The secret to a great tourism photo.

October 26, 2021

Tourism is a highly visual industry.  Photos are a key tool used to tell tourism stories, but there’s a secret behind the great ones that make the biggest impact.  Someone took the time (and often, money) to get it right.

More dramatically put:  someone resisted the temptation to use photos that were easy to get but kind of “meh” in terms of quality.  “Meh” photos serve the functional purpose of photography, but they are completely uninspiring and make no impactful impression on the viewer.  So, yeah…you have photos to put on your website.  Check that box.  But are they seducing site visitors into considering a trip?  That box stays unchecked.

Fear not, there are a whole bunch of “great” and “meh” photo examples down below.  But first…

Sucky (and Silent) Consequences of Using “Meh” Photography

When tourism businesses choose to settle for “meh” photography, it causes much heartbreak.  Throughout my career as a tourism publicist and marketer, I’ve seen:

  • A hotel client who lost a highly-desired Architectural Digest story about their opening launch because their photography wasn’t good enough. (AD wasn’t being snooty…their photography was NOT good enough.)
  • Another hotel client whose online booking conversion rate absolutely sucked…and a website audit revealed that people were leaving the site after looking at the photo gallery. (Tragic, as a photo gallery should inspire people to hit the “book now” button.)
  • A destination client who was included in a syndicated news editorial round-up…and the only one of the eight destinations included without a photo accompanying their blurb because their photo wasn’t “quite right.” (Seven destinations with glorious vibrant photos and only one with just text… which one do you think got overlooked by readers?)

But those are examples where the consequences were traceable and known.  Far more dangerous are the silent consequences of “meh” photography.  No one ever leaves your website unimpressed and without booking…and then calls you up to say, “hey, I was considering a stay at your hotel, but just wanted to let you know that the photos didn’t really sell me on the place so I just left the website without booking.”

So, the bottom line is…you don’t even know how many sales you’re NOT making because your photos are just “meh.”

But trust me.  If they’re “meh,” it’s happening.

Why Is This So Hard?

Why do so many tourism businesses settle for less-than-great photos to use in marketing?  Three common reasons.

  1. They feel it takes too much time and they don’t have the bandwidth to organize/oversee it.
  2. They don’t want to spend the money for a photographer and/or stylist.
  3. They don’t understand the difference in impact between a “good enough” photo and a “great” photo.

It’s a real head-scratcher to me, but I’ve seen clients spend $20-$30 million building a gorgeous hotel, and then fight with me about spending $20,000 on photography for the website, brochures, and socials.

In other scenarios, I get the… “My sister-in-law takes great photos as a hobby – you should see her Instagram.  So I’m just going to have her do all our photography.”

Or the… “I don’t have photos of THAT specific program even though that’s what we’re promoting, so can we just use a general photo instead?”

Or the… “These brochures are really old and our hotel rooms don’t look like that anymore, but that’s all we have so just use those at the trade show.”

To spend all that money building your business and brand, and then NOT spend the money on a professional photographer to produce photos that help you sell it?  That’s fumbling at the goal line.  And it’s sabotaging the ROI of all the money you spent on building the business itself.

What Should a Great Photo Do?

A great photo is like an assist in sports:  it should assist you to close a sale.  That assist might come in the form of (for example)…

  • An Instagram photo that stops thumbs while someone is scrolling and makes them want to explore your entire Instagram profile…and ultimately your website.
  • Photos on your website that evoke emotion, inspire a desire to visit, make them want to check pricing and logistics for a trip.
  • Photos in a magazine that arrest people’s attention as they’re flipping through the pages and make them want to read the accompanying editorial story…which hopefully makes them want to visit your website.

Here’s a great case-in-point.  Years ago, I was in Armenia with a photographer getting shots of a collection of new boutique hotels launching that year.  We had no staff with us (literally no staff – the hotels weren’t even open yet) and no stylist.  It was just her and me trudging around the countryside with tons of photography equipment.  And FYI – while I’m eager and helpful, I know zip all about being a photographer’s assistant.

Here’s what one of the hotels looked like, with a simple “point and shoot” approach.

 

A castle-like building sits beside a rushing river and in front of green mountains.

 

It DOES look like a historic castle, and you DO see it’s right next to a rushing river and nestled in the mountains.  So, it definitely gives a sense of place and is “ok.”

Here’s what it looked like when the photographer got done with it.

A nighttime view of a castle-like building with dramatic lighting, which sits beside a rushing river and in front of a backdrop of mountains. This is the secret to a great tourism photo.

 

Listen, folks.  This was NOT a simple point and shoot.  We had no cell service and no radios to communicate with each from opposite sides of the river, and crossing that river was no picnic either.  Her trying to signal to me which lights to turn on or off, which umbrellas to move slightly left or right, and could I tilt that ONE light on the side to angle more toward the patio?  No, not THAT one.  THAT one.

Getting this shot took HOURS.  Actually days, because we had weather issues intervene.

But look at those two photos.  Which one stops your thumbs while scrolling and which one makes you say “OMG that place looks breathtaking and I want to go there?”

Great photographers do more than just click a button on a camera.  They harness the power of lighting, tone, context, perspective, props, spatial relations, and emotion.  In this case, the photographer studied the situation and said, “what photo…what angle…what perspective…what styling is going to show this building in the best, most seductive, most appealing way?”  And after taking a lot of test shots from various positions at various times of day, this nighttime photo won the honor.  (Should I mention how many design and travel magazines made this photo their centerfold?)

I mean…if your sister-in-law can do all that, then by all means lets hire her.

What’s My Point?

Getting great photography isn’t easy.  It takes time, planning, and commitment.  You may need to invest in props and other items to achieve the objective… flowers, food, drinks, people, and more.  You may need to reschedule (and spend money on a wasted day) because of weather.  If you’re already open, you may need to clear entire public spaces for several hours or a day – losing revenue from paying guests who don’t have access during that time.  You may need to take a shot over and over and over and over again to get it just right.  And damn it, you definitely need a professional photographer and/or stylist to do it justice.

Yes, all that costs time and money.  But the difference between “meh” photos and “great” photos is entirely about MAKING MONEY.  Skimp elsewhere if you must.  But do not skimp on great photography.

To further illustrate the difference, here are a few examples of photos I’ve come across in my tourism work.  Some of these businesses know the secret to a great tourism photo, and some clearly don’t understand what makes an impact.

By the way, there are deliberately no business names here.  This isn’t a commentary on who’s doing it right and who’s doing it wrong.  It’s an objective look at how photos do or don’t make a worthy impact.

Everything about this charcuterie board screams “dig in.”  Lighting, color, texture, positioning.  This delicious photo was no happy accident.

A charcuterie board of food including apples, cheeses, veggies, crackers, nuts and more. This colorful, vibrant, well-light view is the secret to a great tourism photo.

 

This cocktail gets completely lost in this photo.  It’s a gorgeous color, but sitting on that similar colored surface, the vibrancy doesn’t pop as it should.  Plus the background is super distracting.  If you’re a DIY Instagrammer for your business, and just taking quick snaps like this “on the fly” for posting, at least do this:  take that glass and snap pics of it in in a few different settings, and from several angles – high, low, above, side, etc.  If you take a dozen photos of this cocktail – which can be done in just a few moments – you’ll immediately be able to spot the one that shows the cocktail off to its best advantage.

An orange colored cocktail sits on an orange colored surface.

 

Let’s talk about dramatic architectural features, such as floating pools.  We once had a client that was debuting a floating pool and they fought us like the very devil about getting overhead drone shots of it.  They didn’t have easy access to a drone and didn’t want to pay for it.  But honestly, a straight-ahead shot of a floating pool just sucks all the drama out of that super-cool architectural feature.

To illustrate, here’s a picture at another hotel of their floating pool taken from different angles.  You can see how one showcases the floating pool and in the other, it gets lost.

