The roads were torn up and dusty, with holes almost a story deep in places. It was difficult to navigate around the construction, and visiting a shop on the main Park Street thoroughfare was all but impossible.
Yet, the positive energy in Tupper Lake was palpable.
Have you been to Tupper Lake lately? I’ve been there several times recently for a variety of reasons, and in this outsider’s opinion, great things are going on. » Continue Reading.
It all started in August. The media inquiries about Lake Placid’s Olympic heritage have increased by the day as we get closer to the games in Sochi. Many want photos, or to visit to write or film a news story, and most want to know what impact hosting the games has had on Lake Placid in general.
As communications director for the region’s destination marketing organization, my job is to support our efforts to drive overnight visitation, and implement promotional messaging that is based on research. And through that research, we know that the biggest driver of overnight visitation to Lake Placid and the Adirondacks is outdoor recreation – hiking, paddling, cycling and the like – hands down. However, for a couple of months every four years, I prepare to spend a lot of time responding to the expected influx of Olympic-themed media requests. » Continue Reading.
It costs 6 times as much to find a new customer as it does to retain an existing customer (Understanding Customers by Ruby Newell-Legner). And according to Marketing Metrics, the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%, but the probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%.
I’ve written previously about the ongoing efforts of tourism marketing professionals to promote the Adirondack region as a destination. From the I Love New York program to the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council to each County’s designated Tourism Promotion Agent (TPA), there are ongoing, comprehensive marketing strategies being implemented, with measurable results that are utilized to inform future efforts.
I’m sure it’s consistent in the other Adirondack counties, but as the accredited destination marketing organization for Essex County, we hear from individual businesses asking us to help them with marketing all of the time. And we do. Of course, we also develop programs and mechanisms for individual businesses to promote themselves within the framework of our overall regional marketing strategies. » Continue Reading.
Have you altogether stopped watching, reading or listening to your go-to news source because it doesn’t provide the information you’re seeking? Well, you’re not alone.
The recently released Pew Research Center’s Annual Report on American Journalism, “The State of the News Media 2013”, finds that the power of journalism continues to shrink as the news industry continues to cut jobs and news coverage. In fact, estimates for the decline in newsroom employment – at newspapers – in 2012 is down 30 percent since its peak in 2000. » Continue Reading.
In that post, I attempted to convey the indisputable fact that in order for Adirondack communities to benefit economically from any increased tourism activity (resulting from increased marketing), those communities have to have cash registers in place to collect the money. If there’s no place to buy anything in a town (retail, restaurant, attraction, lodging), the visitors can’t contribute to the economy there. In other words, marketing is just part of the overall equation. » Continue Reading.
The bottom line: we can market the heck out of Childwold, N.Y. as a tourism destination, but the visitors will stay in Lake Placid anyway.
Marketing alone is not the solution to the sustainable tourism problem.
In a recent post by NCPR’s Brian Mann, he revisits the idea that there is a lack of a coordinated tourism marketing effort for the Adirondacks. He cites the “balkanization” of the region, “with no central governing organization to shape how and where dollars are spent”.
The state acquisition of 69,000 acres of the former Finch Pruyn lands in the Adirondack Park has spurred much discussion. I thought I’d chime in from a tourism perspective.
In general, the purchase will ultimately mean public access to incredible natural resources for recreational activity. Or, according to a press release from Governor Cuomo’s office on August 5th, “Opening these lands to public use and enjoyment for the first time in 150 years will provide extraordinary new outdoor recreational opportunities, increase the number of visitors to the North Country and generate additional tourism revenue.”
I applaud the Governor’s office and their efforts, and appreciate that there is opportunity for the adjacent communities to realize a positive economic impact from the resulting increased visitation. » Continue Reading.
I know this for a number of reasons; my two-wheeled vehicles are all tuned up and at the ready, the shoes piled near the door at my house are primarily open-toed, my golf clubs live permanently in the trunk of my car, I have at least one patch of poison ivy on my arm, and of course, the ratio of regional events per day has increased dramatically.
As a destination marketing organization (DMO) communicator, I’ve said it before: outdoor recreational opportunities; hiking, biking, paddling and the like are what draw visitors to the region. So how do events fit into the tourism equation? » Continue Reading.
