Episode 108

How to Win in RecoveryNick Breedlove

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About Our Guest

Nick Breedlove

In this episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast, Nick Breedlove, executive director at Jackson County Tourism, joins us to talk about some of the things that his destination has been doing in light of the recent Covid-19 pandemic. Listen to learn some of his tips and tricks, as well as how his destination was able to break records, despite being in the middle of one of the biggest crises that the tourism industry has ever seen.

Episode Highlights

  • Name: Adam Stoker
  • Position: Co-founder and CEO of Relic
  • Favorite Destination: Fiji
  • Dream Destination: New Zealand
  • Name: Nick Breedlove
  • Position: Executive Director at Jackson County Tourism Development Authority
  • Favorite Destination: Italy
  • Dream Destination: Northern lights of Iceland

“How to Win in Recovery” – Show Notes and Highlights

 

Show Highlights:

  • Nick shares his experience from being a journalist then as a public servant. 
  • Jackson County is famous for its mountainous destinations, natural parks, home to the Blue Ridge Parkway and fly fishing. Primarily a leisure destination to get out of the city and unwind. 
  • Jackson County shifted its perspective on the advertising and hospitality industry during the COVID crisis to prioritize residents’ safety. 
  • Jackson County lost 14 million visitor spending across local attractions in the first few months of shutdown. However, the county beat an all-time records of occupancy tax collections mid-year 2020. 
  • Nick discusses that analysts showed that people are now looking for rural off-beaten path destinations, national parks, and places outside the city. 
  • Jackson County moved entirely on billboard and digital advertising emphasizing the message on available open spaces, encouraging stakeholders and partners to recreate responsibly and prioritize safety.
  • Jackson County shifted support entirely towards local communities and businesses. 
  • The destination’s product is still outdoors, and benefits from being a naturally socially distanced destination. 
  • Adam agrees on the realization that people feel they have an over-tourism problem but it’s actually a distribution of tourism problem, where COVID has forced destinations to distribute traffic better. 
  • Nick uses Tableau to create a visualization heat map for where the most demand for information about their destination is. He also uses data in analyzing marketing reports for campaign and event planning. 
  • People are responding more to beautiful imagery visitors take than ever before because people are now desperate for inspiration. 
  • Nick points out that collaboration with neighboring countries and destinations is the key to do a better job in decision-making during a crisis.
  • Jackson County’s future plan is focused on sustainable tourism with the increase in visitors bringing more people in a responsible and safe manner.

 

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast:

  • Connect Travel
  • Marketing Leadership Summit
  • connecttravel.com
  • Destination Marketing Podcast
  • Adam Stoker
  • Relic 
  • Nick Breedlove
  • Jackson County, North Carolina 
  • Tourism Development Authority
  • Asheville 
  • Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • North Carolina Tourism Office
  • Tableau
  • Arrivalist
  • Entrada Insights
  • Google Analytics 
  • CrowdRiff

Episode Transcript

Nick Breedlove: [00:00:00] Sometimes as leaders, we wait for perfection. We wait for something to align perfectly before we do it, and sometimes it’s just getting out there doing something it may not be perfect but people would rather you get out there and do something rather than waiting for it potentially never materialize. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:00:19] Hello, everyone and welcome to another episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Adam Stoker. We’ve got a great show planned for you today. Our guest today is Nick Breedlove, and he is the Executive Director of Jackson County, North Carolina’s Tourism Development Authority. And Nick, welcome to the show. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:00:39] Thanks for having me and glad it’s Friday. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:00:42] Oh, man, I’m glad it’s Friday too and the Friday right before Thanksgiving it’ll be nice to have a little break, won’t it? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:00:48] Absolutely. It’ll be a little bit different this year with social distancing, but I’m looking forward to it. 