Left side shows photo of a large, many-windowed hotel, with a floating pool sitting in front of it. Right side shows that same floating pool at night, from an elevated perspective so the light blue of the pool glows brightly sitting inside the dark blue lake.

 

And these folks REALLY did their floating pool villas justice, ensuring their website gallery shows them from multiple angles and various times of day:

This captures the secret of a great tourism photo. A floating pool sitting on the edge of the ocean, with an attached deck that shows two lounge charis.

 

From the perspective standing on a deck looking out at the edge of a floating pool and the Indian Ocean just after sunset.

Standing on the edge of a floating pool at sunset, showing the perspective of multiple villas with their own floating pools stretching out before you. Sunset of bright orange, yellow, and purple.

From the perspective of laying in bed, looking out terrace doors to a deck with table and chairs, aqua colored floating pool, and the deep blue ocean.

 

Food shots need special attention because visuals aren’t necessarily the main sensory trigger for humans when it comes to food.  Taste, sound (sizzling, pouring, sauteing, etc.), scent, and texture all play a role in our emotional connection to food.  And that’s hard to communicate in a flat photo.

Here, capturing sugar in mid-shake on this cannoli gives more energy, life, and interest to the photo than just a static pic of a cannoli.

A person shaking powdered sugar onto a cannoli that's covered with chocolate chips.

 

But these pancakes are nearly unidentifiable in this photo.  In the quest for a close-up to show the dripping, oozing goodness, perspective gets lost here.  If you’re scrolling quickly, you can’t even tell what it is, and that super-crisp piece of bacon on the side doesn’t help… it almost looks like the pancakes are sitting on a wood shelf.  Perhaps backing up the camera to show the whole plate, and catching the moment when the chocolate syrup is being poured onto the pancakes might achieve the objective better.  But – you know what I’m going to say – try it a dozen different ways before deciding which one makes the right impact.

A close up photo of pancakes with bananas and chocolate syrup on them and a crispy piece of bacon on the side.

 

Oh, you’re taking pictures of animals?  NEVER just snap one-and-done.  You take tons of photos from multiple angles in order to get one that will stop people in their tracks.  Like this:

Picture of a baby lamb facing front and smiling.

 

And finally, these folks are rebuilding a really important and historic wall.  But this photo will stop no thumbs.  I’m sure the dude on the right won’t be pleased that his behind is on Instagram, and everyone milling around looking down at rocks doesn’t do the story justice.  A close-up of a volunteer holding up a piece of rock with a huge smile on his/her face… or better yet, faux-kissing it?… could better tell the story of the passionate volunteers involved.  Or have him/her sitting on the wall and get enough context in the shot to see “kissing the rock” and the wall itself.  Or… hey, I’ve got an idea… take a dozen different shots and see what works best.  😊

Five people standing around piles of rocks, some of which are half-formed into a stone fence.

 

So, in conclusion, please do what it takes to get great tourism photos.  There’s really no secret to capturing ones that make an impact… just spend the time and/or money to do it right.

And let me just clarify:  by “great,” I mean photos that achieve your objective of inspiring people to emotion and action.  “Great” is one of those vague words that always need clarification and shame on me for using it so liberally in this post.  See why you should be careful using that word here.

 

How to Develop Creative Tourism Marketing & PR Ideas

October 25, 2021

The tourism industry is a hotbed of juicy, creative marketing and PR ideas.  Who develops them?  Opportunists.

Opportunists are a breed of “idea people” that draws inspiration from anything and everything around them.  And, of the four breeds of idea people we cover here, these are the folks you need in your orbit for creative marketing and PR.  You don’t need to have ALL opportunists on your team, but if you don’t have at least one in your mix, you’re going to struggle in marketing.

Can folks who are NOT opportunists develop creative tourism marketing and PR ideas?  Sure.  But likely not in a steady way that makes ongoing marketing reliable and brand image consistent.

FOUR BREEDS OF IDEA PEOPLE

In my long experience in tourism marketing – working with clients from all walks of life, at organizations large and small – here are the four breeds of idea people I’ve come across:

Opportunists:  Show them anything and they’ll springboard it right into a relevant idea for your business.  They’re the people who say “what could we do with this?” a dozen times a day.  If obstacles arise as the idea takes shape in their mind, they work around them.  If the obstacles become insurmountable, they just take the idea in a different direction.  Creative idea generation is like breathing to them.  These folks are the lifeblood of creativity in marketing.

Stiflers:  They’re not opposed to ideas, but they just can’t give them room for success.  They layer on that one more thing.  Try to get each idea to achieve too many disparate goals.  Add unnecessary complexity. They won’t let ideas get off the ground until they’ve been so overthought and wrung dry that ideas ultimately fall flat when launched.  If you’ve got stiflers on your team, checks and balances are needed to be sure they don’t smother every good idea to its slow death.

Slammers:  These folks basically shoot down all ideas.  This could be driven by fear of risk or change, love of veto power, or just a tendency toward negativity that only sees the downside.  And really?  Some people just like being contrary for contrary’s sake.  Extreme Slammers can’t be reasoned with; every rationale you offer will face an objection.  If you’ve got slammers in a position of power over marketing, be prepared.  Your marketing ROI will always be super low.  Best to move them where they can’t prevent good ideas from seeing daylight.

Obliviouists:  Yeah, I made this term up, but hey…I’m a marketer.  Obliviouists (oh-bliv-ee-ists) are actually the most dangerous of the idea person breeds.  They don’t deliberately generate ideas, but nor do they actively hinder them.  They just don’t see opportunities at all.  They read stuff, watch TV, surf socials, interact with folks…and none of it ever inspires ideas.  These people may have plenty of other talents so it’s not dangerous to keep them around.  But it IS dangerous to rely on them for creative marketing and PR ideas.  They’re just not wired that way.

So, the best way to ensure your marketing is fresh, creative, and interesting is to ensure there are opportunists on your team.  Whether in-house or at an agency, these folks don’t need to be assigned ideation.  Just stand back and let them create.

How do they do it?  Listen, I’m no neuroscientist.  All I can say is:  they just do.  They watch, listen, read…and poof.  An idea is born.  Ask any opportunist how they came up with an idea and I guarantee they’ll say something like “I saw this and thought of that.”  There’s no way to explain it.  If you could, then I suppose anyone could be an opportunist.  “Just follow these 10 handy steps and you too could have big creative ideas.”  It just doesn’t work like that.

To illustrate that point, here are a bunch of marketing ideas seen out in the wild lately that definitely originated with opportunists:

 

Blue ice cream carton with pink band, showing Geico's new Scoop, There It Is ice cream with hip hop duo Tag Team and Mikey Likes It Ice Cream.

Geico made a hilarious TV commercial featuring the hip hop duo Tag Team, which transformed their 1993 hit song “Whoomp! (There It Is!)” into a song about an ice cream sundae (Scoop!  There It Is!).  The commercial was so insanely popular that some clever opportunist said: hey, why don’t we actually make and sell that ice cream flavor?  And thus, the partnership between Geico, Tag Team, and Mikey Likes It Ice Cream was born.

 

Partial painting of woman showing head and bare shoulder, an example of a creative tourism marketing and PR idea from the Vienna Tourist Board.

The Vienna Tourist Board recently launched an OnlyFans channel… you know, that social media platform that allows posts with sexually explicit content to be shown to subscribers for a fee.  Why does Vienna need such a channel?  Because the destination has tons of beautiful art that depicts nudity in its museums.  Photos of such pieces get struck from mainstream social media platforms due to censored content regulations, so some clever opportunist said:  hey, how about we make world news by being the first tourist board to launch an OnlyFans channel as a way to showcase our city’s art?

 

Pic of front and back of business card from Relief, the debt app, who uses the premise of Squid Games to promote their service.

