DI Live With Amelia Ritter and Ray Hoyt
In this special episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast, Adam takes the show on the road to the Destinations International Annual Convention in Baltimore, Maryland. He is joined by Amelia Ritter, Digital Marketing and Content Manager at Livingston County, as well as Ray Hoyt, President of Visit Tulsa. Listen to hear how Ray was able to pioneer a change in the Tulsa tourism sector and how Amelia was able to engage stakeholders during her destination's recent website overhaul.
“Start with the stakeholder. Reach out and be transparent about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. You’re not in it to make the CVB look better. You’re in it to make those stakeholders look better.” -Amelia Ritter
“Start with your business community. Start with the big employers because they have a lot to say and they’ve already invested in the community. If you can help them change their perspective of the destination, they’re going to spend that money because it always costs more to replace somebody than to keep somebody.” - Ray Hoyt
Meet our Host and Guest(s)
- Name: Adam Stoker
- Position: Co-founder and CEO of Relic
- Favorite Destination: Fiji
- Dream Destination: New Zealand
- Name: Amelia Ritter
- Position: Digital Marketing and Content Manager at Livingston County Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Name: Ray Hoyt
- Position: President of Tulsa Regional Tourism
“DI Live With Amelia Ritter and Ray Hoyt” – Show Notes and Highlights
- The pandemic has forced Livingston County to shift its focus to residents. Making them the ambassadors of the destination.
- Storytelling using the county’s talent to sell the destination will be something permanent that will not go away even after the pandemic.
- Collaboration is a big thing and had seen increased social media engagement and partnership with stakeholders.
- Amelia points out to start with the stakeholders, reach out and be super transparent with them about what you’re doing in the destination to make them look better.
- Tulsa is the oil capital of the world.
- Tulsa is one of the first cities credited to promote film and music.
- Music now is a very vibrant part of Tulsa’s culture.
- Tulsa realizes they need to convince the community it was going to be safe before they could ever convince a visitor.
- Tulsa’s branding work is one of the best examples of market gathering.
- Ray advises DMOs who are trying to change their destination perception to start with the business community and big employers because they have a lot to say. They become partners way faster.
Resources Mentioned in the Podcast
Adam Stoker: [0:00:00] Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Adam Stoker and we are here in person at Destinations International. We’ve taken the show on the road and we’ve got a great guest to kick off our line up here at Destinations International. Her name is Amelia Ritter. Amelia welcome to the show.
Amelia Ritter: [00:00:20] Thank you so much for having me.
Adam Stoker: [00:00:22] Well we’re excited to have you on. You and I came very close to recording an episode about a year and a half ago before it all fell apart.
Amelia Ritter: [00:00:28] Yes.
Adam Stoker: [00:00:29] I’m glad we’re finally circling back.
Amelia Ritter: [00:00:31] Yes, me too. I am so much more fun in person and in Baltimore.
Adam Stoker: [00:00:33] It is. I wish I could do more of these in person. Baltimore is surprisingly hot.
Amelia Ritter: [00:00:39] Yes. It’s very humid.
Adam Stoker: [00:00:41] I was expecting, oh, it’ll be nice and it won’t be super hot but I think we’ve got a hot week here.
Amelia Ritter: [00:00:47] Yeah. That’s why we’re going to stay hydrated.
Adam Stoker: [00:00:49] Yeah, we better. Okay, Amelia, I know there’s a unique fact about you and I want to make sure that we talk about it. You are a mac and cheese aficionado.
Amelia Ritter: [00:00:58] I am.
Adam Stoker: [00:00:59] Tell me a little bit about your love of mac and cheese.
Amelia Ritter: [00:01:03] It’s just my favorite food. I like to tie it into what I’m doing. When I’m talking to my event planners, I made a whole video for them, showing them how to submit an event to our website and the event that I always go to is a Mac and Cheese Festival that does not exist within Livingston County, but maybe one day I will take charge and plan it.
Adam Stoker: [00:01:22] Yeah. This sounds like it needs to happen.
Amelia Ritter: [00:01:25] It does.
