At one time or another most DMO executives and their local partners have considered enlisting the services of a celebrity (however defined) native son or daughter to pitch their destination. “They’ll do it and they’ll do it for free because they’re from here” are the typical expectations.

My experience has been:

  • Most don’t want to do it because they don’t want to look like they can be bought to pimp a destination.
  • They’ll do it but want BIG money to do as little as possible…and only if/when they feel like it.
  • Be careful what you wish for. Hitching your carefully cultivated and managed destination brand to a paparazzi target (remember “Snookie”?) that uses twitter as a weapon of mass destruction just might cause more damage than you’re able to clean-up.

This paradigm would now appear to be changing. It seems that some high profile destination brands have decided that the risk and investment in a celebrity tourism ambassador are worth it in order to take their brands to new levels of affinity as the competition for attention and revenue continues to escalate:


New York City (Taylor Swift): The Big Apple hired her even though she’s not a native daughter nor does she live there. She does have over 70 million Twitter followers however. Perhaps it was “brand defense” given The Donald’s continued reference to his NY heritage.


ThorAustralia (Chris Hemsworth): Tourism Australia hired him to follow in the steps of perhaps the world’s most famous tourism ambassador, Paul Hogan. To a whole generation of travelers and more, Crocodile Dundee was the embodiment of all things Australia. It will be interesting if consumers come to associate Mr. Hemsworth as much with Australia as they already do with Asgaard.

Josh DuhamelNorth Dakota (Josh Duhamel): North Dakota is one of the US’s least visited states and its most widely-known story-line of late involves a wood-chipper in the academy award-winning movie Fargo. Hiring native son Josh Duhamel to tell tales from the “Peace Garden State” appears to be working with a reported 20% increase in visitor guide distribution during 2015. No word on his impact on wood-chipper sales.

_83389027_640Tokyo (Godzilla): The appointment of Godzilla will have boomers reminiscing about their exploits at drive-in movies but I am not sure how it extends the Tokyo brand story. It was brilliant, however, in terms of generating press releases and photo ops. At least Godzilla’s not at-risk for inappropriate social media behavior.

California: Visit California’s “Dream Big” commercials use numerous A-B-C list Hollywood celebrities to tell the California story. For California it not only makes sense, but it’s totally expected given the Hollywood DNA in the overall California brand and lifestyle. It’s an essential and unique brand truth that is hard to ignore. Not surprisingly, no sightings of the Governator.

So the question is: does the investment in the use of celebrity tourism ambassador move the needle (however defined) for a destination? To get a very basic and organic answer I did what has become the go-to first-step for people: I asked Google…or rather, I used Google Consumer Surveys to ask 500 people in the US the following question:How much does the appearance of a celebrity tourism ambassador in marketing campaigns influence your decision to visit a destination? 

Celebrity Survey

Overall, just under 11% of the population are “moved” by the existence of a celebrity tourism ambassador, with an additional 11% in the gray area of uncertainty. Peeling back the data a bit, the impact of a celebrity tourism ambassador declined slightly as household income rises. In a world where the influence of peer-to-peer travel recommendations is skyrocketing while the influence of traditional placement advertising plunges, this result is not at all surprising.

Time will tell if any of the recent investments in celebrity tourism ambassadors will actually amount to anything more than a press release and a photo op. The only strategic reason I see for enlisting a celebrity tourism ambassador – simply put — is to have their well-known story and tribe of followers attached to your destination’s not-so-well-known story to create a bigger and better story with people that don’t know your destination’s story. In North Dakota’s case, it might be exactly what the destination is looking for as recent campaign results bear witness to. But for more widely-known destination brands and stories…you have to wonder about the ROI.

Let’s face it; signing-up a celebrity with a big story and big tribe of followers to extend yours is hardly destination marketing magic. You just need a telephone (to call an agent), a lawyer to write-up a complicated contract with lots of protection in it and a check with lots of zeroes on it. But as the data above shows…you’re unlikely to initiate a stampede of visitors to your destination. Except of course if you’re using Godzilla.

mqdefaultThe magical thing for DMOs to pursue is to find and share the smaller, more authentic stories about real people doing incredibly cool things in the destination that anyone can have access to. The Greater Palm Springs CVB is producing some great high-energy video content about a myriad of activities with that expand/enrich their destination’s story. This one has already had over 400K views.

