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  • Article
    Tourism and downtown folks never really talk to each other; everyone does their own thing see more

    "What do downtowns have to do with tourism?"

    I was speaking at a conference and afterwards a woman approached me and asked this very question. I couldn’t pass up an opening like that and instantly started spouting facts and statistics about downtowns. Before I knew it, about fifteen people had gathered around and were jotting down notes as fast as possible.

    One gentleman noted that the tourism and downtown folks in his city never really talk to each other; everyone does their own thing. Half a dozen other people echoed the same sentiment. Sound familiar?

    After I rattled off a few more facts and figures, a member of the impromptu meeting said, “That’s amazing stuff. Can you come and tell this to our community?”

    It is amazing stuff and it made me realize that, although I certainly understand the power of a great downtown, many professionals don’t.

    I’m well-known for sound bites, so here are a few facts about downtowns you can share:

    1. The heart and soul of every community, besides its people, is its downtown. The health of a community can instantly be portrayed by the vitality of its downtown. It is the litmus test for all your economic development efforts – both tourism and non-tourism. Downtown provides that all-important first impression of the community that answers the questions: “Is this a place I’d want to live? A place my employees would want to live? A place I’d want to hang out? Show off to friends and relatives?” If you want people to visit your community, to open or relocate a business there, or move to your town, downtown needs to be a place they’d enjoy spending time in.

    2. The number one activity of visitors throughout the world is shopping, dining and entertainment in a pedestrian friendly setting. It’s typically not the reason we go to a destination, but it is the top diversionary activity of visitors once they’re there.

    3. Consider this: The average visitor is active 14 hours a day, yet they only spend four to six hours with the primary activity that brought them there. Then they spend eight to ten hours with diversionary, or secondary activities. Diversionary activities are things they could do closer to home but will do while in town. As an example, Branson, Missouri hosts 7.5 million visitors a year, and the average visitor will see one or two shows a day, totaling approximately four hours. The 49 theaters are what brings them to town (the primary lure), but once there, they spend the rest of their time shopping, dining, at theme parks and attractions, or on recreational pursuits: hiking, biking, boating, fishing, golf, etc.

    4. Here’s the amazing statistic: Secondary activities are where 80% of all visitor spending takes place. It’s ok to be a “diversionary” activity. When we’re out fishing or hiking or biking, we are not spending money. When we are competing in a sports game, we are not spending money. But when we’re done, guess what? We’re off looking for the nearest watering hole, great shops, restaurants, and entertainment. Why did Disney build Downtown Disney outside of Disney World? To capture that other 80% of visitor spending. Smart move.

    5. Curb appeal can account for 70% of visitor sales at restaurants, golf courses, wineries, retail shops, and lodging facilities. Amazing isn’t it? You could spend millions of marketing dollars to pull people into your community, but none of that will make a visitor walk into a restaurant or retail shop and say, “Here’s my credit card.” The merchant must do that. It’s that old adage of “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Many merchants have no idea how to pull customers in the door by presenting a beautiful, welcoming entry with planters, benches, attractive signage and window displays.

    We all travel. Have you ever uttered these words: “That looks like a nice place to eat.” Other than asking a local, or finding where the most local pickup trucks are parked, this is our only other clue to help make a decision.

    6. If local residents do not hang out in your downtown, neither will visitors. Visitors are not looking for “best kept secrets” or “solitude” when downtown. They are looking for places where other people go. They want to be in a lively, thriving environment. If downtown has the activities and attractions to draw residents, visitors will want to go there too. The number one reason people travel is to visit friends and relatives. When they visit you, where do you take them? That’s what I thought.

    7. Then there’s the 10+10+10 rule or the “Rule of Critical Mass.” After researching 400 towns and downtown districts in the U.S. and Canada, we found the minimum critical mass it takes to make downtown a destination. In just three lineal blocks (not square blocks) you must have a minimum of ten places that serve food: soda fountain, bistro, café, bakery, confectionary, sit-down restaurant, coffee shop, to name a few. The second ten are destination retail shops. These are NOT big box and chain stores, but ten specialty shops. These might include galleries, clothing, outfitters, artisans in action, wine shops, books, antiques (not second hand stores), home accents, gardening and gourmet cooking stores. And the third ten: Places open after 6:00 pm, preferably entertainment.