 

Adam: Stoker: [00:00:54] Yeah. Are you getting ready or getting together with family? Or are you going to do it at home with your core family? What are you going to do? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:01:02] So this year, Mom called and said she would deliver a full plate to the door wearing a mask and we’re not getting together just out of an abundance of caution. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:01:14] Got it. Well, it will be fun to see her from a distance then and you still get the quality of meal that you got growing up. That sounds like a good deal. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:01:22] Absolutely. And hopefully, she gives some leftovers with that delivery. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:01:26] That’s right. That’s right. There better be enough. Well, Nick, I’m excited to have you on the show. We’ve got a couple of kind of ice breaker questions we like to ask at the beginning of each show, and it will be interesting to hear your answers. So let’s start. And I’ve had some people cheat and say their own destination. So I want to get that out of the way. You can’t cheat and say your own destination. Alright? So if you could go anywhere in the world, Nick, where would that be? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:01:52]I think one of my bucket list destinations is Iceland. I’m really fascinated by the Northern Lights, and that’s definitely something I want to do before I die. Just see the beautiful green glow and also the black sand beaches there are just gorgeous. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:02:10] Yeah, I get such a kick out of the name of Iceland and the name of Greenland because they both seem pretty inappropriately named. Like Iceland is much more green and beautiful and Greenland, while beautiful, maybe a little more icy. It’s kind of funny to see the difference in what the actual destination is from the name. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:02:30] That’s right. Yeah. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:02:32] Well, so Nick, is Iceland something that you’ve always wanted to do? Is that a recent addition to your bucket list? And how did it get there? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:02:40] It’s a recent edition. I’ve just always been fascinated by the Northern Lights and I haven’t seen them. I’ve seen photos, and there are those things that you just want to do once in your lifetime. Like those bioluminescent algae going on a kayak tour in Puerto Rico was absolutely amazing. Descending through a cavern in Cancun, Mexico in a cenote. So the Northern Lights is just one of those things you just have to add to your list, I think. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:03:15] Yeah, you sound like you’re a little bit of a sucker for a natural phenomenon. Is that fair to say? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:03:21] That’s accurate. I just like to explore and I love new destinations and it’s interesting being the head of a DMO and traveling to a destination and experiencing it like a visitor. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:03:37] Isn’t that fun? I mean I went to Hawaii recently and experiencing Hawaii like a visitor, but then examining the customer experience and the different components of their brand as I was there, it’s a fascinating experience, and anyway, I love the way I look at travel now compared to before I was in the industry. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:04:02] It’s like the first thing that I do when I get to a new town is I go, “Where should I eat?” And you know what’s sad is I pull out my phone and I open up Yelp, and I’m like, “No, you can’t do that.” You spend thousands on your destination website, and you as the DMO leader are pulling up Yelp. So then I remind myself to check out the local DMO website, called the Visitor Center and say, “If I have two days here, what should I do and what should I see?” 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:04:30] Yeah, well, and the funny thing about it is you know as the DMO leader that the DMO that you’re visiting also has to give kind of equal share or equal description of the popular restaurants on their site. And so sometimes it is difficult to find the highest reviewed restaurant on the DMO website. And maybe we’re uncovering a problem that we need to solve, you know? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:04:58] Absolutely. And I crowdsourced with friends. I went to Hilton Head a few months ago, and I said, “Where are your favorite places to eat?” And we visited all of those places. They were absolutely amazing. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:05:13] Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. My wife and I went to Hilton Head a couple of years ago and just had an incredible time and so, I share your experience there. Tell me about maybe sounds like you’ve been on a lot of trips which makes sense. You’re in the industry. What is your favorite destination you’ve ever visited? I know it’s hard to pick a favorite. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:05:32] So easily. Hands down it’s Italy. I spent two weeks there, and I absolutely fell in love traveling the countryside. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:05:41] So Italy has a lot to it, and I think it has different appeals to different people. So I would love to hear, what is it about Italy that spoke to you specifically is a traveler?