If you create and share enough of the authentic and compelling stories that make your destination unique, pretty soon you’ll be the ones attracting the celebrities to your destination. But this time you won’t have to pay for them.



If I (Only) Had a Million Dollars – Core Strategies for Small DMOs

DSC_0014-1Ask many DMO leaders where they spend most of their time and budget security is typically at or near the top of the list. Whether it’s a fear of losing what they have or a quest for more, this is what keeps many a DMO leader awake at night.

Starting this week I am beginning a series of postings on key DMO strategies for different budget challenges. Of course, every DMO and destination have different community and visitor economy profiles that makes the development of a standard set of a core strategies difficult. However just because a DMO has inherent budget limitations should be no excuse to be less remarkable. Today, I believe budget is less of a determinant of performance than ever before. In today’s hyper-connected flattened marketplace, ALL DMOs can be remarkable. The key is focusing on doing a few things REALLY well and having the courage to discard/ignore approaches that have hit their expiry date.

The Magic of Today’s Small DMO Opportunity

For small DMOs (defined herein as those having operating budgets of $USD 1 million or less), I believe these are the “best of times”. While iconic destinations will always have significant appeal, one of today’s most important visitor trends is the quest for a unique, authentic experience – and often this means a smaller, lower profile destination where people are seeking the ultimate travel driver – ESCAPE. This is the sweet spot for the small DMO.

And even though visitor economy competition has never been as intense as it is now, destination marketing professionals in small DMOs have never had access to so many powerful tools, rich visitor data and vast relationship networks than today – and most of them are free.

So with that as a set-up here are six core approaches and strategies for small DMO leaders (and even larger DMOs since the principles and data points remain the same for the most part):

Spend Your Time and Money Here:

  • Engage Your Community as an absolute imperative. This is not about lobbying your local government/partners for money. This is about sharing a compelling story of why tourism matters to the average citizen and how theyselfie-vacation have the starring role in making it happen. With only a small budget, you need to inspire your community to be its biggest story-tellers and magic-makers. Visit local schools and business leaders. Ask them what they think makes your destination remarkable. Hold selfie contests. Crowdsource local photos and videos. Create a local tourism movement.
  • Digital Domination: You don’t have the time or money for a multi-platform marketing assault so make your destination website your channel of first resort. In 2014, Google reported that 74%/77% of leisure/business travelers used the web as their primary source of travel planning and that 50%/54% respectively used their smartphones during their trip. Creating a responsive (mobile-friendly) SEO optimized, visitor-centric website that shares your destination’s story along with how and where to find it should be your DMOs primary marketing investment.
  • It Takes a Village – Cultivate TripAdvisor engagement: Just because you say your destination is awesome does not mean potential visitors are going to believe you. But they do believe people who’ve been there, done that. And with a monthly audience of 375 million TripAdvisor is where people go to share and to explore. A December 2013 study by PhoCusWright indicated that 67% of travelers check TripAdvisor several times per month. You need to inspire your visitors to share their experiences and to coach your community to engage there. Contests and incentive awards work wonders…and the pay-off is HUGE.

Approaches and Strategies To Avoid:

  • Printus Interruptus: Don’t pay to print anything. One of the sacred cows for many destinations is the visitor guide…but once it’s printed it’s out of date. Let someone who is in the publishing business do what they do best and manage this sacred cow. As a DMO fully-engaged with your community, you’ll be the one with the latest and the greatest experiences, sharing them with visitors on a timely basis via your digital channel of first resort along with your inspired community story-tellers.


