Skift Take

Millennials are making their biggest impact at tourism bureaus by pushing for more innovation in digital marketing campaigns and experiential sales strategy.

Millennials at destination marketing organizations are pushing senior leadership to develop more innovative digital communications and more experiential sales efforts targeting both the leisure travel and meetings sectors.

Especially on the digital side, many of these younger professionals feel that their youth and social media expertise can be better leveraged to create more compelling social media and content marketing outreach for their organizations.

For example, Jackie Spencer, 29, is the communications coordinator for meetings and conventions at Destination Cleveland. Earlier this year when the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team was heading into the NBA playoffs, she came up with a way for the DMO to both support the team and drive Cleveland’s brand exposure to sports audiences nationwide.

The Cavs had been using the popular Fatheads “Bighead” styrofoam cutouts of the basketball players’s faces at various games, so Spencer called the team and asked if she could borrow some of them.

Then, she and her colleagues walked around downtown asking visitors and locals on the street to join in and pose with the Fatheads for group photos. Spencer’s goal was to share the imagery on the DMO’s leisure and meetings-specific social media channels, so the Cavs’ avid fan base could reshare the photos in support of the team.

“There hasn’t always been a lot of thought around creative media for the meetings and conventions market, especially since Cleveland was without a convention center for so long,” says Spencer. “I work closely with our senior marketing manager and our senior interactive media manager to put together integrated digital content packages that expand the reach of our meetings-specific Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn channels. The success of the Fatheads project paves the way for us to do more of these types of promotions, and it’s an indicator that we are on to something.”

Overall, the more than 60 Cavs-related posts earned over 975,000 impressions on Facebook and Twitter while promoting Destination Cleveland’s #ThisisCLE hashtag and the Cavs’ #AllinCLE hashtag. This one photo on Instagram has close to 20,000 likes.

“I think it’s important for Millennials to point out to their senior leadership that the intent behind these campaigns is not just to do something fun,” says Spencer. “Of course, it was fun, but there was a strategy behind it and a lot of ROI. We wanted to get folks excited about Cleveland as a great place to visit, and we achieved that with a great outcome.”

Experience Columbus, Ohio

Megumi Robinson, 28, is an associate director of public relations at Experience Columbus, where she says about half of the meeting sales managers are Millennials. One of them recently attended a trade show in Arizona where she organized a bar crawl through downtown Phoenix to meet with prospective meeting planner clients and explain what’s new and cool in Columbus.

Along the same lines, Experience Columbus created a new 24-hour “Coffee & Cocktails at Columbus” planner familiarization trip, designed to illustrate the tight convention package footprint in Columbus. Planners arrive in the afternoon in time for custom cocktails at one of the local brewpubs near the convention center, stay in a convention center hotel, and have coffee at one of the local coffee shops before flying home.

“Knowing those younger meeting planners, they’re looking for fun local experiences where meeting attendees can get out and explore a city, and then have those additional opportunities for networking,” says Robinson. “Speaking as a Millennial, I’m always looking for something custom and unique versus anything mainstream.”

In the summer of 2014, a group of mostly Millennial age entrepreneurs operating local coffeeshops approached the DMO to create the Columbus Coffee Trail. Based on the success of that, Experience Columbus developed the Columbus Ale Trail to package together many of the brewpubs into an easy itinerary to explore the diversity of the city.

With those in place, Experience Columbus created a Coffee Trail Passport and an Ale Trail Brew Book. When visitors collect four stamps from either four coffeeshops or pubs, they can redeem them for a Coffee Trail T-shirt or a custom pint glass at one of the visitor centers downtown. To date, there have been over 1,300 Coffee Trail redemptions since September 2014. The Ale Trail has had over 630 redemptions since its launch in May 2015.

“Mostly, by far, Millennials are the people redeeming those,” says Robinson. To build on that, she and the rest of the sales team are now packaging and promoting those trails as turnkey group experiences for Millennial meeting attendees. The DMO is also developing content around the trails like the video above.

Robinson explains, “It’s a great way for visiting groups to explore Columbus because Millennials want that cool approach into the local scene where they can meet other Millennials.”