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:05:54] So I think just, you know, the different destinations within Italy. We went to Venice, Monte San Giamo which is was my absolute favorite place. It’s like a small, little two or three-block village with amazing wineries. It’s off the beaten path. Traveled to Sienna, Florence, Rome. One of my favorite things that I did was I signed up for a cooking class in Rome because I love to cook and we went to the market and bought fresh herbs. Everything we needed to make pasta from scratch. And to this day, I remember that experience and it just drives home that as destination leaders, what experiences do you offer in your destination that are going to leave a lasting impression on someone? 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:06:45] Oh, how cool. You know, the opportunity to cook in Italy using the herbs and spices that you get in Italy, I can see why that would really stand out for you. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:06:55] I have sent three people to that same cooking class, and they all had an absolute blast. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:07:02] Oh, how cool and how often do you try that recipe here? And how does it stack up compared to when you ate it there? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:07:09] Well, I don’t often have time after work to spend an hour making fresh pasta, but I do have all the attachments to make it by hand, by mixer. Sometimes I settle for the boxed pasta, but I definitely pick a nice Italian wine. One of my favorite things in Italy was watching people just enjoying an entire pizza for lunch. You think about lunch-size servings and you have people in Sienna sitting down to an entire 10, 12-inch pizza, eating the entire thing without regret. And I thought for sure when I came back I would have gained 10 pounds but you walk so much there. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:07:52] Oh, that’s great. An entire pizza does sound like a big lunch. And so there are cultural differences. When I spent some time in Brazil and lunch was their big meal and dinner was actually kind of a little more of a snacky type meal. Is it the same in Italy? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:08:11] I don’t know. I had big meals with every time of the day. We were walking so much, I think. I actually hit 20,000 steps every single day. And I think that’s what helped me enjoy the great food. But I’m a foodie at heart, and that’s what we do when we travel. It’s like, “Well, we should grab some breakfast and look around, see what there is to do then we’ve got to eat again. Let’s find a great place for lunch and where are we going to have dinner?” 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:08:39] Yep. Yeah, absolutely. That’s good stuff. So go to a destination. If you’re going to eat good, go to a destination where you get 20,000 steps a day and you should be fine. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:08:47] That’s right. That’s right. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:08:49] Well, Nick, I appreciate you giving us that context on your travel experience. And I’d love to learn a little bit more about you and your background and how you got into tourism. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:09:00 ]Yes. So I have an interesting background. I was a journalist for a newspaper for about 13 years back when people actually picked up a physical newspaper and read it from front to back. And so I learned a lot about storytelling. That’s really the industry. When you break down what we do in DMOs. It’s all about telling a story. So with that background from there, I went on to be a mayor, which was a small town in our county. It’s like an HOA Almost. It’s almost something out of Parks and Rec if you’ve ever seen that series. But, I got a taste for government when I was mayor and it wasn’t a full-time job. It was one meeting a month and we had a budget of $140,000 which at the time seemed like a lot. But it gave me a taste of leading meetings, bringing together stakeholders. And from there the position for our DMO. Our DMO never had a director before, so they were looking for somebody with public relations skills with an advertising background with leadership skills. So it was an odd combination of utilizing my past roles in copyrighting for newspaper, photography, leadership as the mayor dealing with a board. It made for the perfect combination. And I joined our DMO about five years ago. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:10:41] That is so interesting because you hear that job description, right? And you’re like, “Man, it’s going to be hard to find somebody.” But here comes Nick, who went from journalist to mayor and got all those skills that fit that job description and fits perfectly into this net new director role. It’s kind of fun to see how, man, if people have such well-rounded backgrounds, that there’s always a person out there that can fit whatever job. But it had to been challenging to get into or to start a net new position that didn’t have, like, a predecessor that had set up those processes or set up what needed to, a vision for the destination? So how were you able to do that from the ground up? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:11:28] Well, it’s really funny. When I started, it was mid-January and they gave me a one-year contract. They said, “We’re going to see if the director is really something we need if it’s a good fit,” so it’s sort of like a blank page. You get to write it from scratch. You just hope there’s a sequel. Yeah, I started out in mid-January and somebody said, “How’s the visitor guide coming along?” And I said, “Visitor guide? What visitor guide?” And they said, “Well, we produce one every year,” and I said, “Okay, well, let me figure that out.” And then about a month later, they said, “You know, there’s this big of flips happening in about two years and we’re directly in the path of it,” and then I said, “Oh, wow, that’s pretty cool. We need to figure that out.” And 2017 of flips was a lot of fun, but we planned for that for two solid years. And it was the largest mass migration of humans in modern history, and nobody knew how many people were coming. Nobody knew what was going to happen. 

