Most local destinations have one more destination marketing organizations (DMO) or tourism promotion agencies (TPA) that are promoting the destination and marketing for local businesses. These sites represent significant opportunities to promote local businesses. You are probably already promoting your business in some way, but are you taking advantage of every opportunity? And just as important, is it working for you and what could you do to make it even better? Join us as a hear from several guest speakers on how to get the most out of your presence with local DMOs and TPAs.
- Sarah Long, Director of Marketing at Discover Lancaster
- Louise Heine, Vice-president of Destination Marketing at Explore York
- Carl Lefever, Founder at Improve & Grow
- DMOs and TPAs make great partners for tourism-focused businesses as they have resources dedicated to promoting the destination
- While partnering with DMOs and TPAs often requires some form of payment for membership and/or advertising, the return on investment is typically high due to the benefit of pooled resources and additional funding, as well as the quality of the traffic they attract
- As with any investment, it’s important to take advantage of any benefits that are included and critically evaluate your presence
- Use Google Analytics to measure how much referral traffic you are getting and where it’s coming from; also, ask your DMO or TPA provide data on how much traffic the pages you are listed on are getting as well as how many page views and clicks your listings are getting
- There are often untapped opportunities, such as promoting events on event calendars or adding promotions to coupon pages
- DMOs and TPAs are always looking for news and happenings, so let them know what’s going on so that can help promote you
- List of US-based DMAP-certified DMOs
- International List of Tourism Organizations
- Google Analytics
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[Carl] We are focusing on sharing tourism marketing ideas through guest speakers and open discussion. We plan to hold these weekly during the lockdown period. And then since, hopefully, you’re all gonna be busy running your businesses and generating tours and bookings and all those kinds of things, we’ll move this to monthly once we’re out of lockdown. But we’ve been having a lot of fun doing these, really excited about today’s topic as well. I’m actually gonna turn it over to my co-host, Sam, to introduce our topic today and introduce our guest speakers.
[Sam] Great, thanks, Carl. And one of the main reasons that Carl’s having me host today is he’ll actually be one of our speakers, and we’ll get into that a little bit here shortly. And what we’re gonna be talking about, like, most of you already know from the email communications is we’re gonna be talking about how to best work with and working with DMOs and TPAs, which we all probably know stands for destination marketing organizations and tourism promotion agencies.
One of the ways that we, so we like to view these groups is really as advocates for the local, for local tourism industry. And the main benefit, which kind of, you know, you’ve already probably been contacted by some of these. If you’re not already, some of these people, if you’re not already working with them, you know, at this time, they really help you gain exposure into a larger market that otherwise would be very difficult and very expensive for you and, you now, the other businesses in your area to really reach on their own. And that’s by pulling together resources beyond just, I know some of them have government funding and nonprofit funding and things like that, but pulling all the resources together amongst all of their, the people who have advertising with them, listings with them, you know, do participate in some of the events that they have. You know, pulling all those resources together allows them to reach that larger audience that are going to include potential and future customers for your business.
So the one term that we like to refer when, that we like to use for customers and things coming from these organizations is digital referrals. And we really see it as that way. Like, we very much see them as digital referrals because it’s not, they’re not just clicking from one site to another, they’re going to the DMOs and the TPAs and learning more about the area in general, but also doing some really critical research into your business specifically because if you’re listed on there, if you have a description, if you have reviews, images, whatever, they’re gonna be reading your information, and they’re basically pre-selling your business on their website. So when they come to your website, they’re not just landing on your website without any preconceived notion. They’re already coming to your website because they have some interest in what you’re offering, and they’re a little bit more qualified than somebody who maybe is just searching on Google things to do, and, you know, name a city or region because they’ve already, instead of just seeing a headline on Google and clicking on it, they’re seeing all of those things that I mentioned, pictures, descriptions, reviews, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So they already have a foundation of knowledge of what you offer, and they found it attractive enough to click. So that’s why we call them referrals. These organizations are telling your potential customers before they land on your website about who you are and why you should come.
But it’s not just as simple as listing your information, you know, throwing a canned description out there to every single organization that will take your information. There’s real strategy behind it, and you have to pay a lot attention to that strategy because you wanna have a positive return on investment when you’re paying to participate in these websites. And that’s a little bit about, that’s a little bit of what we’re going to talk today, or talk about today.
Guest Panel Introductions
Our guest speakers are Sarah Long, Louise Heine, and Carl Lefever. Sarah is the director of marketing at Discover Lancaster, which is the official marketing, destination marketing organization, the official DMO of Lancaster County. Louise is the vice president of the destination marketing organization, or I guess, it’s destination marketing at Explore York, and which is the official tourism promotion agency for York County. And then Carl, my boss, but also the team member from Accelerate Tourism and founder of Improve and Grow, which is a small digital marketing company here in Lancaster. And we work with a number of, we work with a couple different tourism agencies. It’s not our sole focus, but one of the reasons why we started this is because we really love working with outdoors and clients, and that’s why we’re all here today. So his background will be, partially, that agency side or also that business owner side of working with a DMO or a TPA.
So, with that, we’ll jump into some questions here. We’re gonna, I’ve got some questions, first for Louise and Sarah, but before I do that, I wanted to give them a chance to, you know, if I missed anything in your description or if you wanna say anything else before we start with the questions, I open up the floor to you guys. So Louise, if you’d like to go first, if there’s anything else you’d like to say, we’d love to hear from you.
[Louise] Good morning. I don’t, can you hear me?
[Sam] Good morning.
[Louise] Okay. I wasn’t sure if I was still muted. No, I think you’ve covered it all, absolutely. Explore York, we are the official tourism destination marketing organization for York County. So absolutely, and I think you’ve covered that.
[Sam] Great, Sarah?
