developed. The previous year we had created WineDoggies.com, an award winning program developed to help visitors traveling to our Valley with their dogs. In phone conversations with Ms. Carter I knew our region was going to be a good fit given all the work we had done on Wine Doggies. And our efforts paid off.  In addition to including the Wine Doggies website,  The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel highlights numerous Yakima Valley walking and hiking trails, local pet services, dog friendly wineries and pet events.

Our Valley is one of only six communities in the Pacific Northwest featured in the book. That in itself is an honor given that towns and regions all over the Northwest are well suited for dog travel. In most cases just one or two destinations were selected for each state or province to be in the book. I don’t mean to boast but we worked hard to be included. If we had not developed WineDoggies.com and worked with our community partners on being more pet friendly I’m not sure we would have been in the running.

People traveling with their dogs is a niche’ market worth pursuing. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spend $78 million was spent on travel that included their pet. Seattle and Portland, two prime in-bound markets for us, have more dogs per capita than children. In a national survey taken of more than 6,000 U.S. pet owners, most traveled at least once a year with their pets.

One of our primary goals with Wine Doggies is to cultivate a more dog-friendly destination. That effort involves our businesses, partners and communities working together to make that happen. Recognition of our efforts in a book of this stature helps us to reach that goal.

Reflections on the Wine Tourism Conference

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Back in the groove after a great Wine Tourism Conference in my home state of Oregon (GO DUCKS).  It was a couple days of learning, laughing, enjoying and sharing great wines. Having had some time to reflect, here are a few thoughts on the conference and wine tourism.

Central to many of the discussions was the desire, or shall I say mantra, of keeping it real, to strive for your own uniqueness as a destination, winery or whatever. It’s all about being authentic. I cringe when mainstream media proclaim that some town/region is ‘the new Napa’. Nothing against Napa, it’s an amazing destination, but each community needs to stand on their own merits, quirks and faults. I am glad the Yakima Valley is THE Yakima Valley for what it has and what it will be, on its own terms.

Donna Quadri, PhD spoke to the fact that while esthetic elements are paramount in the wine tourists’ experience, the other three “E”s—education, entertainment, and escapism—all play vital roles in driving wine tourism. People are seeking to get away from the routine plus want value added educational opportunities, something in which wine regions can excel. Look at the popularity of such local experiences as wine tasting by horseback or popular events like wine maker for a day offered by Two Mountain Winery. Not only are they escapism and educational, they offer a truly unique sense of place not found in ‘anywhere USA’.

Laura Mandala of Mandala Research, one of the leading travel and tourism research firms in the world, shared interesting data and insights on American travelers from their recent study, “The American Culinary Traveler 2013″.  Of the 170 million adults in the U.S. described as being leisure travelers, 77% consider themselves to be ‘culinary travelers’. According to Mandala, a culinary traveler is someone who incorporates culinary activities directly into their travel experiences by choice.  It may not be initially planned by the traveler, but it nevertheless becomes an intentionally incorporated element into their trip.

Linda Murphy, co-author of “American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States,” shared great stories about wine regions around the country and reminded us that “how customers are treated is more important than what’s in the glass.” So true.

Working together was also a key topic at the sessions. Partnerships help everyone to succeed, and was a central message for my program at the conference. And there were other topics ranging from virtual tourism to working with wine bloggers.

It was a great event with even greater people from all over the U.S., Canada and beyond. So I toast all the wine regions around our great country and wish you all much success.

Five Rules for Good Business Partnerships

Hand shakePartnerships. We’ve been told that to succeed in life and business you need partnerships. In this era of scarce resources, that’s the case even more. There are many opportunities for partnerships in the travel and tourism industry but they take planning and work.

For a partnership to be truly successful:

  1. It must be mutually beneficial.
  2. It requires that participants discuss and agree on their roles and responsibilities and document them in writing.
  3. Those involved should equally shoulder the duties and commitment.
  4. Communication is crucial.
  5. Mechanisms must be in place to evaluate the success and benefits of the partnership.

That’s not to say that all successful partnerships follow these tenants. Some can work without all or some of these rules. But usually for a partnership to reach full potential these guidelines are important. Working with regional tourism partners in Washington Wine Country on projects like Taste and Tote I learned the value of these rules. So let’s look at them more closely.

It must be mutually beneficial: All parties need to discuss how this partnership will be mutually beneficial. Otherwise it can turn out to be a subsidy for one participant and a drain on the other. Ask yourself  ‘What direct benefits to our business/organization will this partnership bring?’ ‘What specifically can they offer us in exchange for our involvement?’ Don’t accept ‘warm and fuzzy’ statements, get specific.

Agree on roles and responsibilities: We enter partnerships for many reasons. In the best of worlds there should be rhyme with the reason. The partnership should support your mission, and it should match your marketing/business plans. If not, think twice. When you decide to enter a partnership, act like an attorney when you write up a business partnership contract, agreement or understanding. Obligations need to be discussed, understood, agreed upon and put into writing. That way if there is a misunderstanding, there’s a document in place to keep things on track. It does not have to be a big document: For short term, low risk partnerships email communications can suffice.

Equally shoulder the duties and commitment:  In some situations the partners may agree to differing levels of duties, but the underlying point is if too much falls on one person or entity,  the partnership may not last.

Communication is crucial:  Each party needs to make a commitment to open and frequent communication.

Evaluate the success and benefits of the partnership: How will you measure the success of the partnership, both in tangible and intangible terms? Mutually agree on those metrics and again, document them. Sometimes things do not work out as planned or at all. In those cases the partnership needs to be reassessed, revised or abandoned.

Follow these steps and the partnership should be good for all concerned.