 

So talking about getting thrown into hot water, it was fun. But you learn. And my biggest thing is I try to bring everyone along in the process and connect stakeholders and really bring everyone into the conversation. So we do that on a continual basis here.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:12:57] Got it. Well, that’s interesting. That gives us some insight into the uniqueness of the destination that you guys were the primary viewing place for that eclipse and that people came from all over the country to be there, which is hard to imagine today, and we’ll talk about that at some point. But tell me a little bit about your Jackson County as a destination and what makes it unique. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:13:25] So we’re a mountainous destination. A lot of people have heard of Asheville and you know jokingly we say we’re LA left of Asheville. We’re 494 square miles of just natural scenic beauty. Countless waterfalls were home to the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the most visited park in the US with free admission. Were also home to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is America’s most celebrated motor route. So we like to think that we’re in the middle of the most here because we’re a few hour drive from Atlanta from Charlotte from Nashville. 

 

We have amazing fly fishing were home to the western North Carolina fly fishing trail, which it’s a product that was developed before I came on. But it maps out all the best places to catch trout in the North Carolina mountains. So primarily where a leisure destination people come here to get out of the city to enjoy the cooler temperatures and sort of just unwind. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:14:33] Sounds like an amazing place. And I’m not a great fly fisherman, but I like to fly fish. And I had heard of Asheville for that reason, the amazing fly fishing that’s in your destination. And I did get a chance to go out to Tennessee earlier this year. I took the podcast on the road, actually, and we went out to Tennessee, and one of the things that I found super interesting when I was there is Tennessee actually opened quicker, I think, than all the states around it, which provided a really unique challenge in one of the destinations that I visited called Bristol, where half of its in Virginia, half of Bristol’s in Virginia, half of Bristol’s in Tennessee. And so you literally had businesses on one side of the street that was open and businesses on another side of the street that was closed, which provided a really unique dynamic. But for you being next to some of those destinations that opened a little quicker, tell me what that was like and some of the challenges that came along with that. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:15:32] With regard to COVID it was we faced another unprecedented situation. Every year we deal with hurricanes, wildfires, and the pandemic is something that we have public health crises in our crisis management plan. But we had never thought about a pandemic on this scale. So in March, I believe we canceled all our advertising. We had local orders that hotels could not rent to people. So it was really interesting to be in this business but first and foremost we wanted to put our residents’ safety top of mind. I’ve lived here my entire life which makes me care more about my destination and the health and viability of the community as opposed to bringing in visitation just for visitation sake. 

 

So it was a shift in perspective. I early on had conversations with our county leaders seeing the case count skyrocket. And we actually discussed, “Maybe it’s a good thing to shut down,” which, as a destination leader, is completely opposite of what you would traditionally find yourself advocate for. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:17:05] And painful even to discuss, right? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:17:08] It is. But it was the right choice. We fared well since then. It has been a really interesting year. March, April and May our tourism economy was decimated. We estimate that we lost around 14 million in visitor spending alone at our local attractions, restaurants and retail. And then June, July and August, we didn’t know what to expect. We budgeted for the worst. But all the national trends and data showed travel wouldn’t return until 2022 perhaps or even 2023. So we were unsure as to what would happen but we were actually shocked that in June, July and August, we beat all-time records for occupancy tax collections, so people were coming at an exponential rate versus every month in our history. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:18:09] Wow, I want to learn more about that, Nick, and we will after we take a quick break. 

 

Today’s episode is brought to you by Relic. As many as you know, I own an advertising agency called Relic and we work specifically with tourism destinations. If there’s any of you that are struggling with what to do next or you’ve tried agencies that don’t specialize in tourism or if you’ve been using a local flavor for years and years and you’re just looking for something new, I would say give us a call. Give us the opportunity to take a look at your plans, see what you’re doing, use our tourism knowledge and industry specialty to examine everything from your brand to your tactical execution and make recommendations of how to help. We’ll do that assessment for free. We’ll give you those recommendations for free. And if you like what we say, maybe you can hire us to execute on those plans. So, kind of a risk-free opportunity to have us take a holistic look at everything you’re doing, provide some recommendations, and you can kind of see us in action.

 

If you’re interested in having us do something like that, please send me an email directly and adam@relicagency.com. I would love to set that up with my team. 

