Lately, there is not much on the evening news that puts me in a good mood. This brief mention of tourism in Bath County, however, made our entire team happy. This is what we work for.

Bath County video from WDBJ7

This segment on WDBJ in Roanoke is just a brief update, but if it were a more in-depth examination of the post-pandemic tourism recovery in Bath County, what else might be included in the report?

It’s true there is pent up demand for travel and a lot of destinations are seeing visitors return. It’s also true that Bath County has amazing lodging properties that all have loyal repeat visitors who are likely itching to return to what they have missed for more than a year. If it seems like Bath County is slightly ahead of some (but not all) destinations, I for one will not be surprised. I don’t believe in coincidences.

  • During the pandemic when some destinations paused marketing, the county Office of Tourism proceeded with most of its planned advertising. The message was carefully crafted, but the objective was to remain top-of-mind when travel resumed.
  • The targeted advertising included 1.8 million impressions in print outlets; 3.1 million impressions on online outlets including websites and e-newsletters; 404,000 video impressions, including online pre-roll and streaming TV services.
  • Over the past 12 months, traffic to DiscoverBath.com was up 50% over the same period a year earlier. That followed a 57% between last year and the year before. Page views have more than doubled within two years.

Bath County tourism marketing was on the rise before the pandemic struck and brought travel to a complete stand still. We were confident at the time that the solid metrics of website traffic, visitor guide requests, newsletter opt-ins and social media followers combined with the decision to continue marketing through the downturn would all lead to a swift and robust recovery. We will not know economic impact numbers for quite a while, but early indicators suggest that we were correct.

One day last week while sitting at my desk in Virginia, I enjoyed a virtual tour of some tourist hot spots in New Hampshire. The production value was barely adequate — looked like much of it was filmed on a phone. The tour guide’s authenticity and love for the state was abundantly clear. The guide happened to be the Governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu. The entire, action-packed day was chronicled on Twitter under the hashtag #Super603day. If you’re wondering, 603 is the area code that covers the entire state.

Full disclosure, I was raised in New Hampshire and have spent time in many of the places featured during #Super603day. I actually grew up in the same town as the governor. I’ve never met him, but I did vote for his father who was the governor more than 30 years earlier.

Obviously, I love to see all governors support tourism. During my career in tourism marketing in Virginia, our governors have all supported tourism, though with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Sununu, though, takes it to new heights — almost 6,000 feet above sea level to be exact. One of the coolest parts of his trip was hiking into and then skiing Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington. I have hiked the trail several times, but never skied it. The journey continued south to Lake Winnipesaukee for boating and fishing. The Roanoke region of Virginia shares a special connection to Lake Winnipesaukee. The movie “What About Bob” with Bill Murray is set on the NH lake, but was filmed at Smith Mountain Lake. I can say from personal experience, that they are quite different but both very beautiful lakes. The governor’s day ended with a swim in the frigid ocean water at Hampton Beach. Many people don’t even realize that New Hampshire has beaches. The NH seacoast is only 18 miles, but it’s beautiful from Seabrook to Portsmouth.

As a tourism marketer, I enjoyed following the governor’s journey. No social media “influencer” could have brought as much sincerity. As a transplanted Yankee, it was a walk down memory lane. 

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We have written two previous blogs encouraging communities to find ways to make travel and tourism part of the economic recovery in 2021. Our rationale in those earlier blogs was not to offer loans or grants to tourism businesses, although they have certainly been hit hard and deserve some relief. We want to see more travel. We want shops, museums, inns, restaurants, outfitters and hotels to thrive from serving more visitors than ever before. Make the economy work for them better and stronger than ever before.

In those earlier blog posts, we called upon communities to invest in their tourism economy by getting behind their local Destination Marketing Organization and increasing funding not decreasing it. In most cases tourism marketing budgets are dependent on lodging taxes, which have been weak during the pandemic. We continue to believe that the cities, towns and counties who zig when everyone else zags, and find a creative though temporary way to boost tourism marketing will reap the benefits.

Recently we read about another way that one destination is supporting its tourism economy — by paying people to travel. It’s a stimulus plan worth considering. The Falkland Islands is encouraging domestic travel by offering vouchers up to 500 pounds (more than $650 US) per adult and 250 pounds for children.

