See the Forest and the Trees: Top Learnings From 2020 as Guideposts for 2021Cheryl Shallanberger, Rachel Brown, Robb Wells
About Our Guest
Cheryl Shallanberger, Rachel Brown, Robb Wells
In this special episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast, Adam is joined by a group of panelists at the eTourism See Tomorrow Conversation Series to talk about how to learn from a crisis. Listen to Rachel Brown, Robb Wells, and Cheryl Shallanberger talk about how their destinations were affected by the coronavirus pandemic and how they are pivoting to better prepare for the year to come.
- Name: Adam Stoker
- Position: Co-founder and CEO of Relic
- Favorite Destination:
- Dream Destination:
- Name: Rachel Brown
- Position: Executive Director of Visit Durango
- Favorite Destination:
- Dream Destination:
- Name: Robb Wells
- Position: President & CEO | Visit Beaufort, Port Royal, and Sea Islands
- Favorite Destination:
- Dream Destination:
- Name: Cheryl Shallanberger
- Position: Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau
- Favorite Destination:
- Dream Destination:
“See the Forest and the Trees: Top Learnings From 2020 as Guideposts for 2021” – Show Notes and Highlights
- Most important things learned in 2020:
- Human interaction is so important and needed.
- Make sure to have those touchpoints with stakeholders.
- Not to be afraid to ask for help.
- 2021 was a paradigm shift on who the target customer is.
- The most important customer now is the resident.
- Using surveys and online social sentiments as listening tools.
- Get the right message to the same audiences than creating new ones.
- Make sure to meet the expectations of different markets.
- Rachel Brown mentions that as they focus on new travelers, a lot of what they put in place also benefits the residents by creating different programming, campaign and events.
- In order to move forward, destinations must take some calculative risk and not be afraid to fail.
- Learning together by altering out-of-state spend on agencies and contractors and bringing a lot in-house.
- Make sure that the partners and the DMO are nimble enough.
- Destinations should be prepared and able to create a crisis communications plan.
- Momentum on stakeholder engagement:
- Launching podcasts to generate content and create stakeholder involvement.
- Making sure there is direct messaging within stakeholders on different campaigns and ideas through the use of social media platforms.
- Function as one team with your stakeholders.
- Why 2021 the time for every destination to reevaluate everything?
- It is the opportunity to understand what travel sentiment is going to look like.
- Looking at a lot of rebuilding assets and making sure that we have stuff in place and ready to go when the time is right.
- As the traveler is reevaluating themselves on what they’re looking for in a destination, destinations should reevaluate in the ways that it overlaps with what the travelers are looking for.
- Get rid of things that weren’t necessarily working and create something new
- It is the easiest time to do it.
- Capturing visual contents of both with a mask and without a mask to make sure they still have relevant content.
- Focus on making sure to keep content fluid and meets the expectations to deliver in the destination
- The biggest learning lesson from 2020 was a mix of starting fresh, but also remembering your roots and why you do certain things.
- New feeder markets in 2020 are people traveling or driving by vans.
- Robb encourages everyone to not be paralyzed by the pandemic situation, to move forward and keep moving forward. Get people back to traveling and do it in a safe manner.
Resources Mentioned in the Podcast:
Adam Stoker: [00:00:00] Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the destination Marketing podcast. I’m your host, Adam Stoker. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the “See Tomorrow Series”, which the eTourism Summit has been putting on this year. Another great lineup of Webinars that they’re doing for the industry. And I was able to moderate this panel about what did we learn in 2020 that should help propel us into 2021. I hope you enjoy this episode. We had some great Panelists, and I think you’ll really get a kick out of the content.
Becca: [00:00:35] Hi. We are now live. Welcome everyone to today’s See Tomorrow Webinar, it’s great to have four awesome faces with us today. This is actually our second webinar of the See Tomorrow Series for eTourism Summit. We’re really excited. We’ve had really great turnout and a lot of interest in these kinds of conversations just to kind of unite the eTourism summit community. So happy to have you all here today, and it looks like numbers are jumping up as we go, but I wanted to go ahead and introduce Adam Stoker with Relic. He is our awesome moderator for today. Adam has been very involved in eTourism Summit, a huge supporter of us. So really, really happy to have you again, Adam, and I’ll go ahead and turn it over to you.
Adam Stoker: [00:01:24] Thanks, Becca. And thanks to you, and Will in eTourism Summit for the opportunity. The webinar series that you guys did all through 2020, I think helped a lot of us get through it. And so it’s been great to be a part of it, but also to watch so many of the smart people that have been on here and have shared some of their experience, so thanks for keeping it going.
But really excited to be on today to talk about our conversation that we have. And I think it’s an important conversation we’re going to be talking about we want to keep it positive, and we want to talk about what are the most important lessons we learned in 2020 that will help us kick start into 2021, have a successful 2021. We’ve got a great panel of smart people like I mentioned here today that are going to help us through that. So I’m just going to go from right to left on my screen. And I’m going to start with you. Rachel from Durango, Colorado. Tell us who you are and a little bit about your destination.
Rachel Brown: [00:02:28] Sure. Thanks, Adam. And thanks for having me. Rachel Brown here. Executive Director, Visit Durango. I’m originally from California. I’ve worked for Visit Oakland and Visit Fisherman’s WARF in San Francisco. But I’ve been Executive Director here a little over a year. Durango, Colorado, is the major destination in Southwest Colorado. We’re known for outdoor adventure like the mountain biker behind me, the Durango and Silverton narrow gauge railroad, Mesa Verde National Park, and just a historic Old West destination in general. So thanks.
Adam Stoker: [00:03:04] And sitting on a great base of snow this year, right Rachel?
Rachel Brown: [00:03:07] Yeah, over a foot of snow right now.