April in the Adirondacks is…..well…quiet. As far as tourism activity, it traditionally represents the transition month between winter/ski season and the beginning of summer travel. It’s also a time when many north country folk head south for vacation, coinciding with school breaks. Lake Placid welcomes its share of conference attendees in April, but by May the whole region sees more visitors arriving to hike, bike, paddle and fish.
To me, it’s also a good time to ramp up for the busy season; develop content, fine-tune promotional schedules, and to conduct some online social media experiments.
Did you hear about the Adirondack park-wide floodlights installation that was proposed? Essentially, I began April by distributing a press release on lakeplacid.com via social networking mechanisms. The release announced that “a proposal to install floodlights throughout New York’s Adirondacks aims to extend the Park’s open hours, and improve visibility at night.”
Simulcast at 8:00 a.m. on both Twitter and Facebook, the reviews started coming in right away. Depending on the topic, a typical Facebook post for Lake Placid will garner 2-5 comments on average. On this one, we had over 20 comments before noon on a Sunday, with sentiments that varied from chuckles to outrage that we should “keep the Adirondacks wild”. I even received an email from a friend in Saratoga offering to do whatever necessary to help me “stop this criminal outrage”.
By 2:00 p.m. most had come to the realization that it was an April Fool’s joke.
Why did we do this? Well, for one thing, April Fool’s Day is my favorite holiday. But, truly, this type of activity is just one more way to maintain top of mind awareness. The communications landscape has dramatically changed since the days when we sent out press releases to traditional media and hoped they’d print it. The countless channels of outreach available now offer unlimited potential to increase our target market reach.
That potential DOES exist, however, one can distribute a message via social media, SEO release, blog feature AND video and still be completely ignored. In order for a message to stand out in a very noisy marketplace, it must be inspired and creative.
We’ve all heard about videos that have gone “viral”. How does it happen? 60 hours of video is uploaded every minute to YouTube, the video search engine. Only a tiny fraction of those videos will go “viral” – or achieve millions of views. It’s every brand manager’s dream to obtain positive viral status and become an overnight success.
According to Kevin Allocca, the trends manager at YouTube, those videos that go viral meet three criteria: 1. they are unexpected, 2. they are further ignited (shared) by a “tastemaker”, or an influencer worthy of imitation, (such as popular late night TV hosts), and 3. they are subject to community participation: the video inspires creativity, and we become part of the phenomenon by sharing and sometimes imitating its content.
What’s that have to do with my press release? Advertisers have known for ages that incorporating humor is an effective way to connect with target markets via emotional appeal, and/or humanizing a brand.
By creating an April Fool’s message about a faux proposal that would negatively affect our product, and sending it to our existing ambassadors via social media, we elicited an emotional response. The release underscored the fact that the Adirondacks are a protected wilderness without light pollution; a product differentiator. We confirmed that our Facebook fans and Twitter followers are fiercely protective of their favorite destination. In fact, it can be surmised from comments both online and anecdotally in person that there were many who were immediately ready to join the made-up Park in the Dark Coalition that had formed to fight the proposal as referenced in the release.
The anecdotal references are good, but the response to this project was also tracked with Google analytics, Facebook and Twitter click statistics. I didn’t reach anywhere near a million viewers, but this one-time post on just two major social networks did garner about 2,000 unique visits to lakeplacid.com directly from those social networks on both mobile and web platforms. We know that visitors spent an average of 2:24 minutes on the page, (presumably to get to the end of the release where they learned it was a prank). We also know that the bounce rate was high: nearly 80% of the visitors then left the site without visiting any other pages. (This is why I won’t be using this faux story tactic as an exclusive destination marketing strategy.)
The biggest benefits of this type of communication is the resulting top of mind awareness that it helps to maintain. It facilitated engagement with our ambassadors, and increased the potential exposure of the Adirondack destination’s name via the sharing nature of social media.
The trick is to integrate this type of humor into our communications year-round. And humor isn’t easy to convey successfully. The challenge is to incorporate this witty style of promotion while maintaining the professional integrity of your brand, product and organization.
I try to incorporate creative descriptions and phrases into social messaging, and it is a required industry skill to craft a standout headline for a press release. It all goes back to creativity: and the overall objective is to evoke an emotional response.
I wonder how many will cry over next spring’s Mud Season Wrestling Festival.
Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications at the Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism
Despite the fact that it’s been more than twenty years since I walked the halls of my Adirondack K-12 school, I still consider myself a Westport Eagle.
I’m actually somewhat of a traitor, living in neighboring Moriah. But since our two schools were in different sports leagues (based on enrollment), the people of Westport do continue to welcome me for reunions and the like. (Now, if I lived in Elizabethtown, we’d be having a whole different conversation.) It occurred to me long ago that our Adirondack community rivalries embed themselves early via friendly competition on soccer, baseball and football fields. As we grow older, those loyalties remain.
The competitive rivalries continue today for those who grew up in these communities, and are contagious for those who relocate to them from afar, but the stakes have changed. Instead of a league title, there is a competition between municipalities for County, Region and State attention and funding, and for most, competition for a share of tourism; the greatest economic driver for the region.
It is encouraging and inspiring to see those municipal boundaries disappear, however, courtesy of a threat from a common rival. A crisis such as Tropical Storm Irene, for example, showcased both the communities rivalries AND teamwork. The Town of Jay perceives that it didn’t initially receive the heightened attention from Albany and the media that the town of Keene and the repair to Route 73 received. On the other hand, the ongoing outpouring of hands-on cleanup and monetary support for relief efforts in all of the affected communities from the Adirondack neighborhood was overwhelming and inspiring.
This takes us to the reason I brought this up; a recent instance in which those community boundaries disappeared in front of my very eyes.
New York State’s tourism promotion program, I Love New York, is run by the the state’s Empire State Development wing. In 2012, they hired a new public relations agency to promote the State’s regions to the traveling public via traditional public relations efforts. The agency, M.Silver Associates, were ushered around the state to meet with tourism promotion agents from each county in meetings set up by region. This was an exercise set up so that the agency could learn as much about the regions as possible in order to develop their strategy for acquiring editorial coverage.
For tourism promotion, the state has been cut into 11 geographic regions, including the Catskills, Finger Lakes, New York City, Thousand Islands-Seaway and Greater Niagara, and the Adirondacks. As communications director for Essex County, I attended the meeting in which they solicited information about the Adirondacks from representatives from the Counties that comprise our region; the Tourism Promotion Agents that make up the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council.
We went around the room, describing the events, attractions, activities and experiences that differentiated our respective Counties as the PR agency staff furiously took notes. As the conversation drew on, however, the comments from the individual counties took on a more collective, regional context. Oddly enough, that change happened right after M. Silver mentioned what they had learned while talking to the “Catskills people”, and that they were headed next to talk to the “Finger Lakes” representatives.
New York State is big, and some of our competition lies within. Suddenly, we were not St. Lawrence, Essex, Warren and Hamilton Counties; we were Team Adirondacks. And when we had finished explaining all the reasons that the Adirondacks should represent most of M. Silver’s promotional efforts versus the other regions of New York State, we then turned our attention to the adjacent states.
As an unintentional catalyst for mayhem, the M.Silver rep asked innocently, “Isn’t Lake Champlain in Vermont?”
An uproar quickly ensued. We replied defensively that the “Adirondack Coast” is collectively promoted from Plattsburgh south to Ticonderoga, despite the vast promotion of “Vermont’s Lake Champlain”. The evidence was stacked up with comments from every side of the table. “Vermont doesn’t own Lake Champlain, and WE produce maple syrup, too,” “Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point are on OUR side,” and the most convincing: “Everyone knows that Champ, the Lake Champlain monster, lives on the New York side of the lake.”
The conflict over our common asset, Lake Champlain, seems strangely appropriate as one of the most historically significant waterways in America, home to discoveries and events that shaped the Country. And fittingly, the conversation culminated in the proposed creation of a new event in which the Adirondacks wage a battle against Vermont to gain control of Lake Champlain – in tandem with the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
The mission of the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council is to promote the region collectively on behalf of the Counties, and our organization has long subscribed to a regional approach with respect to destination marketing. But this conversation banded us together in a different context, and there is a greater understanding that not just for Essex County’s Lake Placid, or Warren County’s Lake George, but for all of our region’s communities, our competitive advantage is to tie our destinations to the Adirondacks. After all, visitors don’t know when they’ve crossed a county line.
The meeting for me was enlightening and encouraging. In those moments when we were able to shout out our individual differentiators, I learned even more about the visitor experiences that the rest of the region offers.