[Sarah] Yeah, so, again, Sarah Long here. I know a lot of you in the, that I see your names popping up in the chat and participating, so thanks so much. Sorry if you hear my kids in the background. I am working from home, I have three kids at home. So that’s part of who I am as a person in addition to my job. That’s girl life for all of us right now, I’m sure. But yeah, I think, Sam, you touched on a lot of really good points, and really, our job as the DMO is to get people to be interested in coming to Lancaster, and then it’s our partner’s job to get them to be interested to come to their property, or whether you’re a partner of ours or not. Ultimately, that’s kind of how a DMO works is we have the ability to market more broadly and reach audiences, as he said, that you might not be able to reach with your marketing budget, but if you can be present on our website in our advertising and in our content, then you’re getting access to that broader group of visitors who might not otherwise consider your property as a destination, so.
Advantages of Working with Local DMOs and TPAs
[Sam] Yeah, and that’s great because that sort of addresses the first question that we have, which is kind of just generally, what are the advantages for working with these types of organizations? And, Sarah, you touched on it right there, but is there anything else you wanna add to that? You know, and maybe even if you have some examples of working with the clients that you do work with, you know, of how those advantages have played out. We’d love to hear from Louise and Sarah, both of you on that.
[Louise] Okay, I can go ahead and go.
[Sam] Yeah, please do.
[Louise] Okay, so you know, as far as the advantages of working with us, you know, Sarah did point out our marketing power, you know, the efforts that we do, they were marketing to attract leisure visitors, but also like sporting events and meetings and, you know, have your group tours come. So that marketing that we do creates an economic impact for the whole county, and that’s really, really important. And the other thing when you work with us, you know, we have the potential to hopefully gain some media attention for you as well through various marketing campaigns, public relations campaigns that we’ll offer throughout the year. And it’s a pretty low investment to join Explore York, and that amount, I think, goes a very long way.
[Sarah] Yeah, I would add to that in addition. So obviously, there’s the marketing side, and we, I should qualify that, I think Explore York and Discover Lancaster both, and, Louise, correct me if I’m speaking out of turn, but we are both partner-based organizations. So there is typically a fee to access certain benefits of the DMO or the CVB, but there are a lot of things that whether you’re a partner or not, you can have access to, that help you to promote your message out there, and I know on the Discover Lancaster side, this past, I feel like it’s been the past year or two, we’ve really been working to build out a lot of quality content on our website where even if you don’t have a specific partner page, we might be doing a roundup of top outdoor kid-friendly attractions or something like that where your property might fit into that category really well. And if we’re rounding up in that content, you’re still gonna start seeing those referrals from Discover Lancaster to your site and still, I know there’s somebody who we heard from, he was a guy who owns a kayak company, and he, we added him to some trial that we had created on our site, and he had, his personal cell phone was his only mode of connecting with him at that point, so we stuck that on there, and he ended up calling and saying, “Okay, I’ve gotta change this to an email “like a separate email address “’cause I’m getting a bunch of calls “blowing up my personal cell phone, “and I don’t really want this many calls “coming to my cell phone.” But he didn’t actually realize how, you know, being included on something like that can really impact a small business.
So, and Louise touched on the public relation side of things. Again, that’s not something that we can guarantee that will get you in any kind of hits, but we do have someone dedicated on our team who is reaching out for PR and advocacy for tourism and for the tourism industry. So just having access to those resources is a really bonus thing for smaller businesses who might be operating with a team of one or two people or three people maybe at the most. And so being able to access that information and our media database and things like that is helpful.
And then lastly, we also have a dedicated sales team. So for businesses who can accommodate groups, buses, motor coach buses coming in, meeting in conventions, sports groups that are coming in and international as well, we have dedicated salespeople who are attending trade shows who are getting leads from different groups or meetings that want to come to Lancaster County or are considering it as one of their destinations. And those are that we also share out to our partners so that they can respond. If it’s a hotel, they can respond with room nights. If it’s a tour bus stop, they can respond with what they have to offer for that particular group coming in. So access to all of that type of information is helpful. And then during this season particularly, I have Joel Cliff on our team as our director of public relations and advocacy, and he’s really sifting through, I know you’re probably getting inundated with information about PPP and all the different programs that are out there, but he is weeding through a lot of that with our accountants and things and trying to parse out what is most beneficial to our partners and getting that information to them, so.
[Sam] That’s great, so it’s some of that, helping beyond just, you know, basically doing link building or getting people to come from your site to their site, but really helping them as your partner.
[Sarah] Yeah, exactly, with resources that we have to offer.
[Sam] Yeah, that’s awesome. And we’ve been talking, you know, obviously, Louise and Sarah, you guys are, you’re both from the area, from Southern Central Lancaster County. But, you know, is this, you’re more familiar, I think, maybe than some of us on here with maybe some other DMOs and TPAs and things like that. Would you say that Discover Lancaster and… York, I’m forgetting, Explore York. Is that, would you say that they’re pretty typical of kind of DMOs and TPAs throughout the country and things like that? For some of our guests who aren’t in the Lancaster or York or surrounding areas, are they gonna be able to find some of these same things? And if they’re not, is there ways that they can help to kind of promote those things at their local organizations?
[Sarah] Yeah, oh, go ahead, Louise, I’ll let you speak.
[Louise] That’s okay. I mean, I do feel that, yeah, there are definitely a lot of similarities, but, you know, maybe I’m just biased, but I think that both organizations, you know, we’re proactive on things. I mean, there’s a lot of things that DMOs can’t do. And, you know, you have to budget for everything, and, you know, depends upon your funding. But, you know, we definitely are always on the proactive side, looking for new ways to enhance our members and provide additional benefits. So, you know, but I do think there’s a lot of similarities, a lot of other DMOs do similar things. Some of them, you know, can’t do as much. Some of them can do more. You know, if you’re Pittsburgh, if you’re Philly, you know, you’re gonna do a lot more ’cause your budget’s a lot different, but yeah.