Adam Stoker: [00:01:26] It sounds like we need a Mac and Cheese Festival somewhere in the world. Why not Livingston County?
Amelia Ritter: [00:01:28] I am the host of it. It is my fake business, which I call the Mac and Cheese Castle.
Adam Stoker: [00:01:33] That’s great. If I remember it, you’ve got a piece of content that’s coming out soon.
Amelia Ritter: [00:01:38] Yes.
Adam Stoker: [00:01:39] About mac and cheese. Tell me about that piece of content.
Amelia Ritter: [00:01:42] Well, as we record this, it is National Mac and Cheese Day. I wrote a blog for our website as I do with many food items for the best mac and cheese in the county but I didn’t want to write this one with the bureau voice. I needed this to be my voice because it’s close to my heart. It is a guest blog from me.
Adam Stoker: [00:02:00] If people out there have questions about mac and cheese, how would you feel about them reaching out to you and asking you about your expertise?
Amelia Ritter: [00:02:08] Absolutely, reach out to me. I can give you my personal phone number day or night. Just give me a call.
Adam Stoker: [00:02:12] Awesome. Okay, well Amelia, tell us your role and what destination you’re with.
Amelia Ritter: [00:02:19] I am with the Livingston County Convention and Visitors Bureau, sometimes Brighton Howell Area, a suburb of Detroit and I am the Digital Marketing and Content Manager there.
Adam Stoker: [00:02:31] Digital Marketing and Content Manager. Okay, perfect. Let’s talk first before we dive into all the details of what you do. Why don’t we start with your dream destination? You’ve listened to the show so you knew these questions are coming. If you could go anywhere in the world, Amelia, where would it be?
Amelia Ritter: [00:02:48] My answer the first time when I was preparing for our interview, I really have always wanted to go to the Badlands National Park in South Dakota and just being in a wide-open space and see it. Since COVID and all the time that I’ve spent scrolling TikTok, I’ve seen a lot of people in Greece and I’m like, okay, maybe I can dream just a little bigger and get to Greece one day.
Adam Stoker: [00:03:15] Those are two really good answers.
Amelia Ritter: [00:03:16] Yes.
Adam Stoker: [00:03:17] The Badlands is actually the first time someone has said that on the show, which is cool. It’s a unique place. I’m going to ask you about that. There are lots of national parks, outdoor destinations. What is it that stands out for you with the Badlands that makes you want to visit?
Amelia Ritter: [00:03:33] I like buffalo.
Adam Stoker: [00:03:34] You like buffalo.
Amelia Ritter: [00:03:35] I just want to see some buffalo. It’s a place I’ve never been before.
Adam Stoker: [00:03:39] Okay. Awesome. How about Greece? You said you kind of got your mind swayed a little bit over the last year and a half scrolling on TikTok. What is it about Greece that makes you want to visit?
Amelia Ritter: [00:03:50] You see that blue water that just doesn’t even look like it can be a real place and all the architecture of the food. It just seems like a really awesome place to go.
Adam Stoker: [00:03:59] Cool. All right Greece and the Badlands, two very different destinations. Let’s talk about your favorite trip you’ve ever been on.
Amelia Ritter: [00:04:08] Growing up in Salt Lake City, it’s awesome to grow up out west because you’re so close to all of those parks, you have everything at your fingertips. I loved taking trips with my parents where we would hit up multiple places in one road trip through Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Adam Stoker: [00:04:25] Awesome. Family trips, did you take an RV, or were you going to stay in a hotel?
Amelia Ritter: [00:04:29] We just pack in a station wagon and made our way.
Adam Stoker: [00:04:32] In classic Salt Lake City family fashion.
Amelia Ritter: [00:04:34] Yes.
Adam Stoker: [00:04:36] Well, that’s an interesting similarity there is that you spent some time in Salt Lake. Tell us how that happened. How did you go from and I think it was Michigan to Salt Lake and then back to Michigan. Right?
