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  • Experience see more

    When we are looking for places to go and things to do, we search by activity first, and THEN the general or specific area. We might search for "Best slick rock biking near Moab Utah" or "Italian restaurants in Racine Wisconsin" or "stand-up paddle board rentals in Squamish BC." As potential visitors search for activities that cater to them, and that you offer, do you show up on the first-page of search results - by activity and the general location?

     September 24, 2019
  • ED | Downtowns | Tourism see more

    We all want to promote EVERYTHING we have to offer. And we all have a desire to make everyone happy. But in a time when we are hit with 5,000 marketing messages a day, you MUST be known for something specific. That ONE THING that sets you apart from everyone else. The more generic and watered down your marketing is, the more your marketing efforts are wasted, falling on deaf ears. Welcome to the age of specialization. Real estate agents now specialize. Doctors. Architects. Insurance brokers. Consultants. Engineers. Associations. Cities and towns now must also specialize. What sets you apart from everyone else?

     September 10, 2019
  • Ever made a list of counties you want to visit? see more

    Have you ever gone anywhere because it was a county? I always give Madison County, Iowa a pass as they are home to the hit movie "The Bridges of Madison County." And then there's Brown County in Indiana, and Door County in Wisconsin, and Sonoma County California who have been marketing their counties as such for such a long time that it's finally stuck, making each county as sought-after destination. But here's the question for you: have you ever gone anywhere because it was a county? Would you go to Napa Valley or Napa County? 'Nuff said.

  • What makes you go somewhere? see more

    Mirroring the post from last week, you MUST find your Unique Selling Proposition. And you must avoid the generic lines that mean nothing. Really, have you ever gone anywhere because they had "something for everyone"? Probably not. We're looking for things that cater to us, specifically. The wineries in Napa Valley. Country music in Nashville. Kids and family experiences in Orlando. Music theater in Branson, Missouri (49 theaters in a city of 10,000 residents). The beaches in Hawaii. Surfing in Huntington Beach, California. Rock climbing in Squamish, British Columbia. The drift diving on Cozumel, Mexico. High tech in Seattle and Silicon Valley. Find your niche and promote it like crazy. 

  • 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.

  • Do you have artists in your community? Do you highlight their talent? see more

    When we meet an artist, particularly an artist in action, we forge a personal connection and it becomes a point of pride to purchase the art and then when you show it, you let friends and family know that you met the artist. Additionally, people feel a bit more obligated when they meet the artist. “She’s so nice, we should buy something.” This works VERY well at public markets, farmers markets, and art shows and markets. It’s true! This is why artists LOVE public markets and art shows!

  • Leakage: Locally earned money spent elsewhere see more

    Nearly every community has some form of leakage. When you go on vacation (other than a staycation) you are taking money you earned locally, and spending some of it where you are vacationing.

    But for many communities, particularly in the rural areas, locals often go shopping in other towns, or even on Amazon. This is also leakage. But just as you like exploring other areas, you want people to come explore your area. When they do so, they come, spend money, then head home and tell others to do the same. We love that!

    The best, most successful destinations import more cash than they export, when they spend money elsewhere. Isn’t it great that tourism can help subsidize your local economy? No wonder tourism is the purest form of economic development!

    Want some tips and tricks help your community? Visit our Resource Center to access our videos and how-to guides on branding, product development, finding funding & support, marketing, as well as case studies here

    Your DDA membership includes full access to our discussion boards, weekly emails, monthly webinars, and our Resource Library that contains over 75 videos, how-to guides, and much more! 

    Here are some additional ways to connect with us! 

    • Travel tips and tricks to make your travel easier, subscribe to Roger's Travel with Roger Brooks travel blog here
    • Visit our YouTube channel for informative and entertaining videos here.
    • Connect via LinkedIn with Roger and Natalie
    • Follow Roger on Instagram here.

    Not finding what you need? Give Natalie a call, to discuss how we can help your community!