[Sarah] Yeah, I would agree. I think they do similar things, and I think that most tourism destinations, so if you’re on this call, and you’re not from Lancaster or the hilly market around here, there probably is a DMO of some sort, or sometimes, the chamber will be the one who, I know that we broke off of the chamber like 50 years ago or something like that, so sometimes, it’s the local chamber that has resources for visitors. Some DMOs have visitor centers, which we have one of those as well. So if people are coming in, obviously, that is a ever-evolving thing as well because the website has kind of become the visitor center. So unless you’re an international traveler or someone just passing through who hadn’t really planned on staying and then you decided, hey, there’s a lot to do here, I’m gonna stay, and I really don’t know what to do, or that older demographic still likes to stop in the visitor center, so that’s another area of opportunity with DMOs or chambers in general. But yeah, like Louise said, it just depends on the type of destination that you have. If you’re in Minneapolis, that’s a huge meeting convention market. It’s not as much a leisure destination. So they’re gonna offer a lot more benefits on the leads and meeting side. And Philadelphia, obviously, Philly actually has two separate DMOs essentially. There’s one for the meetings and international travel side, and then one for leisure specifically. So it really just depends on the destination. But yeah, there probably is something that people could tap into in their location.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your DMO or TPA Partnership
[Sam] So in general and specifically with your organizations, what would you say to a business who’s, you know, they’ve got, they’re basically wondering what’s the most effective thing I can do on one of your organizations and kind of just in general, you know, in any sort of DMO or TPA. You know, if somebody came and asked you, what’s the one thing I should be doing on your organization, with your organization or on your website, what would you say to that?
[Sarah] So I can take this one first. I would say, honestly, so even though we are a partner-based organization, I think that tapping into our teams to let us know what’s going on at your property. So getting to know somebody at Discover Lancaster and adding us to your e-list or something so that we can be kept apprised of events that you’re having or special offerings that are happening. Because, again, even though we our partner-based, the content that we write on our website includes partners and non-partners. And the website, really, at this point, so full transparency, website traffic for probably all DMOs across the world is down from what it typically is, as is web traffic to most attractions and shops and things like that. So that’s just being honest. But having that referral traffic is huge. And so things like our events calendar, which is open for both partners and non-partners is, that’s always one of our top five viewed pages on our website. So if you have any kind of special event going on that’s not like an ongoing thing but a special exhibit, or if it’s a special menu if you’re a restaurant or for a shop if you have a special sale going on, that is something that you can access. And I always encourage people to take advantage of that because that is a way that you can kind of start to gauge what the traffic could be coming to your site ’cause you’re gonna start seeing quality traffic coming to your site from that. And then you can make the determination ’cause everybody has a different budget, and I fully recognize that not everyone has the budget to become a partner of ours, or they might wanna do some marketing on their own and if they have different goals. It really depends on what your business’s goals are, whether the DMO is the right place for you or not in terms of more advertising and having an official listing on the website or a listing in our getaway guide that gets printed and distributed and things like that. So those are kind of the things I would say to take advantage of that are free is getting in contact with somebody. And again, right now might be a little more challenging ’cause most DMOs have cut back. We furloughed a lot of our staff. So, but when things start to pick back up and get back to normal, we’ll have a little more time to be accessing everyone’s information and setting up meetings and things like that just to talk through what your business is, what you do and how we can help you.
[Sam] Louise, anything you wanna add?
[Louise] Yeah, absolutely, I agree with Sarah as well. And, you know, kind of like depends upon what the person’s interest is or maybe what their category would be. So like, we could connect them with the right person so they could, you know, build a relationship, and, you know, we’re talking about the website and the listings. You know, if you think about, if you have your own website, you want as much information on there as possible. So, you know, look at your listing on our website as an extension to your website. And you can put multiple photos in the carousel. You can put a good description in. So, you know, the amenities function, you know. So make it healthy so that when somebody does come across your page, you know, there’s lots to read about before they go to your own website to get more, but you wanna really have all the stuff there to entice them like, oh, you know, I’m gonna click further to go onto their website. So it’s really important and often overlooked, I think. And so, you know, that’s kind of, I mean, there’s networking events that I would recommend somebody to make sure you go to so you can meet other people and connect and talk about your business. But connecting internally with the staff and you know, we like people, you know. We wanna get to know you, and we want to see it work for you because we wanna help you.
[Sam] Great, yeah–
[Carl] Can I add one point there? I know, Sarah, you mentioned this is event calendars. A lot of DMOs or TPA websites have an event calendar. The way that works might vary by organization to organization, but most of the ones I’m familiar with, that’s definitely free to their members and many times is also free to non-members, and I know those event calendar pages often are more popular than even some of the main pages of the site. And so, I know that’s, I’ve recommended that to a few of our clients, that even if they don’t have a budget to become a member, that publishing their events on the event calendar is a great way to promote their business. And then even if they are a member, those event listings can be a great way to get your name out there and get people over to your member page too.
[Louise] And just to sort of, now going back to the calendar, it’s included in your membership with us. At this time, we’re not really posting if it’s a non-member, unless there’s, like, maybe if it’s being housed at a member location, or there’s some connection, then we will. But I think what people overlook all the time is that, like you said, that calendar page is always, always in the top five searches that people are going to and looking for information. And the other thing with the calendar page, internally as staff, we use that a lot, especially our communication specialist. You know, she’s looking for, you know, to put a blog together, and it has to do about things that are happening. You know, she’s gonna scour to see what we have on the pages. And so, you know, and even like to get travel writers here. So there’s a lot of benefit to having your events on the calendar pages.