Relief, the debt relief app, absolutely CRUSHED it with this idea, inspired by the blockbuster Netflix series Squid Games.  If you don’t know the show’s plot, people in significant debt are brought together to play children’s games in the hopes of winning a huge prize…but losers die violent, graphic deaths.  Their invitation to the games comes in the form of a business card with three simple geometric shapes on it, and a number on the back to call that lures them in. Relief put their own message on the back of its card, and the opportunist who thought of it should be given a standing ovation.

 

Four golden retriever puppies playing at the Ojo Santa Fe Spa Resort in the Puppy Patch, as an example of a creative tourism marketing and PR idea.

Plenty of hotels have a dog “on staff” that guests can walk.  Many hotels also have partnerships with rescue organizations to have an adoptable dog onsite for guests to walk, and maybe take home.  Some clever opportunist affiliated with the Ojo Santa Fe Spa Resort said:  hey, why do this with just one dog when we can make a newsworthy amenity/program out of it?  Behold, the Puppy Patch.  Thank you, whoever you are.  I will be petting those puppies at some point in the future.

So, the bottom line is…get some opportunists in your life if you aren’t one and don’t have access to any.  Your creative tourism marketing and PR ideas will improve greatly because of it!

Shameless plug:  Redpoint is full of ‘em.  Mount Rushmore carved into a six-foot block of cheddar cheese to celebrate President’s Day for Ripley’s Believe It or Not Times Square?  It generated the highest-ever holiday weekend sales and visitor count for the attraction. That’s some delicious opportunism right there, y’all.

10 Unexpected (and fabulous) tourism guest service stories.

September 20, 2021

Here’s the way to create indelible tourism memories:  deliver completely unexpected, fabulous, and highly personal guest service.  Also, spoiler alert…there’s a story in this piece about my trip to Spain that’s going to horrify my mother.  (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.  I’m older now and I won’t do it again.)

Tourism businesses – hotels, airlines, attractions, cruise lines, tour companies, etc. – often invest a ton of money and labor developing comprehensive guest service programs and amenities.  And those bring value to the tourism experience, no doubt.  But the simple truth is that PEOPLE create the unexpected, joyful moments that make the most lasting impressions on guests.  Moments like these ultimately transform guests into ambassadors.

I travel for a living because I do tourism marketing and consulting work around the world.  So that means I’ve stayed at hundreds of hotels in dozens of countries and have thousands of tourism experiences under my belt.  Many of these have been utterly outrageous – like the time I stayed at a five-star luxury resort in the Caribbean for a grand total of 12 hours (including sleep) as part of an island-wide site assessment.

At this resort, I had my own butler, who literally unpacked my entire suitcase and pressed all my clothes and hung them…despite the fact that he was just going to fold and pack them all up again 12 hours later.  When I came in from dinner that night, he had decorated the entire bathroom with flower petals and candles, drawn a bath, and had champagne chilling next to the tub for me.  I was tempted to stay awake all night just so I could see what he’d do next.

You’d think an experience like that would be near the top of my “best hospitality experiences” memory list, right?  But no…and not because it was too short-lived to enjoy it.  It’s because there’s nothing extraordinary about that level of service at that type of resort. Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely lovely and I enjoyed every second of it.  But it all followed a carefully planned script that was delivered uniformly to all guests.  Plus, for the price of that suite, it was completely expected.  Indeed, I’d have been disappointed if the service had been anything less.

So no…those types of experiences don’t top my “best hospitality experiences” list.  In fact, all of the experiences that have made a lasting impression on me and turned me into a loyal, enthusiastic ambassador for each organization have just two things in common:  1) they were completely unexpected, and 2) they happened because an employee I encountered went out of their way – and off script – to bring me joy.

And here’s the best part:  most of the experiences cost the business absolutely nothing to deliver.

So here, in no particular order, are 10 of my most unforgettable, unexpected, and completely fabulous tourism guest service experiences.

  1. I was offered a home-cooked meal.

When I called the Torrent River Inn in Hawke’s Bay, Newfoundland to make a one-night reservation that split up a 10-hour drive for me, I asked what dinner options would be available for my late evening arrival.  Turns out, the inn is in the middle of nowhere, AND their restaurant would be closed, AND it was Canadian Thanksgiving that day.  Guess what?  The employee on the phone – who was not the owner, btw – offered to bring me a plate of food from her family’s Thanksgiving dinner when I arrived.  She wasn’t even going to be working that night.

  1. I was sent the souvenirs I regretted not buying.

As I was checking out of the Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart, Tasmania, the bellman asked me what I was going to regret most about leaving their beautiful island.  I didn’t even have to think about it:  I had seen a mug at a touristy store in town that cracked me up and was just sooooooo Tasmania.  But not being “that kind” of a souvenir buyer as a rule (I’m more likely to buy a local recipe book or items made by a local artisan), I didn’t buy it.  But as soon as he asked me what I would regret about leaving, not buying that mug was the first thing that came to mind.  When I got home to New York three weeks later, guess what was waiting for me?  A set of four of those mugs, compliments of the hotel.

Picture of souvenir mug that says Send Tassie More Tourists the Last Ones Were Delicious

 

  1. They brought me handpicked wildflowers.

My stay at the York Harbor Inn in Maine began horribly:  the night I arrived, I realized I had strep throat.  It took a bit of time to get the right meds, so for 72 hours I stayed feverishly holed up in my room. Ultimately I even had to extend my stay because I was too sick to leave.  On the day I emerged from the room for the first time, I let housekeeping know I was stepping out for a while so they could go in and fumigate (bless them).  When I got back, besides the room being sparkly clean, there was a jar filled with wildflowers and a note:  “We’re so glad you’re feeling better.  Love, the Housekeepers at the York Harbor Inn.”

  1. They made me a pillow.

In what might just be the greatest guest service experience of all time, this housekeeper made history for me.  At the hotel that has since been rebranded as Hotel Halifax  in Nova Scotia (but don’t worry, the staff is the same and the service is just as exceptional), Sandra the housekeeper recognized that I was using a towel in a pillowcase every night during my stay…and then she started making towel pillows for me on her own. Let me be clear:  I do this in hundreds of hotels and no housekeeper has EVER done anything other than remake the bed with fluffy pillows intact and towels hanging back in the bathroom where they belong. So to discover Sandra’s towel pillow with a special note to me was like the greatest surprise of my tourism life.  In fact, when I blogged about the story, it was shared over 100,000 times and even earned Sandra and the hotel an award from their corporate brand.  Read here How One Housekeeper Won My Brand Allegiance…and My Heart.

 

A note to Chris Miranda from the housekeeper at the Hotel Halifax as an example of unexpected, fabulous tourism guest service.

 

  1. I was given free coffee and treated like a celebrity.

To this day, I still don’t know how she did it.  When I walked into the sundries store at Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont to get a cup of coffee, the cashier told me she knew who I was and the coffee was on the house.  Yes, I was there to deliver the inspirational keynote speech at the resort’s season-opening employee rally.  And yes, it’s not like they had a ton of guests roaming around just before ski season started.  Maybe they had sent around my picture to all staff or posted it in the employee breakroom, or maybe she just figured the one stranger in the shop HAD to be the day’s guest speaker.  Or maybe – could it be? – she remembered me from when I spoke there a year prior, even though we hadn’t met.  But you know what?  I don’t want to know.  It’s way more magical not knowing.  I was just recovering from a grueling, white-knuckle nine-hour drive in a snowstorm to get there, and to be unexpectedly recognized by a random staffer and given free coffee was just the BEST THING EVER.

