Destination StrategyChris Cavanaugh
About Our Guest
Let's talk about strategy! In this episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast, we are joined by Chris Cavanaugh, President and Founder of Magellan Strategy Group. Listen to learn from his decades of experience in the industry and find out what you can do to increase the effectiveness of your destination's strategy.
"Every strategy document needs to be a living and breathing exercise that is continually revisited. Strategy documents shouldn't be stone tablets. There should be opportunities for revisiting and refreshing the strategy every year." -Chris Cavanaugh on the importance of keeping your strategy fresh.
- Name: Adam Stoker
- Position: Co-founder and CEO of Relic
- Favorite Destination: Fiji
- Dream Destination: New Zealand
- Name: Chris Cavanaugh
- Position: President and Founder, Magellan Strategy Group
- Favorite Destination: Italy
- Dream Destination: Spain
“Destination Strategy” – Show Notes and Highlights
- Magellan Strategy Group works with DMOs, retailers, associations and attractions in the travel and tourism industry.
- Mistakes destinations make on strategy:
- Treating as a checklist item
- Confusion that the strategy is the budget.
- Tips on revisiting strategy work:
- Go through the annual planning process
- Stakeholders can be wonderful sources of input
- How as a leader in your DMO can you convince the necessary stakeholders to take a risk:
- Find a way for your board to give you permission to fail.
- Understand that consumer preferences are always changing.
- Continue to put an emphasis on return on investment.
- Let go of at least 20% of the least effective things that you’re doing every year because there’s always going to be a better way of doing it.
- Impressive risks seen in the industry during the pandemic:
- Evaluating their target audiences.
- Renewed appreciation for so many of the small businesses
- Stakeholders and partners have new competition in new places.
- Do a better job of defining demand.
- Do a good job of managing expectations for the experience as we see a pent-up demand.
Resources Mentioned in the Podcast:
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:00:00] Every strategy document needs to be a living and breathing exercise that is continually revisited and strategy documents shouldn’t be stone tablets. There should be opportunities for revisiting and refreshing the strategy every year.
Adam Stoker: [00:00:20] Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Adam stoker. I say this every week, but it’s because we really do have great guests. We’ve got a wonderful guest for you today. His name is Chris Cavanaugh and Chris, welcome to the show.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:00:36] Thank you so much, Adam. I’m delighted to be here today and look forward to having a conversation with you.
Adam Stoker: [00:00:42] Oh, absolutely. It will be a lot of fun. And you actually reached out to me originally, I think from listening to the show, is that correct?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:00:50] That’s correct. I was intrigued by the work that you do, but also just the variety and depth of guests that you have as part of your podcast. To my knowledge, one of the only people who is doing this on a regular basis and doing it very consistently well. And I was fascinated with the podcast and I appreciate the invitation.
Adam Stoker: [00:01:11] Oh, absolutely. You know, when we connected, I realize you mentioned the variety of guests. I think your knowledge and experience will be another great variety for the show. So I don’t want to get too far into who you are and what you do yet though, because we’ve got some important questions to ask you.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:01:30] Okay? Terrific. Thank you.
Adam Stoker: [00:01:32] Yeah. So first of all, Chris we want to know what is your dream destination? If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:01:40] I’m going to say as a part of that, to answer that question, I’m going to say a place that I’ve not been to and probably the number one destination I’ve not traveled to that I really want to get to is Spain. Just heard some of the great things about the country and the variety of destinations within the nation. Spain is one place that’s been high on my radar and on my bucket list for a long time.
Adam Stoker: [00:02:13] So tell me as you think about Spain and you look at what your trip would look like, tell me some of the activities that are on your list that are the can’t miss things you do while you’re there.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:02:23] Well, I think first and foremost, which this is probably a pretty powerful revelation as to what I enjoy, what motivates me, the food of Spain and the variety based on the different regions of Spain. Food is always an incredibly powerful motivator for me personally in terms of destination selection and I have to say that food and the ability to travel to several different regions within the country to sample the cuisine of Spain. I’ve certainly heard a lot of course about Barcelona and there’s a part of me that feels almost guilty about even considering a trip to Barcelona from the perspective of not wanting to contribute to the “over-tourism” any more than they have experienced. But I have to admit it’s also any place on the Mediterranean. There’s always for me kind of a must-visit.