 

Well, Nick, that’s really interesting, considering the fact that you went from nothing for three months to now breaking records for three months. But in a time where you had so many more challenges than you had had before. So not only do you have unprecedented crowds, but you’ve got to safety measures that are still in place and tell me how you navigated that. Because having that many visitors right after having zero visitors is a unique challenge in and of itself. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:19:58] That’s right. And we had never broken the $200,000 threshold for occupancy tax in a single month. And I believe one month we had 230,000 in receipts and for a small destination we were shocked and it goes to show we had actually dialed down our advertising to be responsible and responsive to COVID-19, but people were still coming anyway. And all the national research from Longwoods from destination analysts showed that people out of the top three or four places people were visiting, were looking for rural off-the-beaten-path destinations, national parks, and just places they could get out of the city. And we actually met three out of those top four places that people were looking to escape to. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:20:55] That’s interesting and so many changes happened for destinations, and I would definitely include yours in that because suddenly there are audiences that you didn’t target before. Suddenly messaging is completely out the door. I mean, from one standpoint, you even say, “Did you guys need a recovery campaign considering you were breaking records already, or did you need to continue to hold off?” So tell me a little bit about the changes that took place for you as a destination when things started to come back. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:21:25] So yeah, advertising-wise, we went our plan shifted entirely to digital which I have a print background and print’s not dead by any means. but we realize digital we could turn it up off or change it instantly, depending on the COVID situation. We emphasized our wide-open spaces and encourage people to recreate responsibly, travel safely, travel confidently because thinking about our small community, the last thing that our residents want to see are our US inviting people from major metro cities with active, imminent outbreaks to our mountains. So we had to be very careful to balance resident sentiment, advertising, and all the while supporting our small businesses who desperately need business to stay open. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:22:27] Yeah, the idea, especially of the businesses that need the support. This is the challenging balance that I think every destination is having to figure out. And there are certain businesses that are so critical to our customer experience that if we don’t have travel for a certain period of time, that business may not be able to be a part of our customer experience long term. And so that’s it’s this battle of safety versus sustenance and it sounds like you guys were able to really proactively manage that balance. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:23:04] We were. We started in early March before there were guidelines from the state from Health and Human Services from best cleaning practices for COVID. We started compiling all the information we could for our small accommodations that don’t have corporate flags as to how they can prepare to reopen safely. We shared that information with restaurants. We held webinars. We sent out mass email campaigns and we innovated and we pivoted as a DMO. Our entire job is to advertise and promote and in recent years that’s shifted to destination management and even more recently just destination organization. 

 

So we found ourselves shifting from supporting the visitor to shifting 100% of our efforts toward the local communities, businesses, restaurants because, like you said, if they’re not open if they don’t have the business they need to sustain, then when our visitors come back, there will not be an experience for them. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:24:16] Right. Yeah, that’s a difficult balance to strike, as we mentioned and, COVID it’s so hard to know what normal is going to be in two years, right? Much less two months. But COVID I think, has been around long enough to where every destination at this point should have made wholesale product changes to accommodate the new safety measures and regulations and things like that. It sounds like you guys did a lot of research early on health and safety measures and distributed it to your stakeholders. Tell me a little bit about how your product as a whole has changed as a result of at least what currently feels like it might be the new normal. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:25:03] My favorite phrase is the new abnormal. There’s nothing normal about this. We started counting weeks of COVID at the beginning, and now we’re — now it’s November, and we’re all like, “How did we get to the end of the year already? It’s a month until Christmas.” So our product is still the same. We’re still the great outdoors, and we benefit from being a naturally socially distanced destination. But we made so many changes to prioritize visitor safety. One of our Chambers wrote a grant, and we installed foot-operated hand sanitizer units at every single one of our restaurants. 

 