Amelia Ritter: [00:04:47] Yeah. I was born in Michigan and spent the first five years of my life there. My dad is a minister and moved the family over to Salt Lake City. We spent about 10 years there. It is a really awesome place to spend those formative childhood years and again go on all those trips and be close to things, spend every Thanksgiving at Park City, and then we headed back to Michigan where we have some extended family and that’s where we’ve been in Southeast Michigan.
Adam Stoker: [00:05:12] Awesome. Okay. Great. Well now let’s talk tourism. How did you end up as the Digital Marketing and Content Manager at Livingston County?
Amelia Ritter: [00:05:22] I was working with municipal government, still marketing a destination, especially those awesome downtown areas but it was also like, hey, someone hit a light bulb. I was like, “You know that stuff I just don’t care as much about. I just want to sell the destination. I want to provide experiences for people and promote these awesome shopping and dining experiences that we have.” I was just on Indeed one day scrolling and I found this position. I didn’t know what a CVB was and the rest is history.
Adam Stoker: [00:05:51] That’s great. You were kind of sick of all the other stuff that you had to deal with. You got into the destination founded on Indeed. What an interesting way to get in.
Amelia Ritter: [00:06:04] Yeah, that’s the first I heard of it where I actually actively went and learned what a CVB was. I had obviously heard of things and I’ve always just been very into the cheesy tourist stuff. I had requested visitor’s guides before. I had been to Visitor Centers and just not realizing, “Oh, this is a job. This is a whole industry.”
Adam Stoker: [00:06:21] Yeah. Awesome. Okay. For three years you’ve been doing this and you had basically half in the pandemic and half out of the pandemic.
Amelia Ritter: [00:06:30] Yeah, pretty much.
Adam Stoker: [00:06:31] What has that experience been like?
Amelia Ritter: [00:06:33] It has really forced us to shift our focus to our residents. It was already there because we are such a small destination. We are a destination where many residents don’t realize that they even have a CVB. They think of that as Detroit, Chicago, and these other places. We really had to hone in on that Destinations International method of a community shared value and get them to be ambassadors. Once we were able to safely welcome visitors back, our residents were ambassadors for us.
Adam Stoker: [00:07:06] Okay. All right. I like that. With that newfound stakeholder engagement that you guys have focused on, what came out of that, that you feel like it’s going to be permanent. A lot of people have a tendency that they’ll start something new, they’ll do something cool and then when everything goes back to normal, they go back to what they were doing before. What’s permanent that you’ve changed coming out of COVID?
Amelia Ritter: [00:07:28] I think it’s fun. We have a blog on our site that a lot of times I focused on like, “Okay, how can I get influencers? How can I get Detroit bloggers and all of these people?” but bringing it into the county and focusing on the county’s talent to help us sell is a lot of fun and I don’t want to start discounting the residents just now that things are picking up. I want to have them still be a part of the storytelling.
Adam Stoker: [00:07:48] Okay, so that’s going to be something permanent that doesn’t go away. That’s good.
Amelia Ritter: [00:07:52] Absolutely.
Adam Stoker: [00:07:53] I think the kind of resurgence of stakeholder engagement that’s happened through COVID might be one of the biggest benefits to come out of a crisis.
Amelia Ritter: [00:08:01] Yeah. For us and for them.
Adam Stoker: [00:08:02] Yeah. Absolutely. Okay. What are you looking forward to the most here at Destinations International? What are you hoping to get out of the conference?
Amelia Ritter: [00:08:11] I was really excited to meet my fellow 30 under 30 class for 2020.
Adam Stoker: [00:08:17] Oh, congrats on that by the way.
Amelia Ritter: [00:08:19] Thank you so much. I think we almost locked out more. We were bummed obviously to not be able to meet in person last year, but we’ve been meeting on Zoom at least once a month. I walked into the hotel and knew a bunch of people already.
Adam Stoker: [00:08:32] That’s great.
Amelia Ritter: [00:08:33] For anxious little Amelia, that was awesome.
Adam Stoker: [00:08:36] Well great. Congrats.
Amelia Ritter: [00:08:37] Thank you.