But then there’s other parts of the nation that are equally fascinating, Madrid, Seville, the Basque country. Again, it’s that incredible variety and differences within the country of Spain that I find so fascinating.
Adam Stoker: [00:03:43] So as you talk about food Chris, one of the things that I got a kick out of it, I was thinking back to when I was in college, people would tell me that they go on these dining vacations where they literally build the entire vacation around dining. When I was in college, I thought that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Yet, now as I’m 38 years old and I look at a trip, I look at it the same way you do. It’s like, ok, well where are we going to eat? And I would totally do a food tour now.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:04:12] Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting, both my wife and I are Uber planners when it comes to journeys and where to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner is as equally important as where, what we’re going to see and do, we were going to stay. What’s funny about this is to your point, it didn’t used to be that way. Now, I’m admittedly a little older than you, but I can still remember a time when there were very few destinations that were known for their food. It was not high up on the list of destination criteria. That’s been a huge change in the 21st century for a variety of different reasons.
So much so that we actually even have a restauranteur here in town who has where I live in Asheville North Carolina who has a Spanish tapas restaurant here called Curate [ph 0:05:11]. Her name is Katie Button and she actually, she and her husband actually lead culinary tours to Spain every year. We’re fortunate that our neighbors actually have been on one of those who have spoken very highly about it, but it just goes to show to your point people are now leading tours based solely on food and beverage to different places. Again, that’s to my point earlier, that’s something that’s been a huge change certainly in the last 20, 25 years.
Adam Stoker: [00:05:39] Well with your neighbor, you’ve got the inside track to get that trip checked off the list, don’t you?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:05:44] Exactly. And she, she and her husband said nothing but wonderful things about that tour. Of course, that’s also there’s plenty of opportunities to do a self-guided tour, but the fact that we now have culinary leading these kinds of trips shows the evolution of how far we’ve come, not only on food but also just in terms of understanding sort of those niche and enthusiasts interests in travel.
Adam Stoker: [00:06:09] Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Alright. Spain. Good answer. Let’s talk about your favorite trip you’ve ever been on or one that really stands out to you.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:06:18] I’ve been fortunate to visit Italy twice. Italy is probably my favorite destination internationally. Certainly, I love again, I love the food but the people of Italy are amazing. The history of the country is astounding and it’s also probably the most laid-back place I’ve ever visited. I just would not pass up a chance to go back to Italy. Like I have been fortunate to visit twice, have been to Tuscany and Venice and Umbria in the middle of the country and Rome. I can’t wait to get back to explore more of Italy.
Adam Stoker: [00:07:01] Oh man! Sounds like a wonderful trip. Who did you take with you to Italy?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:07:06] Both times we actually did an extended trip with my entire family. I’m one of four children and counting my parents, the children and grandchildren there are 16 of us. What we will do is usually rent a large house, take a lot of day trips. My wife, daughter and I will often peel off at the end of the trip and go visit some of the other places wherever we’re staying. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve done that now four times, twice in Italy and twice in France. France is pretty amazing as well.
Now I will admit to that the dynamics of doing a trip with 15 of your fellow family members is interesting. I’ve learned a lot about that. We always talk about my three rules of taking a trip like which are one, you have to take vacation, you can’t just sit around, you have to get up and go do stuff. Two, don’t create drama. There’s plenty of drama to go around, particularly with lots of little kids around. Three, don’t participate in someone else’s drama. Walk away. Don’t, don’t buy into it.
So we’ve actually talked about getting that printed on t-shirts to give out to everyone in the family and we do a fairly decent job. Fortunately, we all have a really good sense of humor. But yeah, there are times when those rules are certainly being tested.