  • Avoid Temptation from “Mad Men”: Stay away from paid advertising. Your budget also will not allow you to hit frequency/reach critical mass to get any kind of audience recall traction. Besides, research continues to indicate that travelers increasingly rely the most on personal contacts for travel inspiration and that their trust in paid advertising continues to decline.
  • Not Just Members Only: Many DMOs started as membership-models. And it worked in a pre-hyperconnected world. But as a small DMO you need to be seen as inclusive in your community, not exclusive. Potential visitors (particularly millennials) have decreasing trust in membership organizations as they have inherent biases and are perceived as not transparently supporting visitor needs. DMAI’s DestinationNEXT study actually found that almost one-third of existing member-based DMOs were looking to move away from the membership model over the next five years.

I know. Easier said than done. But for small DMOs, making just a few of these choices can result in significant performance results enhancements even though your resources are comparatively smaller. And as compared to larger DMOs and larger destinations, you can probably activate them much more quickly and consider their impact. That makes your sweet spot even more tasty.

Next week: What Would You Do With an Extra Million $’s?

Critical DMO Leadership Actions for 2015 – Part One

In the last 30 days you’ve probably read more than your share of the typical New Years blogs and articles in the “best of 2014” and “critical trends for 2015” genre. And so you should. As the world continues to prove that every day is a new adventure in disruption and mind-shift, keeping abreast of “what was”, “what is” and “what could be” has never been more vital to executive leaders.

Particularly for those in the world of destination marketing where a booming global travel industry is catching the attention of entrepreneurs and disruptors alike looking to make a splash in the world’s largest industry.

Heated competition does that. So do legacy business models.

So…in the midst of intense competition and a wave of disruption sweeping an industry flush with profits, just what key actions should DMO leaders be considering for 2015? Over the next couple of weeks I’ll share two that I believe you ignore at your peril:

This Week: Making Content Creation a Primary Organizational Core Competency:


At their very heart, DMOs are stewards of their destination’s story and scribe of all-things local and remarkable. And even though technology has made every traveler an instant travel-writer, no one knows the history and the future, the folklore, the personalities and the incipient destination magic like the DMO. Their leaders need to reflect on this once in a while and figure out how to ensure that this torch they bear remains bright and dry in their hands.

Entrenching content creation in their enterprise is one sure-fire way to do so.

With the fragmentation of the sales channel and the dominance of review sites like TripAdvisor (200 million monthly user visits, 50+ million new reviews in 2014), the DMO’s value proposition as dominant sales channel manager and destination information counselor has expired, forever disrupted by a hyperconnected marketplace and the global democratization of information. Get used to it and move on.

Now what? The time is now to develop content development competencies and lock-in a value proposition for which DMOs can and should be unrivaled: that of chief destination storyteller and dominant content creator.

Consider these metrics about the marketing power of content:

  • 78% of CMO’s believe content is the future of marketing (Hanley Wood 2013)
  • 46% of brands have an on-site, dedicated content director (Econsultancy 2012). Its certainly higher now.
  • 72% of marketers believe branded content is more effective than magazine advertising. 69% say it is superior to direct mail and PR. (Custom Content Council 2011)
  • Per dollar spent, content marketing generates 3X as many leads as traditional marketing (NewsCred 2014)

To be clear…content marketing is not about creating expensive new ads, taking endless selfies or generating press releases and pumping them out via social media or posting them on a YouTube channel. Content marketing arose out of the need to fix a marketing paradigm that was fundamentally broken – shifting the marketing posture from broadcast to engagement (which is the first transformational opportunity in DMAI’s DestinationNEXT project).

Engagement through content is designing your content in a way that informs, inspires, entertains, even irritates your audience (in essence clearly provides them with something of value, not you) to the point where they either respond, share or seek out more of the same from you. Telling your foodie followers that there is a weekend cocktail special at a local restaurant is broadcasting an offer. Sharing with them a short video on how to make the same establishment’s award-winning cocktail is engagement through relevant and compelling content marketing.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 12.39.29 PMFor a wonderful primer and roadmap on developing content marketing for your organization, check this out: The Ultimate Guide to Kickstart Your Content Marketing Machine. (If you want to go deeper into the next frontier check out Native Advertising.)

As DMO legacy paradigms continue to disappear, one of the biggest opportunities for DMO leaders in 2015 is to develop the competencies and resources to build a destination marketing content machine for their organization as the dominant go-to source and resource for compelling content about their destination. It’s a high-value opportunity that every DMO can seize right now. And no one does it better.