And now I look forward to seeing what our Team Adirondack uniforms look like. We’ll need them for our war with Vermont.
Illustration: Lake Champlain-River Richelieu watershed. Courtesy Wikipedia.
Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism based in Lake Placid.
Mother Nature has handed us a smorgasbord of weather so far this winter, with wildly fluctuating temperatures and at least 14 types of precipitation. We haven’t got a contract with her; and I am confident that the usual blanket of snow will arrive just a little bit later than expected this year.
Of course, I’m no meteorologist; maybe it won’t. I’m not going to talk about climate change. It’s a fact; and though it might not completely eradicate what we now consider typical winter recreation in the Adirondacks for decades, these weather fluctuations WILL be a factor from now on.
As a tourism-dependent region, it is incumbent upon us to be flexible. In addition to having a wardrobe that consists of a variety of different weight jackets, business owners need to be nimble enough to switch modes quickly with respect to marketing.
My office has put this to the test.
I’ve had a “snow alert” email queued up for distribution for a couple of months now. It’s still there waiting for the moment we hear about that predicted nor’easter.
In promoting winter to the leisure travel market, our content and marketing strategy includes a schedule of prioritized topics and keywords for inclusion in emails, blogs, SEO releases and more. For winter, these topics include snowshoeing, alpine and nordic skiing, pond hockey, skating, tobogganing and other ways to play in the snow and ice throughout the region.
But this winter, we’ve had to adjust that schedule. Our original timeline called for a switch from highlighting alpine skiing in December to cross country/backcountry skiing in January. Due to the lack of snow on the backcountry AND groomed trails, we reverted to highlighting the promotion of alpine skiing again this month, as Whiteface Mountain was up and running, primarily with man-made snow.
Content changed on all fronts. Instead of writing a blog about snowshoeing, I recently wrote about the virtues of ice, and adventures in hiking with microspikes for these conditions.
This was prompted by conversations that I had with a couple of our local licensed guides. They reported to me that they had convinced some of their backcountry ski and snowshoe clients to keep their reservations, and have taken them out with microspikes or crampons for the icy trails. Flexibility saved the day; not to mention their projected income for the week.
If I had submitted an editorial (or advertorial) about snowshoeing to a print publication for distribution in January or February this winter, there would be no recourse. Inspired by the article, the potential visitor would inevitably be disappointed to learn upon further investigation that there isn’t enough snow. Instead, I have in my arsenal a toolbox full of flexible tools such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to nimbly post updated photos, to promote events and to monitor and respond to inquiries.
Over 90 percent of all travel research is conducted online. And now, social networks like Twitter and Facebook are filled with on site, in-person, real-time accounts from people who are already in the destinations that are being researched. With the prevalence of smart phone use, potential visitors are able to check the current weather in Colorado while walking down the streets of New York City. If there’s no snow, savvy travelers will know. Why not provide them with incentive to visit anyway?
Fortunately, the product that we have to offer, whether direct or indirect, serves as a very popular backdrop. We know that the primary driver of visitation to the region is the unique mix of mountains, lakes and rivers that comprise the Adirondacks, and the outdoor recreational activities that they offer.
If Mother Nature has taught us anything this winter, it is that there is an increased need for creativity and flexibility. If you can’t go snowshoeing, hike with crampons. If your customers are looking for a weekend getaway in the Adirondacks, offer them a creative experience they can’t resist, (and market it online, where they will find it!)
Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications for the Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism
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.
What does ‘Adirondacks’ mean to potential visitors?
There continues to be much discussion throughout the region centering around the topic of the Adirondack “brand”. As the destination marketing organization for a huge chunk of the Adirondacks, I thought we’d chime in, too. And we bring good news! There is clear evidence that “Adirondacks” does, indeed, mean something to potential visitors.
The basic premise of the various comments is that the Adirondacks need a consolidated brand to compete in the marketplace with established brand concepts like those that exist for Vermont and Maine.
We wholeheartedly agree. The word brand is an overused term and is usually confused in general discourse as being just a tagline. A brand is not a tagline. And tourism promotion doesn’t create brand. Rather, a brand is what your customers think it is. Your product’s brand promise must be based on customer input, and you must be able to deliver on that brand promise. (Disney World does not promote itself as “Sin City”, and Coca Cola doesn’t promote itself as a remedy for sleep deprivation, as they can’t deliver on those promises.) As such, a destination’s brand IS the visitors’ experience and perception of that experience.
