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Third Party Plays

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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Why is this so hard? On both sides of the purchase funnel. I mean…it’s not like the internet is new. It’s not like Destination Marketing Organizations haven’t been utilizing the World Wide Web since the mid-1990s to showcase the experiences in their communities. And, it’s not like there haven’t been thousands of conferences and hundreds of thousands of presentations on how to do this more effectively.

So why, after over 20 years of the internet, is it virtually impossible to find out whether I want to choose one destination over another?

Oh, it’s easy to choose one hotel over another or one restaurant over another. But, that’s because I don’t use DMO websites for that. I use TripAdvisor and Yelp. But, before I use those two platforms, I have to decide where I’m going, n’est ce-pas?

And, that’s where the future of DMOs must be…or, we are going to stumble back into that relevancy conversation that I thought we had successfully traversed a couple years ago. We’re all doing a good job talking about how we need to be storytellers…but I’m not seeing very many stories, as I try to make my leisure travel decisions.

One of these days, Terri and I might actually have the time to go on a vacation. So, ever the planner, she was tossing off locales that I had never really considered as potential destinations for a week to luxuriously unplug and focus on something other than work. With each suggestion, I’d shrug and say, “hmmm, never considered that…lemme check it out.” And, to the DMO website I’d go.

And, within ten minutes, be ready to fling my laptop out the window.

I’m not talking about small market destinations that may not have the resources to produce inspirational videos and help me itinerize a week of down time. I am as consistently impressed by the way some small budget DMOs make their destinations shine as I am appalled by DMO websites that look like they were designed around Y2K.

I’m talking about major metropolitan destinations that I’ve never experienced…which may sound odd, given my travel schedule over the past 22 years. But, the vast majority of my work with DMOs is in small to medium-sized destinations. And, while we’ve worked with such major metropolitan destinations as San Jose, Portland, Pittsburgh and Fort Lauderdale, there are actually several big cities we’ve yet to experience.

Not that we will anytime soon…as I became so frustrated with several of their sites that I simply can’t risk the investment of my time and money in a destination that I can’t figure out what I might do there. Oh, the lists upon lists of things to do are there…but there is no articulation. No inspiration. No, “You gotta experience this before you depart terra firma.”

I suppose I could use Facebook’s “Cities” feature to score recommendations from my friends that have been to those cities. But, that’s my point. I don’t need a major metropolitan DMO if I can just reach out to any one of my 40 friends who have visited one of the destinations on our list. Or, one of the 59 Facebook friends that have vacationed in another.

But, shouldn’t a DMO want to own and guide as much of the story and conversation about its culture and raison d’être as possible? Where are the neighborhoods, the nightspots and the heritage sites that will cause me to rave about your destination to my friends, spawning more visits for your destination? I know we all strive to be fair and list everyone…but today’s consumer doesn’t care about fair. Show me the good stuff!

And, then there is the other side of the sales funnel…after they’ve committed and after they’ve arrived. And, once again, DMOs have a sensational opportunity to go beyond Yelp and Open Table…but most haven’t. And, this is where third-party plays are continually making inroads on our territory. I've decided on your destination…but, I only have three days and don’t want to squander my time trying to figure out the good stuff (since your website hasn’t). Who ya gonna call?

Not the DMO. Based upon your website, I assume it will be a wasted call. So, I go to… because they’re doing something that most DMOs are not equipped to do: provide recommendations from a local. For as little as $15, YLC will connect me with a local for a 15 minute phone call to get a quick snapshot of where I want to focus my time. For as little as $25, I can have that local create a 3 day itinerary with images and addresses and tips on what to pack and how to save money while I’m in market. Now, I’m not saying that DMOs should start charging for such a service or try to compete with Frankly, I’d love to see them succeed…with “local cousins” that DMOs have vetted and recommended to them. After all, if someone has a successful platform, why recreate the wheel? Just make sure that platform channels your message effectively.

Those who have seen me on stage over the past few years know my next rant…the dearth of club dates on DMO websites. Never fails…I’m in a town on a Wednesday night. I know there is music somewhere…but, damned if I can find it. The club calendar is in the Alternative Weekly or the Weekend Section from last Friday’s newspaper, I am told. And, where, exactly, am I gonna find either on the following Wednesday evening?

It has to be an online play…and on the Tampa Bay to Venice corridor of the Florida Gulf Coast, a third party entrepreneur has nailed it for roughly a decade. Sarasota’s Don McKeon is a Boomer who just wanted to know where his girlfriend and he could hear great music every night of the week. So, in the absence of such a guide, he created, a sensational compendium of over 200 nightspots, all uploading their dates on their own (it can be done). And, he’s recently added a "Tonight's Map" feature so those of us that aren’t locals can get a better sense of how far the music we crave is from our hotel.

Why is it that a third-party guy with a vision can, not only figure this out but, monetize it while most DMOs are left scratching their heads?

Finally, let’s assume a visitor has chosen your destination for something other than culinary and nightlife. Maybe it’s for outdoor recreation, a day on the wine or spirits trail or taking in some arts, cultural or historic sites. Now, it’s time for dinner. Must we, as DMOs, continue to abdicate this decision to Yelp and Open Table? Or might there be another way?

I had a chance a couple weeks ago to reconnect with a guy that used to work at Wisconsin Tourism who has recently been part of a team that has created, a site and service that allows users to make a culinary selection based upon more than stars and proximity. While there are times that I want to know what’s within walking distance, there are just as many times that I’ll say, “I’m in the mood for bacon.”

But, try to search any restaurant guide for bacon, and you’re left to sift through an often incomplete list of restaurants. A visit to (currently in beta), by contrast, provides a food-first, visual search of great bacon dishes in Madison, Milwaukee and Denver (their first three destinations). Go ahead. Try it. Pick a food or a type of cuisine…and you’ll see professionally photographed images of the food for which you hanker. While one could say they’d rather see images taken by consumers, let’s be honest. A lot of those shots on Yelp look awful. And, I know I’ve passed over very cool culinary experiences because, despite 4.5 stars, the consumer shots of the food and interior looked horrible.

Why should you care (beyond the fact that bacon is delicious)? While hankr exists as its own online play, it also white labels their content to DMOs so they can move beyond basic restaurant listings to something consumers crave: curated visuals. Hankr does the work to provide consistent, visual, and trustworthy content for destination restaurants within a DMO footprint…and at a ridiculously worthwhile investment.

Facebook’s Cities disrupts DMOs without regard (so far). YourLocalCousin is an opportunity to put your experts in front of their customers. GoTonight is a sensational model for similar regional plays. And, hankr is an option to invest in a really cool platform that may change the way we all interface with food.

These are but four examples of hundreds of online plays that both threaten to disintermediate DMOs and offer amazing opportunities to view differently the “competition.” And, it will take a significant reset in the philosophy that drives Destination Marketing for many of us to, once again, re-establish relevance in an ever changing digital landscape.

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