But you better move fast before someone else figures it out.

Destination Marketing 3.0: Less subsidization. More innovation.

When I developed the Destination Marketing 3.0 blueprint, this week’s blog posting was supposed to be about the role of advertising in the future of destination marketing. Its juicy…probably controversial…and will wait for another day.

Earlier this week I came across two separate news stories that showcased the waning legacy of Destination Marketing 2.0 and rising promise of its 3.0 successor.

The first story was about deliberations around a series of “tourism grant” applications submitted to the local destination marketing organization in a medium-sized US mid-western community. It has not gone unnoticed by a wide variety of community arts, sport, service, publishing groups and more that with travel industry revenues on the rise, their companion coffers from taxes and levies (e.g. bed tax, transient occupancy tax, destination marketing fees) are also lush with collections. And everyone is rushing for their share of the spoils in the name of “tourism partnership marketing”.

Having been in that role at a DMO, I can tell you that even being in a position that is empowered to hand out money in the name of tourism marketing – whether its called a grant, a sponsorship or a partnership investment – is a no-win situation. You are ALWAYS going to create enemies (because you can never have enough money to please everyone) and you’re never going to make something remarkable happen for your business because your ability to direct the investment evaporates once the check is signed.

Lets call it what it is shall we? It’s a direct subsidy and the local politics of managing subsidy programs, despite the most noble of intentions, distracts destination marketers away from their necessary customer-centric focus. Yet…as the news story confirmed, destination marketers remain caught in the politics and under-achievement of the subsidy quagmire. To many communities, those subsidies are the only value destination marketing organizations deliver for them. Just try to wean them off said subsidies. And you thought social security was the ultimate entitlement.

This legacy practice of a time gone-by needs to get added to the destination marketing 3.0 stop-doing list right away.

Directly underneath was a story from Singapore. It seems that this summer the Singapore Tourism Board created a $ING5 million “Kickstart Fund” that is described as an incentive scheme designed to support untested yet innovative lifestyle events and concepts with tourism potential.” The fund not only awards up to $75K per investment but will provide mentorship assistance from industry leaders to these local industry entrepreneurs and innovators to help them better understand the tourism industry opportunity to grow their business. The advisory panel of the fund also includes business innovators from outside the tourism industry to ensure venture investor disciplines are applied to support investment decisions.

Rather than handing out subsidies to build political capital in the community, the STB has chosen to leverage Singapore’s innovation capital and become a venture capital investor in its own tourism industry – helping support the grass-roots creation of innovative new tourism experiences and services to the benefit of its customers that ultimately add value to its destination brand and revenues to its tourism industry.

Which is what destination marketing has always been about.

Now…before anyone raises their hand to say: “Well…that’s Singapore…we’re not like them. It wouldn’t work here.” Really? People that say/think that are dismissing the spirit of innovation that exists in each and every community that has a tourism industry. The opportunity for destination marketing 3.0 is to look outward, beyond its traditional stakeholders and today’s transactional mindset, and connect the local innovators, the entrepreneurs, the dreamers to the potential that exists for them in the tourism industry in their own community. If that requires cash, great. If it needs mentorship, perfect. If it needs a tourism industry hackathon to be organized, awesome. At the very least it requires the courage to make a formal commitment, with the appropriate venture investor mindset and disciplines, to making investments in local tourism industry innovation a priority to drive destination business in the long-term.

NY Times columnist Tom Friedman says we live in a world that rewards imagination. If destination marketers are looking for a chance to show new community leadership and marketplace relevance, this is a gift-wrapped opportunity to rise above short-term transactional thinking for a bigger vision of the future of the destination.

Destination Marketing 3.0: What Problem Should Destination Marketers Be Trying to Fix? – Part Two

Last weekend as I watched the Dallas Cowboys exhibit a frightening lack of courage to act (unlike Johnny Football) at the moment of truth, I came across a June 2012 article in Fast Company called 7 Ways to Disrupt Your Industry. Two of the seven suggested disruption strategies soundly resonated with me as crucial parameters for the Destination Marketing 3.0 opportunity:

  • Eliminate your industry’s persistent customer pain points; and
  • Dramatically reduce complexity.