[Sarah] Yeah, and making sure that when you’re putting them on, one other thing I would add to that is I know when people Google events happening in Lancaster County, our events calendar will pop up and Google has, I don’t know if you’ve done this before, but if you look at it, there’s like that top window, and it has like the main link to the events in Lancaster County, and then below that, there’s a couple pre-populated type things that have like the title and the dates, and the description and things like that. So making sure that you have a well-thought description and not just like sticking something out for the sake of getting something out there, that also adds that extra visibility when people are googling events in Lancaster County, and if you have a good description, those will rotate through for the upcoming next couple of events. So that’s just an added benefit where they’re not even necessarily coming directly to our events calendar page and then to your event, they’re going directly to that event on our events calendar from Google. So making sure that, again, it goes back to, Louise mentioned this about your partner page if you’re a partner, but anytime that you’re getting information to anyone, whether it’s a DMO or a chamber or any type of events calendar outside of a DMO, I know there’s some other really great sites out there that aren’t necessarily the official destination marketing organization but who still provide really quality information for people looking for information about coming to Lancaster. So making sure that the content that you’re creating is worth creating. Make sure that you’re taking the time to really think through a good description and including keywords that you’d want to be included.
Tips for Deciding Which DMO or TPA to Partner With
[Sam] Yeah, that’s great. And kinda to jump off that point a little bit, you know, mentioning some of the other organizations, one of the questions I have here for Carl, how do we make those good decisions about what organizations to be part of? So with like so many different local options, how should a business go about deciding what DMO, what organization that they should invest in? And I just will note, I just wanna mention too, we’ve had a lot of conversation. I’m sort of scanning the chat. There’s definitely some interest in kind of knowing, you know, how to invest in it, how to choose the best options and kind of what that looks like from kind of executing that and how that investment plays out. So, Carl, if you wanna jump in and talk a little bit about that.
[Carl] Yeah, and after I respond, if Sarah, Louise wanna add anything, I’d appreciate that too. So in our role as a marketing agency, we’re helping a lot of our clients kind of really evaluate what channels do they wanna play in. We primarily focus on the digital marketing aspects, so I can most talk to that point. But we encourage our clients to look at it like any other investment. You know, it’s gonna, any other marketing investment, just like running ads on Google or doing search engine optimization or building your website. We see relationships with DMOs, TPAs or other local destination marketing organizations as really an investment in their online presence.
In many cases, particularly when a business is getting started, that you’re basically borrowing the presence that these other organizations have built through pooled resources and through many years of marketing can be a great way to get your name out in the beginning, even better than your own website in some cases as your website gains a reputation being listed on those sites can be really helpful as well. Because, like as Sarah and Louise mentioned, they’re focusing on really catering to people that are looking to come in the area, are looking generally for things to do, and then people can specifically become aware of your property.
So in terms of knowing which ones to pick, again, I liked what Sarah said earlier, you’ve gotta kind of, every business is a little different. So if you’re really focused on tours or large groups, I think a DMO can be really helpful in those particular cases. Some websites tend to focus on groups, other tends to focus on just small businesses or directly to consumer. You can kind of get a sense for that by looking at the websites. Another tip that I give people is if you’re trying to choose between which online ads to run, don’t just go with the people that are contacting you. You know, there’s a lot of companies out there that are contacting you that say, “Hey, I have a website that focuses on your category. “It’s only 200 bucks a year.” That’s a cheap, they know that’s a pretty cheap investment. But if that website’s not getting any traffic or if the page that you would advertise on isn’t even going to be seen by people, that’s a wasted investment. Whereas there might be another organization that maybe charges 1000 or 2000 or 3000 a year for investment, but you might get a ton of traffic from that.
So if you’re evaluating a website or a potential investment, I would ask, you know, if you’re talking about the visitor center, how many people are coming in every year? How many brochures are getting distributed every year? If you’re talking about the website, how many visitors do you get? If you’re talking about a specific page on the website, how many visitors does that page get, and what is the typical click-through rate? Click-through’s kind of a technical term if you’re not familiar with that, but that’s basically how often do people click through from that page to visit your website or visit your profile page. We think that’s a very important metric. You know, it’s one thing just to be visible, that’s good for awareness, but what we really want is to get qualified traffic to a website. You mentioned that in your opening, Sam, and referred to that as a referral. So yeah, that’s the main way is evaluating just, you know, are they a good fit for your organization? Is it a good presence for your organization? And then ultimately, if you’re on their website or featured in their visitor center, is that gonna hit the right audience for you?
[Sarah] And Carl, if I can add to that really quickly, I would also just really recommend that when you’re doing your digital advertising, you start to track things ’cause I know we have a lot of small businesses locally, at least in Lancaster County, who will spend dollars with us, but they don’t ever actually pay attention to the analytics of how many visits they’re getting to their site or how many dollars they’re getting. So like if you have a specific UTM code, and if you don’t know how to create this, you can Google it, and you can find out really easily, but if you can create a specific link that is coming off of our site, if you, let’s say you bought a featured listing, so you’re showing up and you are, we’ll use U.S. Hot Air Balloons ’cause I know they’ve done this, but U.S. Hot Air Balloons, if they wanna be a featured listing, so if someone’s looking for outdoor things to do in Lancaster County, their listing will show up as one of the top five listings. If they’re purchasing that, they can set a specific link so that they know that clicks to their site are coming from that ad. And they can track the dollar amount that they’re making off of it, how many people from that have actually purchased tickets for riding the balloon. And that way, they can look at what’s their cost, and then what’s the return on investment there. So not only in the clicks for awareness, but also being able to tag actual dollars behind that and seeing what were the bookings like from this ad. So that’s something else that I would just, I recommend that people do whenever we’re talking to people.