Adam Stoker: [00:08:38] That’s a pretty unique honor to have and obviously that demonstrates some of the work you’re doing and that goes back to your over Digital Marketing and Content. Tell me some of the successes that you’ve had. What are some of the activities that you did that turned into, “Okay now, Amelia is part of the 30 under 30,” because that’s huge?
Amelia Ritter: [00:08:58] Yeah. I love most of our collaborations with other Visitors Bureaus around the state. We did most recently for National Travel and Tourism Week a Michigan statewide scavenger hunt.
Adam Stoker: [00:09:09] Okay.
Amelia Ritter: [00:09:10] Hiding things and gift cards from other CVBs around the state to get people to start traveling at least within the state again. Finding things like that where we can really focus on that collaboration is my favorite because we have so much talent in the state.
Adam Stoker: [00:09:26] Having to put something like that together, like a scavenger hunt together with other destinations. It might sound easy, but I’m sure it was a lot of work to coordinate. Was it challenging to get everybody on the same page?
Amelia Ritter: [00:09:38] Well, the biggest shout out for that has to go to Christie from Frankenmuth because she was the one who was doing a lot of that coordination. We were working together, I wrote a blog post for it and some social media packaging, but it’s hard because you want to make sure it’s worth everyone’s while.
Adam Stoker: [00:09:53] Yeah. Okay. What were kind of the results that you saw from that collaboration? What kind of participation did you see in that scavenger hunt event?
Amelia Ritter: [00:10:02] It was fun to see the increased social media engagement of people commenting, like, “Wait, I know where this one is. It’s hidden. Did anyone find it yet?” It got people not only talking and great engagement for us but talking to each other.
Adam Stoker: [00:10:14] Okay. Awesome. Tell me another success that you guys have had that you’d like to share with us.
Amelia Ritter: [00:10:21] When I started at the bureau three years ago, our website was six pages. We had like dining, golf, and homepage, not a lot of stuff there. We now have this really sophisticated WordPress site with a page for every member over 120 blogs constantly adding to it, and it’s now really easy and customizable. It’s great for us. It’s easy for us, but it’s really nice for all of those partners to each have their own page.
Adam Stoker: [00:10:46] That was a lot of content for you to oversee, right?
Amelia Ritter: [00:10:49] It’s a lot.
Adam Stoker: [00:10:50] — to get that done.
Amelia Ritter: [00:10:51] Yeah.
Adam Stoker: [00:10:52] What was that process like because it’s such a challenge. Website copy is one of the hardest things to do. What was it that you guys went through to be able to go from a six-page website to a really robust site that you have now?
Amelia Ritter: [00:11:06] Well even before COVID, it was a lot of Zoom meetings with our developers, so we were Zoom experts, but it was going through and learning more about each partner individually, contacting them if, “Hey, you don’t really have an About Section on your website. No one really knows what this is.” Working with them and writing something new. We could all be on the same page with that.
Adam Stoker: [00:11:26] Okay. Awesome. If another destination is going to go through what you just went through of taking the site from may be smaller than it should be, less content-rich than it should be to really have a robust amount of content available, what advice would you give them as they’re going to go through that type of a process?
Amelia Ritter: [00:11:48] I would say if you can visit them in person, go visit them. If not, design some type of postcard or some type of way to reach out to them and say like this is what we’re doing. We want the most beautiful photos you have. If you don’t have them, make a plan to get some photos taken and to get some copy written because we want you to look your best. This is really for them.
Adam Stoker: [00:12:08] Yeah. You’re facilitating that for the stakeholders and destinations that are listening. Start with the stakeholders. Is that maybe the advice?
Amelia Ritter: [00:12:17] Start with the stakeholder and reach out and be super transparent with them about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it because you’re not in it to make the CVB look better. You’re in it to make those stakeholders look better.
Adam Stoker: [00:12:26] Right. Okay. Great advice. What’s next? What’s next for Livingston County?
Amelia Ritter: [00:12:30] We are working on a rebrand.
Adam Stoker: [00:12:33] Oh congrats.
Amelia Ritter: [00:12:34] Thank you. We are working with Don Anderson from Destination Consulting and we’re really excited about that. It is just kind of freshening things up and seeing where we can go from here.