Adam Stoker: [00:08:40] Chris, there’s a lot to unpack there. First of all, I felt like I learned a lot about your family just by the fact that four times you’ve been able to get four siblings, their families and your parents together and go on a trip like this and coordinate schedules and priorities and disagreements and to be able to pull all of that together. You guys are a functional family.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:09:05] Well, there are times certainly when I’m sure there are those of us in the family who think we’re quite dysfunctional. But yeah, logistics alone, pulling something like that off are pretty incredible. You’ve got to start a year out and my three siblings and my parents, live scattered across the country from one corner of the country to another. So it’s a good opportunity for everyone to get together. But you’re talking about melding a lot of different personal interests, culinary interests, even musical tastes. So we, what we have fun with it.
My daughter when she was younger on the first couple of trips, had talent show night for everyone in the family. That was fun and we do have a lot of fun and have a tremendous amount of stories to share once we get back.
Adam Stoker: [00:09:57] That’s very cool. I really admire that you guys are able to do that. The second thing is we try on the show to provide tactical value. What I mean by that is something that someone listening can take and implement immediately. Your three rules for traveling with the family might be the most — we do industry content all the time. This is personal applicable rules, right? The first one, the first rule that you said was make a vacation. Don’t just sit around the whole time. I love that. The second one was don’t start drama. Was that the second one?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:10:34] Yeah, don’t create drama, don’t make drama.
Adam Stoker: [00:10:36] Don’t create drama. And then the third, don’t get involved in someone else’s drama. I mean, if we just stopped the show right now, we’ve given everyone three valuable rules for travel.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:10:47] Well, it’s certainly for me personally as someone who’s evolved in the sector, it’s given me a lot of lessons about multigenerational travel as well.
Adam Stoker: [00:11:00] Okay. Alright, man. Alright, Chris, we’re only in the icebreaker questions and we’re getting really good stuff from you. This is good. Tell everybody who’s listening a little bit about your background and how you ended up where you are today.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:11:13] So I appreciate the invitation to talk a little bit about that. My background, my professional background actually started in marketing and consumer packaged goods marketing. I’ve worked for an apparel company, I worked for a food company and I got the chance about 26 years ago to still a very young pup to go to work for Biltmore Estate. Biltmore here in my adopted hometown of Asheville is the largest privately-owned home in America. It’s 250 rooms. It dates back to 1895.
Adam Stoker: [00:11:53] You said home, not hotel.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:11:55] That’s correct, yep.
Adam Stoker: [00:11:56] Okay, 250 rooms.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:11:58] Yeah, it’s a 250 room home on 8000 acres here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. It was originally George Vanderbilt’s private home. His private retreat. George was the grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who really started the family fortune and he built this incredible retreat in Western North Carolina and it is still owned by his descendants. It is run as a privately owned for-profit attraction. It is the most visited historic home attraction in the United States prior to COVID. It was receiving well over a million guests per year.
There are two hotels on the property, both four-star properties. Both a little over 200 rooms. Then there are a number of restaurants, there is the most visited winery in America is on the property and it’s really a remarkable place. So I’ve worked in marketing there for over nine years. Loved the experience, but decided that I wanted to go off on my own and start my own business and became a consultant in the industry. At that point started Magellan Strategy Group based right here in Nashville. I have one full-time employee and do a lot of partnerships with other types of firms.
Most of my work revolves around strategic planning, high-level marketing planning and marketing research. But I think as I’ve told you before, I do a lot of what I would call weird stuff for some of my clients as well.
Adam Stoker: [00:13:47] Yeah, I love that. Tell us about some of the weird stuff. What’s the weird stuff?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:13:51] Well, I want to be clear too. My clients are not weird. I do weird stuff sometimes and oftentimes it’s for things that they can’t find someone else to do usually for people that I’ve worked with previously. It could be everything from setting policy and process for destination marketing organizations to helping my clients find marketing resources such as advertising firms to helping with the transition from being, for instance, a destination marketing organization run by a local chamber to being a standalone entity and all the steps that that requires.
So I do a wide variety of different things within the category and I try to do a lot of very custom work for my clients but fortunately after 26 years of being in the industry, and 17 years of doing this work as Magellan Strategy Group, I have a wide variety of experiences just to fall back on.