  1. There was a dog waiting in my room.

While presenting a tourism community workshop on developing hotel packages and experiences at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel in Miramichi, New Brunswick, I jokingly suggested that it would be awesome if hotels could offer a dog as part of a stay.  As there were many dog lovers in the audience, we bounced that fun topic around a bit and everyone learned how passionate I am about dogs.  Turns out, the general manager of the hotel happened to be in the audience for that workshop.  He secretly texted a hotel staff member to quickly go buy a toy dog (It barks!  It moves!).  By the time I finished that workshop two hours later and went up to my room, that dog was waiting there for me…complete with dog bed, treats, and a special note from the hotel.  Tourism guest service doesn’t get more unexpected and fabulous than that.

 

Christina Miranda showing a fabulous and unexpected tourism guest service example while she sits in a dog bed holding the toy dog delivered to her room at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel.

 

  1. I got extra dumplings just because I asked for them.

While at legendary restaurant Buddakan in NYC, my indecision between two appetizers prompted me to order one and then mischievously ask if I could just taste ONE dumpling from the other… just so I’d know for next time.  Imagine my surprise when – in addition to the appetizer I ordered – the server brought out an ENTIRE dish of Szechuan pork dumplings instead of just one…and then told me there was no charge for them. That simple act of kindness (and investment) earned them my loyalty, return visits, and about a zillion referrals.  In fact, I did the math at the time and their ROI for that one gesture was so strong that I wrote about the experience here:  You Can’t Find Love on a Spreadsheet.

  1. I got into a sold-out bullfight in Spain against all odds.

There was not a ticket to be had for the high-profile bullfight happening when I was staying in Madrid.  Watching a bullfight is not for the faint of heart, but I had no intention of leaving Spain without experiencing such a rich cultural tradition.  When I asked the concierge at my hotel, which has since been rebranded as the ME Madrid Reina Victoria, I learned that there was no way I could snag a ticket without giving up my retirement savings.  I went away sad.  Until the next day, when he took me aside at breakfast and told me a family he knows agreed to let me join them, no charge.  TBH, it was like being in witness protection:  I was taken to an appointed street corner on the back of a motorbike by one of the hotel’s dishwashers, met there by a niece in the family, handed off to a cousin in a café near Las Ventas Bullring, and then – no lie – smuggled into the arena by the family.  This incredible group of nearly 30 people shared their food & drinks with me, educated me on the whole spectacle of bullfighting as it unfolded, and introduced me to nearly every person in our section of the arena.  And they wouldn’t accept a dime.  It was truly one of the best days of my life, being embraced by these strangers and immersed into their culture.  It was only the next day that I realized I was lucky that all those witness-protection-style-logistics didn’t end up with me being sold on the black market to a world of unpleasant things.  Ah, to be young and blindly trusting again.

  1. They protected my cupcakes to the death.

When I arrived at the WestJet check-in desk at LaGuardia Airport enroute to Newfoundland by way of Toronto, I had 875 cupcakes in tow.  My goal:  get those cupcakes all the way to St. John’s, NL, in one piece – frosting intact – to deliver as a surprise at a tourism industry speech.  I was a nervous wreck because we all know baggage handlers aren’t always the most gentle caretakers, but there was simply no other way to get these cupcakes there fresh and on time.  Enter Jesse and Alex at WestJet.  They dove right into being co-conspirators on “Operation Cupcake Surprise,” and took personal responsibility for marking the boxes and shepherding them to the plane.  Then, at the gate, they introduced me to the baggage supervisor who personally stacked my boxes on board in a cool dry area, making sure they were all upright.  And they alerted the flight crew of the precious cargo to ensure my cupcakes and I got the same extraordinary treatment when we changed planes in Toronto.  The cupcakes were in perfect condition upon arrival.  PS – they even gave me an upgrade.  #fan4life

Chris Miranda stands between two WestJet employees at the gate in an example of unexpected and fabulous tourism guest service experiences.

 

  1. Someone bought me a hairdryer.

While staying at The Peninsula Chicago, I needed a hairdryer with a special attachment as mine broke during the arrival flight. They didn’t have it at the hotel, so on my way out to my dinner meeting, I asked the concierge for help locating a place to purchase one.  Requirements:  it had to be on my route to/from dinner, open in the evening, and definitely have it in stock.  I told him I was absurdly pressed for time that night, but needed it for 5am the next morning to groom for a big presentation.  The concierge instantly responded to my stress level and just said “go to your dinner, I’ll take care of it for you.”  When I got back to my room that night, the hairdryer was sitting on my bed with the money I gave him to buy it and a note on the box: “This one’s on me.  Knock ‘em dead tomorrow.”

 

You see?  It’s PEOPLE that make the most lasting impressions.  PEOPLE create the unexpected and fabulous guest service moments in tourism.  And those moments become marketable.  They create ambassadors for your brand.

So if you’re a tourism business, the moral of the story here is this:  1) hire kind people who like to make others happy, and 2) give them the freedom – within reason – to put that skill into practice with your guests.

Oh and here’s a tip:  do NOT let ridiculous and out-of-touch corporate policy override guest happiness.  The chocolate chip cookie policy at this resort is another experience I’ll never forget…but not in a good way.

Four Brilliant and Unexpected Marketing Partnerships

September 14, 2021

All good marketing partnerships need to be a win-win for the brands involved.  But brilliant marketing partnerships are also clever, unexpected, and make people say, “ok, now THAT’S cool.”  It’s not just that the benefit to consumers is valuable…it’s that the creation of the partnership itself makes an impression.

The partnership gods must be working overtime lately because I’ve seen four spectacular ones pop up in the past month.  These are worth a salute, plus they offer inspiration and learning opportunities for smaller, less well-funded businesses.

Before we explore them, it’s worth noting that in this context, a partnership is defined simply as two distinctly known brands coming together for a shared purpose.  It doesn’t matter who paid whom, or how the financial outcome gets distributed.  It’s about the brilliance of two brands unexpectedly aligning.  Ready?  Let’s go.

 

Cover of new book by Dolly Parton and James Patterson called Run, Rose, Run.

The Players:  Legendary country music artist/entrepreneur Dolly Parton and prolific author of thriller and mystery novels James Patterson.

The Partnership:  A thriller novel to be released in 2022 entitled “Run, Rose, Run” about an aspiring country music singer with a dark secret. The two are collaborating on plot and story elements for the novel, and Parton will simultaneously release an album of the same name, with 12 original songs inspired by the novel.

Why We Love It:  It’s a completely new idea.  An original book that promotes an original album…that in turn promotes the original book?  Each one draws the power of its distinct audience (Patterson book fans and Parton music fans) to inspire interest in the other. The cross-marketing opportunities are absolutely bonkers on this concept (“bonkers” being a highly technical marketing term for “limitless and insanely exciting”).  The book and the album are organically linked, so as you get vested in the characters and story through one, you are bound to be curious about the other.  And we’re just calling it right now:  there’s a Run, Rose, Run movie or streaming series in all our futures.

What You Can Learn:  Just because something’s never been done before, doesn’t mean it’s not possible.  Don’t just look for your partnership options among the usual suspects.  Can a hotel or destination partner with a band to write an original album based on its history and offerings?  Can a local coffee house partner with a local gardening supply store?  Can an amusement park partner with a haircare products company?  You bet.

 

A picture of the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, which is a vehicle shaped like a hot dog. This includes the signage of the Lyft brand.

The Players:  Food brand Oscar Mayer – well known for its wiener hot dogs – and popular ridesharing service Lyft.

The Partnership:  From August 25-27 in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, riders who hailed a Lyft XL could have been surprised by a pickup from the legendary Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.  Not only did that come with bragging rights and shareworthy content for the lucky riders, but the ride was free and they got swag.

Why We Love It:  First of all…it’s hilarious.  And after the wet blanket purgatory we’ve all experienced from the pandemic, frivolous fun is a welcome change.  But also, it’s a brilliant partnership because it has so many layers.  There are PR opportunities before, during, and after each rideshare blitz. The Wienermobile gets to cruise the streets for three days in four major cities.  Odds are at least some of the riders have decent social media followings and will share with glee.  And highly arresting video/photo visual opportunities exist across a ton of marketing channels.

