Finding Your Joy at ESTO 2019

The Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO), is the United States’ premier educational and networking event for destination marketing professionals. Last week, destination marketing organizations (DMOs) from around the U.S. congregated in Austin, Texas and we were there to soak it all up. Our leaders participated on panels, hosted a Learning Lab, and handed out ice cream – all in the name of connecting with DMOs in the United States. Throughout it all, the themes of joy and finding purpose appeared again and again. Travel is joyful, and DMOs are full of people who revel in helping travelers tap into that joy.


Likewise, our goal at Media Solutions is to help DMOs find their own joy through achieving their marketing goals and inspiring and engaging travelers. ESTO provided a key opportunity to share our findings with DMOs at our Learning Lab: The Intersection of Data and Creativity that Builds Cutting-Edge Destination-Marketing Campaigns. Our programming included product updates, research on Generation Alpha, and a panel with our advertising partners, Sonoma County Tourism and Visit Anaheim.


Visit Anaheim’s SVP of Marketing, Charles Harris, talked about the successful co-op campaigns that they ran this spring and summer and those that are planned for this fall. By running a co-op campaign with local hotels, they realized a return on ad spend of more than 80:1 and more than 130:1 for two separate campaigns. Due to their success, they’re already planning their fall campaigns.

Helping DMOs come back from negative events is one of the ways that we realize our purpose. Claudia Vecchio, President and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, spoke about bouncing back from the devastating wildfires of 2017. Doing so required a balance between bringing in visitors to Sonoma County, while simultaneously steering them to book during low periods to cultivate responsible tourism. Through well-timed advertising, Sonoma County Tourism has increased their visibility – and their bookings during low periods.

In addition to our Learning Lab, our very own Wendy Olson Killion, VP of Business Development, participated on a panel hosted by MMGY on Destination Contingency Planning. While many economists agree the United States is potentially headed for a downturn, there are still reasons to be joyful: As past experiences have shown us, the essentials of travel spending rebound quickly. We’ve seen people will continue to travel even in an economic slowdown and that they rapidly return to travel.

But, given a potential recession on the horizon, what can we, in the travel industry, do to prepare?

The panel discussed creating resilient marketing plans that can help DMOs through catastrophic events. Wendy spoke about how we approach our DMO marketing partnerships in a way that supports them through both the good and the bad. For over a decade, we have worked with destinations to help them overcome catastrophes—from wildfires and hurricanes in North, Central and South America to tsunamis in Asia, and terrorism in Europe.


One of the keys in planning for adversity is access to data. Understanding trends, cancellation rates, rebooking, and markets that travelers look for as alternative destinations can help inform a destination’s marketing plan once they’ve re-opened for business and are ready to start driving demand.

We help destinations recover by following a clear, three step process:

  1. First, we work with the DMO to agree on a strategy. This means becoming aligned on all goals with all stakeholders. It also means applying past data to the current situation. Our 360 Dashboard Report helps a destination understand what is going on in their market in near real time. Finally, revisiting the strategy with all stakeholders is key to make sure everyone can move forward together.
  2. Next, we work with the DMO to manage information. This means helping put tailored and clear messages out on various channels. It is key to ensure that information is being shared with residents, tourists, leaders, and stakeholders.
  3. Lastly, but significantly, we help DMOs facilitate recovery. This means we assist them in developing and spreading a positive destination message once they are open for business. Using lots of different channels to do so and thinking long term with recovery efforts helps destinations come back even stronger than before.

Wendy gave the example of Hurricane Irma, which, in September 2017, was the largest evacuation in the state of Florida state’s history and impacted travelers around the world. To help Florida in the short term, we agreed on our shared goals: We wanted to get travelers and residents out safely and, make sure there were rooms for first responders. We applied learnings and data from past events like Hurricane Matthew, to ensure that our strategy was going to set us up for success.

After agreeing on a strategy, we worked on getting information to the people who needed it. We communicated across many channels to make sure that everyone was able to access information quickly and easily. Our websites had information on where to stay and how to get to safety. Everyone, including the Governor of Florida, was consistent on the message across all channels. The landing page that we created peaked at 50k views per day. Because of our first party data, we were able to quickly tell Visit Florida where people were staying, how many were rebooking, and how many future travels were being either rescheduled or moved to a different market. And, when Florida was open for business again, we had a plan to help them get that message out.

Destinations are more prepared for unexpected events than they were ten years ago, but that doesn’t mean that they have to go it alone. In a time of need, it’s important for them to call on the resources that they need to weather the storm. Our true purpose, when a destination finds itself in a time of need is to put resident’s and traveler’s safety as the top priority. And, once the dust has settled, to help them regain their footing and come back stronger than ever.

Learn more about how we collaborate with DMOs to help them inspire travelers and achieve their marketing goals.