Visit Bloomington, Indiana

“I would like to see Millennials taking more of a leadership role and especially Millennial women in leadership roles,” says Erin Erdmann, 32, director of convention sales & travel media at Visit Bloomington in Indiana. “I think that our opportunities are growing by leaps and bounds because the recession is over and so many people are traveling again.”

Erdmann and her Millennial age colleagues proved their creative mettle and leadership skills in April this year during Indiana’s “religious freedom law” debacle. In response, they decided to create a video called Bloomington is Open to All as a platform for area residents from all walks of life to share their progressive views on inclusivity. recognized Bloomington as “a ground-breaker among gay and lesbian travel destinations,” and named Bloomington “the number one surprisingly gay small town destination.”

“We created a video where our social media leader went around town and got small clips from people like the mayor and editor of the local newspaper, and other key people located within our community,” says Erdmann. “Then we uploaded that and pushed it out to communicate that Bloomington has always been a welcoming place.”

We asked Erdmann if she and her team were nervous at all about making the video during such a politically tenuous time.

“I think that was something that definitely showed us taking a risk in regards to something that was very hotly debated and very much a touchy subject'” she says. “It was kind of scary but it was awesome, because it was something our colleagues really pushed and supported each other on.”

Bowling Green Area CVB, Kentucky

Bowling Green Area CVB in Kentucky recently won an award from the Public Relation Society of America for its “Geared for Fun” tagline and primary hashtag, based on the region being home to Corvette and a major hot rod raceway. Bowling Green had always created contests and giveaways themed around different special events but there was no uniform identity. The “Geared For Fun” vision evolved into that identity after experimenting with many others.

The award was a big validation for the DMO staff who developed the social media strategy first that then informed the overall destination brand. That right there defines the Millennial DMO professional mindset.

“I run our website and most of our social media, and I also help with how we engage with the Millennial audience,” says Telia Butler, 24, public relations manager. “Before I started working here just under three years ago, we did have a Facebook page and a Twitter page but the level of activity on them wasn’t really what it needed to be. So it was one of my priorities as soon as I took this job to try and raise that engagement a lot.”

The DMO now operates two Twitter accounts, for example. One is solely focused on Bowling Green events including meetings, and the other for Bowling Green as a destination.

The DMO is also developing more experiential excursions for meeting attendees who want to experience some of the local atmosphere. Butler says her Millennial colleagues and Millennial meeting delegates are 100% driving that demand because, “We don’t like cocktail parties. We’re not natural networkers.”

She suggests this is where DMOs and their destination travel partners everywhere have an opportunity to collaborate more effectively to better engage Millennial planners.

“I think the city needs to add more interactive things to do for Millennials, because when I travel for work I don’t want to just go to a meeting and then go to the hotel room and go to sleep,” explains Butler. “While I’m there I want to be hands-on and having an experience, right? So that’s why our salespeople here are partnering more with our cultural attractions to offer unique group experiences like a Sip & Paint event for art enthusiasts. Or at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center, one of the coordinators offers improv classes for groups.”

Atlanta CVB & DMAI’s ’30 Under 30′ Class 

Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) selected Lacey Cameron, 29, a tradeshow sales specialist for Atlanta CVB, for its “30 Under 30” program in 2015 recognizing emerging talents in the destination marketing industry. Cameron helps manage Atlanta’s brand presence at industry tradeshows, as well as client events where she supports the sales teams.

Last year, the DMO relaunched its meetings portal at The marketing department brought together the entire bureau to ask everyone’s input about how to best communicate Atlanta’s specific vlue proposition to the meetings market. Cameron says that having a voice in the overall direction of the DMO is something that Millennials appreciate. Her age group wants to make an impact, and equally important, they want the chance to collaborate with their older colleagues.

Cameron’s suggestion for the new meetings site was to make the RFP process easier for meeting planners, based on all of the feedback she heard from the field.

“Millennials are very enthusiastic and passionate in this industry because it’s exciting,” she says. “I think relaunching the site and making it more practical was definitely something that came out of that passion. We were able to take something that we already had and make it work better, and meeting planners have told us they really appreciate that because everyone just wants things to be simpler and easier.”

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: DMO, millennials

Photo credit: Destination Cleveland's staff pose with faces of the Cleveland Cavaliers during this year's NBA finals. Destination Cleveland

Up Next

Loading next stories