What You Can Learn:  This partnership is all about providing the element of surprise to guests.  Lyft ride hailers expect a typical SUV to arrive for their pick up… they will lose their minds with joy when the Wienermobile shows up instead.  Where can YOU provide a pop of unexpected joy in what would otherwise be a typical, ordinary experience for your guests?

 

Rap artist Ludacris takes a spoonful of Jif peanut butter from the jar while standing in front of a microphone in a recording studio.

The Players:  Popular peanut butter brand Jif and successful rap artist Ludacris.

The Partnership:  The two teamed up for a commercial that shows Ludacris trying to record a new rap song and failing miserably with each take.  Then, after eating a huge spoonful of Jif in between takes, he nails it…because the way the peanut butter sticks to his mouth and makes him mumble is the PERFECT style for his new song.

Why We Love It:  Whether you love rap or not, it’s a common observation that it’s often really hard to understand what’s being said in a rap song.  And whether you love peanut butter or not, everyone knows peanut butter has the pesky tendency to stick to the roof of your mouth.  So the fact that BOTH brands involved were willing to poke fun at themselves with this collaboration?  Genius.  Whoever thought of this partnership deserves a medal.

What You Can Learn:  Let your hair down sometimes.  People love humor and they love when a brand is both humble and confident enough to admit their “flaws.”  Note that the flaw you cop to can’t be a serious thing or else poking fun at yourself will backfire.  Like, if you’re known for paying poor wages or implementing poor environmental practices, you definitely don’t want to draw scrutiny there.  But if – for example – you’ve got notoriously long wait times at your restaurant, you can certainly turn that into a positive and have fun with it instead of ignoring it.  See how this eatery in Colorado made it work.

 

A picture of a subway foot-long sandwich and the mascot from Bob's Discount Furniture sitting on a blue sectional sofa.

The Players:  American fast food restaurant franchise Subway and multiple businesses in local markets, including Bob’s Discount Furniture.

The Partnership:  As a way to break through the clutter and gain attention for its new menu items, Subway is doing a “takeover” of TV commercials from other advertisers.  Here’s what happens:  a Subway ad listing all its new menu items gets cut off before finishing…and then when the next commercial starts for a different advertiser, Subway interrupts the commercial and takes over the ad.  All the partner advertisers still get to hawk their own products.  The “takeover” commercial is a jointly produced, shared spotlight.  See the Bob’s Discount Furniture takeover ad here and see other Subway takeover ad partnerships here.

Why We Love It:  Lordy, it’s hard to get folks to pay attention to commercials.  But this quirky, untraditional approach is bound to cut through the clutter.  Regular TV viewers who are only half listening and already desensitized to hearing endless Subway commercials and endless Bob’s Discount Furniture commercials are likely to stop in their tracks to see/hear something they never expected:  Furniture mascot “Little Bob” selling Subway sandwiches.  This is true of all the takeover ad partners, like the local personal injury lawyer whose long-standing ad you could recite by heart, or the car dealership whose jingle gets stuck in your head all the time.

What You Can Learn:  Never say never, y’all.  Not only are these partnerships completely unexpected from brands that are completely unrelated, but also…really?  Sure companies have bought ad space from each other before, but it’s usually done so one can OWN the space…not so they can share it with a joint “takeover ad.”  Maybe you can’t afford your own local TV ad spots to allow enough frequency to penetrate consumer awareness, but what if you found a partner or two and created collaborative ads?  And this is not “you take the first 15 seconds and I’ll take the last 15 seconds.”  Rather, it’s more like “let’s marry our messages and have some fun.”  Again, going back to the local coffee house and the local gardening supply company…no one would EVER expect to see them marketing together, so a collaborative TV ad might just snap folks to attention.

These brilliant partnerships all capture the spirit of surprise because no one ever expected these brands to pair up.  And the element of surprise is a gift to marketers everywhere.  People love to be caught off guard with something atypical that’s also positive, clever, and joyful… see how we partnered MSC Cruises with automaker FIAT in a way no one ever expected. Tap that vein of “surprise” marketing goodness whenever you can.

And pssst… this doesn’t just work for partnerships.  Look at how Book Culture surprises its shoppers.

Is being the Google Featured Snippet always a good thing?

August 16, 2021

Spoiler alert:  no.  That may surprise you, because you’d think that being a Google Featured Snippet – which scores the top spot in search results – would ALWAYS be a good thing.  Alas, this is only true if it’s for the right topic, which brings qualified and relevant traffic to your site. And if it’s not…you’ve got a problem.

We learned this the hard way.  How hard?  Like…we had to “break up” with Google in order to fix the situation.  Here’s the story.

First, let’s be clear on what a Google Featured Snippet is and why it’s so coveted. When you search for something on Google, very often a meaty search result appears at the top of the page.  This is the result that Google feels best answers your query, and it’s presented differently than the other results.  In a featured snippet, the descriptive text (pulled from the website listed) is shown first, and then the website is displayed underneath.  Like so…

A screen shot of the search results for "what is a google featured snippet."

 

Here are the rest of the first page search results for that query.  See the difference?  The descriptive text is more like a short teaser, and it comes after the website link.

 

A screen shot of the bottom of the first page of the search results for "what is a google featured snippet?"

 

You can see why being the Google Featured Snippet is attractive.  You’re at the tippy top of the very first page of search results and therefore, likely to get the most traffic for that particular query.

And while there are things you can do to increase your chances of scoring the featured snippet spot, it’s basically up to Google’s algorithm to bestow the honor.  It uses historical data and patterns to determine which website page gives the best quality answer that most thoroughly satisfies user intent for that particular query.  This means that Google pays incredibly close attention to what people are searching for and which websites are delivering the most effective answers.

As it turns out, there are a helluva lotta sorry people in this world.  And they’re all searching for the best way to apologize for their actions.

In 2011, we wrote a blog post entitled “Eight Ways to Apologize Without Saying I’m Sorry.”  It was meant to help tourism and hospitality folks respond gracefully to situations that required an apology.  Unhappy guests, frustrated tourists, disappointed meeting planners…all are potential apology candidates in the world of hotels, tourism, and hospitality.  The blog post gave clear, practical phrasing and positioning to apologize without using those two little words:  I*m s***y.  (Yes, we’re wary of even spelling them out here for fear of Google finding us again for this topic.)

The advice shared in the post was apparently REALLY effective, but not just for tourism professionals.  Adulterers who got caught, best friends who had a fight, teens trying to avoid parental punishment… all found their way to our informative blog post.

Shockingly fast after the post went live, this happened:

A screen shot of the google search results for "how to say sorry without saying it" from 2011.

 

It was exciting at first because traffic to our site started to steadily increase.  Actually, we’re not exaggerating if we use the term “skyrocket” here.  We were the featured snippet for many different iterations of that query and our little ol’ company beat out some heavy media hitters.  Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., Reader’s Digest, even Oprah… over time, all had articles on the exact same topic.  All were relegated to the space beneath Redpoint on the search results pages.

And that’s where the problem started.

In time, our website’s bounce rate ALSO started to steadily increase.  Bounce rate measures the number of visitors who leave after viewing just one page on your site.  That makes it a critical metric for your website’s overall health.  (FYI, you can learn more about it here.)

Soon, the overwhelming volume of traffic drove our bounce rate into the high 90’s.  This basically meant that – say – 98% of the people who came to our site left after just looking at that one page.

