Beverly Keiser of Abbott’s Candies in Hagerstown, Indiana was excited as the second regional tourism conference, “Create for Success,” began Tuesday at the Richmond Art Museum.

“I just want to soak it all in,” she said.

Keiser was one of many in the audience of 165 who attended the 2013 conference, “Connect for Success.” Dana Weigle of the Wayne County Convention & Tourism Bureau board of directors estimated about 75 percent of this year’s attendees were repeat visitors.

And that fit the message of keynote speaker Joe Veneto very nicely.

Veneto, chief executive officer of Opportunities Unlimited in Quincy, Massachusetts, urged participants to create unforgettable experiences for customers and clients so they will want to come back again and again.

A 20-year veteran of the tourism industry, Veneto opened his talk with an anecdote from early in his career during a trip to Amish country in Pennsylvania. The trip didn’t come alive until an Amish woman boarded their tour bus, chatted about her life and sold cookies to the crowd.

“People talked about it for four days,” Veneto said.

But Veneto didn’t settle for that one-time experience. The next time he was taking a group to Pennsylvania, he called ahead and arranged for the same woman to visit the bus — and to bring cookies.

“That experience could be engineered over and over again,” he told the Palladium-Item.

Veneto inspired the audience with several stories of how tourist destinations have moved away from simple show and tell to create unforgettable immersion experiences.

For example, he worked with a group promoting Philadelphia’s many outdoor murals. The group had set up tours of mural sites, but Veneto suggested they do more. How about a chance to meet an artist and hear the story of how a specific mural was created, why that subject was selected for that neighborhood and what the response to it was? Or how about a chance to be part of painting a mural?

“Nobody wants a vanilla vacation,” Veneto said. “When we take a vacation, we want connections.” Even more, people want to experience something so remarkable “… I’ll go home and I’ll talk about those things that I’ve done.” He calls that “bragging rights.”

After thinking over the logistics, the mural group came up with a way people could participate in painting one. The next year, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, picked up paint brushes to try it themselves.

The idea, Veneto said, is to create something so unique that “… visitors have to get it from you. They have to go to you if they want it.”

Breakout sessions after the keynote address supplied participants with practical strategies to create unique experiences — from website design to recruiting volunteers to marketing that appeals to visitors’ emotions and senses.

“It’s important not just to be here, but also to learn and use what you learn here,” said Mary Jo Clark, one of the conference organizers.

Keiser said she was ready to do just that. At the end of the day, she expressed satisfaction with the conference.

“There were so many things that I heard today that we’re doing right,” Keiser said. “It was good to have that affirmation.” She also came away with new ideas, ways to improve visitors’ experiences at Abbott’s Candies.

And she’s prepared to be a repeat visitor herself.

“If they have (a conference) next year, I’ll be back,” she said.

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Tags: dmos, tourism
Photo Credit: Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program provides another unique angle on the city for tourists. Jason Murphy / Flickr