We innovated and created itineraries to avoid the crowds to get off the beaten path when our restaurants were shut down and doing take-out only. We set up based on a model in Charleston, we set up a virtual tip jar. So those people dependent on tips who are now only doing take-out could still pay their bills. Most recently, with our federal funding we received through The Cares Act, we’ve done some really creative messaging about COVID-19, and I never thought I would be in the billboard business. But we’re putting up billboards in our local community to remind people of safe practices because we become a hot spot, we become a less desirable destination. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:26:39 ] Yeah, yeah, and one of the things that you touched on it. And I love the billboard comment when I come back to that as well, but I want to go back to one of the things you mentioned about you created itineraries for how to get off the beaten path. This I’m going to get on my soapbox here for a second, but I think a lot of people that feel like they have an over-tourism problem actually have a distribution of tourism problem. And I love the measures that you guys took to say, “Hey, here’s how you can get off the beaten path.” But the other thing that that does is it makes for the ability to distribute your traffic in a more sustainable matter. And I feel like that is a step that many destinations have neglected. And COVID has actually forced destinations to come up with those itineraries and distribute their traffic better and not have 90% of their traffic at 10% of their attractions. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:27:33] You’re exactly right. One thing we realized when we were doing our strategic plan before COVID is in July and October were a mountain destination and this goes for most of the mountain destinations, in October were at 80 something percent occupancy, so we don’t need any more leaf lookers here on weekends in October. Where the real opportunity lies in the midweek season Monday through Thursday during our slower months, that’s when our accommodations our restaurants need the revenue. 

 

So we sort of applied the same approach during COVID is in all of our messaging, we said for a less crowded visit come during the week because all these families are doing virtual learning and remote work. So it doesn’t really matter when you visit, but it spreads that demand out, and it ensures that people have a good experience but more importantly, a safe experience. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:28:33] Yeah, yeah, okay, let’s go back to the billboards then because you’re getting people to your destination probably for the first time more people for the first time than ever because maybe they were used to going to places that were more populated or more densely visited. And now they’re coming to your destination and the idea of the billboards, even though it’s something you’ve never done in the past, it’s interesting. It’s like a wayfinding sign on steroids. And I know you’ve got safety messaging on there now. But is that something that you think will be a permanent part of your new advertising plan? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:29:10] I think at least through January or February because I think given even just this week States are issuing, I saw California is issuing a 10 PM curfew, New York shut down its cities, and I would rather prepare for the worst and get people thinking about these things, even if it’s just a six-second flip on a digital billboard, even if it prevents one additional case, which multiplies exponentially especially if the individual’s asymptomatic. I think to spend a couple $1000 on billboards to potentially save lives, I think that’s easily justifiable as a valid expense right now. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:30:01] Absolutely. And it goes back to your core purpose for doing what you’re doing. And you said you want to protect the residents first by educating visitors on those safety measures. That’s exactly what you’re doing. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:30:15] That’s right. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:30:16] Well, tell me a little bit. I want to go back. We covered a lot. So I want to go back to another thing we talked about, and that’s your audience in many cases has changed. How have you been able to monitor, measure, and action on that change? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:30:30] So I have to admit, I’m a data geek when it comes to everything about our visitor and the North Carolina Tourism Office, their entire campaign this year in light of COVID has been focusing on healing from the inside out, recognizing that our visitors would likely be in-state visitors first and then out of state and bordering states next. So, those are primary visitors, but we’re still seeing visitors from all over the country. 

 