Adam Stoker: [00:12:44] When can we expect to see the new brand?
Amelia Ritter: [00:12:47] Hopefully in the next couple of months here, but we’ll see, I don’t know. It was a pre-COVID project as well.
Adam Stoker: [00:12:52] Nice.
Amelia Ritter: [00:12:53] The timeline has become a bit arbitrary and that’s a good thing, I think it helps everyone to loosen up a little bit.
Adam Stoker: [00:12:58] Yeah. Okay. Good stuff. We’ll watch for that rebrand. Let’s boil it down to your main advice for anybody that’s listening.
Amelia Ritter: [00:13:05] My main advice for anyone who is listening. Just continue to reach out like form those relationships with the stakeholders because a lot of them don’t. They don’t know. They don’t know that, oh shoot my Facebook hours are different than my Google hours, and are different than this and just be patient with them. Let them know who you are and why you’re there to help them and formulate that trust with them.
Adam Stoker: [00:13:26] Yeah. For me, the overarching theme of this conversation’s collaboration, you’re working more with the stakeholders, more with other destinations, working with your 30 under 30 participants.
Amelia Ritter: [00:13:35] Yeah.
Adam Stoker: [00:13:36] Collaboration is a big thing for you and I think it’s a big part of why you’ve been able to be successful. Congratulations again on the 30 under 30.
Amelia Ritter: [00:13:43] Thank you so much.
Adam Stoker: [00:13:46] Well Amelia, thanks so much for sitting down with us for a few minutes. It’s going to be a fun conference and I appreciate you kicking off our lineup here today.
Amelia Ritter: [00:13:52] Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.
Adam Stoker: [00:13:54] Absolutely.
[00:13:56] Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the Destination Marketing podcast. We are here in Baltimore at Destinations International. It’s nice to be doing this in person. We’ve got Ray Hoyt, who is the president and CEO of Visit Tulsa. Ray, welcome.
Ray Hoyt: [00:14:11] Thank you, Adam. Glad to be here. This is my second trip this year already and I’m excited to be seeing people without masks on and traveling.
Adam Stoker: [00:14:19] It’s refreshing.
Ray Hoyt: [00:14:21] It is. We have to learn how to — we have to learn how to walk and pack again and actually talk to people but yeah we are figuring it out.
Adam Stoker: [00:14:28] Nice. Yeah. I’ve had some awkward like half handshake, half hug type situation where you don’t know what to do, but we’re getting through it.
Ray Hoyt: [00:14:35] Yeah. Absolutely. The same thing, I’ve kind of like reached out and it’s just been, “Oh yeah.” We will figure it out.
Adam Stoker: [00:14:41] Right. I appreciate you coming on. I love Tulsa. I go to Tulsa every year. I’ve got family.
Ray Hoyt: [00:14:45] You say that again?
Adam Stoker: [00:14:47] I love Tulsa. I go out and visit.
Ray Hoyt: [00:14:50] I didn’t pay him for that.
Adam Stoker: [00:14:51] That’s right. That was free. Maybe we should charge you there. Ray. No. I’ve got a good friend there in Tulsa who works in your office. His name is Brian Williams. He has been on our show. He did a great job on our show and I’ve learned a lot about Tulsa. I’m excited to have you on to talk a little bit about it today.
Ray Hoyt: [00:15:08] Thank you. Well, Brian, he’s a rock star for us. He’s one of those folks who is just all in. He helps us make great business decisions. I think everybody especially my role, need people like Brian.
Adam Stoker: [00:15:21] Every organization needs people like Brian. Right?
Ray Hoyt: [00:15:24] True.
Adam Stoker: [00:15:25] Well Ray, let’s talk about Tulsa because you’ve been working really hard over the last 10… 12 years or so to completely change the perception of the destination and that is never an easy task. I feel like Tulsa might be one of the biggest success stories of being able to make that change that I’ve seen. Would you mind walking through the changes that you’ve made? How you made them happen? It might be kind of a long answer, but I’ll ask you questions along the way.