Adam Stoker: [00:03:10] It’s great. Great, ski resorts must be happy. Well, let’s go next to Cheryl. And Cheryl, thank you for being here. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about you and your destination?
Cheryl Shallanberger: [00:03:21] Yeah, of course. Thank you, Adam and eTourism Summit for having me. It’s an honor to be here. But I’m Cheryl. I’m VP of Sales and Marketing with Ventura, California. We’re just north of Los Angeles, south of Santa Barbara. We’re a very big outdoor destination. And we have the Channel Islands National Park right off our coastline, which is what’s behind me. You can see the boat that takes you out there, and one of my favorite things to do is actually get on the kayaks, and they have guided tours through the sea caves.
Adam Stoker: [00:03:52] Sounds amazing. Yeah, I still need to get out there in person. Alright, and last but not least, Rob, tell us a little bit about you and your destination.
Robb Wells: [00:04:01] Thank you, Adam, for being a part of this. Robb Wells here. I’m in Beaufort, South Carolina. One of the South’s best small towns as we can see here. Listen, the cold weather talk is kind of kind of bothering me so we can advance onto some warmer weather and some better time to get on the water. I’m looking forward to it. Cheryl with Ventura in the water scenes make me so excited about what’s about to happen here in the South. So we’re excited about this time period stuff.
Adam Stoker: [00:04:29] Great. Well, good to have you. And as Becca said, my name’s Adam Stoker. I’m President/CEO of Relic, an Advertising Agency focused on tourism. But then I also have a podcast called the Destination Marketing Podcast. Each of our Panelists here today have been a guest on my show. So I’m used to chatting with these guys.
To start talking about how can we kick start a successful 2021, I think first we’ve got to start with what was the most important thing that we learned and I kind of just want to go in order. We’ll start with Cheryl, and then we’ll go to Robb and then Rachel.
Cheryl Shallanberger: [00:05:05] Sure. I mean, I think it’s one that’s kind of obvious, but I think the most important thing that we can take away from 2020 is no matter how much technology, no matter how many virtual experiences, no matter how much AI can come into play, human interaction is so important and needed. And whether that’s through our school and education, it’s with the travel. There’s no replacement looking at a photo of the Channel Islands, then going and smelling the salt, the ocean salt and feeling the ocean breeze.
So I think one it’s just how important really we need that human connection and even talks before COVID was like, “We could go virtual. We can do this.” And while we did it and it doesn’t work, and we need more than that. So I think that’s just the biggest takeaway and one of the most obvious ones. But I think the most important to me.
Adam Stoker: [00:05:56] Yeah, travel may have been the industry that may be the most hardest hit by COVID, but it was also a great reminder for everybody in the world of how much humans like and need to travel. I think that’s a great point. How about you, Robb?
Robb Wells: [00:06:12] I’m going to piggyback on what Cheryl said there and take it a little closer to home if you don’t mind. 2020 was it was a noisy year and it just was a little bit of uncertainty and our stakeholders and our partners and our industry mates that are here in the local areas each one of you are looking for assistance through some clarity. So the takeaway for us has been making sure we have those touchpoints with our stakeholders. Those relationships are so valuable during certain times, and they’re going to be even more valuable as we look towards the future and looking to 2021 and onward. We’re going to have a great relationship with these people that we built through some core times.
So just to piggyback off that human interaction is so important. Staying in contact with them, providing clarity, that’s the takeaway for us was that just be clear in our intentions and make sure we bring the people that we do business with, that we represent our stakeholders. Bring them along the way.
Adam Stoker: [00:07:08] Yeah, I think 2020 brought with it kind of a revolution of stakeholder engagement where we all kind of went back and prioritized that we’re going to talk about that as we get into our conversation today. So we’ll kind of put a pin in that and come back, Robb. I appreciate that. Rachel, how about you?
Rachel Brown: [00:07:25] Yeah, well, as my first year as Executive Director, also my first year living outside California, I had a lot to learn just well beyond COVID and everything that has been happening. I got here in November, just about got my sea legs, and then the pandemic came and flooded over life as we know it. And I think one of the main things I’ve learned is not to be afraid to ask for help. As a new Executive Director, I felt to myself that I had a lot to prove and I said, “Oh, I won’t need help with HR. And I won’t need help talking to our elected officials about these important advocacy issues.” And I was wrong.
Sometimes, you need to ask for help, and that’s what you have a staff and a board of directors for is to help you out when you need it. So that’s something I’ve definitely learned.
Adam Stoker: [00:08:22] Yeah, we all had to figure out how to get a little more vulnerable over the last year, so I’m glad that was a big takeaway for you. So let’s dive in then. Let’s talk about 2021. Obviously, those were important learnings from 2020. We scratched the surface, right? That’s just the tip of the iceberg on what we all learned in 2021. It felt like we all aged 10 years over the course of one year. But as we go into 2021 to be successful, there’s a lot that we need to do. And one of the things that I’ve been thinking about is marketing. It’s as simple as getting the right message to the right people at the right time. But one of the things that I feel like COVID did is the right people before COVID hit may not be the right people now and may not be the right people moving forward.
So my question to each of you and we’ll go, Rachel, Cheryl, Robb, we’ll just go right backwards through the group. So tell me how you plan to understand who the correct audience is for you moving forward and how are you going to make those changes? So, Rachel, we’ll start with you.
Rachel Brown: [00:09:33] Sure. I think that in 2020 there was really a paradigm shift in who our target customer is, and I don’t think that will actually go away in 2021. I think that’s here to stay. I think the shift is that our most important or one of our most important customers now is actually the resident. And even in our strategic plan, one of our main goals is to educate residents on the value of tourism and how it impacts their quality of life in a positive way. And I think this is, in a way, going back to the roots of destination marketing and that the industry was created to bring in economic impact. Of course, we wanted economic impact to improve the quality of life in the destination.
