Marketing Border Towns to a Bicultural Audience, with Aileen Ramos

Episode 161

podcast photo thumbnail
Aileen Ramos is the Director at the Laredo Convention & Visitors Bureau in the heart of South Texas. With a decade of experience in the hospitality industry and a long career in Marketing and Sales, she leads the CVB team in promoting the best of the city she calls home. In this episode of Destination on the Left, Laredo Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Aileen Ramos discusses the unique bicultural community of her city. She explains how it ties into her marketing efforts and shares some of the projects they’ve done to reach a diverse audience. Click here to listen to the episode:

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How Aileen leverages the visitor’s perspective to create powerful marketing for Laredo
  • How CVB approaches marketing Laredo’s bicultural experiences
  • The challenges Aileen’s organization has faced with marketing in Mexico
  • Aileen’s strategy for celebrating Laredo’s 265 year anniversary
  • The role of the Laredo community in CVBs marketing efforts
  • How Aileen collaborates with her sister cities and other destinations

Visit Laredo

Aileen Ramos has spent most of her career in sales and marketing roles, but hospitality has always been her passion. She was initially inspired by her grandfather, who worked for a travel magazine and traversed the globe, bringing amazing destinations into the spotlight. Now, Aileen carries the torch, and she is giving Laredo, Texas the same magic touch. Aileen has made many trips to Laredo throughout her lifetime, so she brings a unique visitor’s perspective to the table for every project.

A Bicultural Experience

One of Laredo’s most powerful traits is its bicultural community. Laredo is a border town, so it has two distinct markets, two marketing opportunities, and two campaigns. It is a major advantage because Aileen’s team can double-dip with the marketing budget. They are targeting U.S. citizens who are seeking a “true Mexican experience,” and Mexican citizens who are looking for a taste of the states. In the form of restaurants, shopping, and events, both audiences can experience the rich culture of Laredo in totally different ways.

Happy Anniversary Laredo!

Founded in 1755, Laredo is older than the United States. It was a part of the Republic of Rio Grande which turns 180 years old next year, and Laredo will turn 265. It is grounds for a celebration, and Aileen has orchestrated a year-long tribute to the one-of-a-kind destination. As a salute to the rich history, Aileen decided she didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. The staples of the celebration are designed to amplify Laredo’s existing holidays and get the whole community involved! From the university to agricultural businesses, everyone is taking part. There is a collective effort to grow the city—not just for tourism, but for the residents as well.

Nicole Mahoney: 00:25 Hi listeners, I’m excited to announce a [inaudible] summit featuring 15 amazing speakers from this podcast that will be held on December 9th through the 11th the great thing about this summit, it is it’s free. There is no travel cost for you and you can do it from the comfort of your own office. Go to destination on the forward slash summit or taxed, D O T L two six six eight six six for more details, this virtual summit [inaudible] is focused on proving value, relevancy, and ROI, a topic that impacts all of us. Again, check it forward slash summit or [inaudible], D O T L two six six eight six six for more details, this is Nicole Mahoney, host of destination on the left. I am passionate about travel and tourism and love learning from the experiences of professionals in the industry. That is why I’m so excited to introduce today’s guest. Alien Ramos. Alien is the director. You’re at the Laredo convention and visitors Bureau in the heart of South Texas with a decade of experience in the hospitality industry and the long career in marketing and sales.

Nicole Mahoney: 01:35 She leads the CVB team and promoting the best of the city she calls home alien. I’m so excited to have you on the show today. And, um, I’m gonna let you actually flush out your bio a little bit more for us because I know kind of saying what your role is and, and where you are is only a small glimpse of your story. So can you share a little bit more about how you’ve gotten to where you are today? Yes, of course. Thank you so much for having, first of all and uh, I came to Loretta as you mentioned. Uh, but they get to go, I moved to Laredo and I came here first as a visitor. So for me, every time I think about visitors, I think of that experience that I had when I first, uh, I came to Laredo to visit my, my back then my boyfriend, ah, who later became my husband, aye.

