A destination only gets one chance to make a strong first impression.

And that goes for last impressions as well. So a fair question for destination marketing organizations to ask themselves is: What are we doing to make that a positive and memorable one?

Maybe there’s a nice welcome sign at the airport or along the highway. But these days, visitors aren’t going to be overly impressed by a sign. They’re looking for something extra.

For example, Disney, the masters of “something extra,” played a major role in the creation of the Orlando Airport. Disney understood that visitors expected their magic journey to begin the moment they set foot off the plane and wanted that first (and last) impression to create solid bookends for the experience.

Orlando International’s monorail-like transport from the gates to the main terminal sets the tone and then entry into a huge six-floor atrium provides visitors with their first “wow” moment.

I wrote in a previous Skift column about the importance of DMOs getting a seat at the table to help represent the visitor perspective (essentially playing the sort of role Disney did at the Orlando airport) when making major decisions. But what can DMOs do to roll out the welcome mat if there isn’t a new airport planned? Or even a renovation?

Perhaps the most famous welcome is the Hawaiian lei greeting. This still exists, but now needs to be arranged and paid for in advance ($27-$52 per lei at leigreeting.com), so there aren’t many that get this once-routine greeting. Some Caribbean islands serve up a steel-drum band, which can add to that powerful moment when visitors step off the plane in December and feel the sun on their face for the first time in months.

Nashville understands that music is at the core of their visitor experience. It therefore makes perfect sense to welcome their 10 million annual visitors and bid them farewell with a taste of that famous music.  Nashville International Airport (with funding from Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority and the Tennessee Arts Commission) started offering live music in 1988, then expanded the program in 2001.  There are now four live music stages in the terminal that host between 80 to 100 bands throughout the year.

freeticketgeneva

Free-ticket machine gets visitors from airport to downtown Geneva. Photo: gva.ch

But perhaps the most impressive welcome has been served up by Geneva, Switzerland. One of the world’s most expensive cities decided to provide visitors with a free trip into the city. There’s a slight catch… it’s just for visitors staying at Geneva’s hotels, hostels, or campgrounds. The free ticket gets you from the airport to your accommodation on public transport and is valid for 80 minutes.

Still, it’s an impressive offer, specially when you consider a ride on the high-speed Heathrow express costs £26 ($42) and visitors to New York typically pay at least $7 for a rail connection or $40-$80 for a taxi, depending on the airport. The way it works is visitors simply push a button on a machine in Geneva airport’s baggage claim area that says “free ticket.” And the generous welcome doesn’t stop there.

Once visitors check into to their hotel or campground, the former $13-per-day –public-transport pass remains free as long as visitors stay at one of Geneva’s hotels, hostels, or campgrounds.  Bike rental? Free. Otherwise expensive yellow boats (Mouettes Genevoises) on Lake Geneva? Free!

The deal was conceived by Geneva’s tourist office to “attract more visitors” and it’s paid for by both the Geneva Tourism and the local hotel association.

So, here’s the big question: Does the service — now in operation since 2007 — attract more visitors? “We think so,” said Kristelle Gentina, who works in the press office at Geneva Tourism & Conventions. “Feedback from visitors has been very good.”

This is just a small sample of what the competition is doing. DMOs would do well to start brainstorming a creative and memorable welcome of their own.

Doug Lansky is the Destinations Editor for Skift, an author and travel writer who has been published in dozens of major publications from The Guardian to National Geographic Traveler, an advisor for destinations, and an acclaimed keynote speaker at tourism conferences around the world. More at www.douglansky.com.

Photo Credit: The right kind of welcome makes a difference. Ramesh NG / Flickr