Could this idea work in the United States? Every time the government offers a stimulus plan, they hope citizens will spend it on retail or travel. Often recipients use it to pay down debt. Why not offer an incentive to travel? Whether it’s a direct payment like a voucher or a tax deduction. It would make a powerful impact on the economy, but the benefits of travel go far beyond economics, which makes the case for an incentive even more compelling.

• Travel brings people closer together — friends, couples, families, even multiple generations of family — through shared experiences and memories.

• It’s always a learning experience. Even if the itinerary doesn’t seem educational like visiting museums, people still learn just by being on the road. They learn about geography by getting a firsthand look at different landscapes or grasping the distances between places; and history by understanding how a place was influenced by it settlers, location and events.

• It fosters understanding between people of different cultures and backgrounds.

Anything that encourages travel sounds like a decent idea to us. What do you think? Would you travel within the U.S. if offered a voucher or a tax deduction?

I have always liked out-of-home advertising because it offers such a great opportunity for creativity. Some out-of-home options like billboards, busses or metro stations can accommodate larger-than-life, eye-popping ads.

A campaign for Jackson Hole, Wyoming, got my attention the other day in an industry e-newsletter. It makes very clever use of the space. It’s more than just a big poster ad. They turned this into a mini experience that is sure to be a conversation starter and maybe even a selfie opportunity. Sitting on that bench/chairlift with that awesome image of the Tetons in the background — most likely while you’re in the midst of your daily commute — surely makes a skier or snowboarder think, “I gotta get out of Chicago and go there.” Heck, I’m thinking that just from reading the article in my office in Virginia.

Even though out-of-home advertising results are difficult to track, this campaign reinforces something we have preached for many years. Great advertising — which means creative messaging, strong imagery, and clever use of whatever medium you happen to be working within — moves consumers through the sales funnel at lighting speed. Whereas, lame creative work doesn’t inspire anyone to take action. Weak advertising moves people through the sales funnel at a glacially slow pace, like waiting in a long lift line at a crowded ski resort.

I was recently flipping through the January issue of a travel magazine that serves the mid-Atlantic region. Most of the ads and editorial content focused on snow sports like skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and tubing. Keep in mind that I love winter sports. Those ads and articles appeal to me. Still, one ad in the issue practically jumped off the page. It was an ad for whitewater rafting, whose season begins late spring and runs through the summer.

Kudos to this advertiser for understanding two things:

  • Lead times for booking getaways may be getting shorter, but people are still researching — or at least browsing for ideas — far in advance of their trip
  • Remaining top-of-mind means keeping up the marketing all the time

We are looking forward to participating in the Virginia Association of Destination Marketing Organization’s 2018 Tourism Symposium next week in Charlottesville. As a corporate supporter of the organization we will be sponsoring a breakout speaker and both breakfasts.

The session we are sponsoring is a natural fit for us. It is about getting the most out of Google Analytics. As a firm that provides strategic guidance and creative services, generating results for our clients is our highest priority. The goals can vary widely from one campaign to another, so any tool that helps measure and quantify the results is helpful. Our team is creative and analytical at the same time. An unusual combination, I know.

Marketing tourism is quite different from marketing other products. For example, consumers don’t choose a destination the same way they would select a piece of equipment — based on statistics, horsepower, hard drive space, available warranty or even solely on price. People choose where to travel based on the destination’s uniqueness, its story and how powerfully it is presented.

As awesome as Google Analytics is — and we use it every day — here are some things it can’t measure:

  • Enthusiasm – Analytics measures a users time on site, but it can’t see if that person has a big smile on her face or calls out to family and friends “Hey, take a look at this.”
  • Awareness – How many times did a consumer see a print ad, online ad, video, billboard, social media post or bus wrap before finally taking action?
  • Inspiration – Potential visitors need more than to be informed. They need to be inspired. All marketing material, not just websites, need to feature concepts, words and imagery that make people say, “I want to experience that.”

We believe in the importance of all these things in conjunction with having the knowledge and ability to measure that which is measurable. That’s why we’re sponsoring this informative session.

We’re sponsoring breakfast because who doesn’t love bacon?

540.774.9932

6 Walnut Avenue • Vinton, Virginia 24179

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