Insights from the 2021 eTourism Summit (Part One), with Nicole Mahoney

Episode 252

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For this first episode in a special two part series of Destination on the Left episodes, I visited the 2021 eTourism Summit held in Las Vegas, Nevada from September 20-22. At the summit, I was privileged to have the chance to interview fourteen attendees who are experts in the field of digital marketing for travel and tourism. In my conversations with today’s guest experts, I asked them to each answer one question:

“What has been the biggest change in your digital strategy that has resulted in big wins for your organization or destination?”

I’m so delighted to share their insightful and sometimes surprising answers with you in this week’s special podcast episode. In this episode of Destination On The Left, you’ll hear from these fourteen extraordinary digital marketing experts:

  • Chris Lukenbill – Co-Founder, Shrpa
  • Ed Harris – CEO, Discover Lancaster
  • Emilie Harris – Director of Marketing Operations, Bandwango
  • Jake Brown – Content Manager, Visit South Bend
  • Jason Holic – Vice President of Business Applications & Insights, Experience Kissimmee
  • Kyle Johnson – Digital Strategy Manager, Indiana Destination Development Corporation
  • Leena Riggs – Director of Marketing & Partnerships, Visit Rancho Cordova
  • Marc Garcia – President & CEO, Visit Mesa
  • Maria Skrzynski – Marketing Coordinator/Office Manager, Destination Ann Arbor
  • Mark Romig – Chief Marketing Officer & Senior Vice President, New Orleans & Co.
  • Nicole Stacey – Director of Marketing Communications, Visit Pensacola
  • Ralph Thompson – Executive Director Travel & Tourism, Streetsense
  • Tim Ash – Marketing Keynote, Trainer & Advisor
  • Victoria Simmons – Senior Vice President of Travel, BVK

Innovative Digital Marketing Experts at the 2021 eTourism Summit

The eTourism Summit is a one-of-a-kind conference that exists at the intersection of destination travel and tourism with cutting edge digital marketing. It’s a unique opportunity for industry leaders, marketers, and destinations to come together and exchange ideas, collaborate, and brainstorm new solutions together. This year’s eTourism Summit was held in Las Vegas from September 20-22 and offered insights into digital marketing trends, advertising innovations and new ways to connect travelers with incredible experiences. I asked each of these experts the same question: “What has been the biggest change in your digital strategy that has resulted in big wins for your organization or destination?” Here are the insightful answers they gave me:

Chris Lukenbill from Shrpa

Chris shares how the industry-wide disruption of the global pandemic has created a unique opportunity to share experiences and user-generated content. He discusses the challenge of creating and sharing great itineraries that go beyond a single viewpoint and that are available “where the visitors are”, whether that’s Shrpa’s website or elsewhere. He explains why it’s easy to find directories of information but it is often difficult to get a good understanding of the full experience a destination offers, and he shares how Shrpa is working to bridge that gap for travelers.

Ed Harris from Discover Lancaster

Ed shares how Discover Lancaster has focused on making greater, more meaningful investments in social media over the pandemic, and he shares how experimenting with alternative information vehicles like video has helped significantly increase Discover Lancaster’s social media engagement and following. He discusses why content centered on the local Amish community has been a big driver in this stronger engagement as people learn more about the Amish lifestyle. He discusses how the pandemic has highlighted a new level of desire from travelers to find unique escapes from our modern lives and challenges. He discusses how his team created five video ads highlighting activities that can be done in a pandemic-safe way in the area, and he shares the big results these videos have generated.

Emilie Harris from Bandwango

Emilie discusses how the biggest shift she has experienced working with clients has been greater focus on tracking bottom-of-funnel conversions rather than top-of-funnel inspiration-focused marketing. She explains how this information has helped many clients transition their websites into e-commerce engines, and she talks about how the integration of new website strategies and new tools has created exciting opportunities for clients. She discusses Bandwango’s work connecting communities with local businesses and crafting engaging experiences, through web-based free and paid “passports” that highlight client offerings while allowing Bandwango to collect invaluable data and traveler insights.

Jake Brown from Visit South Bend

Jake describes how Visit South Bend has been experimenting with and collecting data on a variety of ideas, such as advertising through Expedia. He discusses why Visit South Bend’s focus has shifted from inspirational top-of-funnel campaigns to the actual booking process, and he explains why the global pandemic has created new opportunities farther down the sales funnel. He discusses how the content his organization is creating integrates with their paid campaign efforts, and he explains why Visit South Bend is layering content to help guide traveler choices at all levels of the funnel.

Jason Holic from Experience Kissimmee

Jason discusses how he and his team have shifted their focus to in-state marketing targeting Florida residents and drawing them to the many experiences available in the Kissimmee, Florida area. He talks about using data to help the team reprioritize which markets they are advertising in. He explains why the goal has been to drive knowledge of the impact of the global pandemic on travelers, and he shares how leveraging the area’s unique ability to handle high volumes of traveler traffic has been an invaluable asset.