    8. And that brings us to today’s most important and amazing statistic. A full 70% of all consumer spending (locals and visitors alike) takes place after 6:00 pm. Are you open? And you wonder why downtowns are dying while lifestyle retail centers are thriving.

    For you in the tourism industry, consider this: people spend the night where there are things to do after 6:00. Not just dining, but also shopping, activities or entertainment. Few people, particularly leisure travelers, want to be holed up in a hotel room twiddling their thumbs watching reruns of Fear Factor.

    These few statistics are why more and more Destination Marketing Organizations are now being forced to step out of the comfort zone of focusing all their efforts on marketing, and into the realm of product development. After all, a good product sells itself, and many downtowns need work to become a good product. Tourism and downtown professionals should be joined at the hip. Get cozy.

  • Article
    Attracting more visitors hasn’t always required such emphasis on being unique. see more

    Before she met the wizard, Dorothy lived with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in a black and white Kansas. When a tornado dropped Dorothy – house and all – into the Land of Oz, the dust settled, she opened her front door, and the world was suddenly brilliant Technicolor. Dorothy scooped up her dog and said, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. We must be over the rainbow!” There was no mistaking that you were now in Oz—it was as different from Kansas as Disneyland is from, well, Kansas.

    Any community trying to attract more visitors needs to be a little like Oz. They need to take visitors over the rainbow to a new place, providing them with activities significantly different from what they can find closer to home. They need to tell the world how they’re truly unique and worth a special trip. That image, the vision that sets one community apart from all others, is its brand, and branding a community is critical to its success in creating an outstanding downtown destination and increasing tourism spending.

    Attracting more visitors hasn’t always required such emphasis on being unique. What’s brought us to this situation is three-fold: a change in the international psyche, the state of the economy, and the plight of travel.

    International Psyche

    As we grew up, most of us went on vacations to the places our parents took us: camping in the great outdoors, Grandma’s house, locations with scenic beauty, destinations they’d heard about, read about or saw on television. It was the age of the two-week vacation. Kids were packed into the station wagon and the luggage strapped to the roof. For the most part those days are long gone.

    The Internet has changed everything, opening our eyes to new places and adventures we have never heard of before. We don’t even need to know where we want to go to find a great vacation destination—all we need to do is search for the activity we want, and a wealth of opportunities in different locations is instantly available.

    By simply typing “horseback riding South Dakota,” into your favorite search engine, you’ll find nearly every horseback riding opportunity in the state in just seconds. The same applies to fly fishing, antiquing, concerts, wine trails, farmers markets, boating, and just about any other activity you can think of. For the first time ever, the destination is now secondary to the activity. Locations travelers have never heard of before are now on the first page of search results alongside well-established destinations. And since more than 216 million Americans have immediate Internet access (71%), the web is, by far, the number one resource for travel planning. The playing field has been leveled.

    State of Travel

    Since deregulation of the airline industry in 1978, air travel has grown five times faster than the population. We have enjoyed inexpensive travel, more direct routes, and air travel has become the norm, rather than a luxury. Well, the bubble is bursting. 2007 was considered the worst year in aviation history in terms of customer satisfaction, and this year is projected to make last year look good. Some airlines are filing for bankruptcy, while others are merging so they can reduce options and routes. Nearly every airline is increasing ticket prices, adding fuel surcharges, and adding charges for third bags, meals and entertainment. Airports are overtaxed with antiquated equipment and over-committed space. According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 45% of all air travelers say they are less likely to fly this year because of rising fares. With increasing delays, cancellations, over-bookings, cramped quarters, and overall aggravation, who wants to fly anymore?

    For those planning to drive instead, fuel prices are going through the roof. According to the Travel Industry Association, the “breaking point” for consumers, where people will start to cut back on travel, is at $4 a gallon. Ninety-six percent of leisure travel in North America is by private vehicle, and higher fuel price fluctuations could hit most drive-to destinations hard.

