Events: Drive visitation and support brand image

Communities and resorts, particularly those that have high and low seasons, are often looking for a strategy to drive occupancy and create an exciting attractive atmosphere for visitors. Festivals and events have the power to both attract crowds and build brand image for a destination. One great example of a community that uses festivals and events to drive off-season business is Whistler. Have a look at the Whistler events calendar; you will see that there is something happening almost every weekend through the spring, summer, and fall. These types of events may not necessarily work for every destination.

The choice of which events to bring to a community are often politically based (Chalip, Green & Hill, 2003, p. 214). Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) are often involved in planning events in their communities to help promote tourism in otherwise flat or slower tourism seasons. Sports tourism and sports event are the biggest drivers of tourism worldwide (Pike, 2008, p. 111). Getz (2003) suggests that sport event tourism is the biggest and most profitable niche in the sport tourism industry. While sport events are a major attraction, cultural or celebratory events also have the ability to generate visitations to a destination (Pike, 2008, p. 111-112). The potential for an event to attract a crowd is an important factor, the media attention’s impact on developing a destination image could be more important than actual visitor spending (Getz, 2003, p. 51). Therefore the image portrayed by the event in question should match the desired image of the destination (Chalip, Green & Hill, 2003, p.228); and the event choice should be influenced by the image desired by the DMO and local community.

Participatory events have become increasingly popular and effective at driving visitation. For example, a Tough Mudder event in the Callaghan Valley’s Whistler Olympic Park attracted 25,000 people in 2013. With participatory events, visitors are more likely to tell their stories on social media, further promoting the destination’s brand image.

To determine what types of events are appropriate in a community, we use a combination of market research (including psychographics) and public engagement. This allows us to make sure that the event image aligns with the destination’s brand image. We also evaluate the destination’s capacity to support the desired events and festivals. There may even be opportunities to run different events simultaneously to capture different market segments.





Technology, Stories, and Co-Developed Experiences

Trends in innovation and destination development are emerging in some leading-edge research coming out of Europe.  A couple of examples include ‘Storytelling and Destination Development’ from Nordic Innovation and ‘Conceptualising technology enhanced destination experiences’ by Professors Buhalis, Neuhofer, and Ladkin of Bournemouth University in the UK.

While coming from different perspectives, these research examples highlight some key indicators for the sustainability of destinations and DMO’s.  First, the development of a strategic and collaborative ‘storytelling framework’ may assist stakeholders and partners in a tourism network to engage in more efficient promotional initiatives in a concerted fashion.  Essentially, by agreeing on a suitable ‘theme’ or regional story-line, tourism marketers may present a united front and common messaging to build a unique brand impression of a region and, hopefully, create an emotional connection with tourists.  While marketing toolkits exist to facilitate this approach, a storytelling framework may more effectively draw out unique messages and stories from tourism operators and their visitors.

Supporting this, Buhalis and Zorge suggest that “(a) tourists are co-creating their own experiences, and (b) technology can be used to co-create enhanced experiences.”  Expanding on the story-telling concept, the use of mobile and social media vehicles delivered through a reciprocal story-telling communications framework by DMO’s may create collaborative ownership of messaging between tourists and their destinations. Buhalis and Zorge further state “The successful destination of the future will therefore be the one that strategically and effectively integrates ICTs in all structures, communications and interactions to dynamically cocreate technology enhanced destination experiences with tourists in all travel stages”.  A North American example of an initiative moving in this direction comes from the Canadian Tourism Commission:  Engaging in collaborative, symbiotic story-telling exercises with tourists may assist DMO’s in differentiating their destinations in an increasingly hyper-competitive global marketplace.



Destination Marketing, Management, and Skills Training

The British Columbia Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training made a couple of noteworthy announcements this week. First (and possibly the most interesting and potentially controversial), is the re-branding and re-launch of Tourism BC as ‘Destination BC’  with a primary focus on destination marketing. Significantly, there was little, if any mention of ‘destination management’ in the release or any of the media coverage. This omission is important to recognize, as you can expend vast quantities on marketing initiatives which may have relatively marginal impact if the products and services you are promoting are not sufficiently developed and managed to meet the needs of a hyper-competitive international marketplace. Second, the Ministry highlighted investments in skills training for the tourism sector…this is an integral piece of the ‘destination management’ pie which should be integral to any destination development strategy. In 2011, I was involved in a BC regional tourism/hospitality skills training, capacity-building project which focused on essential skills and customer service training. In a brief that I recently produced, I have highlighted some of the issues, challenges, and strategies that should be considered for tourism/hospitality employers to attract and retain employees, improve employee morale and productivity , and enhance overall organizational performance.

Benefits of Customer Service Training – LeftCoastInsights Nov 2012.pdf

Ray Freeman

Hurricane Sandy and DMO Communications Preparedness

Watching the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on the Eastern Seaboard got me to thinking about strategies for preparation and  the responses to disasters from DMO’s.  I dug up an unpublished paper that I wrote prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics on the topic of PR and disaster communications, with examples from mega-events, disasters and other relevant scenarios; including, PR issues, natural disasters, cross-border health crises, and terrorism events.  I will watch with interest to see how New York and other communities in the areas affected by this disaster respond…how well prepared were they prior to this event and how will they manage the rebuilding of their destination image?  What lessons did they learn from the Sept. 11th 2001 terrorism attacks and how will they apply those lessons to Hurricane Sandy?

Ray Freeman

DMO Strategic Decision Disaster Marketing.pdf