Most talk around destination marketing today is about the timelapse videos, branded content, and social media campaigns that places around the world are creating to reach travelers.

All of those efforts; however, start in a place’s own hometown and mean little unless local stakeholders are as interested in welcoming and fostering tourism as the local visitor and convention board.

Our research into destinations’ local encouragement and education campaigns found that many organizations are using similar techniques. They ask locals to invite their friends and family to visit as well as identify associations interested in events and conventions. They work directly with hotels, restaurants and attractions to make them aware of the most current offerings and share information about upcoming meetings.

Engaging Locals

In addition to looking for visitors and evangelists outside of their own zip code, destinations are starting to ask their own residents for help in promoting the area for leisure travel and events.

Visit Bucks County, the tourism board for a region outside Philadelphia, launched a campaign in October 2013 to educate locals about the economic impact of tourism and encourage them to help the tourism office in attracting more meetings, group tours and sports tournaments.

“Nearly everyone in the area is connected to a professional association, sport or social club that needs venues for meetings, tournaments or group outings,” said Jerry Lepping, executive director for Visit Bucks County, at the time of launch.

Specifically, the tourism board hoped that local business could help them identify and connect with organizations that would potentially host meetings or events in the county. In one case, it resulted in a lawyer encouraging his fencing association to host a major event in Bucks County in 2015.

Nearby Philadelphia took another approach to turn locals into evangelists. Visit Philly hosted its first-ever Beer Garden Happy Hour Series this summer with the goal of interacting with people and getting them to associate “tourism” with “great reasons to be in Philly.”

“Since more than half our visitors are here to see friends and family, we need locals to be evangelists for the city, encouraging friends visit, stay over, go out, and have fun,” says a Visit Philly spokesperson.

Educational Outreach

Education local stakeholder on the economic impact of tourism and preparing them to put on their best face when interacting with visitors is one of the primary outreach goals of the tourism boards we spoke to.

Visit Albuquerque’s method of encouraging and educating local stakeholders is a straightforward three-hour training program for customer-facing employees. The course, developed via Central New Mexico Community College and the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, is held monthly and reminds participants of the city’s attractions as well as tips on improving their customer service skills.

Richmond Region Tourism hosts a similar course, its Tourism Ambassador Training Program, four to five times a year with up to 50 employees at each event. It teaches front-line employees about regional attractions and how to best represent their respective organizations.

Richmond also hosts appreciation dinners for taxi drivers as a way to showcase some of its attractions to taxi drivers, who are often one of the city’s most visible ambassadors for tourists. Twice a year the tourism board will host a dinner for the taxi drivers that they reach through grassroots efforts to thank them as well as educate them on the community’s tourism offerings.

Both of these efforts come as a direct result of Richmond’s rebranding efforts and the creation of a community relations department in 2013. The tourism board wanted to better engage local stakeholders in their marketing efforts.

“To best spread the world about the Richmond region outside of Richmond, we needed the buy-in of the community. We needed their commitment to engage in tourism and with us,” explains Erin Bagnell, spokesperson for Richmond Region Tourism.

Visit Philly streamlines its community outreach online with weekly “Top Stories of the Week” emails sent to about 500 hospitality-related people showing how the region is covered out-of-market and monthly “Dear Colleague” letter from Visit Philly CEO Meryl Levitz to thousands with business-of-tourism news.

Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Horticultural Center features a second season of its incredibly popular PHS Pop Up Garden. M. Fischetti / Visit Philly