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Tourism PR: Shaping Your Next Vacation Destination

by Libby Page

From terrorist attacks to natural disasters, the travel industry faced a lot of challenges throughout the past decade. In those times of crisis, advertising and public relations played major roles in helping manage the situations. PR practitioners are responsible for motivating the public to visit a place, arranging for travelers to reach it and making sure customers are happy once they get there. One way to stimulate this process is through advertising and PR campaigns.

Many states use campaigns to brand a state. These campaigns allow the public to distinguish one state’s brand from another. Brand strategy has proved effective in many different campaigns across the country.

Pure Michigan
When the Pure Michigan campaign launched in 2006, the state was suffering from negative press about the auto industry. When most Americans thought of Michigan, they thought of Detroit, not of the beautiful scenery of the Great Lakes. The campaign faced the challenge of changing the public’s perception of Michigan and of persuading individuals to come to the state.

“We did some small focus groups in Cleveland, Ohio,” said Mark Lantz, creative director of the Pure Michigan campaign. “The people we talked to didn’t know why they should come to Michigan. Michigan has a unique nature because it’s a drive-to state not a drive-through state. One of the individuals even said, ‘Michigan is like Alaska only closer.’”

After talking to the focus groups, Lantz decided to center the campaign on Michigan’s distinctive natural aspects. According to Lantz, there are two types of vacations: indulgence vacations and value vacations. Value vacations give consumers the chance to reconnect with what is most important in their lives. Pure Michigan aimed to communicate the feelings of a value vacation throughout its campaign.

“[Michigan is] less like everything is and more like everything is supposed to be,” said Lantz. “You can reconnect with your family and yourself. We used the idea of the three m’s: majestic, mythic and magical.”

The campaign launched a series of simple advertisements that communicated the untamed nature of Michigan. In March 2008, the campaign went national. Pure Michigan proved to be a historically successful campaign.

“The Pure Michigan campaign more than pays for itself,” said Gov. Jennifer Granholm in a recent radio address. “Last summer, visitors from outside the Great Lakes region who were inspired by the campaign to come to Michigan paid $17.5 million in state taxes. That’s a return on investment of $2.23 for every dollar in advertising.”

The campaign also achieved high returns through social media with nearly 180,000 Facebook fans. According to an article on PR Newswire’s website, nearly three quarters of Pure Michigan Facebook fans learned about places and activities in Michigan they didn’t know about previously. Additionally, a third of those fans were motivated to travel to Michigan.

In a world with so many forms of advertising, it is important to remember the value of simple communication. This campaign is successful because it embraces a brand strategy that has an important message.

Visit Florida

Unlike Michigan, Florida is a state known for its vacationers and tourism. When the BP oil spill hit the coast this summer, the Visit Florida brand faced a lot of challenges.

“There ended up being no major oil on any of our shores,” said Kenneth Morgan, public relations manager for Visit Florida. “There was some oil in the northwestern part of our state. The problem we were facing from a PR standpoint is that the media had created this crisis perception that tainted how vacationers viewed our state. We have 825 miles of beaches in Florida, and the majority of them are untouched. So we decided to use social media as a leverage to communicate with the public.”

This summer the PR team launched Florida Live on the Visit Florida website and on Facebook. Florida Live allows Floridians to upload photographs of Florida’s beaches and scenery onto the Visit Florida website and Facebook page. Through this idea, Floridians were able to show how untouched their beaches were while creating a sense of trust and integrity with the consumer market.

After receiving positive feedback from Florida Live, the PR team created the idea of the Great Florida Beach Walk. The Visit Florida campaign accumulated a number of volunteers who wanted to showcase Florida’s beaches. On Nov. 6, 2010, each volunteer walked one mile of the shore while taking pictures. All 825 miles of Florida’s coastline were covered during the event.

“For a consumer angle, we are having people vote for their favorite photo on our website,” said Morgan. “The winner gets a free Mazda Miata and a $5,000 gift certificate.”

For summer 2011, Florida estimates an increase in the number of vacationers from last year. Morgan believes that this increase is partly due to strong PR tactics. The PR team still faces the challenge of overcoming the media’s perception of a crisis. With constant communication, the Visit Florida campaign hopes to bring honesty and openness to its consumers.

Both the Pure Michigan and Visit Florida campaigns exemplify the ways PR and advertising can be used to effectively communicate during times of crisis. It is clear both campaigns used simple messages to create mutually beneficial relationships with the public.

What state tourism PR or advertising tactics have you seen? Was the state facing challenges with the public’s perception?

Photo by Susan Wilder

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