Ray Hoyt: [00:15:56] Sure. I’ll try and be brief. I joined Tulsa almost 11 years ago, but I think the community it’s had some amazing history. Right? Oil capital of the world and it’s been through this Renaissance. I think it just kind of lost its footing in the 70s when the oil industry abandoned it and went south to Houston. I think the community started to think about, is this where we’re really going to be and stay. I got there. One of the things when I got there, tourism was not front of mind for people. Like I said earlier, I think we had a little bit of Rodney Dangerfield mentality is, no respect and not a lot of civic pride but I think that started to change. I was talking to the CEOs and the big corporations. I think that’s one of the things we all miss sometimes is advocacy is as critical as making the sale for an inbound person. We changed our board makeup and put a lot of CEOs on our board. We had to do some convincing because I really felt like it was like, is that really worth my time? We have a strong chamber there in economic development.
The problem is these companies started to realize that no matter if they move someplace, they’re always going to get water and dirt. They’re going to get those infrastructure things. If they can’t retain or recruit the workforce and be successful, then a lot of times they’ll go someplace else that has a quality of life, sense of place, and community pride. We start talking to CEOs instead of trying to sell them on tourism because they didn’t get it. We started asking them, “What are the challenges for you as a company based here? We’re trying to grow here.” We found out it was the same thing. Workforce retention, recruitment and the fact that they were hearing a lot of their employees were leaving for the weekend because there was nothing to do in Tulsa. We have Dallas to the south and Kansas City to the north and direct flights to spot anywhere.
We started saying, what if we can change that narrative? What if we can do those things that people are going someplace else to do like music? Tulsa has a rich music history. We really started focusing on our film and music off us, driving our local music and raising it up to the community into the nation. Then we started really focusing on a brand new arena that probably was under-utilized early and it’s got built 12 years ago. We started talking about what if we do these things. The community and the CEOs were like, “Can you do that? Can you get that here?” We started saying, well, sure we can if you’ll help.
In that kind of transition, we wanted to change the sense of place of Tulsa and started recruiting and attracting events, so then people would stay home for the weekend. Right? Instead of exporting all of our tax money we want to keep it in Tulsa or in the region.
Adam Stoker: [00:18:29] Let me ask you a quick question there.
Ray Hoyt: [00:18:30] Sure.
Adam Stoker: [00:18:31] I really think this is a fascinating case study in how to create alignment. There are a lot of destinations that lead with their story as well we need this from our stakeholders. We need that from our stakeholders. Your approach was what do you need? Then you demonstrate to them how it shoehorned into the tourism initiative. I think that is a kind of a paradigm shift that a lot of our listeners will need to think about. If I want to create alignment with somebody, it starts with their needs because otherwise, they’re not going to take the time to learn why they should care about my needs.
Ray Hoyt: [00:19:04] Right. Again, we have corporations. The last campaign we just ran was called Momentum and it ends in 23. The private corporations, community foundations, and some hotels, that fund will be over $22 million. A lot of times these CEOs will sit down with other investors and with other new people and say, “This is why I’m doing this. This is why I’m investing in tourism because this is how it changes and improves my business.” I think one of the coolest things was when we started talking about the things we could do. We had a lot of assets like great lakes and fisheries. One of our first big guests was the NCAA Basketball Tournament, which we hadn’t hosted in 17 years, but then we got the Bassmaster Classic. Literally, I told you earlier, one of my board members said I was crazy as blank, right that we could get that. I said, “But if we don’t ask, we’ll never get it.”
Sure enough, we got the Bassmaster Classic then the NCAA started coming back. Then we got the big 12 Wrestling championships. We started building this cred in the market not just in tourism but also in sports. Our investors went from, the first campaign was $3 million and our last campaign for five years with $8.2 million. It was private investment money that just said go. Go invest in tourism and sports and use this money to do that. I think that now we have 71 investors. Right? It still grows all the time.
Adam Stoker: [00:20:26] Wow.