Nicole Mahoney: 02:27 Had the opportunity to go and explore the destination and feed what, what Laredo had to offer. And later becoming part of the team and showing that to new visitors. It has been very exciting. I have, ah, experience my whole career has been in, in customer service and marketing and sales in different industries, including consumer markets, pharmaceuticals. But my dream had always been hospitality. My grandfather worked for a tourism magazine in Mexico for many, many years and I remember the young travel to all those exciting and exotic places, Europe and Asia and the U S and, and that peaked my interest very when I was very young and growing up my, my objective was always to work in the hospitality industry and I’m very fortunate that I got to do so. Yeah, I think that’s great. I love that you have the perspective of, um, first being a visitor within the community that you now get to market and represent.

Nicole Mahoney: 03:35 I think that gives you such a, a great lens for, you know, the work that you’re doing or are you finding that you, you use that in your everyday? Yes, yes. Because we have, uh, Laredo is a very unique this nation. And having that perspective gives you an idea of what the visitor, at least part of our visitors are looking for our thinking, comparing it with other destinations. And so I, I always referred to to that, speaking of one of our markets, I always refer to that experience. Okay. As locals, we have a different perspective of our CDs and we don’t know, we see them as destinations, right? Because we want to go somewhere else or for vacation. But it’s important to realize that our CD might not be at this nation for us, but he said this nation for somebody else. Absolutely. I think that’s a really important point.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:31 Uh, you know, [inaudible] I think all of us in this industry run into that in our own communities. And when you explain and describe what you do and then they, the next question is often why do people come to, does community, right? Why would someone visit this community? Um, and I think that, uh, it’s such an important job, um, as you know, leaders in this space to really share that story both locally, uh, as well as, you know, externally to get those visitors. And so I’m sure we’ll dive into that a little bit more as we get through this conversation. Um, and I also just want to say how cool that is that your grandfather worked at that tourism magazine and you grew up kind of watching him and I work in this industry and, and how you had that ingrained in you from such an early age, um, and that now you’re, you’re able to realize that for yourself and then profession that you have.

Nicole Mahoney: 05:22 I think it’s just really incredible. And I actually have the opportunity to be featured in the magazine that he used to work for, uh, after he had passed away. But I had the opportunity to be featured in that magazine and that was a great honor. And that was just a sweet moment for me and my family. Oh, absolutely. That sounds incredible. And I’m sure that was [inaudible] [inaudible] serving a dual purpose, both that personal purpose but also the ability for you to market Laredo. Yeah. To that audience. Absolutely. Alien. Uh, I’m really looking forward to hearing from you on the subject of creativity and collaboration. And I’d like to start by talking about creativity. I know you have a lot to share here, but understanding how competitive the tourism and hospitality industry is, I’m wondering what you have done and what you are doing to help Laredo really stand out from the crowd.

Aileen Ramos: 06:16 One of the things that it makes Laredo very unique as what this nation is, we have two distinct products and we get very creative in how we market to those two markets because we are in the border, we have that, Oh, true Mexican experience or culture. Um, we do that. Okay. Um, and it’s very alive everyday. But we also offer to our Mexican visitors that American experience, that um, shopping opportunity, what they want to see in an experiencing and have this nation. The U S and so that has allowed for us to have two distinctive markets, two very different approaches. We have two different campaigns and we say that we’re very fortunate because we can, we can dive into those two different efforts and, uh, market too. Two more people, not just one specific market, but we have the different things to offer to our Mexican tour U S market.

Aileen Ramos: 07:24 So we, it’s, it’s part of doing that then we can feature when makes Laredo very unique. Yeah, I think that’s a really great point that you, um, have identified these two, uh, markets and understand what they’re looking for and what that visitor is seeking in order to, you know, design your campaigns to appeal to them specifically. And that you’ve identified, you have the assets, you know, and, and the, uh, the, the interests and the experiences that those visitors are looking for. Um, can you speak a little bit more about how, you know, how you are doing that? Maybe we’ll start with the U S market. So you talked about having this true Mexican experience. Um, can you tell a little bit, tell us a little bit about your us campaign and how you’re embracing that experience and then sharing that? Yes, for many years, libretto was a binational destination to nation destination.