To give you a statistic, 30% of visits to our website this year have been new users, never been to our website before. So we’re definitely seeing a new audience. And one thing that I do is whenever we get a lead request, somebody who signs up for our visitor guide online, I take all the data from the zip codes, the cities, and the states, and I put it in a software program called Tableau, and it’s able to show me a virtual heat map of where we’re seeing the most demand for information about our destination. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:31:41] Yeah, Tableau is a great BI tool. I’m glad you’re using that. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:31:45] Yeah, I know just enough to be dangerous and Tableau, but it’s a good instant visualization, you know. It’s really hard to complete the circle of the visitor funnel. You have Google Analytics who shows you, website visitors, you have information about who’s requesting a visitor guide, you can pixel on Facebook, but other than Arrivalist and a few other platforms, there’s nothing to really show this person came to my destination. So the best we can do is layer data and make some smart, educated guesses. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:32:22] Yeah, makes a lot of sense. One technology that I’m pretty high on right now that does a lot of that is Entrada Insights, and I had them on the show recently. I would definitely recommend taking a peek at that because their products so far has blown me away the most in the ability to attribute where your visitors are coming from and even looking at marketing performance compared to that visitation. But anyway, that’s another episode for another day I think, Nick. I’d love to hear a little bit about So you’re uncovering these new audiences, you’re using Tableau for those heat maps, and I think that’s great. Now, how are you actioning on that? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:33:04] So we constantly share this data with our ad agency who handles our paid social who handles our SCM. I get a 20-page marketing report every month with what users are engaging in what they’re not engaging in. We’ve had to put a number of our campaigns on hold like local events. Nobody’s doing events right now. So every month we analyze the good and the bad. I tell my agency who’s a terrific agency, ”I don’t just want to see the good. I want to see what’s not performing well, and I want that highlighted. And let’s pivot from that.” 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:33:45] Yeah, I think that’s a smart way to look at it. Everybody likes to hear how they’re winning. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:33:49] That’s right. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:33:51] It’s sometimes hard to accept. You know what? This needs to be shut off now and we need to pivot. But you can’t have that unless you’re looking at that negative data as well. I think that’s a great point. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:34:02] And with social, it’s incredibly easy. People are responding to beautiful imagery now more than ever before. We use CrowdRiff and we pull in all these beautiful images our visitors take and I think part of it is everything going on in the news cycle and on social media, people just want to be inspired again. They want to see something that’s not negative and just an organic post we did showing some beautiful layered mountains received over a million engagements and almost 5,000 shares. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:34:40] Wow. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:34:42] People are desperate for inspiration right now and it’s a real opportunity to inspire people and to make them feel happy again. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:34:54] You know, Nick, it’s interesting. I feel like you guys are a small destination, but you operate much bigger. I feel like you make decisions as if you were a large destination. I want to understand, and this is really for the small destinations out there that are listening, I want to understand what do you feel like is a really important piece of advice you can give destinations who want to have do a better job of making decisions especially as they’re going through the same challenges everyone else is. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:35:30] I think collaboration is key and talking to your neighboring counties and destinations and seeing what they’re doing. They’re competition but they’re also your best resources. We hold monthly or every other month meetings with all of our surrounding destinations and we work together. They’re not our competition. People who visit us, they’re going to visit the county beside us on the other counties in the region. So that visitor isn’t just ours. So collaboration is key, but also sometimes as leaders we wait for perfection. We wait for something to be perfect or something to align perfectly before we do it. And sometimes it’s just getting out there doing something, and it may not be perfect, but people would rather you get out there and do something rather than waiting for it to potentially never materialize. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:36:30] To be paralyzed by a situation is probably the worst thing. I mean, even action right now that doesn’t work is better than inaction. I think that’s great advice and the collaboration. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:36:41] That’s right. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:36:42] Well, Nick, this has been great, and I feel like we could kind of go back and forth on marketing for destinations, especially during this time. For a lot longer than one episode allows for so maybe we should do this again sometime, But if you could just boil it down to what’s next and what can people expect to see from Jackson County, what would you say? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:37:06] We’re focusing on sustainable tourism right now with the increase in visitors. That is key for our operations right now and advertising in bringing people here in a safe, responsible manner. And if there’s one message I would share with everyone out there and I attended the Skiff Global Forum this year because all of these conferences that I would love to normally attend, their cost-prohibitive due to travel. But I had the great opportunity to attend Skiff Global Forum and the quote that somebody said, and I cannot tell you who said it, but it resonated with me so much that it’s my mantra now and it goes along the lines off, “If all we do is bring back travel, shame on us. It’s such an opportunity to be more inclusive, sustainable and do great things other than just bringing back visitation.” 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:38:03] Man, what a great point to leave us with, Nick. I think that’s the idea of not using this time to innovate and progress as a destination, it would be a wasted opportunity. 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:38:17] Exactly. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:38:18] Nick, thanks so much for sharing your experience and your savvy with us today. I really appreciate it. If people want to learn more about you and your destination, where’s the best place to find? 

 

Nick Breedlove: [00:38:29] You sure it was my pleasure and thanks for having me today, Adam. Our website is discoverjacksonnc.com and also I’m on LinkedIn Nick Breedlove and would love to connect with people and anything I can do to help. If it’s a phone call, if it’s an email, feel free to reach out. 

Adam Stoker: [00:38:50] Great. Great. Yeah, guys. Jackson County, North Carolina is doing some amazing things as you heard today, so I’d definitely go check them out. This has been another great episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast. Thanks everybody for listening. If you enjoyed today’s show, please leave us a rating or review that definitely helps us continue to show and continue to grow. Other than that, we’ll see you next week.