This doesn’t mean a lot of other relevant tourism industry professionals weren’t visiting our site.  It just meant that there were SO many people wanting to apologize for things like cheating on their spouse that they dominated the percentage of total site visits.  And there was no reason for those folks to visit other pages of our site after getting their apology lesson.  Let’s be real:  the dude who searched for “how to say I’m sorry without saying sorry to my wife for sleeping with her best friend” has no need for a tourism PR and marketing agency.  A crisis publicist, maybe.  But certainly not Redpoint.

So what happened?  In time, Google’s algorithms were trained to see our site as a place people go for a lesson in apologies… NOT as the website of a tourism PR and marketing agency.  This meant we ranked way lower in search results for topics we WANTED to rank for, which are topics relevant to the tourism industry and the services we provide.  And there was absolutely nothing we could do to rebalance the organic search scales.  The power of that post – and our lack of control in being Google’s Featured Snippet – was just too damn strong.

So, we steeled our spines and cut the cord.  The day we took down that blog post was a giant leap toward nursing our inadvertently-bruised website back to health.  But I’m not gonna lie…I indulged in lots of comfort food that day.  I knew it was going to be bittersweet looking at our Google Analytics reports from that day forward.  Bitter, because the traffic numbers would be a tiny sliver of what they had been, which is depressing.  But sweet, because the visitors would likely all be relevant, which is immensely satisfying.

I’m happy to report that our bounce rate is healthy these days and I’m no longer aware of what outrageous evils people are searching for on Google that require an apology.

However, in a hilarious side note, we didn’t delete the post entirely.  We simply moved the content to a new domain we purchased just for the occasion.  And guess what happened within two months?

 

A screen shot of the first page of search results showing the google featured snippet for "how to say sorry without saying it."

 

For goodness sake…we didn’t even make the website pretty!  Just slapped the content up there to sit on a shelf until we could decide what to do with it someday.  And it’s still dominating over all the big media outlets as the Google Featured Snippet.

Hmmmm.  Do I see a new stream of ad revenue in our future?  Your move, 1-800-FLOWERS.

Moral of the story?  If you’re a tourism business and you decide to blog about a common human problem – say, a hotel instructs on how to fold a fitted sheet? – don’t break out the champagne (yet) if you become the Google Featured Snippet for the topic.  And start watching your bounce rate like a hawk!

Here’s a smart idea for tourism content creation.

August 12, 2021

Recently, I came across the National Aquarium of New Zealand’s Instagram page and thought:  now there’s a smart idea for content creation in tourism.  Their “Penguin of the Month” feature awards both a “naughty” and “good” category.  The award post captions are hilariously descriptive and draw the audience into the ongoing competition.  I even admit to being disappointed this month when little Mo reclaimed the Naughty award after finally winning the Good award a few months ago.

Smart tourism content creation idea, showing National Aquarium of NZ's Penguin of the Month Award.

The beauty of this concept isn’t just leveraging the cuteness of penguins.  It’s the fact that they’ve established an interesting, personal, and sustainable stream of content that eases the burden of content creation.

The most frequent complaint we hear from marketers who are responsible for feeding multiple social and marketing channels weekly is this:  it’s a pain in the a** to figure out what to post all the time.  This is especially true if content creation is only a sliver of the person’s job.  Coming up with ideas for engaging content takes time and mental bandwidth.  And if you’re a tourism marketer who wears many hats, you know those two things are always in short supply.  This is why concepts like Throwback Thursday were born, because it’s an easy reach for a weekly content idea.  (BTW, don’t ever use the hashtag #tbt.  Here’s why.)

It’s always smart to find marketing ideas in the wild and use them to spark new ideas tailored to your own unique situation.  You can get more specific help on how to do that here, but for now, let’s talk about the “of the month” type of content feature.

Obviously, if you’re a zoo, aquarium, or any type of animal farm/sanctuary, this idea is ideal for you.  It doesn’t matter if other attractions are doing it too… it’s not a mutually exclusive marketing concept.  Your “of the month” feature is tailored to your animals, your attraction, and your audiences.

But what if you don’t have cute animals in your content toolbox?  You can still tap the “of the month” magic with an interesting, personal, and sustainable stream of content that makes sense for YOU. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hotel, destination, tour company, restaurant, cruise line, or whatever.  People generally like to be entertained by tourism and hospitality content.  This means you’ve got a blank canvas to craft an engaging concept that works for your business.  For example, you could do fun, funny, and/or tongue-in-cheek versions of…

  • Quirky Object of the Month Award, for which you tell a fun story about an interesting knick knack, piece of furniture, piece of artwork, weird utensil, or whatever else is on your property.  Don’t just describe it…give it personality.  “This pitcher shaped like a rooster is a fan favorite here at the inn.  It was originally used to hold milk at the family’s breakfast table, but now we often use it to hold sangria at our Friday happy hours.  Hmmm.  Maybe that’s why it’s a fan favorite?”
  • View of the Month Award, which could take many forms.  Shots from inside hotel rooms looking out, cool/breathtaking views in your area, secret viewing spots only locals know, etc.  Again…captions shouldn’t be boring here, like “isn’t it breathtaking?”  Rather, add flair, like a recurring theme of “if this view could talk, it would say…” and each time answer it with something that grabs attention.  Like, it would say “…why didn’t you bring a picnic?”  Or “…sell your house, pack your belongings, and just move here already.”  Or “…would you like a side of wine with this?”
  • Activity of the Month Award, which could cover anything from physical/exercise activities (i.e. hiking) to seasonal activities (i.e. berry picking) to “only in your area” activities (i.e. oyster shucking down at the local marina) to quirky/random activities (i.e. instructions for proper stretching after a long car trip).

The categories are endless and would be all the more engaging if they’re unexpected.  A city destination might do a “Parking Spot of the Month” feature, and use it to highlight a cool block of shops in various neighborhoods.  A hotel might do a “Guest of the Month” feature, but it’s all about the dogs, cats, and other pets that visit…not people.  A cruise line might do a “Towel Animal of the Month” feature, and make up a story behind each animal as if it were a live being.

The point is…an interesting, personal, and sustainable “of the month” feature is an excellent way to ease some of the burden marketers face in generating content.

And WATCH THIS SPACE to see if little Mo the penguin ever makes it back to the “Good” list.

Five cool tourism marketing campaigns that may need post-Covid tweaks.

July 15, 2021

Will marketing ever be the same after we’ve spent so long viewing the world through a Covid lens?  Lingering hesitancy toward close social interaction with strangers adds a new risk element to advertising, imagery selection and especially cool, interactive tourism marketing campaigns.  Yet, isn’t getting to know strangers – and being enriched by the experience – a fundamental selling point in tourism?

This makes all our jobs as tourism marketers just a bit harder.  So, for fun, let’s reminisce about a simpler time…when worrying about portraying germ exchange wasn’t so high up on our marketing radar.   Here are five cool tourism marketing campaigns that may need some post-Covid tweaks if implemented today.

THE SWISS VILLAGE PHONE PROMOTION

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  Swiss villages in the region of Graubünden are so quiet that everyone who lives there can hear the pay phone ring in the town square.  And if you called that phone in the village of Tschlin (population 166) and someone doesn’t pick up…you could win a free trip and other prizes.  30,000 people called in just six days.

Post-Covid Tweaks:  All 166 people answering the same phone without showing it being wiped down and sanitized even once?

 

THE KLM BONDING BUFFET

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  Get 20 strangers to share a Christmas dinner buffet together in an airport.  The catch?  The buffet descends from the ceiling (in its futuristic Star Trek way) in stages, each time a new person fills a seat.  And once all 20 seats are filled, the table laden with food locks in place.  KLM Airlines really knocked it out of the park on this one.

Post-Covid Tweaks: “Tweaks” just ain’t gonna fly here.  Sharing food?  Hugging?  Cozying up for selfies?  This utterly brilliant marketing concept can only reign supreme pre-Covid.