I think what we’re doing is really just going back to those roots. We’re going to market the destination, but not ever to the detriment of the quality of life for the residents. So, I think once the vaccine is out and restrictions have loosened, we’ll move from this kind of soft called action brand awareness back to a more aggressive book now, come today. Welcome back. I think in general the customer will continue for a while to be road trippers, people active and adventurous looking for rural and remote destinations luckily like Durango.
Adam Stoker: [00:11:06] Great, Rachel, I think you make a great point on the importance of adding local stakeholders as one of those most important audiences for you to talk to. I’m curious from a tactical standpoint. What’s your plan to listen to that audience? And then and then what media channels do you intend to use to speak to them and keep them informed and be transparent with them?
Rachel Brown: [00:11:31] Well, I’m a big data nerd, so surveys are definitely part of our listening tool but also just social sentiment online. I read the Facebook comments, and sometimes it’s not always fun, but just looking at letters to the editor and seeing what the sentiment is of that group and then just suggesting is needed. I think the main channels will be reaching them. We’ll definitely be online, not different than any other audience but we do have local media here that are pretty influential, so there will be a little bit of focus on that as well.
Adam Stoker: [00:12:08] Great. Great. Thank you, Rachel. Great points. Cheryl, as you’re looking at your audience in 2021 beyond, how do you plan to make sure you’re talking to the right people?
Cheryl Shallanberger: [00:12:18] Yeah. So I think with the interim, we were very much in an outdoor adventure destination. We have mountain biking, hiking. We have the water, we have the ocean. So we have a lot to do outdoors, and we’ve always promoted that. So I don’t know luckily for us who we need to target ad that type of outdoor adventure does not need to change too much. What I’m really looking to do and to kind of go with Rachel’s saying is kind of hone in on the messaging of being sustainable as well. So the Channel Islands is a pack in pack out. So we want to make sure that when we are inviting visitors and they are coming, that they’re taking care of our community as well and then relaying that to our residents and local businesses that they know now more than anything, visitors are important to our economic sustainability. But we also want to make sure we’re bringing in people that are going to respect our streets and our beaches as well.
So I think for me it’s just kind of fine-tuning some of that messaging a little bit more to kind of make sure we come and respect when you’re here, but still take advantage of all that outdoor adventure.
Adam Stoker: [00:13:28] Yes. So because social distancing is still possible and everything in your destination, it’s boiled down a lot more to the message, getting the right message to those same audiences than creating a new audience.
Cheryl Shallanberger: [00:13:40] Yeah, I mean, I feel very lucky in that sense, but we do. We have the open spaces. You can definitely do a ton and explore a lot with still being socially distanced. So we have good weather, so it makes it easy in that sense.
Adam Stoker: [00:13:52] Great. Great. Thank you. Robb.
Robb Wells: [00:13:56] For us, it’s the same thing. I mean, Rachel and Cheryl are there so tuned in what they’re looking for as far as getting out there. And so we did the same things. Similar things. We want to make sure that ultimately that our destination can meet the expectations that the visitor has, and that shifted, right? That’s the paradigm shift that has been mentioned. It’s not just what generation is coming to town, is what their attention is and what they’re looking for from a help assessment or whatever the case may be. And we wanted to make sure that we can meet that expectation.
Here in South Carolina, we’re open a little bit longer than in other states, and so we had to ramp up pretty early in June of last year. We opened back up, if you will. So it looked a little different. It felt a little different. For the most part, we were able to meet certain expectations. Now we have to continue to go down that path if the expectation is shifting. We just have to meet that with a great experience. The generation is going to shift. We may be able to pick up different markets, we are an outdoor activity. We have a lot to offer in that regard, but we also have some other core areas that we think people will be interested in.
So again, our focus has been on meeting their expectations and what does that look like going forward and being able to keep up with that. Being a smaller destination, sometimes it appears to be a little harder. But what we’ve found is that we have been actually a little bit more nimble and be able to maneuver a little bit better. That has been a great blessing for our destination thus far.
Adam Stoker: [00:15:25] Yeah, I’ve got two questions as a follow-up from what all of you have said. I think the first one is going to be mostly for Rachel and Rob since your audience seems to be changing maybe a little bit more than Cheryl’s is. Are you going to have to make changes to your customer experience? Rachel, for you, it’s for locals. Are you going to have to modify your experience to appeal more to locals, whether it’s through dining or activities or whatever? Then and Robb for you, for some of these changing audiences that you’re seeing, are you going to have to make changes to your visitor experience? And then how do you roll those out in your destination and get buy-in from everyone?
Rachel Brown: [00:16:07] I think, as we focus on the new traveler, a lot of what we put in place will also benefit the resident, which is a nice kind of win-win. So we’re looking at things to bring in people during the off-peak season, as we’re mostly a summer destination. So things like a Restaurant Week or an Art Month or different programming and campaigns and events. And I think those will ultimately be just as enjoyed, if not more by residents as they are as travelers. So it’ll be kind of a win-win there for us.
Adam Stoker: [00:16:44] Great, great. Robb, any follow-up on that?
Robb Wells: [00:16:47] So it’s just being in constant conversation with our potential visitor in our area. So we started early on running some social media polls just to kind of get an insight of what they were looking for as they were searching for destinations and it kind of blew us away. We thought it was going to be one thing, and it’s been something else, and we’ve been able to pivot and provide the information that we’re looking for but also work with our stakeholders to make sure that they’re offering the things that they’re looking for the visitor, and it’s been very beneficial.
So we have kind of mixed this destination. We have our core beach traveler, and that was a success this summer. We extended summer if you understand what that means. Our historic downtown had a different product mix. But it’s been able to meet them where they are and then pick up market share. I know that that’s something that we’ve discussed before. But we were able to find people who were kind of looking to get out of some of the more metropolitan areas or more located at the Northeast relocate here and kind of work remotely.
