Why Having a Great Relationship with Your DMO Can Work Wonders for Your Business, with Rachel Vandenberg and Carrie Simmons

Episode 269

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Carrie Simmons is a leader, strategist, and creative problem-solver with expertise in values-driven, integrated brand and marketing approaches. She is the Executive Director of the Stowe Area Association, outwardly known as Go Stowe, serving approximately 250 business members by promoting the Stowe brand through effective public relations, social media strategies, as well as and operating a visitor information center and central reservations service for hotels and inns.

Prior to Go Stowe, Carrie was the owner and creative director of New Ground Creative, a creative firm that built brands through engaging design, dynamic campaigns, and authentic messaging. Carrie finds inspiration in travel, singing, reading, and time spent outdoors with her family. She is currently a board member of Stowe Vibrancy and Executive Board Member of the Vermont Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.

Rachel is Chief Hospitality Experience Officer at the Sun and Ski Inn in Stowe, Vermont. She is passionate about hospitality, tourism, and marketing, and she serves on the Board of Trustees of her local destination marketing organization, Go Stowe. In December 2018, Rachel completed a certificate in Hospitality Management from eCornell. In 2020 Rachel founded her coaching practice, Peak, and she is currently working towards her International Coaching Federation certification. Rachel is an avid reader, community leader, proud wife, and mother of three and loves to mountain bike and nordic ski in the woods of Vermont.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Rachel and Carrie, two extraordinary leaders in the travel industry from Stowe, Vermont. We discuss how facing challenges forces you to accelerate plans and how the pandemic led to a collaboration between three communities and the creation of a new brand. Rachel also gives her perspective on what’s going on in the travel and tourism industry right now, and why she made the decision to niche down in her marketing.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Why having a solid relationship with your DMO will benefit your business
  • Why Rachel went into hotel management despite never planning to take over the family business
  • Accelerate Women Leaders in Travel leadership retreat and how Carrie and Rachel feel it adds to professional development for women
  • What Stowe as an area and Rachel as a hotelier have done to stand out from the crowd
  • How Rachel reimagined and expanded the Sun and Ski Inn to exceed modern family’s vacation expectations
  • Why refining your target market can expand rather than reduce your business opportunities
  • Recent challenges that Carrie and Go Stowe have faced and the creative solutions that have come from adversity
  • How technology has played a part in being prepared for the future
  • Why taking risks and paying attention to trends has paid off for Rachel’s business
  • Carris’s advice for DMOs looking to creatively collaborate with peers and neighbors

Future Travel Trends

It’s always worth paying attention to what’s going on in the market and planning for upcoming trends. The last two years have shown that constant change and evolution are the only things you can bank on in this industry.

Rachel describes her philosophy of taking risks in her hospitality business and why she constantly keeps one eye on the future as she makes decisions in her business. Thinking about how you plan to evolve as a destination prepares you for whatever is around the corner and allows you to pivot quickly with demand.

Carrie describes how the Stowe Area Association has found opportunities to collaborate with perceived competitors to create something bigger together than they could create alone. She shares examples of some amazing coopetition partnerships and why it’s essential to come together to weather storms successfully.

Collaborating with the Wider Community

There are myriad opportunities to bring visitors into your area if you creatively collaborate with others in the travel and tourism industries. Carrie discusses the DMO perspective on seeking ways to connect with others to bring people to Vermont as a whole. We need to find ways to think outside of the box and realize that it’s not always necessarily the traditional collaborations that are the most effective.

Everyone you collaborate within your town, in the different segments, and whether for economic development or recreation, builds a beautiful network of people. Rachel and Carrie emphasize that their community is what makes Stowe so special, in addition, of course, to the extraordinary landscape, historic buildings, shops, restaurants, and places to stay. It’s really the people that make the soul of the community. And that’s a big piece that stands out.

A rising tide raises all ships, after all, so leveraging the unique mix of businesses and supporting each other as a destination helps Stowe move forward.

Marketing Your Destination

From a marketing standpoint, it can be hard to make a choice about who you’re hoping to appeal to with your destination. Many people hope by targeting as broad an audience as possible; they will be more successful in their business. Rachel describes why she decided to focus in tight on promoting her hotel and attractions to active couples and families and how that changed the business for the better.

Carrie ends our inspiring conversation by emphasizing the need to embrace the idea that the travel and tourism industry isn’t necessarily the end goal. The visitor economy is the pipeline to providing opportunities to the community and interconnecting them with other organizations. Having a holistic approach to the industry is the key as we’re moving forward into 2022.


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