  • Quick Thought - Downtowns | Tourism see more

    The best way to close the sale - getting people to visit you - is to be helpful. Rather than provide lists, help us by showcasing your “Best Of’s.” The most engagement you’ll get on social media channels, blog articles, and website content is when you promote your Top 3 or Top 5 activities, attractions, etc.

    This is exactly how TripAdvisor became the most visited travel site on the planet. If you subscribe to Travel+Leisure, or CondeNast Traveler or any others, every email showcases a “Top 5, 7 or 10” - “Top 10 small town bakeries,” “Top five scenic drives in Nova Scotia,” “Top 3 trout fishing spots in Montana.” Don’t let local politics get in the way of you closing the sale!



  • Article
    Think of your favorite destination downtowns. What do they have in common? see more

    We call this the 7-8-7 rule because of the three most important statistics that make a downtown a successful and vibrant destination. Think of your favorite destination downtowns. Are they beautiful? Do they feel safe? Are there things to do after 6:00 pm?

    1. 70% of first-time sales at restaurants, retail shops, lodging facilities, and attractions can come from curb appeal. Travelers often use these phrases: “That looks like a nice place to eat.” or “That looks like a nice place to stay.” Virtually every person on the planet has said those words at least once, if not dozens of times. You can spend millions of dollars marketing a town or downtown, and none of that will make me—the visitor—walk through your shop’s door. You, the merchant, must do that. Beautification, or curb appeal, will always be an investment with a tremendous return.

    2. Women account for 80% of all consumer spending. Yes, it’s true. I use this statistic a lot in speaking engagements, and I always pause to hear the audience reaction, which ranges from “You go girl!” spoken by women, to “That’s all?” from the guys. Women will spend more money in places that look inviting, are clean, and feel safe. If you cater to women you will ultimately win the entire family’s business. Women also account for 70% of all travel decisions including places to stay and eat, and “must see” attractions.

    3. 70% of all consumer retail spending takes place after 6:00 pm. Are you open? This is one of the reasons downtowns are dying – they’re not competing with malls’ later hours. In the 60s, stores typically closed at 6:00 pm, 5:00 on Saturdays, and were closed on Sundays. In the 70s malls were open until 8:00 or 9:00 pm, but still closed at 6:00 on Saturdays and were open from noon to 5:00 on Sundays. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find just about every successful mall opening at 10:00 and staying open until 9:00 (or later) seven days a week. Meanwhile, traditional downtowns are stuck in the 1960s, and most are dying.

    While we are moving to the European standard of dining and shopping later in the evenings, downtowns haven’t made the change at all.

    Let me know what changes you are making in your downtown!

  • Here’s why an assessment can be the best thing you’ve ever done. see more

    Over the years our team has “secret shopped” more than 1,500 communities around the world. These Destination Assessments are our most popular program. Here’s why an assessment can be the best thing you’ve ever done:

    1. We can say things you’d like to say but can’t without paying a political price locally. The Destination Assessment is a week-long process where we come to your community, as any visitor would, looking at your gateways, ability to find your attractions and amenities, things to do after 6:00 pm (when the bulk of spending takes place), curb appeal, hospitality, and many other factors, both public and private.

    2. For every shortcoming that is noted, a low-cost solution is provided. At the end of the assessment week, we provide a two and a half hour “Assessment Findings & Suggestions Workshop,” where, using dozens of photographs, we share our experience. For every challenge we find, we show a possible solution: suggestions showing how retailers, restaurants, museums and cultural activities, and the jurisdiction can make the visitor experience better. Often the Assessment will include 40 to 60 suggestions—things that could be implemented today to make a difference tomorrow.