And also have that conversation with the DMO, because we do try to be very honest with people. If we don’t think we’re a good fit for you, then we’ll tell you, you know what? You might wanna go check out X, Y or Z site instead because you’ll probably get more ROI from that. We don’t wanna create partnerships that don’t work because it’s a waste of our time, it’s a waste of your time, and it leaves us with a bad name as opposed to a positive experience coming out of it. So we’d rather have really quality partners and really make sure that we are a good fit for them. So also if you’re like debating between which one you should be spending with, have the conversation, and we’ll go through questions and ask you, what are your business goals? What are you hoping, how are you hoping to grow in the next five years? What are your markets that you’re reaching out to? Do we feel like we can help provide information for that? And if we do, then yes, we’ll recommend a good level for you. If we don’t, then we’ll refer you to someone else.
[Sam] You know, I think that’s pretty key for anybody, you know, anybody who’s working with a DMO anywhere across the country or world or whatever. Those are the key questions to be asking. And if you’re not doing your own tracking, as Sarah mentioned, you know, you can’t, there has to be a level of personal responsibility. So doing your own tracking can also help. It not only helps you kind of, let’s just say, hold their feet to the fire with DMOs and stuff like that, it’s really, I know sometimes that information helps DMOs you know, better their tracking or, you know, no technology is perfect. So sometimes there’s issues with tracking on your own business website. Sometimes DMOs have had tracking issues. You know, and then to have sort of two sets of data can help really get the right picture, and you just make sure that everything is as good as it can be from both parties. I know Jamie on the call, she mentioned an additional tool called CallRail, which actually we use for our agency, but it can be used for, anybody can just go in and start using this tool. It is a paid tool, but it’s a call-tracking tool. So you can have, it can generate specific phone numbers that are, that will help you to track phone calls and things like that, which are harder to track using solely your website. So great suggestion there, Jamie. So one other, another question in here. I know I’m kinda blending into Q and A’s, but it’s kind of relevant to the current topics. So what kind of time investment in general, you know, from the time that, let’s say you decide that you’re interested in working with a DMO to the point where you’re actually getting return on investment, can we talk to what kind of, what does that look like? Like, what things need to happen? But also, or what things should happen from both the DMOs perspective and from, you know, the business or the agency’s perspective? And what kind of time frame are we looking at? So Carl, I’ll actually open that up to you first and then Sarah, Louise, I’d love to hear from you about that as well.
[Carl] Sure, yeah, I mean, our experience working with our clients and local DMOs has been, you know, it’s pretty quick in terms of return on investment. I mean, getting your listing up is usually a matter of days, weeks if not days. You know, as a business, you’re gonna have to invest the right time to write the right descriptions, provide the right images. But assuming you’ve got the right content, they can usually get posted to the website pretty quickly. And one of the advantages is, because they’ve already invested in their online presence, you can get near immediate exposure from that. So I would say there’s, you know, it’s usually weeks ’til you start to see traffic coming. And as long as you’ve got a good unique experience that people wanna enjoy, it’s probably only weeks until you start to see some bookings from that as well.
[Sam] Sarah or Louise?
[Sarah] From the DMO side, I would say that is our biggest struggle with potential partners or onboarding new partners is if you are thinking that you want to join, we’ll give you a checklist of like, make sure that you give us X number of images that we can put up as a carousel, and I’m sure, Louise, you have this as well, and write some content for us, get us your links to your social assets, things like that. And then we can turn that around really quickly, but if we don’t hear from you, we actually even will come out to your property and take pictures if you don’t feel like you have quality pictures. That’s part of something that we offer. But if the, on the business side, if they take weeks and weeks and weeks to get us that information, then obviously, you’ve just wasted a portion of your year’s dues on not having your stuff up and running. So that’s something that we’ve been working on, I would say from our end, to try to make this process as seamless as possible. And so we’re recognizing, okay, so like, even before we have your check in hand, we’re giving you this list of things and trying to get you up and running as quickly as possible so that when we get the check for partnership if that’s what this is for, then we can flip that switch and have it on the day we’re depositing your check. But really, if you are considering joining a DMO, that’s something that I would recommend is just thinking through what content you’d want to be on the site as you’re in that process of having conversations with us.
[Louise] I’ll just say that, you know, agreeing to with both of you, but like Carl said, if you get everything to us and we’re able to get the information up, it doesn’t take long at all, but often that is not the case. I mean, we get some information. We don’t get all the information. So, you know, we’ll put up what we have, but the more you can treat it like your own space on our digital platform, you know, the better the return for you.
Using Data to Decide Which Pages to Advertise On
[Sam] Great, so I know that we, we talked about this a little bit, but, Carl, could you walk us kind of through a little bit of the logic and the data to decide what type of, like, from your perspective and from, so your perspective being, you know, working on behalf of businesses from the agency’s perspective, the logic or data to decide which types of ads or pages to be listed on some of these organizations.
