Jump for Joy (courtesy moonsheep on Flickr CC)

Two items were up for bids at a silent auction fundraiser for a tourism industry association.

Item One  —  a donated quarter page, full color ad in the Sunday Travel section of a major metropolitan newspaper. Minimum bid: $3,600. The ad’s retail value was listed as $10,500. For one ad. Running one day. In print only, in a paper with 30% of its readership online (as of 2010; it’s no doubt grown since then.)

Item Two  —  a donated seat in our online course in social media for tourism, the full support version with Intro module, six multi-part lessons, videos on best practices, summary checklist plus seven 30-minute phone or Skype sessions with one of us throughout the course. Minimum bid: $320. Retail value is $1100. Attendees can take the course at their pace and have immediate access to all the lessons, plus connecting with the two of us for questions and feedback.

Money changes hands in both transactions, and both items raise funds for the tourism association’s causes, but which purchase is a better deal for the buyer? Which one enriches the CVB, DMO or hospitality buyer most directly?

The Power of You and Your Knowledge

We are not saying that an ad buy is a waste of money (we just ran a successful ad campaign ourselves, for our Facebook Page.)  There are lots of ways to build an integrated marketing plan that can include advertising. We also know that people have wildly varying agendas for silent auction purchases.

Let’s consider in general, however, why spending some money and time on training for yourself (and/or the staff in your town or attraction or hotel) is not a nice-to-have. It is a necessity these days to keep up with the pace of change.

It is not a question of whether you can learn to be a more effective social communicator. Of course you can. You know your town better than anyone. The social web lets you tell your story to the whole world. Don’t be intimidated by the tech-based tools….blogs, Facebook, YouTube, whatever….they are not nearly as important as your friendly, welcoming voice.

And yes, it only takes one knowledgeable, enthusiastic person to keep a destination top of mind with visitors and at the forefront of the industry.  One woman in Lake Arrowhead, California. One man in Guysborough, Nova Scotia. One woman in Faro, Yukon. One guy and his woodchipper in Fargo, North Dakota.

Make Your Money Work For YOU

We do wonder, though, why some people are willing to spend a minimum of a $3600 for a one-day shot at getting in front of possible visitors, but they are reluctant to fork over $320 to help themselves and their organization navigate the biggest change in communications since websites and the printing press.

Part of the answer, of course, is that we are all human.

It is easier to spend money on the print ads that you’ve always bought and that no one really questions (“No one ever got fired for buying IBM“) than it is to spend money and personal time on something that you know is critically important, but is competing for your attention with ringing phones, piles of email, preps for that upcoming festival, meetings and oh, the need for some sleep occasionally.

But you must invest in yourself and what you know. You must think long-term. The visibility of your destination, attraction or hotel depends on it.

Feed your head.   Our help is right here, 24/7, in any timezone.

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See Your Place Through Fresh Eyes, Like a Visitor

To improve your visitor or guest experience, it’s important to be able to see your destination, attraction or lodging with fresh eyes.

Want to know how they experience your town with a mobile device, for example?  BE the visitor. Load up a vehicle with 3 staffers, each carrying a different type of smartphone or tablet, and drive into your town from the outside as though you’ve never been there.

Start with the basics.  Do the highway signs make sense? Is it clear how to get downtown, to your attractions and to your Visitor Center?

Then, have everyone pull out his or her phone or tablet.  Do simple local searches on each device’s browser, for the information that visitors want  –  “restaurants in XYZ,” “places to eat in XYZ,” “hotels in XYZ,” “things to do in XYZ.”  What comes up?  Do the results make sense? Local search is changing the travel game, but you have to see what the traveler sees to know what needs to be done to improve the information they get.

There are many other ways to see things anew.

Try the Kansas Sampler Foundation 8 Rural Culture Elements  –  Architecture, Art, Commerce, Cuisine, Customs, Geography, History, People  –  as a guideline for discovering your town as a visitor might discover it.

Read this excellent post by S. Anthony Iannarino, on how to keep the beginner’s mind and why it will keep you (and your visitor/guest experience) from getting stale and ineffective.

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