 

EUROPE – IT’S JUST NEXT DOOR

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  French national railway company SNCF wanted to encourage people to take a train journey to other European countries.  So, they placed THE coolest freestanding, interactive doors in unexpected places all around Paris.  People who opened the door experienced real-time interaction with engaging locals in other cities.

Post-Covid Tweaks:  Dude, that door handle needs serious sanitizing, and mesmerized groups of spectators can’t stand six feet apart and still watch the interaction!

 

CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE – THE FAROE ISLANDS

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  This is an incredibly genius idea to both combat and draw attention to the overtourism problem…while at the same time promoting tourism for an off-season weekend.  Visit Faroe Islands “closed” to visitors the last weekend in April.  Instead, that weekend it welcomed volunteers from abroad to help with maintenance and clean-up of the islands’ many natural sites and attractions.  In return, visitors get a free room and meals during their stay.

Post-Covid Tweaks:  Wide open spaces and lots of fresh air working outdoors?  They almost skated through with that.  But the vague “free room and meals” leaves one in doubt:  will I have my own room and is it clean?  Communal meals?  How intimate is the contact I’ll have with strangers?  Ah, Faroe Islands… you were so close with this one!

 

THE GREAT ESCAPE TO GRAUBÜNDEN

Cool Tourism Marketing Campaign Concept:  Wow, the folks at Graubünden Tourism must really eat their marketing Wheaties, because here’s another winner from them.  In this promotion, people at the Zurich train station could interact in real time with a friendly, welcoming, grandfatherly-type gent in the village of Vrin.  He even prints free tickets for spontaneous-minded folks to hop a train and go visit him that day.

Post-Covid Tweaks:  Has that guy been vaccinated?  Have my fellow adventurous travelers been vaccinated?  Because if we’re all going to shake hands, hug, and share a meal in Vrin, I need to know.

 

OK… I’m not REALLY suggesting that we need to see the people of Tschlin wipe down the phone.  Nor am I saying there should have been a bottle of hand sanitizer hanging from the doors in the French railway ads.

The point is, as marketers, we just got a new dimension added to our lens.  How will people perceive our messaging, images, and attempts at interaction in this uncertain world?  There’s no easy answer, and no permanent one either.  This will evolve over time as the pandemic ebbs and flows…and eventually recedes completely.  But for now, we’ve all got to add this to our growing list of “considerations we must factor into our marketing material.”

Still, it’s pretty cool to reminisce, right?  Those were the days.  One time, a group of strangers at a tourism conference even baked me a bunch of homemade cakes!  Yeah… those WERE the days.

Write better copy with patience and a thesaurus.

July 14, 2021

A meme featuring bilbo baggins with text about using patience and a thesaurus copywriting

If you’re looking to write better copy, I hope you possess patience.  Because that’s really what it takes:  patience and a thesaurus.  Here’s how those two things combine to make you a better writer.

First, what do I mean by “copy?”  For the purposes of this post, I mean the broadest possible definition of the word:  quite simply, any text in any form.  This includes ads, social media posts, email messages to colleagues, texts to friends, cover letters for job applications, and much more.  Literally ANY text.

Second, here’s a fact about writing:  shorter is always more effective because attention spans are limited.  What do I mean by “shorter?” I mean using the fewest words possible to articulate your point. Many folks set out to articulate their point.  But they don’t also strive for doing it in the shortest possible way.  Achieving both of those two goals simultaneously is neither quick nor simple.

I do NOT mean that your overall copy length can’t be long.  Heck, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 870 pages long and I was glued to that book until the very last word.  But that actually proves my point.  J.K. Rowling is a master at descriptive, precise writing that evokes imagery with the fewest words possible.  870 pages from her doesn’t feel tedious.  Were she not such a master at this, it likely would have taken more than 1,000 pages to tell the same story, and THAT would be tedious.

The point is…you could zip through writing copy without investing the time to precisely articulate your words in the shortest possible way.  Maybe you used three sentences to communicate something that could have been said in one sentence.  Or you used a four-word-phrase instead of a single word because it came to mind first.

If you write your copy that way, here’s what you’re doing:  you’re putting the burden of time on the reader to sift through all the extra words to arrive at your point.  That likely matters less when you’re texting with a friend about your favorite TV show.  It matters a LOT when you’re trying to persuade a reader to do/think/feel something.

So, especially if you’re in marketing, you need to be the one who assumes the burden of time in writing.  The more time you take to make each piece of written communication shorter AND effective, the less time the reader is forced to invest in embracing your point.  If you make it too cumbersome for them, they’ll just tune out or move on long before your point has been embraced.

That’s where my advice of “patience and a thesaurus” comes in.

Nouns and verbs all have connotations.  These nuances give additional descriptive power to a single word by *slightly* altering the feeling/imagery it evokes.  For example, there are 44 different words in thesaurus.com to describe something as “difficult.”  So if you’re using that word in writing… do you mean – say – ambitious, problematic, arduous, immense, or challenging?  All of those words could be classified under the heading of “difficult,” but each one also nods to the reason why something is difficult. And therefore, each one tells a different story.

And that’s the secret right there.  You need to employ patience and a thesaurus to identify words that – by their very connotation – help you articulate the story you’re trying to tell.

Here’s an example I see a lot in the tourism marketing strategy work we do.  A lot of organizations use the term “boundaries” or “parameters” in conjunction with big plans, projects, and initiatives.  Those terms are meant to describe guidance given as the work proceeds to prevent straying from the plan.

But it’s possible in many cases that what the organization really means to describe are “guard rails.”  Boundaries and parameters imply limits and fences around the whole project, whereas guard rails connote a limitless, unobstructed path with some assistance to keep things moving forward.

Figuring out whether boundaries, parameters, or guard rails tells the appropriate story just takes patience to think it through and, if necessary, a thesaurus check for more precise options.

In a more marketing-oriented example, look how the connotation of the experience you’ll have differs depending on the verb chosen:

  • You’ll be amazed by your experience.
  • You’ll be delighted by your experience.
  • You’ll be inspired by your experience.
  • You’ll be transformed by your experience.
  • You’ll be tickled by your experience.
  • You’ll be giddy from your experience.
  • You’ll be left breathless by your experience.
  • You’ll be hypnotized by your experience.
  • You’ll be enchanted by your experience.
  • You’ll be moved by your experience.

All of those are far more descriptive than saying “you’ll have a great experience.”  That’s because “great” tells no descriptive story other than having a vague positive connotation.  I call it an empty word, and you can see why you should stop using it here.

You can also find four really great powerful tips to strengthen your writing here.

Even the word “better” in this blog post’s headline isn’t an ideal word choice.  “Better” is a nondescript, vague term that could benefit from a more descriptive upgrade.  In this case, it could be:  Write more persuasive copy.  Or write more effective copy.  Or write more descriptive copy.  Or compelling.  Or potent.  Or -ooooohh – how about irresistible?  There’s something delicious about evoking the vibe that your copy is something people can’t resist reading.

But alas…this is a blog post.  And “better” is a more appropriate choice to match searcher intent (not many folks are searching for “how to write irresistible copy”).  SEO writing is a whole different ballgame, so if that’s your goal, you should also check out these tips.

Three tips for creating engaging virtual tourism experiences.

May 25, 2021

An opened box of Taza Chocolates shows items available in the virtual tasting kit, including bars, discs, nibs, and pouches. These help provide an engaging virtual tourism experience for participants.

As the pandemic fades and travel resurges, you may be wondering…will virtual travel experiences stay relevant?  The answer is YES, and if you’re a tourism provider, here’s the number one reason why you should continue to invest in creating engaging virtual tourism experiences:

They’re a highly effective marketing tool.

Virtual tourism experiences can play a key role in the trip planning process for consumers.  If done right, they can lure people into your sales funnel, upsell services and amenities, and – a critical benefit – provide rich, engaging texture for your various content channels.