Kyle Johnson from Indiana Destination Development Corporation

Kyle shares how he was introduced to the concept of “bricks and feathers”, including heavy pieces of major content called “bricks” that can be sliced into smaller pieces of “feather” content. He shares how his team put together a scavenger hunt list of “stranger things” travelers can find in Indiana that connect to the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana featured in the Netflix series “Stranger Things”. He describes how that list became 12 separate social posts over 14 days that generated more than 250,000 organic social channel impressions. He shares how the pandemic put all of the team’s initiatives on pause, and he talks about how the team navigated the challenges of the pandemic using their “bricks and feathers” content to empower their social media efforts and drive traffic to exciting, pandemic-safe outdoor destinations in every county in the state.

Leena Riggs from Visit Rancho Cordova

Leena shares how the pandemic has created a unique opportunity for her organization to shift to user-generated content, and she shares how this has allowed Visit Rancho Cordova an opportunity to partner with local residents in a unique way. She shares how residents are creating unique hashtags and amplifying the organization’s message.

Marc Garcia from Visit Mesa

Marc shares how the pandemic pushed Visit Mesa to turn inward and form a steering committee made up of Mesa residents that has advanced his organization’s digital strategies and social media outreach. He explains why the pandemic has given Visit Mesa an opportunity to inform locals of what their organization does to support the area. He shares how the steering committee came about and immediately assisted Visit Mesa in formulating a strategy to deal with the challenges of the pandemic by marrying songs with photos of the region.

Maria Skrzynski from Destination Ann Arbor

Maria discusses how one of the big changes Destination Ann Arbor has made has been collaborating with residents and supporting local business through stronger connections. She explains how user-generated content has become a backbone of her organization’s marketing efforts and social media outreach. She shares how Destination Ann Arbor has been exploring new ways and channels to connect with local residents, and she explains why these collaborations are a win-win-win for everyone involved. She shares how her organization reaches out to highlight how they can be of assistance to local businesses and destinations.

Mark Romig from New Orleans & Company

Mark discusses how his organization worked to shift the perception of New Orleans as an “adult playground” and highlight how it’s an extremely family-friendly destination, by partnering with a group of “mommy bloggers” to share their travel experiences. He shares how leveraging influencers and social media can be an extraordinary way to connect with niche markets and get the message out. He also shares how Instagram has been a key platform to share the exciting sights in New Orleans, and he discusses how merging two competing websites into a single “one stop shop” internet address has helped travelers find information more easily.

Nicole Stacey from Visit Pensacola

Nicole talks about how “pivot” has been the key word through the pandemic for so many organizations in travel and tourism, and she shares how Visit Pensacola has used a multi-channel strategy throughout the full funnel to dig deeper into the “why” of the destination. She shares how sharing an authentic experience that goes beyond Pensacola’s famous beaches has been transformative for the organization. She describes how connecting with audiences and the things that inspire them has gotten easier through the use of real-time data. She discusses how the agility of digital marketing has been crucial for navigating the challenges of the pandemic.

Ralph Thompson from Streetsense

Ralph talks about how Streetsense leverages its experience in digital marketing to reach audiences and deliver measurable results. He discusses how the evolution of data collection has been an extraordinary asset for his organization. He talks about the importance of building relationships and engaging consumers both logically and emotionally, and he talks about how video is becoming a crucial component of digital travel and tourism marketing.

Tim Ash, Marketing Keynote Speaker, Trainer, and Advisor

Tim explains why too many destinations are “in love with themselves” and are focusing too much on polished visuals and not enough on the process of planning for travel. He talks about why it’s crucial to focus on how you can be helpful to your audience, and he shares how our brains interpret text, graphics and motion to determine what we’re paying attention to. He shares why it’s important to be conscious about the elements of your digital marketing to ensure that a viewer’s attention is being drawn to the right elements.

Victoria Simmons from BVK

Victoria talks about how the pandemic has given BVK a new opportunity to help clients make better sense of data without feeling overloaded through creating a data dashboard and investing in analysts to help interpret the data and translate it into strategy. She shares how the greater access to data and the ability to target consumers individually has transformed interactions and empowered destination organizations to better reach their audiences. She talks about why personalized content isn’t necessarily about having something new to say all the time but is about delivering content that speaks to the listener.

Collaboration and a Renewed Focus on Local Residents

As these extraordinary leaders shared, a key recurring theme is that so many of their organizations found new life and new purpose through the pandemic by collaborating with local residents and “turning inward” to highlight why sometimes the most exciting and unique experiences happen in our own communities. Another common theme has been looking beyond the top of the funnel and exploring multi-channel initiatives that target people throughout the sales funnel across a diverse range of communications mediums.

I hope you enjoy this first episode of this two-part 2021 eTourism Summit series. Next week, these remarkable digital travel and tourism marketing experts will continue to share additional insights and experiences.

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