    The Economy

    With rising travel costs, tighter credit, and a sagging economy, many people are second-guessing the value of extended road trips or booking flights for vacation getaways.

    While all this sounds like gloom and doom for the travel industry, the fact remains that people still want to travel. Travel is seen as a necessity now, not a luxury. We love our cars, we love new adventures, and we’re reluctant to give those up. What has changed is how we decide where we’re going. And this is where the importance of branding becomes paramount.

    With the Internet at our fingertips, let’s go back to planning that horseback-riding getaway in South Dakota. We search for the activity, but when we see the results and start looking at websites and the location, two powerful questions surface:

    1. Could I do this closer to home?

    2. If I can’t do it closer to home, is this experience so great it will be worth the extra cost and the hassle?

    While 94% of web-enabled people use the Internet to plan their travel, 70% are frustrated in their planning efforts. Why? Because most communities haven’t yet learned to market activities and experiences. Instead, many still focus their efforts on counties, cities and geographic locations. They also insist on promoting themselves as having “something for everyone.”

    This all-things-to-all-people mentality does nothing to set a community apart from the competition. It causes as much as 97% of advertising to be ineffective.

    Travelers won’t go someplace because it has something for everyone—they go places because there’s something specifically for them. And every town has “unique shops and dining”—so what is it that makes your shops different? Worth a special trip and the added cost to get there?

    With the wealth of options and information on the Internet, travelers are able to find places that cater to their specific desires. They don’t want to go to a place that bills itself as“all things to all people.” The generic approach of being“unique, just like everyone else,” simply doesn’t work anymore.

    Savvy communities know they need to offer something specific—to fill a niche—or they’ll be left behind in the flurry of developing destinations. Every year another 1,500 communities in the U.S. and Canada are coming online in the tourism industry. Competition has never been this fierce. Creating and promoting a primary attraction that sets you apart from everyone else will make your community worth a special trip, repeat visits, and an extended stay.

    Welcome to the era of the brand. Simplified, branding is the art of differentiation, finding that one thing that sets you apart from everyone else. Your community’s brand is the image or perception that people have of you, and the experiences they can expect when they visit. We are now in the “age of specialization.”

    Nevada in particular is making impressive progress towards helping its towns become distinctive destinations. When someone mentions Nevada, your first thought is probably Las Vegas, the most successful of the “age of specialization” cities. After 48 out of 50 states legalized some form of gaming, Las Vegas took the brilliant step of removing the gaming focus from their marketing, and branded themselves“the playground for adults.” They put together the most successful branding effort in history with tag line and ads promoting “What happens here, stays here,” a perfect fit for “sin-city.”

    The results have been jaw dropping. Since visitors can go to many casinos closer to home, Las Vegas took the focus off gaming and put it on entertainment. As a result, gaming revenues hit a record high of nearly $41 billion in 2007. The city hosted 39.2 million visitors in 2007, second only to Orlando with 48 million visitors. The 137,000 hotel rooms are seeing a 90+% occupancy level, a full 27 points above the national average.

    But what about all those rural towns scattered throughout Nevada? How can they attract visitors? Here’s a look at what a few of these communities have done.


    A town of only 2,500 residents, Hawthorne adopted the brand and tag line of “America’s Patriotic Home.” While not unique across America, the brand is unique to the region, and you’ll see the largest American flag west of the Mississippi, visible from several miles away, flying proudly above Hawthorne. The town is developing patriotic pole banners and decorative crosswalks, while the tops of buildings will be adorned with stars and strips. The museum of modern weaponry is not to be missed, and their Veterans Day parade is spectacular. There’s still much more work to be done to “own” the brand, but they’ve made great progress.


    About 90 miles east of Reno, Lovelock is a town of about 3,000 residents, and the community recently adopted the ancient Chinese custom of locking one’s love on a never-ending chain—a perfect draw for a town with the name Lovelock. Go to Lovelock to forever lock your love. Once in town, visitors can buy two heart-shaped locks, have them engraved with their names, and lock them together on the never-ending chain that will eventually wrap all around the county’s round courthouse and throughout town. Then post your love story on their website. Buy an extra lock for your rear view mirror or for your office desk. How cool is that?


