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Valuable for Tourism Professionals

STS board member John Dersham wrote the following column for his hometown newspaper, The Times-Journal, which serves Fort Payne and northeast Alabama.  Originally published in Nov 2013.

STS is valuable for tourism professionals
By John Dersham, Executive Director, DeKalb County Tourism

The Southeast Tourism Society is the largest regional tourism organization, covering 12 southeastern states. It is well known nationally and internationally and is considered one of the best tourism organizations in the world.

It is a leader in tourism industry governmental affairs, and it is the nationwide leader in providing educational services to those of us in the tourism industry.

STS conducts spring and fall symposiums each year, three-day seminars at various destinations. This year, our Fall Forum was in Jacksonville, Fla., and it attracted close to 200 tourism professionals from across the region.  They came to learn the newest information that keeps us current on the latest ways to manage our organizations and the newest methods to market our destinations.

In this rapidly changing business and technology environment, those who stay current with how their potential visitors get their information have a definite advantage. For instance, more than 50 percent of vacation planning now is done on smartphones or tablets. Five years ago, that percentage was near zero.

In addition, people are making reservations and making last-minute travel changes using handheld wireless technology. It is critical to have a mobile-ready website or app for viewers to use. If not, we potentially lose out.

DeKalb Tourism has been mobile-ready for several years now, and visitation to our mobile website is increasing monthly, while traditional website views have leveled out. 

It has only been about 15 years that people have been using the Internet to plan their travel. Prior to that, newspaper and magazine ads, printed travel guides and tradeshows were the standard methods to deliver destination information. Then came radio and TV.

All of those means still are used, but as more and more potential visitors use electronic information, we as destination marketing organizations must prioritize our advertising budgets to use more web ads, social media, electronic newsletters and mobile friendly websites.

STS conferences feature top speakers who are best educated in particular applications that provide timely education for everyone attending. In Jacksonville, we had a host of professional speakers who coached us and helped us develop our skills.

Among the lessons was learning how to measure data and how to change our strategy to better target our potential visitor. We can now seek our potential visitor just by matching their interests to our offerings. This is amazing stuff.

We no longer have to mail out a generic untargeted flyer and hope to get a few people interested in our destination. Now, we can identify a pool of people who like to do the things our area offers; then we find places and methods to advertise where they are mostly likely to see those messages.

Southeast Tourism Society organizes an annual Marketing College in Dahlonega, Ga., each year at the University of North Georgia. This is a three-year certification program to educate tourism professionals. Kayla Worthey, our marketing manger, and I have attended Marketing College and have earned certification as STS Travel Marketing Professionals.

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