Aileen Ramos: 08:19 We used to call it. And with things happening across the border, people stopped coming for that part and no rental kind of reinvented itself. And a lot of the things that our Mexican counterpart offered started coming to Laredo, new shops, new restaurants, and people started getting that sense that they can still get the true Mexican experience on this side of border. Now we do have, Loretto is, has a big Hispanic population and it has a lot of history. [inaudible] was founded in 1755 so we’re than the U S and in having that rich history, having those strong Hispanic ties, our culture is very alive. It’s a very bicultural community when you can experience true Mexican, um, authentic Mexican food where you can experience it, the culture where you can experience things that might not be as available in other regions of the country because of their geographic location.

Aileen Ramos: 09:23 And we’re fortunate that we are in the heart of South Texas. We have influence versa from so many different cultures, but especially though the Mexican one and right now we are focusing on that market with the rebranding of our efforts to the U S and we started this effort a couple of months ago with an agency, uh, from Utah based in Utah called Relic. And they are helping us rebrand their, this nation for that market for so many years. We haven’t been able to tell our story. And there’s a lot of misperception. There’s a lot of, because of everything that’s happening in the country and other than the border, there’s a lot of misconception of what Laredo is and we want to make sure that people know what our destination is really about as a, we’re focusing of that effort with, with our new agency, with Relic and having the opportunity to tell her own story and of letting other people, so what their idea is of [inaudible].

Nicole Mahoney: 10:30 Yeah, I think that’s a, a really great point that you’re just, uh, made in terms of, you know, telling your own story. You know, you know what the perceptions are that are out there, but it’s as a destination taking kind of ownership of what the destination story really is and being that, um, that brand owner if you will, right. And storyteller is so important, um, to, to be able to share what you do have to offer. I think that’s really exciting and, and I appreciate that you called out your agency partner because you know, sometimes on this show, you know, it doesn’t get discussed, uh enough as to how you actually pull together these campaigns and [inaudible] and the importance of the different partners that you engage with and, and pulling that together. So I think that’s also a really great point. And, uh, I want it to, uh, thank you for giving them a shout out.

Nicole Mahoney: 11:23 I think that’s awesome. No, they’re amazing. We love working with them and we just started and we look, we look forward to the, to the result of our rebranding effort. Absolutely. So this next question, a alien, I love to ask because, um, I find that we learn, it’s like my favorite question in the entire show because I find that we learned so much when we’re faced with a problem or a challenge. And I’m wondering if there is a challenge that your organization or destination has. And then perhaps if you could share a creative solution that came from ah, from that well, ask some border of decimation. We encounter a lot of challenges and this is, this is something that we did on our Mexican market many years ago. The situation was um, a little bit, um, difficult weather in our neighboring a country, which is Mexico and we have an office in one of the larger cities in the country in Mexico.

Aileen Ramos: 12:29 And we saw the, we were having, it was a challenge bringing people to our destination and we decided a lot of other destinations had offices just as us and they started closing their offices. They started pulling out of the market and we decided to just hanging there and show our neighbors that we’re interested in them as a community, not necessarily as, as as visitors of course, but also as a community is as a sister CDs. And it created this very, um, close relationship with our visitors. We’ve created this very unique communication between us and them. And so for me that, that’s been one of those challenges that we, we overcame. And we were able to just have a creative solution because everybody was pulling out on the market and we thought, no, they have to be a better way of doing this. And so [inaudible] we were creating the strong bond by pushing forward and just showing that nothing, nothing can separate us from, from our sisters and brothers.

Aileen Ramos: 13:41 Um, our communities, the pattern visited us for many, many decades. You’re in Laredo. I think that’s such a great example. I love how you, the contrast of your approach to this challenge versus maybe, you know, some of the other destinations that had offices in that market, ah, in particular. And then how that, um, resonated with, you know, with your neighbors and actually created a stronger bond. And I’m assuming then eventually that leads to, you know, stronger visitation because there’s this bond between the, the destination and a and that market. Is that what you, you know, you’re seeing it’s, it’s more that longterm vision and that longterm view right? Then just the short term. That’s right. And as a former sales representative for hospitality and pharmaceutical and consumer marketing, for me, relationships are key. It’s important to understand that yes, we’re sales Oh people, but creating a relationship with your why I am this more important than just selling a product or a service to them is creating the relationship that’s gonna love for you to truly understand what they’re thinking through.