Adam Stoker: [00:15:00] That’s great. What an interesting path to get there. I mean going back to Biltmore, that place, we just pulled it up here in the office and it might be one of the most impressive structures I’ve seen. I mean, and in the mountains of North Carolina, it’s just a unique asset to be able to work on.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:15:19] It is and it is again, pre-COVID employed well over 1000 employees. It’s getting close back to that number. But just tremendous emphasis upon hospitality and guest service as just an awesome culture from a guest service perspective. They have long had a — before it was fashionable farm to table program where they raised a lot of the food consumed in their restaurants and served in their restaurants. And 2001 opened the first hotel on the property, then several years later opened the second hotel property on the property.
So it’s an amazingly beautiful place. It’s the kind of place where you spend the entire day or more. There are outdoor activities on the property, not a golf course, but lots of things to do. That’s certainly a big difference from a lot of historic home properties which tend to be at most maybe a two-hour visit experience. This is definitely at least a full day, if not a multi-day experience.
Adam Stoker: [00:16:27] Yeah. You say 1000 employees and that sounds like a lot, but then you said 8000 acres and I can’t even keep a third of an acre mode. So I do get it with the number of employees that they have to have there.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:16:39] Yeah and I was being conservative with 1000 employees. It is one of the largest private employers in this area. You’re right, it’s like a little city because you’ve got people employed in agriculture. You’ve got folks employed on the lodging side. You’ve got a tremendous number of culinarians and people who provide food and beverage. You have curatorial experts. You’ve got marketing and finance and IT. And it really is like a little city. There are all these different experts that provide services in support of the preservation of Biltmore as a privately-owned profitable and working estate.
Adam Stoker: [00:17:24] Amazing. All right. I’m not going to let my fascination with Biltmore take the entire episode. So those that want to learn more, can go to biltmore.com and learn more about the Biltmore Estate. But I want to talk about Magellan Strategy Group, Chris, you talked about how, and I love that you say it this way that you do some of the weird projects that maybe aren’t easily done by those within a DMO. My first question is, is it mostly DMOs that you’re working with? And if not, who else do you serve?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:17:57] Great question. Yes. I would say that DMOs probably have represented the majority of my clients in the 16 years that I’ve been doing this, 17 years that I’ve been doing this. But I’ve also had a chance to work with retailers in the space who are particularly close to the travel and tourism space, worked with a large number of attractions. Not surprising, given that’s where my first taste of travel and tourism as a professional came from.
I’ve also done a fair amount of work with what I would call associations involved in some aspect of travel and tourism, whether it be trade associations or groups devoted to the preservation of certain foodways, for instance. I have really enjoyed that as well. So yeah, attractions, activities, associations and other groups in addition to DMOs.
Adam Stoker: [00:18:58] Great, and you talked about strategy that you really look at strategy for destinations and what I’d love to back up and just kind of holistically take a look at is what are you seeing from a strategy standpoint in the industry? What are some of the pitfalls that you see? You don’t have to mention the destinations obviously. I don’t want to alienate anybody. But what are some of the kind of low-hanging fruit mistakes that destinations tend to make when it comes to strategy?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:19:27] One of those mistakes is that a lot of destinations tend to treat it as a checklist item. We did it, let’s put it on the bookshelf now, we can tell our board we did it, and we’ll revisit again in five years. Every strategy document needs to be a living and breathing exercise that is continually revisited. Strategy documents shouldn’t be stone tablets. There should be opportunities for revisiting and refreshing the strategy every year. Certainly, you look at what’s happened in the last year and a half is a significant example of that.
I was just telling somebody yesterday in the last 20 years we’ve had three major shocks to travel and tourism, certainly September 11th and the aftermath of that event, the Great Recession back in 2008 and 2009. And certainly now the pandemic. If that hasn’t demonstrated the ability to the need to be nimble and to be always reading the landscape and recognizing that the landscape, the environment does change. So just going through the exercise with your board or stakeholders and then putting it on the shelf is probably the number one mistake I see.