[Carl] Sure, yeah, I’m gonna use two examples that’ll be familiar to a lot of people in the group. Not specific examples, but situationally. So like, if you were an outdoor and attraction for instance, Sarah, you mentioned U.S. Hot Air Balloon, so that’d be a good example, but there’s lots of examples of people on the call of different outdoor attractions, and if you take a site like Discover Lancaster as an example, there’s many different pages where an outdoor attraction might consider running ads or being listed. And so we typically recommend people really critically evaluate those pages and ask for data from the DMO. Like, if you haven’t been partnered with the DMO before, you’re not gonna know how much traffic potential is there, but the DMO could give you data on, hey, here’s how many page views we get for our homepage. Here’s how many page views we get for the main attractions page. Here’s how many page views we get for the things to do, or even the specific outdoor attractions page. So for an outdoor attraction, you know, or for any business, what I would say is, consider being listed on the pages that are most relevant to your business. Like, for any website, the homepage is generally gonna get two to three times as many page views as any other page of the website. So a lot of people wanna buy that homepage ad, and those homepage ads are usually like the most expensive coveted property on the website. But what’s interesting is, think about that, there’s a lot of people that are coming to that homepage, they might be interested, if you’re an outdoor attraction, they might be coming to the website looking for somewhere to stay and not even thinking about an outdoor attraction as an example. So the outdoor attraction page might be a more targeted page for an outdoor attraction to be on. That said, I’ve seen some DMO websites that have lots of different pages, but some of those really niche pages, like say outdoor attractions for kids on the weekends, just making up an example here, that might be a very targeted page that would be really good to get on, but if that page only gets 100 visits every month, it might not really be a high return. So you’ve really got to evaluate your options. A lot of websites’ ads on specific pages are the same price. So you, kind of as the advertiser, have to be really picky and choosy about where you’re gonna put yourself. You can spend a lot of money advertising yourself in places that aren’t really gonna get you the kind of visibility that you’re looking for. So I would say that that’s where the primary logic comes in. It’s just making sure there’s a good fit between the site in general and the page specifically that you wanna be listed on. And that is something that may seem obvious to some, but it’s not necessarily so obvious is just being listed on the website may not actually get you the visibility that you want. It’s the specific page that people are coming up with. So if I’m looking for things to do in the area, most DMOs have a website that’s specifically dedicated to things to do in that area, and that’s the page that’s gonna show up in that search. So you might be sitting, you might have an ad on some other page on the website that nobody’s ever gonna see if you’re not specifically on that things to do page. Another example I’ll use is a local theater that we work with. They have a very low budget, very limited ability to participate in partnerships and things like that, so we really had to choose one. And so we went through an analysis to pick which one made the most sense. But it even went beyond that because when you went to the, that website had a page for all the local theaters, and the Lancaster area is pretty popular for arts and has lots of theaters. I don’t know the exact count, but let’s just say there were 30 plus theaters listed on that page. Well, if this organization would have added themselves because of the way their name is in the alphabetical sort on that, they would have ended up pretty far down on that page. In their case, it actually ended up making sense to pay the premium to get a top banner spot on that page. And for a relatively small investment, they’re actually getting a lot of traceable bookings from that. So even though they’re a pretty small theater, they’re getting a lot of bookings from that premium placement on that theater page. So those are the kinds, you know, I’m just, I’m using some specific examples just to give you like a thought process. Like, it’s not just, should I be on this website or not, but which page and even which placement or which type of ad makes the most sense?
[Sam] And Carl, you mentioned that they’re specifically getting, you know, a high amount of bookings from that investment. Can you talk a little bit about, in general, you know, when businesses are listed on these websites, what are some key things to look for to tell whether or not the investment is working?
[Carl] Yeah, absolutely. And Sarah actually hit a lot of my points already, but I’ll just emphasize them. Google Analytics is a free tool that you can run on your own website. Most DMOs are running Google Analytics on their website, but that’s only gonna tell you what’s happening on their website. In most cases, you actually wanna get them to your website or picking up the phone and calling, so using free tools like Google Analytics to measure the traffic on your website. If you’ve got Google Analytics, you can actually see where people that are visiting your website are coming from, including the specific websites that they clicked from. So like, using Explore York or Discover Lancaster, we can actually see for our customers how many people came in a given period of time from those websites, and what did they do on on your website when they came from there. And Sarah mentioned also doing something called conversion tracking, which is actually tracking how many people filled out a form, picked up the phone and called or actually made an online booking. That takes some extra configuration with Google Analytics, but you can configure it so that if you have an online booking system, you can configure it so that it can track every time you get a booking. And so the benefit of doing that is now I can see how many people are coming to my website from that partner listing that I have and how many times are they making a booking. And so you can literally have a true return on investment analysis. If you’re paying two grand a year for your membership and you’re getting six grand back in bookings, well, that thing’s more than paying for itself. If you’re paying a couple grand for a partnership and you’re only, you know, you’re not getting any traceable bookings or only getting a few hundred dollars on that, then there might be a better way to use your money. So I would say Google Analytics and then using tools like, Jamie mentioned CallRail, that’s a great one for measuring phone calls. If you have online chat, there’s ways to measure how many chat engagements you got on Google Analytics. If you have online forums, there’s ways to measure how many form submissions you got in Google Analytics, and then trace all that back to where that traffic came from. In this case, from the DMO website. I’d also encourage people to ask their DMOs for that data. So your DMOs have systems on the back end of their website, including Google Analytics, that can tell you how many page views did the pages you’re listed on get, how many click-throughs did those did your listing get in terms of clicking through to your profile page or clicking through to your website. They’re not gonna be able to tell you how many bookings you got or how many phone calls you got, but they’ll at least be able to tell you how many eyeballs they got you and how many visits to your website or how many click-throughs you got.
[Sarah] And if I can jump in one more time on that too, it is really important to check in with us because you might be seeing, if you’re not looking at which pages on our site your traffic’s coming from in your analytics, and you’re just kind of looking at overall Discover Lancaster traffic, this goes back to Carl’s point about making sure that you’re on the right pages on the site. I remember talking to a group of, it was actually Bed and Breakfast that we were talking to and they were like, “Well, we see that we’re getting so much traffic, “so much traffic, and our listing is so important.” And I ended up looking back on our site and saying, in our analytics and saying, you know what? Actually, the events calendar is what’s getting you the traffic. When you hold your annual holiday event that is inviting people into your homes to see the decorations and vintage things and whatever, that is actually what’s driving your traffic. And so it helps them to understand, okay, so my listing actually is not as important as making sure my event is keenly, like photos and whatever else they can do on it. So checking in with us to see where you’re getting the traffic from is also just really valuable.