Aileen Ramos: 15:02 You understand what their needs are and what they really are looking for. Yeah. I think that’s such an important point. And having those feet on the ground like, like you, like you do, uh, in that market, through that office, I’m sure give you that much deeper, you know, understanding and, um, really being able to talk to the folks that you know, that you are trying to attract to your community. I think that’s just a really great point. So, alien, I’m kind of looking into the future. You’ve given us a little bit of a glimpse about, um, you know, you’re a U S campaign and what you’re working on now with your agency. But I’m wondering if there are any other projects that you’re working on that you’re really excited about that you’d like to share. We have this really exciting year coming up for us because next year Laredo turns 265 years and a little bit of a history treatment, but Laredo was a part of its own country.

Aileen Ramos: 16:05 Oh, 180 years ago. And Laredo together with part of South Texas and two Mexican States. Well, three Mexican. Those States were the Republic of the Rio Grande and the Republic of the Rio Grande trays 180 next year and the Rideau turns 265. And so we’re going to have a year full of a celebration. We’re going to have different events every month. And as a community we’re coming together and celebrating our destination and what makes Laredo so unique. That’s really, really terrific. Can you talk a little bit about the planning for this celebration and, um, how many different community organizations did you have to bring in for this? And kind of how your, uh, how you’re pulling that year long celebration together. I, I talked to so many different guests. I know that you have different anniversaries and I’d love to hear how you’re now working through, ah, celebrating your anniversary. We have, uh, some celebrations that are already our staples, like Washington’s birthday celebration, if you’ve never heard of it, you have to come down to Laredo.

Aileen Ramos: 17:17 It’s a month long celebration. And we, um, celebrate George West sheath, his birthday [inaudible] with [inaudible], all kinds of events. And so we use those celebrations as the jumping board as the base, if I can call it like that. Oh, as the [inaudible] basic idea of what we want to do. We didn’t want to recreate everything. We want to use the celebrations that we already have and from there grow new celebrations around. So we have strong groups of the arts, arts and culture is growing. It’s booming in Laredo and we wanted to give them a space. And so bringing the arts, bring the history or webcam heritage foundation has been doing a great job in promoting history on the radio and this is their year because of the anniversaries they have, Oh, this archives, any information about our wonderful CD. Of course I’m leading this effort as is the convention of visitors Bureau and the communication office of PIO office, uh, of the CD.

Aileen Ramos: 18:24 But we will also have ecotourism with Rio Grande international study center in the schools. We have texts saying, I’m a campus here, the international university that has galleries, has different cultural events. So we’re trying to be, bring everybody in the community together. We, I believe that we’re in a really good time. [inaudible] in the radio where everybody is very interested in, very committed to really grow CV, not just as a destination, but as a place to live and make it even better. So we are gathering all those groups, as I mentioned, webcam, heritage and WBCA and Oh, the agricultural group that’s doing the, the inner city gardens. [inaudible] just everybody that has Oh true sense of what’s going on in the city, but they also have a commitment to make our city a better place to you. Oh, that’s just a fantastic, I love how you described that.

Nicole Mahoney: 19:32 Starting with your foundation of those staple celebrations and then building around those. So it doesn’t necessarily mean we have this big anniversary and we have to create something new. [inaudible] what do we already have that can help us, uh, elevate the celebration. Um, and, and then I love how you talked about all the different groups that you’re pulling in. Everything from the a university to arts and culture to history and ecotourism, agriculture. Um, but then my favorite thing about what you just shared is that how you are using the celebration and really feeling this kind of vibe coming from the city in this commitment to growing it. Um, not just for tourism but also as a place to, you know, to live and work. And, um, I think that that’s such a great example about how tourism and economic development places too visit, live and work are interwoven, um, and how important they are to all work together.