I think the other big mistake I see is that there’s this confusion that the strategy is the budget. The strategy should inform the budgeting process, should inform financial planning, not the other way around. I’ll always quick to caution my clients about understanding the differences between a problem and a constraint. A problem is something that we overcome, we work through. A constraint is something we work around. You know as well as I do that one of the most oft-repeated refrains in this industry is that we don’t have enough money
Adam Stoker: [00:21:40] Yeah.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:21:41] You’ll never have enough money. Even the destinations with the largest budgets will say that they don’t have enough money to do everything. So I’m always fond of pointing out that fortunately many of the organizations I work with have lots of ideas. What they don’t have is time and money and so what they need is the wisdom to decide to determine how to spend the money and time that they do have. And that’s really where strategic planning comes in. It’s about making hard choices and then being disciplined about sticking to those. So we try to let the strategy drive the budget plan as opposed to vice versa.
Adam Stoker: [00:22:19] Yeah, that that’s really interesting. You covered two mistakes that I think you’re spot on with those mistakes. Let’s go back to the first one. You mentioned that they treated as like a checklist or a line item, right? That some destinations tend to, they almost look at it not as this is driving us because your strategy should drive everything you do, instead it’s we’re going to do strategy and it’s just one of the many things that we do, right? So it’s kind of a push versus pull, right? Are you letting your strategy pull you along because you did the work upfront to create a good strategy? Or you just pushing a strategy out there?
And as we look at that, I know that budgets obviously after COVID are tight and yet, I mean now is the time to reevaluate everything because everything has changed. So the question is how do you revisit your strategy annually or validate your strategy annually without having to spend six figures a year on strategy work?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:23:21] Great question. I think the simplest thing is that nearly all of my clients go through some sort of annual planning process. There’s no reason why that annual planning process has to be divorced from the five-year effort that you went through the year prior, or two years prior. Those two should go hand in hand, that that five-year plan should be revisited adjusted and should certainly inform your annual plan.
I think the other thing too is that your stakeholders can be wonderful sources of input. You don’t have to go out and do a major marketing research initiative every year to see what’s changed. Just get a lot by listening to your stakeholders, to your employees about what’s changed over the last year. Sometimes it’s obvious, like you just pointed out, certainly the last 15 months have been a fairly obvious change. But even in a non-crisis year, there are always many things going on behind the scenes, or maybe more subtle changes that should inform strategy and should inform the evaluation of that strategy document on an annual basis.
Adam Stoker: [00:24:38] Okay, All right, I like that. Let’s talk about the second one that you mentioned, the second mistake. Walk us back through that one again, I’m blending the two together in my brain and I want to make sure that we give appropriate attention.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:24:53] Well, one of the things that I have observed in this industry after 26 years, and you have, I’m sure as well is that this tends to be an industry of followers. There are some really brave people in this sector who do incredible things, but we also tend to want to know what’s the guy over the hill in the next destination in my competitor doing and to follow that person. So in addition to imitating, I think we’re also really hesitant as an industry about changing things up. We’re terrible about saying this is the way we’ve always done it. When in fact, as you pointed out, the industry and consumer preferences and behaviors are always changing.
We ought to have a lot more freedom through both the five-year planning process, if it’s, that the annual planning process, and certainly in budget and planning to be able to change it up. This is an industry that does have innovators, on the other hand, tends to be fairly risk-averse. I would like to see fewer people just simply repeat what they did last year. We have a nasty habit of doing that and I think that that’s again where having a separate strategy document to inform the budget process really comes into play.
Too many people just simply carry the same numbers over from the previous year and increase by X percent based on revenue production. To me that’s flawed. We need to do more innovation and be different from — we need to understand, we need to be different from what the guy over the hill is doing.
Adam Stoker: [00:26:46] Well, Chris I’m going to push back on you a little bit and not because I disagree with you, but because I can kind of hear the minds of our listeners as where it’s going and it’s, I’ve got a board that whenever I want to take a risk, they will push back and say, “Well, that’s not how we’ve always done it.” How as a leader in your destination marketing organization can you convince the necessary stakeholders to take a risk? Because I think a lot of our leaders in the industry are kind of, I’m going to say beaten down, which might sound a little aggressive, but it’s like you’ve tried so many times to innovate, you get shut down by a board or a committee or a stakeholder or a politician, and next thing you know, you’re like, “Well, why do I even bother?”
