While Palm Springs in California’s Coachella Valley is an iconic destination brand for older generations, the city also resonates surprising well with Millennials who value the relaxed lifestyle and sense of well-being.
However, going back to 2010, younger generations haven’t necessarily viewed Palm Springs and the surrounding areas as a popular place for meetings and conventions.
Over the last couple of years, Visit Greater Palm Springs has invested heavily in content on the leisure side, hiring a Millennial-age crew of full time video production, digital marketing and content specialists. The overall promotional strategy has focused on video and social media to engage Millennials, which then directs consumers to the new Greater Palm Springs website that launched in June.
Traction is growing. A few of the tourism bureau’s new Two Dudes videos have topped 400,000 views, revolving around two guys with beards and GoPros, lots of food and fun, and not much of anything resembling a script.
Visit Greater Palm Springs is now sharing those videos with meeting attendees on social media and at industry events. The idea is that when attendees become engaged with the brand, they will advocate for their companies and organizations to host conferences in Greater Palm Springs.
“We’re really trying to push the Millennials to go back to their meeting planners and say, ‘Hey, have you thought about Palm Springs as a destination?'” says Scott White, president & CEO of Visit Greater Palm Springs. “So we’re educating the planners on what’s happening in the destination by making it exciting for the attendees to want to come here, who push that to the corporation, association or whoever they belong to.”
Based on the success of its video strategy with attendees so far, the bureau is now developing a new series of destination video content aimed squarely at the meetings marketplace. We spoke with White and Rick Blackburn, VP of convention sales at Visit Greater Palm Springs, to see how they’re redefining the brand for next generation groups.
Skift: What is the value proposition from a business perspective for meeting planners considering Greater Palm Springs?
Scott White: Over the last decade, the diversity of product in the valley has changed immensely. We’re now over 200 hotels and 18,000 rooms. There’s a much more diverse product and opportunity for planners to choose from. That not only gives them the diversity of product, but also provides a much greater competitive environment.
Also, one of the things that we’ve discovered in our research with many meeting professionals, they don’t realize that if they meet in our destination on a Sunday through Thursday pattern, there’s an incredible value to that versus meeting over the weekend. With a lot of planners, when they go to the big cities, the value proposition is meeting over the weekend versus midweek.
Skift: How have your operations and branding strategies evolved in recent years to engage the next generation meeting planner and attendee?
White: Five years ago when I arrived here, the organization was really kind of engaged more with the community like a national sales office. We were primarily working with the hotels to generate leads into the destination. We weren’t really operating like a DMO. We convinced the nine cities here and the board that we needed to take more of a higher level approach to marketing and branding the destination, specifically with the younger generation in mind.
What we realized is that the destination has changed a lot over the last 10 years with products like Ace Hotel, Saguaro, the Parker, Hard Rock, and all of these boutique properties, and the different things that were happening. But the destination wasn’t communicating that effectively to the rest of the world. At the same time, our events had also grown and changed dramatically. We have the Coachella music and arts festival, the film festival, Modernism Week, and all these different events that are trying to get a much younger audience, but they weren’t really being associated with our destination.
So two years ago we were able to increase our budget about an additional $4 million to $13.7 million, with the specific goal in mind of communicating how much the destination has changed over the last five years, and how those events and their products provide particular opportunities for meeting professionals. We had a lot of success from that outreach on social media, video content, digital content, and then also some traditional media. We’re doing a lot of TV, outdoor billboards and so forth.
Rick Blackburn: We’ve found a lot of success with social media because we’re communicating with meeting planners and attendees differently than we do with leisure consumers, depending on the platform. We work with a company called IMbox on the LinkedIn side and also Instagram. We’re using Instagram to convey our imagery. Greater Palm Springs is all about the images. LinkedIn is where the meeting planners seem to live, so that’s where we’re doing a lot of our work with them.
Skift: How are Millennial meeting trends influencing that outreach?
Blackburn: What we didn’t have to begin with was a lot of insight into the Millennial mindset, so we’ve really tried to dive in and get even more information from Millennials through focus groups. On the meeting side, I think that Millennials are kind of changing the landscape. You can’t open up any kind of industry magazine right now without reading about Millennials.
What I’m seeing is, they’re asking the question: “Do we really need to go to a meeting from eight to five? Does it really need to be a closed session where that’s the only place you can be, or can we have open sessions where you can drift in and out and find the right one for you?” They’re causing veteran meeting planners to ask new questions of their groups and really start changing things.
We’ve been very, very focused on this for the last year and we’re going to continue on it even more so in 2016. We’re now putting together a larger focus group to learn from planners what their perceptions are of Greater Palm Springs. So, what is it in our area that resonates with them? What can we give them that they need to achieve success in their meetings and conferences?
White: One of the surprising things we learned through our research is that the younger demographic—the 20 to 35 year old—actually has the highest level of interest in our destination. I really thought the interest would be much higher at the older level, not at the younger level. That’s exciting for us because we know now that we have the attention of the younger generation of attendees. We just need to make sure they’re included in the decision-making process as their organizations look for different destinations.
Skift: What is attracting Millennial interest in Greater Palm Springs?