    Here’s one struggling mining town that turned a negative into a positive. With its remote location and extremely high altitude (nearly 7,000 feet), Tonapah has an exceptionally dark night sky and nearly 340 days of clear weather. The clear, thin air gives visitors a stunning view of the stars, with the Milky Way easily visible as a shining river across the sky. Tonapah is developing a terrific brand as the “Stargazing capital of North America.”

    About 90 miles east of Reno, Lovelock is a town of about 3,000 residents, and the community recently adopted the ancient Chinese custom of locking one’s love on a never-ending chain – a perfect draw for a town with the name Lovelock. Go to Lovelock to forever lock your love. Once in town, visitors can buy two heart-shaped locks, have them engraved with their names, and lock them together on the never-ending chain that will eventually wrap all around the county’s round courthouse and throughout town. Then post your love story on their website. Buy an extra lock for your rear view mirror or for your office desk. How cool is that?


    A town of about 30,000, Pahrump is undergoing its branding process right now, although it already has a strong “brand” among RVers. From Las Vegas, RVers head “over the hump to Pahrump,” which has one of the highest-rated RV parks in the U.S. The town is conveniently located just an hour from Las Vegas and an hour from Death Valley. While they want to work to becoming more than a just a hub location, it’s a great beginning, and the town already has a strong brand among high- spending RV travelers.

    About two and a half hours east of Reno, this ranching community is home to about 20,000 residents. A successful Winnemucca High School graduate is investing some of his wealth back into his hometown by developing a $50 million classic car museum. Sure to be one of the most spectacular car museums in the west, Winnemucca, soon to become “Hot Rod Heaven,” will be a major destination for auto enthusiasts from throughout the west.


    The remote drive from Salt Lake City west towards Winnemucca takes you through the small town of Wells, which embodies “Life on the Frontier.” A resting stop for many pioneers of yesterday and weary travelers of today, Wells is working with local merchants to become a “Must Stop” destination for homemade pies and coffee. And while there, take a look around town and see what life was like on the frontier.

    Virginia City

    For a true taste of the wild, wild west, Virginia City is a must-see destination. Within an hour’s drive of Reno, this popular town was once Mark Twain’s home, and still embodies the rough and tumble days of the 1860’s gold rush era.

    Carson City

    Just down the road from Lake Tahoe, Reno, and Virginia City, Nevada’s capital city is now an outstanding golf destination. The nine golf courses in the Tahoe, Carson Valley, Carson City area banded together to form a strong branding partnership dubbed“The Divine Nine.”For $395 you can buy a “Ticket to Paradise” and play all nine courses. While there, Carson City’s restaurants provide some of the best dining in the state. The Divine Dining in Carson City sets it apart from everyone else.

    Each community in Nevada is working hard to come up with something that sets them apart from everyone else and makes them worth a special trip. If you love classic cars, the old west, patriotism, stargazing, romance, golf, or great food, there’s a town in Nevada that can “deliver on the promise” – the basis for a successful brand. Just “pick your passion” and you’ll likely find a town that fits the experience you are looking for.

    When Dorothy and Toto landed in Oz, they experienced something dramatically different from life back in Kansas. They met interesting characters and had adventures unlike anything they could have had closer to home. What sets your community apart from the rest? What is that one thing that makes you worth a special trip? Find your niche and promote it like crazy, so that your community can be part of the new age of tourism.

  • Article
    Here are five rules you NEED to live by in your marketing efforts. see more

    Author and marketing genius Steve Cone was at dinner and sitting next to him was the director of marketing for Harley Davidson. Steve asked him why Harley was the premium brand in the world of motorcycles, year after year.

    He responded,“We allow overweight middle-aged white guys to dress up in leather on the weekends and ride a Harley through small towns and villages scaring the hell out of the locals.”

    How’s that for a brand promise? After all, branding is the art of differentiating yourself from everyone else and Harley “owns” this brand. Suzuki, Kawasaki, Honda and all the other motorcycles out there just blend together as a collection of crotch rockets. Harley, however, stands alone in the marketplace as the premium brand.