[Sam] Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
[Louise] The other thing I’d like to just add about digital ads from Explore York, we actually use a third party for our web ads, but they have access to all our analytics, and, you know, so they’re able to kind of tell you exactly which pages are the best. And, you know, you can work with me, but then I’m gonna connect to with them as well because they’re the ones that are, I’m looking to them to provide the member the best information that’s out there.
Open Q and A
[Sam] Great, yeah, thank you. So we’re up at about the point where we’re gonna move into some Q and A time. I have about three or four questions queued up. But if anybody, based on the conversation, I know two important things. First, just as we do every week, we are actually taking notes. We’ll summarize a lot of this information, and we’ll send it out. So I know that there’s been a lot of key pieces of information that we would hope that you would take into consideration when you’re looking at your marketing, and especially looking at working with DMOs and the tourism promotion agencies. We will be sending that information out. That’ll be in our notes. So if you feel like you missed anything, we will have a recording of this, and we will, obviously, send the summary out as well. So you’ll be able to kind of go back and look. The second thing, if you have any questions throughout what we’ve just discussed, please leave it in the chat. Like I said, I have about three or four that we can kind of kick off with and, you know, we need some more. We’d love to get some more of your questions answered.
The first thing I wanna touch on just because it’s kind of been brought up peripherally through some of the chat, but specifically for people who have low or no budget, which is a real reality right now, you know, this is a question for all three of you. What are some things that you would recommend? And you can speak specifically about, you know, either York or Lancaster, but I also hope that that’ll sort of translate, you know, those things will probably be relevant to organizations beyond just this particular part of Pennsylvania. So low or budget, what do I do?
[Carl Yeah, it’s come up earlier, but I would say, if you literally have no budget, your opportunity with a DMO, some DMOs have free event calendars, and even if your DMO doesn’t, there are other websites that are marketing their website to your destination that might have, like radio stations often have event calendars. There’s often other organizations that have event calendars for one reason or another. The chamber or a website focused on your city might have an event calendar. Those are usually free opportunities to promote your events. And even if you’re doing, you know, it depends on what you offer. If you’re just something that’s open 24/7 or every day, and you don’t really do any events, it might be hard to get on an event calendar. But even if you’re doing like specific seasonal, you know, if there’s some kind of like a seasonal thing that you’re doing or an open house weekend or something like that, those are great ways to get exposure.
[Sarah] I would say if you have no, if it’s no budget or even just a little budget, or it’s something where you’re like, you know what? Who the heck knows what’s gonna happen with this virus in the fall? So I don’t wanna spend the little budget that I have right now. Definitely, just see, reach out to DMOs, reach out to chamber, see what free opportunities they have. But I would also say, focus on your own media. So think about your website. Think about your social channels if you’re not up on social. I know that a lot of smaller businesses don’t have a ton of time on their hands, and actually, even as a larger business, we have focused on Instagram and Facebook only, and we’ve cut our Twitter channel because we really realized, you know what? People aren’t looking for vacation on Twitter, they’re really looking for news and like quick update type things. So if you’re looking for time saving, I would say focus on Instagram and Twitter, and I would look for hashtags that you can get involved with that the DMO might be using in some of our media. I know we started using #lancasterthroughmywindow. You’ll see, like San Francisco, I think, started doing this as well, and it’s really an opportunity for anybody business-wise or consumer or just an individual to post a picture, and you can search for that hashtag and see. So look for things like that where it’s a free opportunity for you to use your own media. If you’re doing e-news, e-blasts to your own consumers, just focus on making those really quality to be able to get the traffic through your doors anytime where you don’t have dollars to spend.
[Louise] And I’ll just add to that. I mean, if we’re looking at today, that’s a whole different ballgame because everything is so different. And, you know, we’ve been trying to help the community at large, regardless if they’re a member. Obviously, we’ve offered to our members some things, such as our digital billboards for a week that they can use. So we’re doing what we can to help the members, but the whole community at this point in time. But assuming that, you know, when things are back to normal and if somebody does not have an advertising budget or has a very little advertising, the digital billboards that we do have, we offer them to our members at a very, very low rate. So that is one thing that is an option for them. And there’s like, back again, like when things are normal, you know, we do like fam tours. That doesn’t cost anything to be part of a fam tour and have people. If you can’t host one, then participate in one so that you can meet other people that way. So there’s other things, but it’s a whole different ballgame, what we’re looking at right now in this current situation and what we’re doing for the community.
[Sarah] I’m gonna add to what I said earlier as well just on Instagram especially. So knowing that our team has been cut back, I’m handling our social, which I don’t typically do. We have an incredible staff member who is furloughed currently who typically handles it, and I’m missing her greatly. But during this season, it’s also really helpful for me to get content that I can repost from our businesses in Lancaster County so that I’m not having to constantly be thinking of things to post. So I know Jamie over Amish Farm and House had created, they created an incredible video that she was gracious enough to share with me. We were able to share that out, which gets them a lot of exposure. And I know some of our partners who are doing virtual experiences. I’ve been calling their information. We can have that up on our website, as well as putting it, promoting them on our social channels. So we’re always just, we’re looking for that information, so tagging us in posts or using #DiscoverLancaster. I’m constantly looking through just to see what else we can be putting out there that’s gonna be beneficial for our local businesses. And that is definitely something that is on an individual business level. If you’re having a special sale or something like that, or a special menu, or if you are doing a virtual online experience of Lancaster County, we’re looking for that content during this season. During any season, when we’re back to, quote-unquote, normal or whatever the new normal is, we’re still gonna be using the same hashtag, still looking for that same content. So whether you’re a partner or not, that’s another free thing you can access.
