A few weeks ago I spent a long weekend being a tourist in Washington, DC. I had not been there in quite a few years and had forgotten what a wonderful city it is for tourists. Since I make my living in tourism marketing and branding I guess I'm not a typical tourist. My stay in the nation's capital got me thinking about our clients and some overall lessons about delivering on the brand promise.

I knew I wanted to stay on the Virginia side and I knew I wanted a place close to a Metro stop. I did a little bit of online research but stopped as soon as I found a Courtyard by Marriott just one block away from the Metro.

Lesson: Brand Loyalty is real and is a powerful force. I'm loyal to Marriott and have benefited many times as a member of their rewards program. In this instance, I did not have a community to which I was brand loyal, but that could just as easily be the deciding factor for another traveler. My strong preference was to leave my lodging tax in Virginia. No ads or low prices were going to convince me to break my loyalty to Virginia and Marriott.

While visiting the WWII Memorial on the National Mall I noticed a tour bus being escorted by a police car. The police car blocked oncoming traffic to allow the bus to get close to the memorial. The first thought was, "wow, they really like the group tour market here in DC." Actually, it was a motor coach filled with veterans who had taken an Honor Flight from Georgia to see the WWII Memorial. Tourists lined the walking path and applauded, thanked and shook hands with the vets as they passed through. It was a special moment and I'm glad I was there in the right place at the right time.

Lesson: Experiences matter way more facts, statistics and amenities. I can't tell you the year the WWII Memorial opened, who the designer was, how many feet wide the fountain is, but the sight of those aging vets — some in wheelchairs — being treated like rock stars at the memorial that honors their service is something I'll never forget. Marketing materials for any attraction should attempt to describe the feelings and actions that are offered and not just the mundane recitation of facts.

I had some ideas of what I wanted to see during stay but no firm plans. I thought it would be easy upon arrival to grab some brochures and formulate a rough plan for the next day. Sadly, there was no brochure rack in the lobby and the front desk had nothing to offer. I walked to the Metro station where all I could find was a Metro map but no brochures on the area's many attractions.

Lesson: The lack of brochures in the hotel does not prove that print is dead. In fact, it's just the opposite. If I was looking for brochures I can guarantee that others were too. In a tourist heavy spot like the DC suburbs I'm surprised the housekeeping staff doesn't keep a stack of visitor guides on their cart and place one in every room just like fresh towels.

While I have wanted to get back to DC for quite a while, the reason it happened on that particular weekend is because I had tickets to see Dennis Miller and Bill O'Reilly on the campus of George Mason University. I would not have guessed that the show would be a major tourism draw but a friend from New Hampshire traveled for the show and the woman seated behind me came from Blacksburg, Virginia.

Lesson: The Events page is usually one of the most viewed pages on the tourism websites we monitor. Each community knows which major festivals bring in out-of-town visitors, but even the smaller events can be the deciding factor for someone to choose one destination over another. It could be as simple as a concert or a sports team has a home game scheduled. Every (seemingly) little event may not deserve it own promotions budget, but a DMO site should include a thorough list of what's happening in the community. You never know what might tip the scale in your favor.

Now it's time to start thinking about another long weekend getaway. I've always wanted to visit the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. I wonder if I can schedule a visit when something fun is happening in the area. First, I have to find a brochure.


6 Walnut Avenue • Vinton, Virginia 24179

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© Mikula-Harris