But a consolidated brand for the Adirondacks is not as simple as that.
Why are all of Lake Placid’s businesses promoting themselves instead of just promoting Lake Placid? Why are all of the Adirondack towns and villages, from Lake George to Old Forge, promoting themselves instead of marketing the Adirondacks? (For that matter, why are the Thousand Islands, Adirondack and Finger Lakes regions promoting themselves instead of just marketing New York State?)
We say it all the time in promotional materials; “the Adirondack region is a patchwork of public and private land”. Economically, the region is also a patchwork of public municipalities and private businesses. And they all compete for market share – it’s the American free enterprise system. That’s not going to change.
If we, as marketers, “owned” everything inside the blue line, we could force everyone to adhere to the Adirondacks’ brand guidelines, and police all use of the approved logo and messaging that reflects the customer experience. But this isn’t Disney World. The Adirondack region as a whole is only treated as one entity from a regulatory standpoint; by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA). Otherwise, it is, indeed fragmented into separate delineations for counties, and various New York State agencies with multiple regions, including DEC, DOT, Parks and Recreation, ESD, etc. Each of the many agencies’ and municipalities’ jurisdictions are split into inconsistent, overlapping sizes and shapes within the region, including the lines that designate the I Love New York Adirondack Region for tourism promotion.
Yes, there is one entity that promotes the entire region. The Adirondack Regional Tourism Council (ARTC) is a consortium of seven counties that share resources to promote economic development through destination marketing. Each of the counties in the region pool their granted New York State I Love New York program funds, which are mandated to be used to market the Adirondacks collectively. The ARTC promotes the Adirondack Region as a destination with targeted campaigns in our feeder markets along the I87 and I90 corridors, driving leads generation through the region’s umbrella website, visitadirondacks.com, and toll free numbers.
And there’s evidence that the Adirondacks DOES mean something to potential visitors. We know from a Visitor/Market Opportunity Analysis that was conducted in 2008 that the Adirondack attributes – the unique mix of mountains and lakes and rivers, and the outdoor recreational activities they offer – are the primary driver of visitation to the region. And in a recent study conducted by Cornell University School of Hotel Administration for I Love New York that included a survey of consumers interested in traveling to New York State, respondents are more familiar with the tourism regions than with cities and counties. And, the Adirondacks ranked third in a list of 42 regions, cities and counties (behind New York City and Greater Niagara) as a location with which respondents are familiar.
That demonstrates pretty strong brand awareness.
Despite the market recognition, there remain barriers to success. Although we still can’t force every restaurant and tackle shop to adhere to one, coordinated Adirondack branding message, there is strength in numbers.
We should work toward diminishing the lines that splinter the region, so that the Adirondacks within the Blue Line are clearly defined by all state agencies as one region and that we recognize that environmental protection can increase economic vitality. If the current pieces that comprise the Adirondack region’s fragmented puzzle were one, complete picture, it would go a long way toward achieving a consolidated, cohesive approach to hamlet revitalization and sustainable tourism.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to promote our destinations as we have been; by promoting unique Adirondack experiences, and tying them all to the Adirondack name. Turns out, it means more than you might think.
FYI: If you haven’t seen the ARTC promotions, it’s because you’re not in our target market! View a sample 30-second TV spot on YouTube.
Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.
Fact: Google employees have mandatory snack time and a fleet of color-branded bicycles to get from building to building on their headquarters campus.
For two years in a row, my coworker and I have attended the eTourism Summit – a conference that brings travel industry experts together for presentations and networking to discuss cutting-edge online marketing issues and strategies – specifically for destinations. It’s a great opportunity to learn from, and with our peers from around the world, learning from experts on all things Internet, including representatives from the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn. This year, the conference began with a tour of Google headquarters – a rare chance (they don’t typically welcome groups) to see the work environment at the world’s largest search engine. We toured their pampered campus, and it was easy to see why their employees work 10-12-hour days. Sample of perks included in their salary: laundry service, beach volleyball courts, several fitness clubs (fully staffed with trainers), endless pools, a bowling alley, and regular visits from dignitaries like U.S. Presidents, Nobel prize winners and Lady Gaga, who was there a couple weeks before us. It is a world designed to encourage interaction, collaboration and creativity.