While that was not our intent, we were able to see some of those tick up and some anecdotal information feedback that people were found, “Hey, if we can work remotely and I could pick a place to work remotely, why not pick one of the best small towns in America?”
Adam Stoker: [00:18:02] Right. Yeah, that’s an interesting audience that I think a lot of destinations need to take a hard look at is people feel less tied into their home base than ever before because they can work remotely and so that one’s really interesting whether it is almost like an entire webinar in and of itself. How do we go after these remote workers? I think it’s an interesting audience to take a hard look at. But I think we will save that for another — maybe if we prepared for that topic a little bit better, too. So I guess the advice right now would be just make sure you’re looking at that and that you’re aware that that is an emerging audience.
But Robb, you mentioned being nimble and this question because I saw both Rachel and Cheryl nodding their heads when Rob mentioned being nimble. So let’s talk about that. What did you learn about your organizations as you went from planning a year ahead to planning three days ahead and sometimes being wrong even in that three-day planning? What did you learn about how your destination needs to operate?
Robb Wells: [00:19:12] I’ll jump in here and kind of go through it. For us, you build a team that feeds off each other, right? That was our team. We kind of feed off each other. We do our brainstorming and creative, a lot of creative folks on our team that bring a lot of energy to the team. We had to find a way to keep that energy going even further and how to adjust. And, man, this is definitely not a Robb issue. This is all of my teammates that were able to make that happen. So our team operates in they have unilateral decision making, were able to keep it within the brand centricity of what we’re trying to happen. And people had their marching orders and they knew exactly what to go and what to put in there. And you know what? We weren’t afraid to necessarily fall, because this was kind of a reset for us.
Just to give everybody some proximity, Beaufort, South Carolina is located between three of the more popular destinations in the country, Charleston, South Carolina, which is a fabulous destination, Savannah, Georgia, which is amazing and Hilton Head Island, which is one of the best islands in the country. And Beaufort sits right in the middle of all this. This was a type of reset for us. We were on a level footing. We’re all kind of looking around like, “What’s next?” If there was ever a time to go dance with the pretty girl at the dance and shoot your shot at a middle school, it was our chance.
So this was that nimble action that we were able to go for, and we did. We took some risk and we went down paths that we may not have now. We were a little bit better financial setting footing than others because we have a smaller staff and we had to make some provisions and we want to take that going forward. So looking forward, we want to continue that not risk-averse, but definitely take some calculative risk. Don’t be afraid to fail. Shoot your shot if you got it. And kind of move forward and we saw some of that. So we created a podcast. We started focusing on our content development and pushing it out there in our channels that we were doing.
I know that we partnered with several other destinations and hosted actually live in-person FAM tours when we reopened. We were the first one, the first destination to do that. Also for ourselves. We just made it as safe as possible. We wanted to make sure that we were staying active, but also developing things that we could carry on forward. I know we’ll talk about it a little bit later, but some of that content development is important. As a one-team-to-be, myself included, we don’t want to be paralyzed. We want to move forward.
Adam Stoker: [00:21:50] Great. I like that, Robb. It sounds like delegation and trusting your team was really important as you guys had to be nimble and I think that’s in any organization to move forward. I think that’s really important. Cheryl and Rachel, how about you guys? How were you able to be nimble? And how are you going to carry that through into 2021?
Cheryl Shallanberger: [00:22:12] I’ll jump in. So I think for us. Everything just started changing overnight. Our CEO came in and she’s like, “Okay, what’s the next best right thing to do?” That literally was our motto for months. Sometimes that next right thing took a week to implement. Sometimes it took a day, and sometimes they switched within the day. I think it was just focusing on what literally we needed to get done that day. And for us, that was really the mindset of what can we do to help our businesses? So what is open? What regulations are they being forced to go through? And how can we help let them navigate through some of these transitions?
That’s really where a lot of our campaigns for 2020 kind of evolved was really just having that mindset of what is the next right thing to do. So that was kind of our way of just kind of being nimble, and I guess trying to think on the spot, but that definitely carried us through the year.
Adam Stoker: [00:23:11] Well, and Cheryl, when we’ve got millions of tasks piling up on each of our desks, asking, what’s the next right thing to do is actually a great way to prioritize. So I remember when you guys are on the show, you talked about that, and that really resonated with me. I think that’s a great way to look at your task list. What’s the next right thing to do? I like it. Rachel, how about you?
Rachel Brown: [00:23:34] Yeah, I’ll add on to what Robb said. He mentioned that he has a small staff, and we definitely do here as well. And we’re also a really new staff which I think in normal conditions could be a little bit of a disadvantage. But this year was actually a huge advantage because we’re learning how to work together, and we’re not stuck in our ways. We’re not doing a bunch of old kind of outdated practices. Really we have been pretty nimble, and I’d say one way it’s really helped us is we brought a lot in-house. That was one thing I did when I started here. I noticed we were spending a lot of money on agencies and contractors out of the area out of state. So we brought a lot of that in-house, and it was a little bit of a risk, but I think it definitely paid off because rather than communicating with your agency, you can just shut down the hall like, “Hey, we need to stop our Google ads.” We went at the level on the dial, and things are just changing so rapidly that it’s really nice to have that flexibility.
Adam Stoker: [00:24:45] Yeah, it sounds to me like you were almost operating like a startup. Even though you guys are DMO, your operating like a startup business and having that young team sounds like it really worked to your advantage.
Rachel Brown: [00:24:58] Coming from San Francisco, I’m definitely familiar with the startup culture. So yeah, we have a lot of similarities with that.