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:27:32] It’s an excellent question, a really good point. I think two things. One, you need to try to find a way for your board to give you permission to fail. Now, I’m not talking about massive failure, where you squandered millions of dollars of tax dollars, but you need to find a way to give the board permission for you to fail. We, just in general, in both the public sector and the private sector are not great about that. Now, yes, there needs to be fiduciary responsibility, particularly if there are tax dollars involved or member dollars involved. There needs to be responsibility.
But I also think that there needs to be more of a mentality of understanding that one, this industry does change on a very frequent basis. It’s not sleepy anymore. Two, that consumer preferences are always changing. And three, if we continue to put an emphasis on return on investment, we can always find a better return on our investment through new applications or just try things. We ought to be better about testing things either through research or just through market testing, reading the results and understanding, hey, this may actually be a better approach than something we’ve been doing before.
I’ve always been fond of saying that you need to let go of at least 20% of the least effective things that you’re doing every year because there’s always going to be a better way of doing it, there’s always going to be something new to try and we need to be more willing to be able to do that.
Adam Stoker: [00:29:10] Chris, what you said there is really powerful that we need to be jettisoning 20% of what we do every year if each of us actually looked inward and said, “Okay, have I ever abandoned 20% of what I’m doing?” Not to mention every year, and that means every five years, your habits should have completely changed if you’re jettisoning 20% a year. That’s a powerful recommendation and it’s not that easy to do.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:29:41] It’s not, it’s hard. I’m also keenly aware of the fact that first of all, we, as humans, it’s very difficult in our industry to continually add staff. We know that. But we, as humans also have a limited capacity for adding more and more and more without letting something go. I think the other thing is too, we have for a long time now live in the age of what I call the GAMOOT age. GAMOOT is when your boss or your board chair or board member walks in with an article into your office and says, “I heard about this,” and he’ll say, “Get me one of those and GAMOOT is the acronym for Get Me One Of Those G-A-M-O-O-T.
Sometimes GAMOOTs are way out of line. That your board or your board chair or employee telling you to GAMOOT something is not by itself a good reason to do it, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t evaluate and figure out is this something that could be a part of replacing the 20% least effective tools that I use.
Adam Stoker: [00:30:52] I like that. I like it a lot. For everybody that’s listening, that 20% rule is a great tool for self-evaluation and introspection. Have you turned over 20% of your habits annually, I’ll tell you this right now, I’ve got work to do.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:31:07] I think we all do. I certainly I can talk to talk. I’m not sure if I’m walking to walk just yet.
Adam Stoker: [00:31:14] Yeah, well it’s, it’s a great baseline to shoot more. It’s something that I’m definitely going to incorporate here. Chris, you talked about taking risks and I’m actually really passionate about taking risks. When COVID hit, we had the option to get aggressive and take some risks that could result in growth or we could constrict and be afraid and hope nothing bad happens to us. And we were very fortunate to have gone the risk route. So, what are some of the risks that you’ve seen destinations take in the industry that maybe you feel stand out to you and that were impressive?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:31:58] It’s a great question from this perspective. There’s hasn’t been a whole lot great about the last year and a half, obviously. But it has been a time for us to evaluate what works and what doesn’t, where do we spend our time, where we spend our money. I think one thing that I see a lot of entities in the travel sector doing is evaluating their target audiences. That I think is one of the biggest things I’ve seen destinations and other identities do say, “Hey, you know what? We’ve had the same customer or been targeting the same customer for a very long time and we’re not sure if that particular customer type is going to come back in the numbers we saw. So where do we need to go mine for new customers? How can we position ourselves to reach those customers?”
You’re seeing certainly seeing lodging properties do that. Obviously, the hotel sector is not back yet, but at the same time, we see a lot of people, a lot of travelers who are spending time in short-term rentals. So I think finally, for instance, the hotel industry is waking up to the fact that short-term rentals are a significant form of competition. Now, that was obviously happening during the pandemic for a number of health and safety reasons but will be a significant form of competition going forward. So understanding that they need to refine their value proposition and need to identify potential new customers, I think is one of the best things that’s come out of this.
