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Conference highlights rural tourism

Susan Ditz
info@nnbw.biz

Minden, Genoa and Gardnerville rolled out their best welcome mats last week as the Carson Valley hosted the 25th annual Rural Roundup, Nevada’s signature tourism conference focusing on the trends, issues and insights affecting the rural communities in the state’s six distinctive tourism territories.

Delegates from dozens of statewide chambers of commerce, visitor bureaus, resorts, museums, hotels, tour companies, local governments and tourist destinations participated in interactive workshops at the Carson Valley Inn, heard from new Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who oversees Nevada tourism and honored their leaders and volunteers with awards. Showcasing the growing trend called “bleisure” (blending business travel with leisure) the emphasis was on hospitality and playtime as delegates were also introduced to the Valley’s colorful history, diverse culture, entrepreneurial spirit and broad recreational opportunities.

Setting the tone for the conference, Florida-based travel-trend analyst Brian London, publisher of Travel Industry Indicators and Travel Smart News, opened with good news for Nevada tourism. The latest research findings indicate that there is more money available for travel because the economy is improving and jobs are steadily being added.



His message was about the need to turn industry trends into tourism marketing advantages by understanding and making optimal use of available tools, such as social media, to reach different demographics. “Embrace changes in technology as it evolves, that’s critical.”

He offered some perspective on how to effectively engage generational travelers.



“Millennials (age 20-34), for example, want immediate gratification — activities, special events and city trips — adventures they can share with friends, and they are constantly on their phones,” he said. This generation is also enthusiastic about staying connected via pictures, because “they absorb a brand via images,” so good photography that tells a story on a website is essential to capturing their interest and it’s important to make sure that marketing materials look the same on all devices.

On the other hand, “Boomers are the driving force in travel for the next two decades,” he said. “They have more free time and control 70 percent of the wealth in the U.S. But they want to spend their travel dollars on sightseeing and fine dining and less on entertainment and sports.”

According to London, online booking on phones and other devices is becoming the norm, and with that comes the increased reliance by the public on feedback via sites such as Trip Advisor and Yelp.

“Reputation management is key — people are paying attention to the reviews of others,” he cautioned. “We need to really listen to the voice of the consumer and respond quickly to both good and bad.”

London’s call to action about the power of technology in travel marketing was echoed throughout the workshops.

Sean Cowan, digital experience director of Fahlgren-Mortine in Cleveland, Ohio, talked in detail about the growing use of mobile devices and why fully responsive web design (RWD) is so critical. RWD means a site offers optimal viewing on any device without resizing, panning, or scrolling.

“If your site isn’t fully responsive, Google will ding you,” he cautioned. That means a site will not have good placement in search results.

“Good design is crucial for a good impression. Visual language is dominant today, so showcase your products and services with images, organize your site around the user experience and understand your audience by using analytics.” He also urged everyone to monitor their reviews, show customers they matter, respond to every one briefly and politely and always take a negative conversation offline. “Be genuine, engage and empathize.”

Other workshops addressed the value of providing targeted guest experiences, such as the paranormal tours that are increasingly popular for Nevada visitors. An overflow crowd heard Carson City author and paranormal expert Janet Jones show pictures of ghostly orbs and tell the stories and history of visits by spirits on her tours.

Tour operator Mark Hoffman of Sports Leisure Vacations in Sacramento told the audience these ghost tours are in greater demand. “Stop, stand and stare is no longer true for any traveler,” he noted. In a lively, laughter-inducing presentation, he admonished, the crowd that in rural Nevada the number one request (which isn’t always met) for the best possible tour is “clean, accessible restrooms” especially for older travelers. “If rural Nevada would put in 25 new rest areas, I guarantee travel here would increase 50 percent.”

Using technology to fully understand changing world economies and deliver the appropriate cultural experiences were highlighted in a final keynote by Jason Pacheco president of San Francisco-based BMG Travel.

He outlined the tourism opportunities presented by the strengthening economic power of Brazil, Russia, India and China, widely referred to as BRIC. According to Pacheco, this year China over took the U.S. as the world’s largest economy. However, Indian travelers are expected to spend $91.2 billion in the next 15 years (as against $13.3 billion in 2011) and they are well informed, sophisticated and educated; looking for new destinations/activities and out-of-the-ordinary experiences. It is essential for people in the tourism industry to recognize the import of these shifts and develop methods for meeting specific cultural requirements and expectations to provide optimal travel exploration going forward.

Tourism is a vital industry in Nevada. According to the most recent stats, overall travel spending in Nevada was $59.4 billion in 2013 and 29 percent of all employment in the state is tourism-related; that’s 462,000 jobs.

“It is so important to stay on top of travel and marketing trends so that we can stay competitive in the travel industry,” Hutchison, chair of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, said. “Nevada is a highly desired destination, but we must strive to know our audiences and know how to reach them effectively, and that’s what Rural Roundup is all about.”


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