Adam Stoker: [00:25:06] Well, and it makes me wonder, for all the destinations that are listening, are you operating that way? Could you say confidently that you’re operating like a startup and that your nimble as you need to be? And if you’re not, hey, let’s reevaluate and see how we can be a little bit more nimble. If we’re doing things the way we’ve always done it, just because that’s the way we’ve always done it, that’s not a good answer especially not now. That’s right. It looks like Linda Jeffries, says we’re all startups right now, and she’s absolutely right.
So if there are things in your organization that are blocking you from being nimble, I think that’s something to take a hard look at and say, okay, how can we be more nimble? I think that’s a great point.
Robb Wells: [00:25:48] Adam?
Adam Stoker: [00:25:51] Yeah, go ahead.
Robb Wells: [00:25:52] I do want to say something about our partners because just like Rachel said we had to bring some stuff in-house. But early on, our partners jumped in the foxhole with us early, and those partners were so beneficial in helping us pivot in a lot of cases and pick up the slack and introduced things within our content generation. So, that was also a big part of us being able to be successful with a small group, our reliability and serve our people. That was very helpful, and it helps us make the adjustment going forward, and we found some folks who were willing to step up with us. Those partners are still partners today.
Adam Stoker: [00:26:28] Yeah, finding the right partners, right? Are your partners nimble enough? Not only is your organization nimble enough, but are your partners nimble enough? Because almost every team has to use partners of some sort and making sure that everybody has that same ability to change quickly, I think, is really important. Good point, Robb. Let’s go back to stakeholder engagement. We talked about it a little bit. In my opinion, one of the most important things that came out of the Coronavirus pandemic is that destinations were forced to engage with their stakeholders in a way that maybe they hadn’t in a long time. We were at a 10-year-high in the industry, which means that the importance of stakeholder engagement I think in some destinations may have gotten deprioritized. Maybe it didn’t feel like the next right thing, right, Cheryl, at the time? And then we all realize, oh, my gosh, this is so important.
So my question is, how are you going to take the momentum that you have with stakeholder engagement? How you’ve been able to stay plugged into the community over the last almost a year now? How are you going to continue that moving forward and make sure that it doesn’t fall by the wayside in the future? Let’s start with why don’t we start Robb and just go back through?
Robb Wells: [00:27:43] Okay. Well, for us, I’m just going to use an example of our podcast. We launched it in the spring of 2020. It was really some stuff to generate content for the destination as we were kind of sitting on our hands a little bit. But as we went along and the podcast has matured and continues to grow, we saw more and more of our stakeholders raising their hands saying, “Hey, how can I get involved?” See, listen, our stakeholders love our destination just as much as we do. And so having them share the responsibility of telling our stories to potential visitors has been kind of one of those reactions that we’ve seen coming out of this. It’s been something we will carry on going forward and you see them populating our podcast weekly. And that’s something that we’ve enjoyed that stakeholders are reengaging in that way. Maybe they have been resting on their laurels prior to and going forward. I think they’re taking more responsibility. So that’s our job is to keep them encouraged, sharing that responsibility moving forward to sell this destination.
Adam Stoker: [00:28:41] Great, great. Cheryl, how about you?
Cheryl Shallanberger: [00:28:45] Sure. I think we really realized the stakeholder communication was really important in 2017 when we were hit with the Thomas Fire here in California. So, for us, it was like we needed safety information being passport between us and our stakeholders and that they were not responding to emails at the time. So we’re like, “What’s the first thing you guys are checking in the morning?” And they said, “Facebook.” So we created a Facebook partners page that was private, and at the time that was a great tool to get information back and forward.
But even since then, I think one, it keeps continuing to evolve. So right now we’ve rolled out different campaigns and ideas. And so as we meet internally, we’re like, “What do they respond to now?” And even that has shifted. So right now it’s direct messaging through Instagram because that’s a lot of their number one marketing tools, right? So we’re literally taking the time and DME these businesses to tell them, “Hey, we got this going on. Are you interested?”
So that’s one thing. I think one is just staying and evolving with your stakeholders and making sure that you are providing an easy way for them to get the information that’s important to them and vice versa. The one thing we’ve really kind of shifted is Facebook Live. We did them even before COVID. But we would go to the park into the beach and stuff, but now we’re actually going in the businesses more, and that’s providing more exposure to them. So cook a dish. Show us your store. What do you have for sale? So they get great easy engagements and it’s a great way to promote the businesses and help them communicate the new things that they are shifting to.
Adam Stoker: [00:30:29] Yeah, one of the things that I remember from when you and I chatted before on the Destination Marketing Podcast. You guys talked about how the crisis communication plan you created, helped you when the fire hit because you guys had developed a lot of those resources. And it’s almost like that was the trial run for all the things that you had to do when Coronavirus hit. And I feel like that gave you a real head start for that crisis specifically. I would say to any destination that’s listening if you don’t have a crisis communication plan with, how am I going to communicate to my stakeholders if they don’t have email available to them? Have I created a Facebook group? Do I know how to message them directly on Instagram, right? What is my plan? I think that’s going to give you such a leg up when inevitably another crisis will hit at some point in time, right?
So do we want to create a crisis communications plan during a crisis or before and obviously the answer is before, but we’re already in the crisis. So the time is now and make sure we’re prepared for next time. So, Cheryl, I think that’s a really good point. I love that I think stories make such a difference in marketing. I think for people to relate to a destination, if you can connect to them on an emotional level, it makes such a difference. The fact that you’re going in the businesses and telling the stories to your Facebook Lives in the business just humanizes it for the traveler. And I think that’s also a really important thing that you’re doing to tell your stakeholder story. So good stuff. Rachel, how about you?
Rachel Brown: [00:32:06] Yeah, Well, Cheryl, I love that creative use of social media for stakeholder engagement. I think that’s just a great example. For me, 2020 was a bit of a blessing in disguise as far as stakeholder engagement. It normally would have taken months and months for me to meet all the key players in town and in the industry and COVID just kicked everything into overdrive, and it happened really fast, and granted I did meet most people on Zoom, but better than nothing, of course.