Adam Stoker: [00:33:40] Let’s talk about that real quick. Is that okay?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:33:42] Yeah.
Adam Stoker: [00:33:43] Let’s talk about identifying your new audience. So I think that is — we’re getting a lot of great nuggets here. So I feel like I keep saying everything is the greatest thing that’s come out of this episode. But the audience evaluation is so critical because marketing is getting the right message to the right people at the right time. If you don’t know if you’ve still got the right people, you’re going to miss the message, you’re going to miss on the time. So that audience to understand if you don’t reevaluate your entire strategy every year, reevaluate your audience and make sure that your audience has not changed because otherwise everything else could be wasted.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:34:22] To your point too, again, and kind of going back to a point I made earlier, we tend to be very risk-averse in terms of selection audience targeting because we’re a volume-driven industry, right? We want to be all things to all people and we don’t want to limit ourselves. When in fact, what we need to do a better job to your point is selling ourselves better to the people that matter to that right audience. Hopefully we’ll tell some richer stories as part of reaching out to the right audience with the right message at the right time. I think that if nothing else, we’ve seen that not all audiences are coming back equally strong. We recognize now that we have new competition, whether it be new destinations that are trying to go after my target audience or we have, like I said, if you’re a lodging property, you know now that short term rentals are a significant form of competition for you.
I think that understanding what’s changed in your audience and whether or not they’re still your audience is one of the most powerful things you can do coming out of the pandemic.
Adam Stoker: [00:35:35] Absolutely. I agree with you wholeheartedly on that. You were getting to a second point. I interrupted you to bring you back to the audience. Did you want to expound or continue to go on that?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:35:46] Well, another thing that I think we’re seeing as well as a renewed appreciation for not just the travel experience, but also a renewed appreciation for so many of the small businesses that have been impacted. This as you know, always been an industry of small business. It’s estimated that somewhere around 85% of the businesses in the tourism sector qualify a small business. That’s true and certainly a lot of communities I work in.
Finally, we have an opportunity here to tell the story better than we have to our elected leaders about the need to support these small businesses and also our local residents to tell them, “Hey, a lot of these businesses that you love and appreciate are here because of travelers because of visitors,” and this is an awesome PR opportunity for us. But we’ve also we tend to be really nice people in the travel sector. We’ve got to probably be a little bit more aggressive about telling our story on a more human and interpersonal level. We tend to get bogged down in numbers and economic impact.
I think after a while people’s eyes glaze over. Well, the pandemic, unfortunately, has put a real human face on fortunately or unfortunately has put a real human face on the power of travel for both those people traveling, but certainly for those employees and owners who again make up so much of the sector.
Adam Stoker: [00:37:32] So that’s another really interesting point because when you think about a destination, I wrote a book called “Touchpoints” and the whole premise of the book is that your brand is the sum of all the touchpoints your destination has with the outside world and every small business within your destination is a touchpoint that makes up the customer experience. I think a lot of destinations’ eyes were opened as some of these businesses had to either temporarily or permanently closed, that some of those touchpoints that were critical to the experience were eliminated.
So I think you’re right. I think that appreciation and advocacy for small businesses within your destination are more critical now than ever because the worst thing you could have happen is you lose a critical touchpoint.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:38:25] And you know, historically we don’t do a lot to support to directly support small business. Large businesses receive incentives, tax breaks, and so forth. I’m not saying that that’s wrong, I get it, that’s the way the game is played. But there’s probably no greater return on investment from a public policy perspective than destination promotion to support those small businesses. Hopefully, we have a better understanding of what they contribute to our communities and the power of entrepreneurship. We want our downtowns to be filled with small, independently-owned businesses and what better way to do that than direct support for them through financial incentives, but also certainly through promoting destinations and having a healthy budget to do so.