[Louise] I just want, going back on what Sarah said about the videos. I mean, we love it when our members have videos. And please share ’em with us because that’s, you know, that’s an avenue for us then to put it on Facebook. And so, you know, we love that, especially whenever it’s already there. Just give it to us.
[Sam] I would, just to kind of button some of that up a little bit, start thinking about events as content. Events, you know, if you turn something that you typically do and you think it’s just kind of like, you know, it’s something, you know, your season opening or it’s a specific thing that’s going on, think of the events that you hold as content, and you can share that content on things like calendars, with your DMOs. Use it as content for your social, for email, ’cause that can really go a long way ’cause you’re typically taking pictures and creating a lot of unique experiences or things like around these events that you have, even if it’s something as simple as kind of like a weekly event that you hold with a few people. That’s still something that’s worth noting to the greater community, and it will get you some, it’ll get you some added benefits of listing on calendar, public calendars and things like that.
[Carl] Well, it’s also easier for the community to get behind promoting those. I know we worked with an attraction that is understandably a lot slower over the winter, but they’re still open. And one of the things they’ve done differently in the last two years is kind of themed what they do around Christmas and around the holidays, and they’ve seen a huge increase in bookings and gift card purchases because of taking what they already had and were already doing and theming it around the Christmas season. And it’s also been really easy. It’s brought some media attention to them. It’s brought some other people kind of promoting that stuff organically through social because they’re celebrating the holiday, or they’re celebrating the event or the gift-giving opportunity as opposed to specifically just, you know, buying our tours as an example.
[Sam] Cool, well, we are right at the point where we need to wrap up to not go over our hour here. But I wanna, is there anything else that, Sarah or Louise or Carl, if you wanna share right before we talk a little bit about resources and next week.
[Carl] Sure, Sarah or Louise, any closing thoughts? Thank you for joining us today.
[Louise] Well, I appreciate the opportunity to be part of it, and you know, don’t hesitate to reach out to us, and have a conversation. And, you know, we’re neighbors.
[Sarah] Yeah, I will say just briefly, I saw one of the questions in the chat from Jamie was, what media are we planning to recover from this? So we do still plan to have a very nimble media by this year. Obviously, with a lot of uncertainty, we’re not exactly sure when we’ll be starting things, but really just looking at starting with like concentric circles of local media first, and then slowly broadening that because we recognize that our primary markets of New York and Philadelphia may not be open as quickly as Lancaster County is open. So, and also just looking, I would encourage you if you are doing any kind of digital buying, look at your analytics and see if there are any markets that are outside of your typical primary markets that actually you might be seeing increases in. I know a lot of people, I think 40, I saw a statistic the other day from Longwoods, who does a bunch of research on travel, and they said that 43% of people who had previously planned vacations are changing the destination they would have gone to. So I know for our analytics, this is super anecdotal at this point, but Boston actually is up in traffic, and we don’t tend to get a ton of traffic from them to begin with. And obviously, traffic is smaller right now than it typically would be, but it is something I’m gonna keep my eye on because if there are some people who are in that, a little bit of a further drive market but that might typically travel to other destinations and are looking for a more affordable destination or something different than their typical fly to destination, that might be something that you can see in your analytics as well. So those are just some of the like really quick cut things that we’re planning with media. But I can get into that. If people have questions, feel free to shoot me an email, and I can let you know, as we go, what we’re thinking.
[Carl] Cool, just as a closing thought, we always try to give people resources. We’ve mentioned it a couple times now, but obviously, our guests are very focused on the area here locally in Pennsylvania, but for those of you across the U.S. or even across the world, I was able to find some websites that lists a large number of DMOs across the U.S. or DMOs or tourism organizations across the world. We’ll put these links in the notes. We’ll also, they’ll be in the recording. I’d encourage you to check those out if you’re looking for other opportunities. And if you’re not using Google Analytics, you need to be. It’s a free resource. You can get a ton of information about it. So if you don’t already have Google Analytics running on your website, there’s a link there for how to get there. They have lots of great resources to teach you how to use the tool. If you are already running Google Analytics, make sure you can log in and grab someone who understands how to look at Google Analytics and help them show you how to do it. It’s invaluable, number one marketing tool for anybody. Cool, next week, we’re gonna be talking about Google My Business, how to optimize your Google Maps listing to get more bookings. So we’d encourage you to tune in. We’re gonna have some guest speakers for that. We’re also going to be taking a look at Google My Business profiles from people in the group and highlighting some good examples of activity that we’re seeing there. And last but not least, join in the conversation in between our meetups. We’ve got the Facebook group. There’s a lot of people on there now, really good content being posted, really good conversations going back and forth, also a great place to help collaborate. We’ve seen a couple members who are putting up promotion ideas or joint contest ideas or just ways to kinda help collaborate, share each other’s businesses, like each other’s businesses, those kinds of things, encourage you to join if you haven’t, encouraged you to jump in on the conversation, and please feel free to post. We’re all here to help each other.
And I know, just to address something that was in the chat, I know there are some questions specifically about what deals or planning have you do to help the post-COVID recovery in these next, you know, however long you think that it’s gonna last we’re hoping that it’s gonna be a couple months, but we will wanna, to get some more of that information, I think what we’ll do is we’ll post something on the Facebook group and Sarah and Louise, if you’re not already part of the Accelerated Tourism Facebook group, we’ll hope you’ll join. And hopefully, we can find out from a lot of different people, since we have people from all over the country. We can maybe get some insight into what some DMOs, including York and Lancaster, you know, what, some inside look on what some plans are for the next six months, next year, so. That will be in the Facebook group.
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