Ding. Ding. Ding.

PROBLEM: Sales and distribution channels are overly complex and expensive. Lets face it, the business of travel and events is over-engineered when it comes to the GSD (Get Shit Done) imperative. Sales channels are complex with multiple intermediaries, lack of pricing transparency, hidden commissions and fees. Distribution often involves an armada of diverse businesses and stakeholders, each with their own objectives, that must be gently herded and precisely aligned without exposure to the customer.

Sure, it is what it is but why are we surprised? The whole ecosystem was designed by suppliers to make suppliers’ lives better, not the customer’s.

Together these are significant customer pain-points, creating undue stress and additional costs for all – a perfect industry landscape for disruption – that someone with the courage to act in the best interests of the customer has to come to grips with.

SOLUTION: Less selling, more connecting: Customers now want direct transparent connections to marketplace options in order to GSD.

On the immediate stop-doing list for destination marketers is getting out of the business of directly selling travel experiences, products, rooms etc. Eliminate complexity and clutter! Customers today have unrestricted access to effective and trusted sales transaction marketplace platforms (e.g. Citypass, Uber, OpenTable etc) that do it better and less expensively than a destination marketer.

While some destination marketers already use Online Travel Agent (OTA) booking engines on their websites to sell rooms, its time to go further.

The Destination Marketing 3.0 value opportunity is for destination marketers to develop new direct sales and distribution partnerships with these transaction marketplace platforms and connect THEM directly to the destination’s customers. This reduces channel complexity and cost and gives customers direct transparent connections to do business with the destination.

For example: Event professionals are always looking for unique venues for their attendees in the host destination. It is typically a time-consuming, high-risk proposition requiring a trusted local intermediary (DMO or DMC) to get it done. Not any more. In the meeting and event space, businesses like FROOMZ (a company I currently advise) have developed hyper-local direct connection marketplaces for specialized venues that planners can now search and directly connect to according to their specs and business objectives. There are also similar hyper-local marketplaces for catering (CaterBid) and short-term meeting space (Liquidspace).

With the profile of the travel and events industry growing in destinations everywhere, start-up businesses are coming on-line regularly to serve visitors and event professionals in their communities. Community hackathons like these in Tampa and San Francisco are incubators for new tourism and event services. I would LOVE to see a destination marketing organization sponsor a hackathon specifically for the travel and events business in their community. Destination marketers would do well to develop a portfolio of trusted hyper-local partnerships with these marketplace and service developers instead of competing with them to better serve their customers.

A huge opportunity for Destination Marketing 3.0 is to eliminate customer pain by reducing the complexity inherent in the business of travel and events. Getting out of the sales and distribution channels by supporting the development of direct customer connection marketplaces is one way to do just that.

Doing it will allow all of us to GSD.

Nothing Ever Really Happens

I’ve spent the better part of 25 years in the world of destination marketing — most of it in the global meetings and events community — and will offer three foundational thoughts as I kick-off this BLOG for anyone who is a destination marketer, relies on effective destination marketing to drive their business/create community legacies or depends on destination marketing to make informed travel-related decisions for tourism/meeting and event travel:

  1. Destination marketing is a crucial element to grow and sustain the inherent social and economic legacies generated by the global tourism and events industries.
  2. EVERYONE has an opinion on destination marketing.
  3. Much of today’s destination marketing is increasingly ineffective, depriving businesses and communities everywhere from realizing their full potential as tourism or event destinations.

Not sure I’ll get much argument from anyone on the first two points. But on the third one there are endless conversations and deliberations about destination marketing – and its some of those perspectives that I want to share here.

And while sharing is caring, it isn’t enough. The travel industry and destination marketing community is deluged with endless events, meetings and conversations about how to inspire real innovation and relevancy with business and government opinion-leaders. But as the children’s literary figure Kipper the Dog is fond of saying: “Nothing ever really happens.” The disconnect comes when one realizes the extent to which the customer/user/traveler has changed during the last hundred years while destination marketing has not.