Moreover, the pandemic has made people really comfy with online interaction in all aspects of life, business and personal.  This means a turnkey, willing audience now exists…whereas before the pandemic, virtual experiences were much less of a mainstream opportunity.

“Virtual tours” have been around for a while, but largely in the form of online 360° tours and pre-recorded videos.  These can also be helpful marketing tools in a tourism provider’s toolbox… but nothing beats live interaction for making strong connections with guests.

The pandemic has catapulted such virtual, interactive experiences onto a global stage and into the norm. It’s not that they didn’t exist before.  It’s just that the labor and budget resources required to do them justice felt like a heavy lift for a possibly elusive audience.  Now, all that has changed.

If you’re seeking to up your game (or get started) in the virtual tourism arena, here are three tips to help you create effective, engaging virtual tourism experiences that are both memorable and shareworthy:

1.  Include live human interaction.  A live host can create the kind of dynamic experience essential to establishing bonds with guests.  And let’s face it…this gives guests as close to an in-person experience as possible without leaving their computer.  Participants can ask questions – vocally or in a chat function – and converse/interact with the host in various ways as the experience unfolds.  The most effective hosts are vibrant, charismatic storytellers who are quick on their feet and extensively knowledgeable about the subject at hand.  One of the greatest examples of this online right now is WildEarth.tv.  These daily live safaris do an extraordinary job of broadcasting with guides in multiple locations to ensure viewers can always go where the action is.  And the more you watch, the more you get to know (and love) the guides.  They are passionate, funny, experienced, and inspiring.

2.  Optimize real-life elements for virtual settings.  Nothing sabotages a virtual tour like being reminded it’s not as good as the real-life experience.  You never want your host to be forced to say things like “if you were here, you’d be able to see…” or “you can’t see it that well through your screen, but…” or “when we do this in person, we…” A virtual experience shouldn’t be a substandard, repurposed version of your real-life ones.  Even if it’s based on an experience you offer in real life, it needs to be built from the ground up AS a virtual experience.  Also, your hosts should be fully trained on the virtual technology being used (or else you have an experienced crew running point).  And further, they should be specially trained on how to deliver this experience virtually, especially if it’s one they’re used to hosting in person.  Organic, stone-ground chocolatier Taza does a spectacular job of this with their factory-tour-turned-virtual-tasting. Sign up for one to get some inspiration…plus get a delicious virtual tasting kit (pictured above).

3.  Create visual assets that enhance (and guarantee) effective content delivery.  Virtual experiences can’t rely on the rich immersion of real life, nor the chemistry that emerges organically when groups are brought together.  People sitting at a screen need substantive visual interaction to keep them engaged.  It complements the host’s vocal delivery, punctuates the session with visual texture, and underscores memorable moments within the experience. Further, it helps blend education and entertainment, which is one of the best ways to forge connections.  These folks – Airbnb hosts Lucie & David – created an absolutely brilliant online tourism experience taking people on a walking tour of Prague, Czech Republic that follows in the footsteps of a 17th century plague doctor.  The Redpoint gang took this tour together and afterward, every single one of us said “I want to go to Prague.”

All types of tourism and hospitality providers – hotels, resorts, inns, attractions, DMOs, restaurants, cruise lines, tour companies and more – can do this…and continue to do it as part of their marketing efforts.  Tour the area, do interactive kids programs, host cooking demos with chefs, tour grounds and gardens, meet and greet with local businesses, explore nooks and crannies of a lodging property… whatever.  Think of things your guests could experience and bring that to life virtually.

Does this require more logistics and is it more labor intensive than just producing a pre-recorded experience to slap up on your website?  Yep.  But the live, interactive experiences can be more powerful, more shareworthy, and more effective at generating conversions than a recorded video.

Think you don’t have time to do all this?  You do.  Read why here:  Marketing…It’s About Time.

And as a parting gift:  here’s some inspiration to help you in creating and cultivating your own engaging virtual tourism experiences:

Footprints of London does a beautiful job of presenting a blended calendar of in-person and virtual tours, showing how these can sit side-by-side and complement each other.

And the incomparable Laura Begley Bloom created this stellar list for Forbes of some of the best virtual tourism experiences available today

What does cheugy mean? When you know…you know.

May 4, 2021

A picture of homemade lasagna with the caption "wait, is this cheugy?"

Cheugy means something or someone that’s just a smidge off-trend and “trying too hard.”  Never heard the word?  You’re not alone.  But why should you care?  Well, if you’re a marketer and you want to reach Gen Z…you should.  You might be using cheugy concepts in your marketing (oh the shame!) and you don’t even know it.

The trouble is, defining what’s cheugy (pronounced chew-gee, with a hard G) is subjective.  And a clear explanation is elusive, despite a multitude of sources that try to define it.  For example:

  • In Rolling Stone:  “…an aesthetic that is somewhere between basicness and cheesiness.”
  • In The New York Times:  “It’s not embarrassing or even always negative.”
  • In The Urban Dictionary:  “The opposite of trendy.”
  • But Insider said it best:  “Ultimately, cheuginess is a vibe, something you can sense without always being able to substantiate why.”

Wait…what?  I just read three articles and a dictionary definition and I’m still not certain I can identify something that would universally be considered “cheugy.”

Perhaps it’s my age.  The term is apparently a dig at Millennials by Gen Zers, implying that all the things Millennials thought were cool in high school are no longer cool.  So I guess if you’re a Gen Xer or a Boomer, you’d probably be wise to stay out of the dialogue.  Gen Z will just come up with another term (that none of us can understand) to describe how “older people” try too hard to use all the young people’s slang.  Or wait…does that just make us cheugy?  I’m so confused.

I remember being a kid in the early 80’s when a friend at summer camp tried really hard to define the word “preppy” for me.  It was another of those “you know it when you see it” kind of terms and I obviously didn’t see it.  She even gifted me her copy of The Official Preppy Handbook (“don’t worry, Grand-ma-ma will get me a new one”).  And still…it was pretty clear that if you weren’t preppy and didn’t have that magical essence naturally in you, simply flipping your collar up wouldn’t cut it.  You imposter.

Cheugy is the same way.  You just have to know it when you see it, so if you DON’T… don’t despair.  Our brains aren’t wired for everything, and just the way you may not understand calculus or be handy with mechanical things… so too, you may not be capable of identifying cheuginess.  Not even if they come out with The Cheugy Handbook.

However, if it helps, here are a few things that seem to be universally accepted as cheugy:

  • Ugg slippers
  • Barstool Sports
  • The Instagram caption “I did a thing”
  • Sneaker culture
  • Being an iced coffee addict
  • Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes

But don’t go thinking you’ve got the definition nailed, even if looking at that list gave you a good idea of the cheugy vibe.  Because even among those who coined and spread the term, there are regular debates about what’s truly cheugy…and that’s not even a permanent label.  Apparently, low-rise jeans were once considered cheugy, and now they’re not.  Try to keep up.

Here’s the big question though.  Now that the mainstream media have written all about the word, giving license for the uncool and uninitiated to bandy it about, will Gen Z even want to use it anymore?  Or will the term itself be deemed cheugy?  We’ll have to ask Gaby Rasson, the 23-year-old software developer who’s credited with creating the term back in 2013.  Gaby – clearly the idol of Gretchen in Mean Girls, who tried so hard to make fetch happen – will always reign supreme as the last word on cheuginess.

In the New York Times article, someone said “lasagna is cheugy.”  Dude, my mom just made a killer lasagna this past weekend and I cleaned my plate spotless.  If that makes me cheugy, I’ll gladly take that label with a side of meatballs and a glass of chianti.

And one last thought.  I recently wrote a blog post about Marketing Lessons from The Princess Bride.  It was wildly popular, but now I’m thinking…is The Princess Bride cheugy?  BRB. DMing Gaby.