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Q & A with Linda Hill

by Scott MillerHCBR

Linda Hill has been in the business of marketing resorts and their businesses since 1984. Hill & Company has clients from Grand Junction to Steamboat Springs and Summit County, as well as across the nation. Hill recently took some time to answer a few questions about the ins and outs of promoting businesses and destinations, and the impact gas prices might have on the future of tourism.Q: Hill & Company works with clients in a lot of resort markets, some that do most of their business in winter and others that do most of their business in summer. How are the approaches to marketing different between winter and summer?A: The strategy to the marketing effort is the same, it is the execution that is different. Understanding the mindset of the visitor is absolutely key. You need to understand the background of those customers visiting for skiing and snowboarding versus those interested in golf and mountain biking in order to market to them. We do a lot to understand the consumer where they are from, their ages and their preferences, expectations, and habits when marketing each of these seasons. There are many similarities for instance, a common thread among mountain visitors is an adventurous spirit, whether in summer or winter. And a summer destination that focuses more on golf and spas is looking for customers that prefer to relax. The bottom line is that it is important (through your creative efforts) to entice the consumer and make them want to have the experience you are offering. Q: Whats the difference between an ad campaign for one business (such as the Aria Spa in Vail) and a whole region (such as Grand Junction)?A: When marketing a product versus a destination, an individual product has the benefit of being able to focus its effort on a core message strategy and very specific audience under the umbrella of the destination.In most cases, the destination has been able to develop an identity and a strategy to appeal to a broader audience than an individual product may have the resources to do. When this occurs, it provides the opportunity to the individual product to not have to sell anything other than its benefits as part of the greater destination appeal.Grand Junction is one such destination that has been able to hang its hat on one item to the benefit of its tourism partners. Colorados Wine Country is the brand strategy that has fostered an audience appeal that each individual product can now be a part of. In some cases, an individual product may help the destination become better known. One such case is Trinidad, and the Cougar Canyon Golf Resort Community. This new Jack Nicklaus-designed course is creating new audiences and tourism potential for the community of Trinidad. In some cases Cougar Canyon will be more widely recognized than Trinidad and will assist in putting Trinidad on the map. We see this trend in smaller towns throughout the Rocky Mountain region as development occurs and assists the destination in further defining itself.Q: Every client is different, but in general what kind of advice are you giving when clients ask about using the Internet to draw business?In 1995 when we developed our first client Web site, we had a strong belief that the Internet would change the way we communicate, find information and make decisions. This has proved to be true.However, we have always believed that the Internet and the plethora of electronic marketing possibilities need to be part of an overall marketing strategy that is supported by an integrated platform of advertising, public relations, direct marketing, sales efforts and brand development. Most of the clients we work with today realize the importance of the Internet but struggle on how to utilize it to its full potential.We advise clients to move beyond just an informational site to create more interaction with their potential customers in the hopes of building a community around their site. In some cases we have worked closely with clients to develop strategies that allow the potential customer to build the content that fits their needs. Creating an experience, a reason to return, and building long-term relationships are the foundation of a strong Internet strategy. Q: Most resort markets have at least one newspaper and radio station. What do you advise clients about the best use of their advertising dollar?It is first important to know your customers habits. If you are trying to attract a local customer and you know they read the paper and listen to the radio, then, if your budget fits, it may make sense. But it is also important to find a way to break through the other ads and reach your customer.We advise a well rounded plan, which is much stronger than a shotgun approach. Look at all of the marketing options in your community and consider some alternative ideas as well. For instance, if you are a small business, aligning your product within the community is another way to stretch your advertising dollars. Also, make sure you track everything as best you can so you can evaluate and invest in those efforts that give you the best return on your investment.Q: What role do national travel magazines play in resort marketing today?National travel magazines help set the trends of what people want to do next. They engage readers in the fantasy and imagination of travel. They introduce you to places you never imagined going and introduce you to people who have been there. You may find that the latest trends in travel are vacations that focus on eco-tourism or cause related efforts and wellness/health vacations to name a few. This means that your ads need to intrigue your customers and help drive traffic to your Web site. They will need to engage the reader and pique their interest. We also see more magazines partnering with their advertisers as a way to create experiential events that drive traffic to the advertiser and to the magazine. A great example was an event hosted in Telluride by Gourmet Magazine. The ad buy was leveraged into a significant event that enticed people to visit the resort and to meet and talk to leading food and wine experts. National travel magazines are an important part of an overall strategy for those that can afford this level of marketing.Q: The price of travel keeps going up. What kind of future do you see for destination resorts, and how will they need to change in the way they attract customers?The price of everything continues to rise milk, gasoline, and bread. However, the economys well being is the other factor that helps keep prices in check. If the economy is sagging then consumers become more price conscious.Vacations are affected by more than just the economy (thats a big one!) but there is also weather (both here and elsewhere), value (am I getting a lot for my money) and their desired experience (are we going to rip it up or are we going to relax). We cannot change the economy or the weather, so therefore it becomes increasingly more important that we show consumers value for their vacation and a great experience we can inspire them to visit or at least give them a great reason to visit. As marketers, we do that through advertising, the Internet, public relations and other tools. Destination resorts need to continue to entice their consumers, showing that they are getting a great value for their money and that they will have a great experience on vacation.


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