Talking tourism |

Talking tourism

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

GRAND JUNCTION – Kelli McDonald’s job is selling Vail. To do that, she needs to know what’s being done to bring people to Colorado.

McDonald was one of several Vail Valley marketing and tourism promoters in Grand Junction for the recent Colorado Tourism Conference. About 500 people from around the state took parts of three days to learn how the state is promoting itself to the rest of the country and the world.

McDonald said the statewide strategy affects how she and other local marketing people do their jobs.

“When you know what markets the state is in, you can overlay that with where we are,” McDonald said.

The result, she said, is a one-two marketing punch in some areas.

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“But it’s not duplicating efforts,” McDonald said. “We’ll cover some items the state doesn’t.”

Working with state marketers goes beyond advertising campaigns, too. McDonald said if she knows the state is bringing in travel writers for a tour, she’ll find available rooms and meals in Vail for those groups as a way to get some exposure in national publications.

More money

Until recently resorts had become used to going it alone for marketing, but after a long drought, the state is again putting money – and a lot of it – into tourism promotion these days.

The drought started in the early 1990s, when state voters turned down a proposal to renew a small sales tax dedicated to tourism promotion, and ended in 2005, when voters approved a ballot measure to let the state keep more tax money. One offshoot of that vote was that the state now puts roughly $20 million per year into tourism promotion.

Most of that money is used to buy broadcast and print advertising. Two-thirds of the spending is dedicated to building up spring, fall and summer tourism.

Besides the “Let’s Talk Colorado” ad campaign, the state tourism board also provides grants to event promoters around the state to help with advertising.

Joel Heath’s company, Untraditional Marketing, received one of those grants – which matches local money to advertise specific events – before this year’s Teva Mountain Games.

“It’s nice to have that kind of leverage for local events,” Heath said.

Besides the grants, Heath said the state’s campaigns can help local marketing campaigns. Once people are thinking about Colorado, then it’s time to lure them to specific places.

Ambitious goals

If the Colorado Tourism Office has its way, there will be a lot more tourists for Vail and other markets to try to attract.

In 2006, an estimated 27 million people visited Colorado. Those people spent an estimated $9 billion. Tourism officials claim that outside money saved every Colorado resident $150 in taxes.

The state tourism office’s goal is to boost that number to 30 million by the end of 2008. Presumably, more people visiting means more money for business and government sales tax collections.

With all those people wandering around the state, it’s important for specific destinations to get those tourists to stop.

A divided pie

That was the thrust of several presentations throughout the three-day conference. There were seminars on selling Colorado through traditional advertising, public relations and the Internet.

Consultant Ira Mayer, president of New York-based EPM Communications, talked about marketing to minority groups – what he called “emerging majorities.”

“In understanding trends, middle-aged white men ain’t it,” said Mayer, a middle-aged white man.

Marketing over the coming years needs to focus on different segments of the tourist market and understanding just who travels and how they spend money, from families to couples – straight and gay – to retired people.

Web sites should provide information to all those groups, Mayer said, because people respond to images of people like themselves.

Web sites are a great way to present a destination or business to a lot of people, but having a positive presence on the Web takes work.

With nearly 80 percent of all travelers now using the Internet to research destinations and book rooms and activities, business people from chambers of commerce to those who run bed and breakfasts out of their homes need to work on their Web presentations, and more important, spend time to find out what people are saying about their businesses.

No kitchen sinks

But Jim Brady, an executive with Trip Adviser International, told business people they don’t need the latest, or flashiest technology.

“Don’t get sucked into the technology,” Brady said. “Your site just needs to work. It doesn’t matter how it works.”

Instead of buying technology they don’t need, Brady said people need to make sure their Web sites can be found.

“Put your information wherever you can,” Brady said. That means using the right keywords to make sure businesses can be found on Google and other search engines.

Business owners also need to regularly search for themselves and their competition, in order to see what others are saying.

Brady said it’s important to respond to bad reviews or blog entries that aren’t correct.

“But if all your reviews say your rooms are dirty, then your rooms are dirty and you’ve got to fix that,” Brady said.

Chris Romer of the Vail Valley Partnership believes a lot of the negative reviews on Web sites are planted by competitors. Brady said Trip Adviser has a fraud unit to look out for “sabotage” reviews, but that the vast majority of reviews are written by actual customers.

“We take those down when we find them,” Brady said. “But if something’s true, it stays up.”

Customers as sellers

The Web has made it possible to sell to more people than ever, and Michele Miller, an executive with the Wizard of Ads agency, talked about new technology such as ScanBuy and CellFire, that lets customers book and buy straight from their mobile phones.

But, Miller said, some of the old rules haven’t changed.

Referrals, whether on-line or in person, still have the biggest effect on a business, Miller said.

Today, though, it’s hard to get a single message through the never-ending advertising and marketing on TV in print and on line.

One way to do that, she said, is to get customers to create publicity for a business or destination.

Scottsdale, Arizona, recently asked for Web videos from people who wanted to win a vacation to the desert resort. The winning video was from a young couple in Minnesota. A woman had recently moved from Florida to be with her boyfriend up north. The video featured the woman, freezing, flopping around on the ice, and showing the camera the frozen runoff from her nose.

That’s the sort of thing that will attract attention from reporters or TV news shows, Miller said.

Miller also urged businesses to find what they can give away to build goodwill with customers.

“Are you willing to offer free desserts, or replace watch batteries?” she said.

Miller’s own company recently built a small wedding chapel in Austin, Texas, and provides both the space and a minister of the couple’s choice, for free, to those who can’t afford a church wedding.

“We’re going to be doing three weddings a day, every day,” she said. “It’s the best thing we’ve ever done.”

But Miller said, the hard part comes after the first public buzz.

“Once you do it, you have to keep it going day after day after day,” she said.

Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 748-2930 or

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