Our group was able to choose from any of the four gourmet, themed restaurants for lunch. We then were treated to an intimate presentation from Google’s travel team, complete with a panel of their experts for Q&A. Of course, they are privy to the ultimate Google Analytics; and took us through a few online travel research scenarios. There are tricks to influencing travelers, and as marketers, we must understand and capitalize on the search process, placing our destinations front and center at that “zero moment of truth”, when the traveler is on the cusp of making that booking decision.
As if we didn’t gain enough insight at the Google tour, we still had a couple days of information to absorb at the conference sessions. And this year, our very own VP of marketing, Carol Joannette, was chosen to be one of the esteemed presenters. As a relatively small Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) (there were many much larger in attendance, like Tourism Ireland, New Zealand and several U.S. States), it was quite an honor to be part of this mix of industry experts.
Carol was asked to present because we had recently launched our flagship destination’s brand new mobile web site: m.lakeplacid.com – and it was developed using HTML5. The panel discussion included the decision to launch a mobile site in general, implications of coding formats and mobile apps for destinations. By the end, Carol was signing autographs. (OK, she was distributing her business card- but that’s similar.)
What is a mobile site? Why develop a whole different interface for lakeplacid.com just for cell phone users?
First, mobile phones – or the kind specifically called SmartPhones (iPhone, Droid and the like) are becoming increasingly prevalent, and are dramatically changing the way that people access information.
Here are some stats: 35% of all cell phones currently in use are SmartPhones. 50.4% of new cell phones bought are SmartPhones. Of all U.S. Internet traffic, 4.5% is accessed by cell phone.
In the U.S., 8.4% of mobile cell phone browser activity is travel service (UP 42% from July 2010), and the number 1 browser activity is search at 44.6%, which underscores the need for search engine optimization in the mobile sector as well as desktop.
Why did we decide to invest in a mobile site? As an accredited DMO, everything we do is informed by research and statistics analysis. We carefully monitor analytics for all of our destination websites. And, we have seen a dramatic increase in mobile access to lakeplacid.com. A mobile phone, of course, has a smaller display area, so it is important to provide a page specifically designed for that small display, with simple navigation buttons to provide the most sought-out information with as few clicks as possible.
The new mobile site automatically loads on mobile devices that access lakeplacid.com. And as our site was designed in HTML5, the site loads consistently on any platform, whether it is an iPhone, Droid or Blackberry, etc. Alternatively, our coders (at local agency Adworkshop) would have to write code for every type of platform, and to update that code as new technology inevitably arrives in the marketplace. So the choice of HTML5 coding language represents a huge cost and time savings.
The mobile site looks a lot different than the browser interface for the desktop-accessed lakeplacid.com. There are quick links to Do, Events, Dining, Shopping, Contact, and Stay, with icons to easily call or email us with one click. And, users have easy access to all photo listings in our database.
Here’s an example: our staff has been diligently updating the hiking trails in our database, complete with descriptions and photos. When the mobile user clicks on Do, then selects Hiking, they are presented with a list of hikes and details, and can select “map this” to get directions from where they are standing directly to the trailhead.
We will continue to update the mobile sub-navigation topics based on the information for which our visitors are searching, and enhancing our database to ensure that we provide the most comprehensive content.
How’s the site traffic so far? The m.lakeplacid.com mobile site was launched on September 8, 2011. To date, mobile access currently represents about 9 percent of our overall site visits. And where are users accessing the mobile site from, geographically? The largest concentrations are in New York City, Boston, Washington D.C. Toronto, Philadelphia, Ottawa and Montreal. That’s good news – we’re providing a convenient access to our destination resources to mobile web surfers in important rubber-tire feeder markets!
The Internet is an ideal marketing mechanism – especially for the travel industry. It is imperative that we remain engaged in learning and implementing strategies to leverage the ever-changing online marketing landscape. I know that my communications priorities have completely changed over the past few years from traditional media engagement to online content development, and from what we’ve learned by “going mobile”, that’s the only strategy that will allow our destinations to compete.
Still, it might not hurt to get our own fleet of Lake Placid, Adirondacks USA bikes and fuel up on mandatory snacks.
Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications for the Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.