Ray Hoyt: [0:20:28] I think there are times when we find things of interest to large employers or to groups, we go to them and they become immediate partners. I can tell you the foundations of instrumental and public money. We passed a huge bond four years ago and in that project list, we got the USA BMX National Headquarters building, a $22 million building. Everybody thought we’d never get that. It was funny we call that Humpty Dumpty because we had put together an RFP for them four times and it fell off the wall. It wasn’t shattered in pieces. Finally, we end up and won the bid. Sure enough, they opened up this December. It’s the largest indoor BMX track in North America. Now we’re getting other sports who are coming to us and like how can we partner with BMX and with you. You’ve got the Gathering Place, which is the largest, privately funded public park, $400 million park.
Adam Stoker: [00:21:20] Amazing attraction.
Ray Hoyt: [00:21:22] You’ve been there.
Adam Stoker: [00:21:23] The kids love it.
Ray Hoyt: [00:21:24] Hey, I run through the park like a kid too. It’s for all. I will tell you if you have not been come to Tulsa, go to the Gathering Place. If you’re an adult, go to Swing Hill, which is on the top of the park, a big hill and there are tons of swings up there. The view is beautiful and just be a kid.
Adam Stoker: [00:21:40] I love it. My kids love the elephant-shaped playground. They just think it’s so funny that they can climb around on a playground that looks like an elephant.
Ray Hoyt: [00:21:49] Exactly! Those places are from all over the world, which was really cool. Another thing about that are then the private foundations and the private corporations endowed it. It’s never going to cost the taxpayers a penny. Those are unique things that our communities started to embrace and to do. Our music scenes when we started pushing it we were one of the first cities that was at South by Southwest promoting our film and music office and they’re credited. We started doing that. Next thing, our music scene comes alive, which was really vibrant with Leon Russell and a whole bunch of other people that were in Tulsa in the seventies. Now we’ve got the Woody Guthrie Center, probably funded by the Kaiser Foundation. Then we have now Bob Dylan’s archive. It is going to be opening up this year.
Music now is a very vibrant part of our culture. As we change these cultural things in our community and revive them, the community now has become really embraced and really like, I see people like, when are we going to do this? When are we going to do that? We started to create this list of future things to do before we could even think about that list.
Adam Stoker: [00:22:51] Right.
Ray Hoyt: [00:22:52] Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, we got some CARES funds. We did 600 live music performances because we didn’t want to lose that creative class that we just undergirded and built for the last five years in the pandemic. We did outdoor performances, patios, and we paid half the performers fee and then we paid for the hands, the grips and the media people and the music industry I mean, they really feel like we came to their aid and their rally. We did the same thing with film. We did 19 films last year in Tulsa, but we use CARES money to educate and create a location, people that would go to the location and make sure they’re following the guidelines CDC guidelines and then we provided them with PPE and then that site person would make sure the film location was safe. We have been —
Adam Stoker: [00:23:41] That is a lot more than a DMO just normally does. You guys are going a little bit above and beyond here. Right? Which is probably what leads to that alignment.
Ray Hoyt: [00:23:49] Yeah. Well, we started realizing that we had to convince the community it was going to be safe before we could ever convince a visitor. We created a program called Tulsa Safely. All these businesses signed up and said they did here to the safety guidelines and we created a logo. It’s in the back of my laptop here, Tulsa Safely. If they adhere to those guidelines, they got that logo in their front window and people knew they could go there and dine. They were following the guidelines safely. We did the same thing with the visitor. We did like eight videos for locals and visitors to drive the market and said, here are the things you should look for. Here’s what we expect from you as a visitor. We had very few issues with people come into the market enjoying what was open and doing it safely and we’re still using that program.
Adam Stoker: [00:24:32] Great. Ray, I think we’re a little bit limited on time here and we might lose the room. I want to make sure I get to a question that I’ve had for you. In today’s day and age of so much focus on data and attribution and analytics, whenever you’re working on a destination brand, that’s something that’s difficult to measure and the impact doesn’t appear sometimes for years and years after the work is done. Tell me a little bit about how you’re measuring the success of the work you’re doing to change Tulsa’s outward perception.