And I’d say shifting again from Destination Marketing Organization to Destination Management Organization, that stakeholder engagement really is becoming more and more important. Sometimes I do get a little tired of all the committees and task forces and stakeholder groups I’m a part of, but ultimately I think it is a really important part of our mission. I’ve just been really refreshed and surprised to see how friendly the community is here. It’s very collaborative, which has been super helpful during this last year. We have a number of different organizations. I’m sure like other destinations do. We have a chamber. We have Visit Durango. We have a business improvement district and we have these economic development groups and there are a lot of similarities. But they all each serve their own purpose, and it’s great that each of them exists. But I think it’s also really important that we do function as one team because there is so much overlap. So I definitely see that continuing into this year and hopefully a little less on Zoom and a little more in person.
Adam Stoker: [00:33:51] Yeah, Rachel, you had the opportunity to I mean, I hate to talk about COVID as an opportunity, but honestly it provided a lot of opportunities for a lot of people. But you combine that with the fact that you were new in the destination. So you had two great excuses to go out and meet with every stakeholder in the destination, right? And maybe even open up doors that had been closed before in that relationship between the DMO and the businesses. Another piece of advice for anybody listening. If you were to be new in your destination like Rachel was, what would you do? Who would you talk to first and in what order would you go out? And then I would say go do it. Even though you’ve been there for 10 years, do it again. Right? Reengage.
And I actually thought Amber George from Visit The Woodlands brought up a great point in our comments section here. The stakeholders are more receptive than ever before because they understand the value that the DMO is bringing to the community. I talked about opportunities that come out of Coronavirus. Those stakeholder relationships are primed to be created more than ever before and let’s take the time and let’s capitalize on that and build those relationships. So thanks to Amber and to Rachel on that one.
One of the things that I wanted to chat with you all about is I feel like every destination in Coronavirus in 2020 realized we found gaping holes in what we’re doing in some way, shape or form. We found issues with what we’re doing. Why is now as we go into 2021 the time for every destination to reevaluate everything they’re doing? I’ll go Cheryl, Rachel and Robb on this.
Cheryl Shallanberger: [00:35:39] Well, I mean, I think it was an opportunity to look at all of your assets and what you had. I think looking forward it’s just a different landscape. So, like you said before, what you’re doing in the past isn’t going to necessarily work now. So I think it’s an opportunity to understand what travel sentiment is going to look like, how people are going to travel, what they’re comfortable with and taking that and we have to revamp all of our assets I think to that. For us, we’ve been wanting a new website for probably 3, 4 years now, and I’ve always just kind of put it on the back burner. But we decide at this point it’s time to do it. And so we did.
We went out to RFP, so we’re literally in the process. But I think now is the time to look at what you have and I think more than ever, photography and videography we always worry about the shelf life and how quickly it’s going to be gone. Well, a lot of that stuff probably is no longer valid. So it’s going to talk about rebuilding those things that make sense moving forward. So this year was looking at a lot of that and making sure that we have stuff in place and ready to go when the time is right.
Adam Stoker: [00:36:50] I love it. I love it. Great points and the fact that you’re taking the time to create new content create a new website, instead of just waiting for things to go back to normal and who knows what normal is going to be, right? I think those are great strategies, Rachel, how about you?
Rachel Brown: [00:37:08] I think as the traveler is reevaluating themselves on what they’re looking for in a destination, were also reevaluating our destination in the ways that we overlap with what they’re looking for. So we’re lucky here in our county. We have a lot of those unique advantages that travelers are looking for these days. And while I think things will go back to normal-ish, I think a lot of that will stick around for a while. We’re an outdoor destination, so people can easily do things and socially distance. That’s a huge advantage right now.
And, yeah, I think building off what Cheryl said, it’s just an opportunity to build up from the ground again. Get rid of those things that weren’t necessarily working and trying new things, take risks and rebuild and create something new. So it is an opportunity, in a way.
Adam Stoker: [00:38:04] Yeah, it’s interesting. Your competitive messaging has changed entirely, right? You had to kind of talk around how remote you are at times in your marketing. And now all of a sudden it’s like the biggest attraction is how remote you are. So, yeah, reevaluating the tone of your message even is critical right now. I love it. Rob, how about you?
Robb Wells: [00:38:28] Well, for us, it’s definitely refocusing on that content that Cheryl was talking about. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team fight for a content budget like they have right now and being able to produce the content that’s appropriate for the messaging that’s going on now going forward. So my encouragement to everybody here is if you’re in the marketing room and you’re looking to do it, this is the time to fight for that content budget and probably increase it. I know it’s not the easiest time to do it, but it’s so imperative.
The other thing for us is that we realized during this that our content our database in general needed improvement and how we talk to people and how we communicated with them and how we presented the destination and all those things have to be revamped and changed over. We’re still working through that. To Cheryl’s point, it’s never a better time to put out what you want on the website or some other tools that will help you down the road. We’re just kind of reassessing all that and putting it in place now.
Adam Stoker: [00:39:29] Yeah, each of you mentioned content, so I want to go a little bit deeper on that specifically. In fact, Linda Jeffrey is also in the comments section talked about how she’s created a podcast. Specific to content, in a time when at least budgets have been cut or maybe it’s not okay to advertise in some markets with paid media or things like that, we’ve always got to be building and planning for the future. So many of us, I think may have neglected our content assets, whether it’s website got outdated, or we don’t have itineraries to match our current audience or copy on the websites outdated. Whatever, right?
Now is a great time, especially when in some cases you either can’t advertise this as much or maybe even not at all with paid media to generate that content. So, Cheryl, I want to go back to you because you talked about photography and videography and some of the steps that you’re taking there. Have you done full photography sessions to build up your photography database? Is that on the road map? Or tell me a little bit more about the photography issues you identified there?