Adam Stoker: [00:39:20] Great, Chris. This has been great advice and I’m starting to realize you and I could do this for a lot more than the 35 to 40 minutes that we normally keep these episodes. So I’d love to take what we’ve talked about today. I always like to boil it down into the most important takeaway for the people that are listening. If you could boil your advice for destinations right now, how to be successful, what’s step one to be successful right now, what would you say?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:39:47] The first thing is as I’ll reiterate, you have new competition in new places. Your stakeholders, your partners have new competition in new places. If you’re a successful destination and coming out of this, you’re stronger than ever, you have people in other destinations, you have other businesses that are looking to take share away from you. I think secondly, another thing we have to recognize is that whereas in the past we were fond of saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Well, we have to do a better job now of defining demand and where demand is coming back and where it’s not. If you’re a hotelier or a destination that has a strong convention and meeting business or strong business travel component, your business is not going to come back as fast as someone else.
Same thing too, if you’re a hotelier, you’re in a community that has a lot of short-term rentals, you may be seeing tax collections go through the roof and you may be looking at your business saying, where’s the business for me? So we’ve got to do a better job of defining demand. We can no longer say, a rising tide lifts all boats. Of course, there are still destinations out there that are still under mandates or capacity restrictions.
I think the third thing I want to say of really four things is we have to also manage expectations for the experience. I’m sure everyone is aware of the staffing and labor shortages that we see around the country right now. Those will continue throughout the summer. We have to do a good job of managing expectations, update our hours of operation, connecting consumers to experiences that don’t disappoint, and just helping support our partners in terms of managing expectations for the experience. That’s going to be really important particularly this summer as we see this pent-up demand come back.
Then I’ll say lastly, is that I think the best is yet to come for most of our destinations. You look at what happened after the 1918 flu epidemic. We had the roaring 20s and I certainly think that we’re already seeing in many places an incredibly strong comeback. I actually think that’s going to be long-lasting. I think it’s going to continue for quite a while in this sector. So we don’t talk much about competition in this business, but we should, because there’s going to be an awful lot of people out there with a lot of money to spend. Hopefully, they’ll try some new things and think strategically long and hard about what’s the best ROI for those dollars.
Adam Stoker: [00:42:35] Great advice, Chris. How can people learn more if they want to get a hold of you or want to ask you questions, pick your brain or if they want to work with Magellan?
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:42:44] Yeah, thank you. Feel free to go to magellanstrategy.com. I’m in Asheville, North Carolina. Would be happy to take a phone call, do a Zoom meeting. I do work all around the country. I’m in the southeast and unfortunately, a lot of my clients are down here and was traditionally a very healthy travel environment. But I’ve done work from everywhere from California, to New York, to France. So we’ll be happy to work with you whether it be a weird project or not. So just reach out and let us know what we can do for you.
Adam Stoker: [00:43:18] Great. Well, hey, thanks so much Chris for coming on and sharing your experience, man, your recommendations and I feel like it was really valuable content. So thanks for your time.
Chris Cavanaugh: [00:43:29] You are welcome and I appreciate the invitation so much and would love to do it again in the future.
Adam Stoker: [00:43:34] Great, well thank you and thanks everybody for listening. It’s been a great show. If you enjoyed today’s content, please make sure to leave us a rating or review that really does help us to continue to grow our audience and continue the show. Other than that, we’ll see you next week.
Will Seccombe: [00:43:56] Hello, I’m Will Seccombe with Connect Travel and we’re excited to be partnering with the Destination Marketing Podcast to promote the eTourism Summit, which is coming on September 20th through the 22nd in Las Vegas. We’re thrilled to be celebrating our 22nd year of eTourism Summit, which is really historically been the go-to event for digitally savvy tourism marketers. This year we’re really excited because we’re going to be collocating with the US Travel Association and IPW, which is to bring a whole dimension of the tourism industry together in one place at one time as we work to recover from what has been a devastating year for the travel industry.
This year we’re celebrating the Fourth Annual eTSY Awards celebrating excellence in digital tourism marketing. We’re also launching a new program, Emerging Tourism Stars, which is really to highlight some of the amazing talent that has come up through the course of this last couple of years and these Emerging Tourism Stars and partnering with MMGY Global on that exciting campaign. So check us out at etourismsummit.com. It’s going to be an amazing event. We certainly hope that all the destination markers that can will make an effort to be in Las Vegas in September as we really work to see tomorrow and move our industry forward in an amazingly challenging time.
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