Musings from ESTO

Greetings!  Nope, I am not literally in Florida; however having just returned from a week attending the ESTO conference in the sunshine state,  my mind is still in Florida.   But instead of that usual heat-induced lethargic “Florida state-of-mind”,  I’m buzzing from having basked in the collective wisdom of 500 peers at the “premier learning and knowledge-sharing forum” for U.S. destination marketing professionals.

Thoughts// The conference began with full day sessions of the NCSTD Professional Development Sections; most significantly, the marketing session included a follow up discussion on the development of an “engagement matrix” to be used by state tourism agencies (More on this in the next post).

The engagement discussion was simply the opening salvo in a conference filled with inspiring and compelling stories about how destinations are marketing themselves.   Highlights include:

Guerrilla Marketing: This round-table discussion forum featured several destinations discussing the use of quirky and unusual tactics to build brand visibility.  Highlights included:

  • Bucks County, PA – GW for President:  Jumping on the fervor of the 2008 Presidential campaign, Bucks County recently launched a fun and irreverent YouTube campaign that showcases the efforts of George Washington to take on Obama and McCain as a third viable candidate for the White House;  the video series consists of four episodes and has so far generated over 3000 views (see the entire video series here).  Acknowledging the challenges faced by CVB’s in justifying such tactics to their boards, David from Bucks County implored the attendees to ease the barriers of adoption by:  1) constantly educating boards about emerging marketing tactics, 2) defining goals & outcomes prior to launch, & 3) allocating a percentage of the budget up front for “insurgent” efforts.
  • Ashville, NC – 5-Day Weekend:  The infamous 5-day weekend campaign was chronicled by Kelly Miller, the Director of the Ashville CVB;  the campaign was aimed at promoting Ashville as the perfect place to use up those unused vacation days.  What started off as an “underground movement” included a specialized campaign site, blog, various social media hooks, rallies in Charlotte and Atlanta and of course countless media stories chronicling the “movement”.

Are You Talking to Them?: This panel discussion cast an interesting spotlight into how destinations of all sizes are incorporating social media into their marketing mix.  The featured panelists were:

  • Caroline Bean, – Caroline talked about the opportunities (relationship cultivator, low cost tool) and challenges (time investment, sustaining the effort/funding) facing Philadelphia tourism’s blog designed to tell the Philly story from the “inside out”.  Featuring blogs by residents on a host of topics including dining, nightlife and the arts, the blog is most definitely my “gold standard” for obvious reasons:  multiple contributors, authentic stories, and 6-8 posts a day!
  • Will Seccombe, Will talked at length about the new Florida site (you can read our review here and here) and social elements within it.  Not surprisingly, Will noted that Florida is actively looking at site engagement (time on site, visitor comments, bounce rate) as a success metric.
  • Jeremy Harvey, VisitLoudoun:  In a sign that social space isn’t just the playground of large states and cities, Jeremy from Loudoun County (located just outside DC) talked about how his agency is enthusiastically supporting the notion of a “conversation” with consumers.  The agency is posting videos on sharing sites and allowing consumers to rate and write reviews on the official CVB site.  Most importantly, I was very impressed by the preemptive ground work done to prepare tourism industry partners (many of them small mom-and-pops operations) prior to these efforts.  The prep work included hosting workshops on the basics of social media and meticulous details such as providing partners with talking points on how to respond to negative reviews and other user commentary.

Measuring New Media: One of the final panels of the conference once again focused on measuring social media and how organizations can show ROI from its efforts in the space.

  • My friend from Travel Portland Brian White highlighted recently launched GoSeePortland (GSP) and talked about how the site is providing both residents and visitors a platform to share stories about where to go and what to do in the city.  While the site is relatively new, Brian was able to tie traffic peaks on the site to specific activities such as e-mail campaigns and promotions from the site and also show how the activity of users can differ depending on where their point of entry (e.g. users coming from the TravelPortland home tend to be browsers versus joiners).
  • Richard Bonds of talked about the agency’s broader social footprint and their engagement with users on YouTube, Flickr, MySpace & Facebook.  He urged DMO’s to think about their entire web presence and not simply look at their website as a “walled garden” (be sure to read our blog about “How to Protect Your Social Media Footprint“).
  • Gregory Pierce from the Atlanta CVB outlined the city’s efforts in the space via its social networking site ATLInsider; the site has been live for a few years now and has garnered a mind-boggling 195,000 registered members!  Most noteworthy is that the CVB conducts a “conversion” study on its registered members and finds that 35% of members take a trip after having visited the site.

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.