    3. The Assessment brings the community together. The Assessment looks at your neighborhoods, schools, medical facilities, parks, downtown, your historical and cultural attractions, and your amenities, such as parking, public restrooms, to finding visitor information. It’s the perfect way to get just about EVERYONE thinking about actions they can take to make the community an even better place to live, work and play. The Assessment provides suggestions that can be implemented by auxiliary organizations such as Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, hospital and school boards, downtown merchants and associations, the local Chamber of Commerce or destination marketing organization. Often communities will make a list of the suggestions, then hand out “assignments.” For the first time, people are singing out of the same hymnal, working towards a common goal.

    4. It’s the perfect baseline or foundation for your community development efforts. The Assessment is followed up with an “Assessment Findings & Suggestions Report,” which provides a baseline for your branding, product development, and marketing efforts. It’s an honest look at where you are today from the eyes of a first-time visitor, and it often uncovers things you simply don’t even notice, but that visitors do.

    5. It provides an incredible return on investment. We continue to have people tell us that they got more from the Community Assessment than they did from plans and studies costing four to five times that of an assessment. There is simply NOTHING that can done for less money, that will bring the community together, and will result in putting the community “on the map” as a desirable place to live, work and visit.

    If you’d like to learn more about the Destination Assessment program, here are some resources:


  • There are essential steps in increasing tourism. We can help with all of them! see more

    There are essential steps in increasing tourism. We can help with all of them!

    Step 1. Educate your stakeholders on the importance of tourism (Learn more)

    Step 2. Conduct a destination assessment (Learn more)

    Step 3. Narrow your focus and stand out from other communities (known as your unique selling proposition)

    Step 4. Develop a tourism action plan (Learn more)

    Step 5. Make it happen – tourism plan implementation

    Step 6. Tell the world! (effective destination marketing)

  • What is the best term to use for outsiders who spend time in your community? see more

    When I go SCUBA diving in the Caribbean, I go as a tourist. Or is that as a visitor? Or traveler?

    The general public thinks a “tourist” is a leisure visitor. A “traveler” is thought to be somebody who is traveling – sometimes to other dimensions and periods of time. And a “visitor” is someone from out of town.

    But the terminology is not always clear, and at times, can be downright confusing.

    When I go on vacation to some far away destination, like diving along the shores of Bonaire in the Netherland Antilles, I’m obviously a tourist. But if I travel to beautiful Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-in-awe) – which I highly recommend, by the way – I would probably be referred to as a ‘fudgie’, an endearing term for visitors who buy tons of fudge from the dozen or so shops located in the island’s downtown core.

    Back home, when I talk about the industry, it’s referred to as the “travel industry.” But when I speak about tourists, I use the word visitor. See how confusing things can get?

    The top three reasons for travel include (and this is in order of why people travel):

    1. Visiting friends and/or family
    2. For business
    3. As a leisure visitor/vacationer

    The word “visitor” easily encompasses all three categories without people thinking that “tourists” are only leisure visitors. In reality, anyone traveling 50 miles or further from their home and spending time in your community is technically a tourist. A visitor, in contrast, would include people from other communities perhaps just 25 miles away; the “out-of-towners.” Both are important, because when any of these folks spend money in your community, it’s a good thing!

    Since tourism is about importing new cash into your community, offsetting the export of locally earned money spent elsewhere, you want as many “out-of-towners,” or “visitors” as you can possibly get to spend time and money in your downtown, at your attractions, and with your complementary activities (I’ll explain “complementary activities” in my next blog).

    Since I’m on the road about 250 days a year, I could be termed a professional tourist. Yet I don’t really feel like a tourist because I’m working in your communities as a visitor. That term, visitor, just seems to fit all occasions and uses.

    And by the way, locals often discover the place they live as a tourist. But once they become a resident, they want no more tourism. “Visitors” are always welcome, even if “tourists” are not. Using the term “visitor” is often a softer and more effective way to sell the tourism industry to locals.

    Happy travels all you visitors!