Nicole Mahoney: 20:32 Uh, I just love that example and I appreciate you sharing that with us. Yeah, I think that, and we’ve seen this with other destinations. We have very good communication with a lot of this nation’s in Texas and we see, we, it, if we go to this nation and you go to the hotel or you go to a restaurant and you’re excited about this, getting that CD and you stumble upon somebody that’s not excited about living there, it’s going to make a difference in your experience of that this nation [inaudible]. So having people that are invested it in, in, in what they do that are happy to be, that are proud of their city, it makes a difference. Not only [inaudible] the quality of life or that the person have or the people around them, but it also makes a difference with the visitor. And that is something that [inaudible] our council when the, I stood in front of council with, with our PIO and we were presenting this, this idea, they said, why is tourism involved in this?

Aileen Ramos: 21:32 And that was my response because that quality of life affects our visitor ethics, the experience of the visitor in a very positive or a negative way, depending on what people are feeling about their there, their place, the place where they live. Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s a really awesome and a perfect segue into the next topic that we like to cover on the show, which is about collaboration. And you’ve already described, you know, a lot of collaboration. I’m already just in describing your celebration. Um, and, and I’m wondering if you have another example of collaboration that has really, you know, worked for you over the years, over the past several years, um, in terms of being able to accomplish something, you know, more than what you could have accomplished, uh, on your own. I am very happy that I get to work in the state, um, like Texas because there’s such a great relationship between a lot of the CVB, a lot of the tourism office, the chambers, the EDCs [inaudible] around the state.

Aileen Ramos: 22:42 And every time we see each other we’re just thinking about different things that we can do, um, how we can help each other. But how we can also collaborate to make our oldest nations better and having that opportunity to communicate and just bounce ideas back and forth. Yeah, it is great. Also in, in the Mexican side, we have a program called sister CDs and this is an international program of libretto is very active and we’ve been able to sign agreements with different CDs in Mexico collaboration. And right now we’re working with one called [inaudible] and we are working together to bring visitors to their CD but also to bring visitors to our seats. And so it’s in that collaboration that we can share information, we can learn from each other and we can see what other places are doing. I’d love to see what other CDs other States, other countries are doing in terms of how they market their destination.

Aileen Ramos: 23:41 Because I don’t like the idea of just focus, focus on the inner Oh market wants to see what everybody else is doing so that we can, we can have a fair chance at and competing with other people. But also, I mean there’s some, some great, great ideas out there and if we can help each other, it just enhances what we, the efforts that we’re doing. Absolutely. Um, I think those are some really great examples of collaborations and um, I love that you talked about, you know, your own state, but then also these international collaborations in the sister city, ah, relationships and how you’re leveraging those. And I’m curious, alien, if you have some best practices or some advice for our listeners who may be, um, you know, considering some collaborations of their own, uh, what types of things have really worked for you? I would recommend highly recommend the sister cities program.

Nicole Mahoney: 24:40 It has helped those um, connect with CDs in a, in a very detailed level Oh, internationally, but also that they become part of their state association. PAC V the Texas association of convention and visitors Bureau has been key for us in, in keeping ourselves involved in the industry. Um, PTA has also been great for us because we want to, we want to be at the forefront of the efforts, the marketing efforts. For example, our agency Relic, we’ve met them at PTA, at the summit. And so I highly recommend if you’re in this nation and you’re not involved in your state, your local, your, Oh, you’re different associations, even the international ones do so because that gives you such a great opportunity to learn from other destinations too. Oh, cool. Well with other destinations, but also to have those, those learning opportunities of what other people are doing on a greater level.

Aileen Ramos: 25:47 And I’ve had the chance to C also as a sales rep in my previous life here at CVB, just traveling to the different shows, traveling to the different meeting planner, trade shows. That also gives you an idea of what other destination are doing, especially out of state. So I highly recommend being part of those, those groups. Just opening your eyes and ears to what, what’s out there. Yeah, I think a, that’s a a great point. And what I love about that is that you, um, not only just to join these associations but to be actively involved and seek out opportunities I think makes a huge, a huge difference. And that’s a really good point that, and I hope listeners picked up on. I think that’s just fantastic. Um, so alien, I knew this would be a great conversation. I have one more question to ask you before, um, before we say goodbye.