Ray Hoyt: [00:25:09] Everybody measurement in our lives is important. During the middle of the pandemic and opening up the community, we did a local sentiment study just to see if people were okay with us inviting people in. It came out of a 5, it came back at like 4.6. The community was like, we’re good, you’re doing a great job, we believe in that. That was for us, that was like the go no go code at the latch. It was like the community said, Yes, we get it.
I think the branding opportunity is that every one of our residents is our advocate. I think we’ve won them over on the things that we’ve provided to the community first and the concerts and the music and the film, but now they’re staying home. They are inviting people like you, family members, from Utah. Come to Tulsa. You got to see Tulsa and that wasn’t the narrative 10 years ago. People are always saying, “We’ll come to see you. You don’t want to come to Tulsa. I think flipping that narrative for our locals really has turned the million people in Tulsa into our advocates.
Adam Stoker: [00:26:12] We talk a lot about the difference between hunting and gathering in marketing. Right? Hunting is, hey, I’m gonna run a paper click ad and they’re gonna book today and you’ve hunted and killed, right, I shouldn’t say it that way, but you get what I’m saying.
Ray Hoyt: [00:26:25] Yeah.
Adam Stoker: [00:26:27] And then gathering is more. You are putting grain in the silos. You are putting food in storage and I feel like the branding work that you guys are doing is one of the best examples of gathering that I’ve seen and that gathering will provide resources to feed the community for years and years and years. The way you’ve been able to change the perception of the locals, of external people that maybe wouldn’t have brought an event here 10 years ago, but now you’re getting these major incidental tournaments, Bassmaster tournaments. That’s really impressive what you’ve done. And I think it’s going to create a lot of increase in Tulsa stock in years to come. There’s a lot of value in there.
Ray Hoyt: [00:27:05] Sure. When I got there, we did a focus group to give you where people were thinking. We had a small focus group and one of the guys said, and I still remember it. He said, “Hell, you have to go to Dallas for everything, even when you die, you probably have to go to Dallas for anything to do.” It kind of struck me as that, that’s how a lot of people felt like there wasn’t really anything to do there and you had to go to Dallas. I think you wouldn’t hear people say that today.
Adam Stoker: [00:27:32] Ray, for people that are listening and that are thinking about trying to change the perception of their destination, similar to what you’ve done, main piece of advice under 60 seconds.
Ray Hoyt: [00:27:43] Start with your business community. Start with your big employers because they have a lot to say. They’ve already invested in the community. If you can help them change kind of their perspective of the destination and the sense of place for their employees, they’re going to spend that money. Right? It always costs more to replace somebody than to keep somebody.
Adam Stoker: [00:28:03] Totally.
Ray Hoyt: [00:28:04] I think when you flip that switch for them, those corporate leaders and those elected officials, I think they become partners way faster than you will imagine.
Adam Stoker: [00:28:13] Okay, everybody great advice. Ray, thank you for jumping on and sharing that with us. How can people learn more?
Ray Hoyt: [00:28:19] visittulsa.com — You can get my email on there. I’d also say on there, we have a newsletter bi-monthly and it’s really cool. Again, I’ve heard it this morning. We’d have our pictures. All of my staff members have their pictures in the newsletter and Brian is on that. We have the data dump. We have the sports sales piece. We have the music piece. It’s very good information but it’s personal. It’s about us. It’s us telling you what’s going on and it’s been super — We have 900 subscribers. It’s going north of that. I would say personalize your communication.
Adam Stoker: [00:28:54] Awesome Ray, thanks for taking the time and enjoy the rest of the show here at DI.
Ray Hoyt: [00:28:58] Thanks for having me, Adam.
Adam Stoker: [00:29:05] I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently from Destinations around the world. “Adam, why does my destination need a podcast? You talk about it on your show, but why?” Stakeholder engagement is so underutilized in destination marketing and a podcast does a great job of engaging those stakeholders. Now you have the ability to show all of the things that you’re doing on your podcast and engage those stakeholders. If any of you have considered doing a podcast, I would really look into it. It’s the long game. I would look at what it takes to start one. We obviously have a product at Relic. Every destination needs to start today and do a podcast. You will reap the benefits over the next several years and years and years.
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