  • Effectively prioritize how you market your destination's experiences and activities see more

    I absolutely love the Route of the Hiawatha (, a Rails to Trails mountain bike ride that begins at Lookout Pass in the Bitterroot Mountains on the Northern Idaho/Montana state line. I’ve met people there from as far away as New Jersey and during the last visit, I spotted license plates from 18 states and provinces. It’s easily worth the six-hour drive from Seattle. This makes it perhaps the area’s biggest summer “attraction” or “primary draw” to the area.


    Attractions can include ski resorts, an amazing trail system, a great downtown – it’s the primary activity that draws visitors to you. Note that I used the word “activity.” A mountain is an amenity, so are lakes, rivers, prairies, parks, and other “facilities.” The primary activity that draws people would include downhill skiing, fishing, stand-up paddle boarding, boating, river rafting, and other activities that take place at or on your best physical asset.

    Remember, people are searching for activities that cater to them, not necessarily specific mountains, lakes, rivers or trails. Sometimes the trail can be so amazing that it is the attraction, but when you market it, make sure you include the primary draw to that trail. In the case of Ride to Trails, you could say “biking the Route of the Hiawatha,” or “biking the Hiawatha Trail” is the primary draw.

    What I LOVE about the Hiawatha Trail is that you start by biking through a 1.7-mile tunnel (pitch black, by the way, but thank goodness the rental bikes come with a flashlight mounted on the handlebar), and when you’ve conquered that, you bike down the scenic, wide, compacted gravel trail through 10 shorter tunnels and over seven high railroad trestles that are hundreds of feet above the spectacular mountain terrain below. This is the kind of mountain biking I love! You start at the top and for the most part, coast all the way down the 15-mile trail. Then they pack you and your bike into a converted school bus and shuttle you back to Lookout Pass. Yes! Extreme biking without breaking a sweat! That’s my kind of biking!

    During the summer months “Biking the Hiawatha Trail” is one of, if not the, primary attraction in this area of Northern Idaho for families, biking, and even non-biking enthusiasts.

    The average visitor is active 14 hours a day, yet they typically spend only four to six hours with the primary activity. The Hiawatha Trail, including travel time, getting geared up, and enjoying the experience takes three to four hours to complete. Other activities take about the same amount of time.


    What do you do with the rest of the time in the area?

    This is where your “complementary activities” come into play. You always promote the primary draw, the Hiawatha Trail in this case, and then the “while you’re here you’ve got to…” activities.

    The number one complementary activity in the world is shopping, dining and entertainment in a pedestrian-friendly setting. Once we rode the Hiawatha Trail, we spent time in nearby historic Wallace, Idaho.

    Of course, we had to visit the Oasis Bordello Museum (which closed as a bordello in 1981 – that’s not a typo), we shopped the shops, rode the Silver Streak Zipline, and took the Sierra Silver Mine Tour, followed by dinner, the purchase of fudge for a late-night snack, and so on. The complementary activities trigger the decision to make it an overnight stay. Without these complementary activities, the Hiawatha Trail would just be a day trip from Spokane, Washington or a “while passing through” activity along Interstate 90.

    Visitors will spend 8 to 10 hours doing complementary activities – that’s how important they are. And for the mine tours, ziplines, and historic downtowns that aren’t happy being labeled a “complementary activity,” consider this: Eighty percent of all non-lodging visitor spending takes place with complementary activities. Why do you think there’s a Downtown Disney next to each of its parks? Yep, to get that 80 percent!


    Finally, there are the “amenities.” These include the unheralded requirements of public parking, restrooms (or washrooms for our Canadian friends), visitor information, wayfinding signage, sidewalks, downtown beautification, benches, local parks and playgrounds, and lodging. The “amenities” are what enable us to all have an enjoyable experience and are a key contributor to bringing us back.


    In your marketing, always promote your “anchor tenant” – your primary activity. Then add in the “while you’re here, don’t miss this” list of complementary activities. Finally, make sure the supporting “amenities” are in place to ensure a great experience.

    And if you’re ever in the area, be sure to bike the Hiawatha Trail and spend time in nearby historic Wallace, Idaho! You will love it!