White: There’s quite a few different factors. We’ve started to see a little bit of that Hollywood scene again, who are starting to come back into the destination. Leonardo DiCaprio just bought a house. The film festival brings big celebrities into the destination, so we get a lot of social and media attention about the destination. We also have a lot of fashion here. Trina Turk started her company here, which has been really popular with Millennials. Louis Vuitton did their Cruise Show in Palm Springs, and I think it was the first time they’d done it outside of France ever. That garnered a ton of exposure and impressions.
The PR factor is really big, but it’s not a contrived PR factor. It’s happening organically, meaning we didn’t pay these companies to come here. All these things are happening organically, which is great.
Skift: Can you take us through your video strategy?
White: One of the things that we’re doing now that we haven’t done in the past is, because of all the visual content, we have invested heavily in video production and digital marketing people. So we’re making these videos, and then we’re getting them down to a bunch of 30-second spots that we’re pushing out through TrueView on YouTube, so a lot of pre-roll.
We’re also partnering up with people like Outside magazine and different products like that, where young attendees are going to get their everyday news and information. Hopefully as the younger demographic is looking for information about exploring and adventure, we’re serving up those messages about the destination through their video consumption. Like Two Dudes with a GoPro, for example, showing the incredible outdoor activities that we have at the destination. We’ve probably found most of our success through video content more than anything else.
So the videos that you’re seeing presently are more leisure based, but they do relate to the meeting planners as well. With the Two Dudes, we just kind of handed them the wheel and said go out and explore Greater Palm Springs and see what you can find. They’re coming back with all these cool things that definitely make an impact on meeting attendees.
We’re now going to be expanding that thought process on the meetings side with three new videos we have planned. They’re going to be very fun, energetic and lively. We’re going to talk about air access to the destination, because that’s a big misconception. Our air access is amazing compared to where it was two or three years ago. We’re going to talk about the mid-week value in another, and the savings that you get there. And then we’re also looking at group activities. We have a lot of different activities in the market that people just aren’t aware of, like the BMW Performance Driving experience.
Skift: When will the planner-specific videos launch?
White: The first one will be in about 60 days. At the same time, the videos are educating the meeting professionals on the business case for why they should meet here, what’s happening in the destination. One of the things that people don’t realize is that all of the resorts have done major renovations in the destination. So we want to make sure that when they see our video content, images, press releases, stories, and so forth, that it gets them excited about wanting to meet at the destination.
Skift: What can you do as a DMO to help drive Millennial attendance on the association side, especially thinking about 2015 and the digital world we live in?
White: When we talk to the group, we really try to understand their goals and objectives. So, what are their pain points, what are they trying to accomplish? Are they trying to drive more traffic regionally? So we actually partner that up with our marketing department, which we’ve grown considerably. We bring in our digital person, our video person, our content person, and so forth. We sit down with the group to understand what is the demographic that they’re trying to target, and how can we communicate with them?
Some of the traditional things that we’ve done is we create microsites like we did with Ernest & Young. While they’re here, they get access to special offers at restaurants and attractions that make the experience more desirable. What we find at our destination is that we get a lot of repeat groups. A lot of groups, once they come here, want to come back. So our goal is to make sure that the attendee has such a great experience that’s connecting them with what’s happening here through digital mediums, and then they’re sharing that out on social media.
Skift: What have been some of the challenges that you’re maybe still encountering to reach Millennials with content? Is there anything that keeps you up at night?
White: For me, what keeps me up at night is perception. I think, what I’m probably focused on more than anything else is, we’re working on a master plan right now. If you look at the fact that we have nine cities, we’re trying to educate and teach the cities about product development. So what keeps me up at night is, will the destination be as relevant in 10 years as it is today?
We’ve hired two companies: Minding Your Business out of Chicago and Convention Sports and Leisure out of Minneapolis. They’ve been working with us for the past year, and now we’ve got about 15,000 surveys on all different age groups, all different types of demographics, people from all over the country. We’ve have all kinds of research and data. We want to be able to come out with a master plan in the first quarter of 2016 to share with the cities, our elected leaders, the city managers and so forth, and say, “What do we need to continue to do to make sure that we’re developing the right product that’s going to attract that Millennial traveler on both the consumer and the group side of things?”
As Rick talked about, a lot of them don’t want to be in meetings all day. If they’re going to be meeting for half of the day, we need to make sure that we’ve got the right attractions and the right experiences taking place during their off time to want to come back.
Skift: How is your new website engaging planners?
Blackburn: When experienced planners get to the website, a lot of times they’re looking for logistical type information. For that new planner that really doesn’t know about Greater Palm Springs, we’ve really got to show them the imagery, we’ve got to show them group activities, and all of the things they just aren’t aware about.
When I travel and talk to meeting planners, the two questions I get all the time are: “What’s new in Palm Springs?” and “What can I do when I get there?” So the biggest thing for us is communication. My big thing that keeps me up at night is how can I communicate better and more effectively to these meeting planners? Because no matter where I go I just find that we’ve got a lot of tough competition out there as far as destinations go. So we have to keep showing meeting professionals why they should come here as opposed to going somewhere else.
White: It’s also important that we show the story through the eyes of either the planner or the attendee, from their perspective. That’s one of the things that we’re going to be working on for ’16. So if there’s a Millennial attendee that was here for the first time, what were their perceptions? What did they like? What did they not like? What did they do when they were here? We’re looking at that for video content and regular stories as well about the destination.
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