    What’s your niche?

    One of our favorite books, and marketing go-to, is Steve Cone’s “Steal These Ideas: Marketing Secrets That Will Make You A Star.”

    Here are another five 'gold-standard' marketing rules you need to live by in your marketing efforts:

    1)   The three hidden ingredients in every winning marketing campaign include:

    1. Excitement
    2. News
    3. A compelling call to action

    2)   The whole point of any promotion is to:

    1. Get noticed
    2. Solicit a response

    3)   A successful brand inspires you to:

    1. Notice it
    2. Love it
    3. Remember it forever and ever
    4. Evoke emotion: even hate or fear!

    4)   Truly great brands have four qualities in common, they are:

    1. Inspirational
    2. Indispensable
    3. Dependable
    4. Totally Unique

    5)   Differentiating your product requires:

    1. A compelling and truly unique selling proposition
    2. Strong visual brand imagery
    3. An innovative and reliable offering
    4. Memorable and integrated advertising

    Take a look at your ads, your brochures, the front page of your website and run them down this checklist. Do they fulfill the requirements listed above? If not, don’t panic, you’re not alone. That’s the real problem – most communities do what everyone else is doing. Now you know why ninety-seven percent of community marketing efforts are ineffective. Yes, 97%!

    Now, go out and get Steve Cone’s book and learn HOW to do it right. It’s only $20 (or less) and it’ll pay for itself within the few hours it takes to read.

    Now, where did I park my Harley?

  • Article
    A full ninety-seven percent of ALL destination marketing and advertising is ineffective. see more

    The oft-quoted quip goes something like this: “I know that half my advertising dollars are wasted. The problem is I don’t know which half.”

    Truth be told, when it comes to community-related marketing efforts, a full ninety-seven percent of ALL destination marketing and advertising IS ineffective. That’s right 97%. Think city, county, state, province, region, or even a country. Billions are spent every year trying to attract new residents, business investment, economic development and tourism. And billions are wasted every year because the message is mundane, overused, and just like that of everyone else.

    If you want to create destination marketing messages that stick, start by memorizing these three words: JETTISON THE GENERIC. If your message can fit anyone, toss it and start over.

    Here are 40 words and phrases you need to avoid, at all costs, in your destination marketing efforts:

    • Explore
    • Discover
    • Unique (so overused it’s come to mean “just like everyone else”)
    • Four season destination
    • Fun for the whole family
    • Naturally fun (anything with the word “natural” in it)
    • Something for everyone (have you ever gone anywhere because they had something for everyone?)
    • Outdoor recreation (name a place that doesn’t have this)
    • Unlike anywhere else
    • So much to see and do
    • Where the seasons come to life
    • Historic downtown
    • Center of it all (have you ever gone anywhere because it was the center of anything?)
    • Best kept secret
    • We have it all
    • Experience…
    • Visit (name of destination)
    • Beauty and heritage
    • Gateway (a gateway is something you pass through to go somewhere else)
    • Close to it all
    • Right around the corner
    • Your playground
    • So much history
    • So much to offer
    • The place for all ages
    • … and so much more
    • Home away from home
    • A slice of heaven
    • It’s all right here
    • Recreation unlimited
    • The perfect getaway (or place)
    • The place for families
    • Start your vacation here
    • Recreational paradise
    • Take a look!
    • A great place to live, work and play (the most overused slogan in the world)
    • Location, location, location
    • Open for business
    • Your adventure place (anything with the word adventure in it)
    • Unique shops & restaurants

    Could all of these apply to you? Could these fit virtually anyone anywhere? No wonder our messages are falling on deaf ears.

    Roger was speaking in Wisconsin at the state tourism conference and showed this list of words and phrases to about 1,100 attendees. After his opening keynote a woman came up to him, smiled, and sheepishly shared “I think we’re using all of those.”

    If you are using any of these, it’s not that you’re doing anything wrong, but you are doing what everyone else is doing. We are typically exposed to 5,000 marketing messages a day. If you want to have resonating marketing, you have to ask yourself the following questions: How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you get noticed? What differentiates you?