So how did destination marketing get to this place of disconnect and waning relevancy?

I believe that many destination marketers either (1) ignored or (2) didn’t understand until it was too late, that today’s customers/users/travelers are the ones in-charge. This is best summed-up in the 1999 publication of the Cluetrain Manifesto and its signature quote:  “…markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.”

Technology-enabled connectivity has transformed markets into conversations by and for customers, not marketers. Everything needs to be designed and aligned around them, NOT the destination. NOTE: I’m not talking about customer service here. I’m talking about the WHAT and HOW marketers provide products/services to their customers.

An example: In the media world, Netflix is one of those disruptors that dared to put the customer in charge, most recently with its House of Cards series. Kevin Spacey recently spoke at the Edinburgh Television Festival about how Netflix courageously defied the entrenched industry approach to content development and gave the customers exactly what they wanted, not how the industry wanted them to have it.

I will strive here to showcase the hackers, the disruptors and the innovators that have recognized that destination marketing today needs to be turned on its head to make a real difference and are boldly going where few dare. Recognition is not enough however. It needs to be accompanied with the courage to act. That’s where it gets difficult. Paradoxically, for an industry often touted as creative and emotionally inspired, we (I include myself in this as part of the discipline) are typically late-adopters at best when it comes to change. (I recall more than one major lodging company that would not allow its sales teams to have personal email accounts until the mid-late 1990’s.) It’s no surprise then that much of today’s true innovation comes from outside the core destination marketing community.

And while enlightened brands outside the travel space as well as a few iconic brands in the space (airline and lodging companies seem to have gotten the memo) recognized the need for change, most destination marketers stuck with a neo-industrial broadcast approach – securing media placements, printing visitor guides, issuing press releases and undertaking email carpet-bombing that focused on buying the attention of prospects in the marketplace to drive awareness and interest, leading eventually (hopefully) to a purchase. Customer conversation and engagement was more often than not a bolted-on after-thought at best, enabled through some form of social media advertisement. Don’t believe me? Ask customers. Or better still check-out how and where destination marketers spend their money.

All is not lost however. Enter those hackers, the disruptors and the innovators who understand that today its all about the customers’ conversations, not the destination’s broadcast. They are typically not from the industry. Refreshingly, there are a few mavericks out there like Seattle’s 2DaysinSeattle experiment and Australia’s The Best Jobs in the World campaign. I am sure there are others. They are the ones focused on aligning how customers discover and share conversations about the destination experience with how it gets marketed and purchased, building trust and engagement…THEN they build business around the insight from that alignment. I want to celebrate them in this blog.

And because destination marketers have been slow to let go of the entrenched broadcast mentality, they are spending more money to be less relevant. Travel2.0 (an awesome blog on future travel marketing trends) reports that only 9% of travelers visit a destination marketing organization website. Where are they going instead?  To places that make customer conversations and purchase behavior preferences the focus of the marketing experience. Check out Peek and Triptease for a couple of killer innovative examples. And of course there is Trip Advisor with its 100 million user-reviews and 11 million monthly visits in the US alone. These companies pride themselves on unleashing authentic customer conversations to build trust, not fabricating artificial marketing constructs to build awareness.

So what happened to the destination marketers? Inquiring minds would like to know. Bill Taylor’s recent HBR Blog post “The More Things Change, the More Our Objections to Change Stay the Same” offers some good insight and advice.

Destination marketing is vitally important to the success of the travel and/or event industry everywhere. With millions more people around the world looking for compelling travel experiences every year, there has never been a better time to be part of this industry. But it is also more competitive than ever creating unprecedented opportunities for destination marketers to innovate. Effective destination marketing today means having the courage to move out of long-controlled comfort-zones which includes unleashing the scary power of the customers’ authentic conversations. Less broadcast, more engagement. Today in the world of destination marketing, the road less traveled is increasingly the road best traveled. Welcome to the journey.

Next up: What problem are destination marketers trying to fix?

Coming soon: The overcrowded meeting and event supply chain.