Cheryl Shallanberger: [00:40:46] But for us, we have staff internally. So I think it’s one of those things it pays off, in the long run, to be able to have the talent within your own team to be able to capture visual content. Luckily, we’ve been able to do photoshoots still throughout this past year. We do it with a mask, and we do it without. So we have some content where people are wearing masks and maybe let’s still get some if we feel like it’s okay to promote without it that we can do it, it’s keeping in mind that the distancing and all that. So we are still working on that just to make sure that we still have the relevant content for sure.
Adam Stoker: [00:41:25] I think as you look at the photography that you’ve got some with masks and some without, that’s actually fascinating. I think every destination should be looking at okay, what of my photography content should have masks in it and what shouldn’t? Every destination is going to be different, right? But asking that question is really important. I’m glad that you are.
One of the things I wanted to mention about content specifically is when you buy an ad, let’s say a pay-per-click ad or a Facebook ad or whatever. Once that ad runs, it’s gone, right? But when you’re creating content that content is evergreen. You can use it in multiple places. You can promote it on advertising platforms. And so the other great thing about content right now is that as opposed to having a one-touch advertising touch, you’re creating content that can last forever. So that’s another reason I feel like looking at your content as a destination right now is really important.
Fabio, who I know does some great 3D and virtual reality content says content is king, and he’s absolutely right. And some 360 photography if I remember right. Rachel, what about you from a content perspective, how deep are you guys going to go this year on creating content?
Rachel Brown: [00:42:43] Well, great content is king, and we’re doing similar to what Cheryl’s doing. We have continued with photo and video shoots, some with masks, some without and trying to keep it in-house again I think has been a shift that we’ve made. One sort of unexpected thing that’s happened that I think we will continue with is as the lines between PR and advertising get further and further blurred, were being approached with a lot of these kinds of pay-to-play opportunities where a show or editorial some kind of media production will want to come in and you’ll have to pay-to-play a little bit. But then if you negotiate your terms right you can actually keep the content that they produce.
So, for example, we had a show coming recently in film in town and we worked it out so that we could get all the B roll that they had filmed while they were here. So that’s a shift I’ve seen that’s kind of exciting and I think will continue.
Adam Stoker: [00:43:48] Yeah, a combination of kind of paid but you get to keep the content you repurpose and use the content. That’s a great combination. I think those are great ideas. Robb, I know you mentioned your podcast, and you guys just hit a milestone of I think was 2,000 listens from your podcast. What else are you doing from a content standpoint?
Robb Wells: [00:44:09] Oh, it’s a lot of the same things that Cheryl mentioned as well. Content is king, and we also need to develop the channels in which to push the content out. We got to deliver, which is the deliverable that content is queen, and in this case, we’re working on both ends. So while we have spent a lot of time getting new footage and new videos, most of our content that we had shown groups of people that’s taboo at this point. Not representative of the expectation we want to set here in our destination. So we’re working with those partners in getting those things done. Our team has done a good job of getting that out of their websites reflecting that to the best of our abilities and keep working.
Now on the same front, when we’re developing this content, we do have a future purpose. Cheryl’s recommendation is definitely one of those notes that I just took here with the mask, without the mask. It’s not just about showing just a couple on the beach. At some point, you’re going to have to show the activity that comes associated with it. And are you able to do that now? We’re just focusing on making sure that we’re keeping our content fluid. Making sure it meets those expectations that we can deliver on in our destination. That is key for us.
Adam Stoker: [00:45:27] Great. Right. And I believe Robb, you mentioned you guys are repurposing your content as well, right? And using it in multiple channels.
Robb Wells: [00:45:36] As much as possible, right. In smaller DMOs and we’re trying to work with us. We have some good partners on some of the placement side that help us achieve some of those usages and better use for that content that’s being developed so it doesn’t just go to waste.
Adam Stoker: [00:45:51] Great. So now, we’ve got about 12 minutes left. So, first of all, if anybody does have questions in the audience, please make sure you type those in so that we have time to get to them. I’m seeing some comments. I see my friend, Greg, from Rhode Island is making a comment that he likes the idea of doing both masked and unmasked photos. Hi, Greg. And so if anybody has comments or questions, please put them in there. We’ll make sure we get to them. I think the last and we’ve got we’ve got several different questions that we had kind of planned for that we haven’t gotten to. But I think I just want to boil it down from each of you. It looks like I’ve omitted the Q & A section, so let’s get to these questions because they’re really important. So Jacqueline Blackwell says, “What’s your biggest learning lesson from 2020? There’s probably a ton, but what stands out that shaped your future planning?” Anything we haven’t covered that maybe one of you want to speak to there?
Rachel Brown: [00:46:51] I could jump in there. I’d say that as much as we’ve talked about starting fresh and rebuilding things from the ground up and taking what works and what doesn’t, it’s also nice to remember the roots of why you’ve done certain things for a while and not to lose sight of that. So one example is international sales and travel trade. With international travel being stopped this year, a lot of people’s first instinct knee-jerk reaction is, “Oh, that’s the first thing we’re going to cut out of our budget.” When in reality it’s actually one of the things I think that we should prioritize right now more than ever, because as we know, with those kinds of sales opportunities they don’t come to fruition for two or three years.
And so while that marketplace is kind of quiet right now, it’s the perfect opportunity to step up and stand out and keep that in your budget and keep your sales staff and keep in touch with those folks so that you’ll really be one of the few people who still in contact with them. So I guess it’s a mix of starting fresh, but also remembering your roots and why you do certain things.
Adam Stoker: [00:48:07] Great points, great points. And, yeah, we don’t just abandon everything just because we got to make sure that if we’re stopping something, that’s the right thing to do. The idea of once again, when everybody else is pulling out, you build those relationships, you can definitely give yourself a leg up. Great point, Rachel.