Speaker 2: 26:46 Um, and this question, we’ve already talked about it so much in our conversation today, but I’d really like to get some more perspective from you. And it’s this whole idea of how, um, destination marketing organizations or CVBs such as yourself are becoming more like community managers, uh, owning the storytelling and the brand of their community and are being viewed more holistically in terms of how they engage, not just with [inaudible] visitors, but also how the tourism office can impact and make an impact for locals. Um, and I know we’ve talked about this already just in this conversation alone, but I’m wondering if, you know, when I, when I talked to you about that, what comes to mind and what are you seeing in your work as how your role has been expanded? I definitely see it. Oh, we, we have an opportunity as tourism office as we’re not isolated, we are dependent on what happens in our community are product, is our community as marketers.

Aileen Ramos: 27:50 Our product is our community. And so one marker marker doesn’t want a product that’s well-packaged. That’s, uh, great features and marketing of this mission is so interesting because you get to lift the product every single day. So I believe, I truly believe that we’re connected. I truly believe that having a part on making a difference in your community affects you as a destination. On the positive side. Part of the reason why the civic pride campaign in the anniversaries is so important for us because we get to, we get to rally everybody in the CD. And for me it’s just having that, the proud, uh, moment of Oh, being on the right of one, I believe 10 years [inaudible] in this community. I feel a Laredo and I feel in my heart is here and I want everybody to be as excited. And I know a lot of people, I mean, you can tell I love this city and there’s people here that have been 10 generations and from that they’re down, right?

Aileen Ramos: 29:03 And everybody has this passion, but we want every single person to have that same, that same feeling. And we probably won’t get to the a hundred percent I know. But having that opportunity as CVB will allow us to improve are this nation as a whole. I hope I answered the question. I know over, but I feel very passionate about it. So I get really excited and then my mind goes all over the place. But that’s, that’s the, the result. We want to have a great community. We want to live in a great city and that will reflect in the destination. Absolutely. No, I think you made a really great point. Um, and uh, you know, I love how you said my heart is here and I want everyone else to be as excited. You know, about this destination and you keep coming back to if everyone’s excited. Yeah.

Aileen Ramos: 29:58 You know, and it has that civic pride that is going to trickle down to the visitor experience. And if we have this really great visitor experience that’s going to trickle down and over to [inaudible], you know, to the residents and the quality of life. So, um, I think that connectivity is so important and, and really appreciate how you illustrated that for us. Yeah, we can, we can’t be isolated. Civic pride and tourism can’t be isolated. They’re the one there part of the same puzzle. Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, alien, I knew this would be a great conversation and I really did learn a lot from you. I appreciate you taking some time out to be on the show. Um, do you have any final words, anything that maybe I didn’t ask you or anything that you’d like to share with listeners before we say goodbye? No, I really appreciate you inviting me and just to write everybody to be on the look for our new [inaudible] campaign and it’s coming up soon.

Nicole Mahoney: 30:59 And to give, to give the destination on the border of chance a. Right now, a lot of the rhetoric, a lot of the information that’s out there obviously is focusing on important issues, but it’s focusing more of the negative issues. And a lot of people think that is their main sources of information about a CD or a location or an area, geographic area in the country and so of for people to be open to give, give the boarder a chance, give us a chance to fill you our story. Oh, there’s great places in the border. There’s great communities that have a lot to offer. Yeah. [inaudible] we know once somebody comes to a Randall, they love it. And so we just asked people to, to give them not only Laredo but other cities in the border. Chaff. Absolutely. I think that’s a fantastic, um, a fantastic way to end our conversation. And they alien. Thank you so much for being with us today and we will look forward to catching up with you again. Thank you so much. Thank you for inviting me.

We value your thoughts and feedback and would love to hear from you. Leave us a review on your favorite streaming platform to let us know what you want to hear more o​f. Here is a quick tutorial on how to leave us a rating and review on iTunes!

Related Podcasts