    - Roger

  • How to get the best use out of your billboards. see more

    Nothing creates more impressions, locally, than billboards—if they’re done right. When travelers, even commuters, see a message seven times, they remember it, whether it’s on television, radio, in magazines, online, or on billboards.

    While we're not big fans of billboards, particularly in scenic areas, if you’ve got them, and they’re in great locations, then take advantage of them.

    They are a great way to either catch the attention of drivers passing through your area, or they can provide ideas to visitors looking for a reason to stop. Either way, to create big visibility along the freeway, you need to use a BIG sign.

    The most important message to convey with a billboard is a Call to Action! Tell drivers why they should take the next exit. Give a specific reason for people to stop (not an event or a ‘welcome’ or ‘friendly’ service promise). It can be as simple as what Little America does along Interstate 80 in Western Wyoming with multiple billboards, each with a single teaser: “50¢ ice cream cones—Little America” and the next one: “Spotless restrooms—Little America.”

    Here are rules to use when designing your billboard campaign:

    • Use no more than 12 words on a billboard—people have only four seconds to read a sign while they are driving at highway speed. Make it simple with a single message (including the name of the business or attraction).
    • Choose locations for your billboards that are attractive, free of litter, and not close to rundown buildings. If you put your billboard in an area full of trash, it will automatically detract from the appeal of your message.
    • Use contrasting colors and only one simple (one color) graphic so that your billboard is easy to read from a distance.
    • The best color combo is yellow text on a dark background. Yellow pulls the eye. Don’t include a phone number, address, or website URL that people will not have time to write down. All information on a billboard needs to be simple.
    • Including ‘Next Exit’ or ‘Exit #’ to help direct drivers is perfectly fine—but no specific information they can’t absorb in a few seconds.

    The examples shown here are terrific samples of how to design and use billboards. They should NEVER look like print ads! Simple, short, to the point, with the reason WHY we should stop (or stay).































    If you’ve got billboards, use them effectively!


  • Tourism and economic development should be united in your community. see more

    “Economic development,” in its purest form, is the process of improving the quality of life for citizens by increasing the local tax base and economic well being of the community.

    Of course, this is done by fostering and promoting investment in communities, which leads to additional jobs, which results in an increased population, which leads to the development of supporting retail, professional services, and activities.

    The number one reason for travel is to visit friends and family. So the larger the population, the more tourism you’ll have. The second reason for travel is business. The more businesses you have, the more tourism you’ll have based on their visitors. And with the success of those two drivers, your activities and attractions will bring in leisure visitors, making you a well-rounded destination as a place to live, work, and play.

    Here are the three reasons why tourism is the purest form of economic development:

    1. People come, spend money and go home. If you attract the right visitors, you don’t need more police and social services; they impact your infrastructure very little; yet they support your retail shops, restaurants, hotels, and get to know you as a community. If visitors like what they see and experience, they tell their friends via Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites. That’s free marketing and a third-party endorsement.

    2. Tourism is the front door to your non-tourism economic development. Any site selector, investor, or commercial real estate firm will arrive in your community, as what? A visitor. With quality of life leading economic development, tourism provides the marketing and visuals that promote the best you have to offer in terms of nightlife, downtown, your amenities such as trails and parks, and your activities. Tourism showcases your community as a very desirable place to not only visit, but in which to live and work.

    3. Tourism is a downtown’s best friend. The number one activity of visitors, in the world, is shopping, dining and entertainment in a pedestrian-friendly, intimate setting: your downtown. This is typically not the reason they visit, but it is their number one activity once they arrive. While local residents provide the sales so retailers break even, tourism can provide the profit margin. A great downtown, over time, can be an attraction in itself. Tourism and downtowns should be joined at the hip.

    Tourism is the purest form of economic development, but it is often seen as the ugly stepchild. Yet tourism is one of the fastest growing industries, can provide a quick return on your investment, and provides you with the marketing that showcases the best of what you have to offer.