Okay, let’s go to the next one. So we have an attendee say, “Did you discover any new feeder markets during 2020? And how are you targeting those moving into 2021 in the spring?” We touched a little bit on that earlier, but I want to make sure that we can get that question answered appropriately. So anybody have any additional thoughts to add there?
Cheryl Shallanberger: [00:48:45] I can jump in. So for us, California is a huge road trip. Everyone’s on road trips. Personally, I’ve never seen so many sprinter vans and people commute traveling by van now. So I think really it’s kind of having that new mindset. People are buying these things that never would have bought one. So are we catering in our messaging to that? And I think for us, it’s important to kind of have that bigger picture of if people are going to be driving regionally, make that content easy for them. So they’re novice driving these things and getting around.
So are we answering their questions to make it easy for them to experience our community? It’s kind of the way I’m looking at this new feeder market or really close by drive market and that’s kind of my shift is how they’re getting here than just their driving. If that makes sense, I guess.
Adam Stoker: [00:49:42] Yeah. Yeah. And does the experience match what they’re expecting when they get there? Right? Because they are getting them under different circumstances than your previous audience. I think that’s a great point. Robb, anything to add?
Robb Wells: [00:49:54] Yeah. I mean again for us is that meeting those expectations. We are primarily a drive market, to begin with. So this during this time period, it’s kind of been a fit. We’ve worked with some of our folks to figure out what markets could be opportunities for us as our state was open. One of the first opened. It has been remained open. Like I mentioned early on, we started working on our social media team to put out there some polls kind of identifying what people are looking for. Can we meet those expectations and be able to find out? It has opened up some newer markets, probably not as strong, but it gives us an opportunity to really hone in on that.
There are probably some markets that we were unaware of that actually turned out to be pretty good. We’ll continue to work with those and we have expanded some, but not that much. We’re still trying to serve the people and meet those expectations where we can.
Adam Stoker: [00:50:48] Great. Great. Well, we don’t have any more questions in the Q & A sessions, so I want to have each of you maybe think about how to boil it down to what is your most important piece of advice you can give a destination trying to navigate 2021? Let’s start with Cheryl. Yeah.
Cheryl Shallanberger: [00:51:08] We’ve touched upon it a lot already today, but I think it’s the communication with your stakeholders. I think as we move forward, have those conversations of what are their obstacles? What are the roadblocks? Make sure that your efforts and campaigns are a way to be an aid and help them get through that. Not only is it going to help them, but it also brings value to your organization. So I think it’s just more than ever is the communication between your stakeholders.
Adam Stoker: [00:51:34] I love it. Okay, Rachel, how about you?
Rachel Brown: [00:51:38] Well, just to backtrack slightly, I wanted to mention the new feeder markets. It might seem obvious, but previously we were going after a 5 1/2 hour drive radius market, and people are willing to drive a lot further these days. So we have expanded that to 10 plus. But in regards to the biggest lesson of the last year, Adam, when you had me on your podcast, I think you asked me this, and that was just at the beginning of COVID, and we had no idea what we were in for. But I think at that point I said just being patient and I’d say that holds pretty true. I didn’t realize at the time quite how patient we would have to be. but I think we’ll continue to have to be into 2021 because things are certainly not back to normal. And I think, as we’ve said, it will be a new normal.
And then beyond that, just not being afraid to take risks. certain things you’ve been doing because of political pressure or board reasons. Now is the time to take a risk and try something new.
Adam Stoker: [00:52:44] Yeah, Rachel, I’m going to just respond real quick to what you said. I actually lost my train of thought as odd as that sounds, because I got really excited about your take a risk advice. So you kind of derailed me from my response there. But let’s go to Robb and have you give us your final word, Rob, your final piece of advice.
Robb Wells: [00:53:05] For me, it’s definitely the risk aspect of it. I say shoot your shot. Listen, we’re all in this and we all know our data. We know our core markets. We know that people were going after we’re ready for this to continue to move forward and we see a light in the tunnel. I encourage every one of you to not be paralyzed by the situation, to move forward and keep moving forward. Find the partners that will help you get it done, whether it be local stakeholders or some of those outside the office or in the office. But dog on it, shoot your shot when you get a chance, and this is a better time than ever to do just that and to introduce your destination, someone who is pent up with demand right now that they’re ready to get back out.
So my encouragement to everyone is to let’s get these people back to traveling and do it in a safe manner. But shoot your shot when you get a chance.
Adam Stoker: [00:53:54] Thanks, Robb. And Rachel, I’m going back to your patience comment. I was going to say I have to have this conversation way too often. But if you try to judge your progress on a day-to-day basis at a time like this, it’s nearly impossible to see progress. But then you look back over three weeks, three months, six months. It’s like, holy cow. Have we done a lot? Right? And so having the perspective of patience, yes. But also, don’t judge yourself on a day-to-day basis so you’re going to go crazy, right? So I love that advice.
And then both of you mentioned taking a risk. If I had to boil my advice for any destination right now, it would be take a risk, because guess what? Most of your hotels are down, businesses down right now. As far as what do you have to lose? I mean, obviously don’t do something terrible, right? But if you have a calculated risk, where there’s a ton of upside and very little downside, there’s never been a better time to take it, and your stakeholders will appreciate it. They’ll appreciate that more than you sitting back and waiting for the crisis to happen to your destination.
I want to remind everyone that eTourism Summit is live this year as of now, and we’re planning on having it be live this year, September 20th through the 22nd in Vegas, and we’d love to have everybody be there in person, assuming that we’re able to be there safely in person. So thanks everybody for being a part of this. Thanks to each of you on the panel and also those of you that were able to join us to listen and let’s just keep pushing forward into 2021.