Ah, the transition to a new year. To many, it means participating in the frenzy of shopping and cooking and parties that mark the season. To me, it also means that I’ve got a couple of weeks to finalize plans for 2012, and to reflect on the previous twelve months while “business as usual” takes a break.
That reflection, I should mention, is somewhat involuntary, as I am required to submit final communication department reports. But, like those piano lessons I hated taking as a kid, I’m glad now that I was forced to do it.
The stats and activities that I’ve aggregated are interesting and exciting. But in reviewing them, I realized just how much my role as a communications professional in the tourism industry has changed over the years.
I’ve been fortunate to have had a front row seat as the destination marketing industry has navigated the relatively swift and dramatic evolution of communications technology. In fact, I have worked for the Visitors Bureau for so many years that I remember editing, and in some cases designing, the very first iterations of our Adirondack destination websites – back when websites and the Internet were not yet adopted by general consumer markets.
In the early 1990’s, we were still prioritizing the development, promotion and distribution of printed brochures to reach potential visitors. Marketing efforts concentrated on lead generation by placing TV and magazine ads to solicit contact information from potential visitors, which were fulfilled by sending those printed brochures via snail mail.
In those years, communications and public relations efforts included writing traditional press releases to send by both snail mail and email to local and travel media. Greater priority was given to developing relationships with targeted media with the objective of gaining exposure in appropriate print publications and broadcast outlets. At that time, traditional media, whether it was National Geographic Traveler magazine or the Albany Times Union travel section, wielded great power over destinations who were eager to be featured in their publications, as editorial exposure would garner credibility and third-party validation.
Though I’m sure other industries have seen its benefits (wink), the Internet seems to have been tailor-made for tourism promotion. The first versions of our region websites, including our flagship lakeplacid.com, were launched in 1996. Now, over 90 percent of all travel research is conducted online, and it is incumbent to Destination Marketing Organizations to keep up with the latest online strategies for search engine optimization and other techniques to make sure that our destinations remain competitive.
And then, there was social media. Talk about leveling the playing field; the surge of social media has forever changed the communications landscape, and represents a welcome addition to the destination marketing toolbox.
I began a concerted effort to include social media in our overall communications strategy in late 2008. That’s when I developed our first Facebook page for Lake Placid, and delved into photo contests and the like in order to generate leads and show a return on the investment of my time.
Though it too, has evolved as the world now embraces online news consumption, public relations still holds a place in our day-to-day communications. I still write and distribute news releases – online of course. And I spend a lot of time fielding requests year-round, providing statistics, history, events, story lines, photos and other Adirondack destination resources for general and travel media. Proactively, though, we concentrate our traditional media efforts on a few target markets that represent our feeder markets – within a day’s drive from our rubber tire destinations.
We’re still in transition, but one could argue that in the current marketplace, there is increased value in editorial exposure such as “readers survey results” published in traditional media, versus an article written by a travel writer that is perceived to have been hosted, wined and dined by the resort.
I now allocate most of my department resources to developing descriptive, blog and online news content for our destination websites to gain search engine optimization, lead generation and direct bookings. We then distribute that content via direct emails, online advertising, and social networking mechanisms like Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
Perhaps the most important social networking activity for me is not only creating and distributing content, but monitoring and reacting to content posted by visitors, residents and yes, even the media, about our destinations.
This affects tourism-related businesses in a huge way. It’s not just blogs and Tweets; the existence of online rating mechanisms such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, it is absolutely crucial for owners to listen, engage and respond effectively to the conversations about their businesses.
Global publishing power now lies in every person’s pocket. Blogs, comments, videos and Tweets have viral potential, and this content is all available 24-hours a day, and can be accessed anywhere from increasingly prevalent mobile phones and tablets.
The result of this transition is huge: third-party validation doesn’t come from the traditional media, it comes from your customers.
As we enter a new calendar year, I’m looking forward to the unforeseen challenges that will surely appear as we navigate this new communications paradigm. For now though, report complete, I’ll take advantage of this little break. Right after I post this blog and send a few Tweets.
Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications for the Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.