Can you tell me the way…..

A tourist was driving through the beautiful Irish countryside and obviously lost. He he saw a local sitting by the side of the road and stopped to ask directions. ‘Excuse me’ said the tourist. ‘Can you give me directions of how to get to Dublin?’. The local considered for a while, and said ‘Well, I wouldn’t start from here’.

That probably is exactly the situation many destination marketing organizations (DMOs) find themselves in today.

In the USA and probably many other countries, DMOs grew out of the the local chamber of commerce – the result of concerned local businesses wanting to grow tourist visitation. Eventually, they decided that the skills needed were beyond the chamber and local government were persuaded to take over the role and formed a Convention and Visitor’s Bureau or local tourist board. To fund this they either committed an element of their budget derived from local taxation, or they collected a tourist or bed tax from visitors. Either way, the DMO is now normally administered by a group of interested and knowledgable local citizens, and ultimately controlled by local politicians – City Councilors, County Commissioners or a whole host of other titles, depending on where you’re located.

In an ideal world, you’d set up this organization before any tourists arrived, and before any infrastructure had been built. Your group of advisors and Councilors would all have significant knowledge of tourism, marketing, commercial and environmental issues – and common sense (the least common element in the Universe!) Then you could influence decisions like ‘no buildings to exceed the height of a palm tree’, ‘visitors must not leave items on the beach overnight’, ‘create sufficient car parking to anticipate demand in 20 years’ – you know the sort of thing.

But it’s not an ideal world.

For a start the infrastructure wasn’t planned. Like Topsy it just ‘grewed’. No one really planned much further ahead than next season. The one big hotel in town became the dominant commercial interest and was then bought out by a Chain.

In the ski resort, the lift system was already 30 years old.

To cap it all, the city elected representatives are all retired hydraulic engineers (I have nothing but admiration for hydraulic engineers, the occupation just randomly flew into my mind!) or lawyers. No knowledge of tourism, commercial imperatives, associated technology or marketing, no matter what their other undoubted qualifications may be.

Add to this toxic mix the speed of change in travel technology, emergence of social media, the rise of peer reviews, changing tourist demographics and worldwide political changes and you have, to over cliché this particular pudding, a perfect storm.

In our part of the world (Northwest Florida) this has been highlighted by a couple of recent events.
One is the emergence of Airbnb which has put a strain on how and if Tourist Development Tax (Bed Tax for want of a better name) is collected. This article ( demonstrates how Santa Rosa and Escambia Counties are trying to cope. It’s almost as if the Airbnb concept has suddenly appeared. Uber has had the same effect on taxi regulation around the world.
The other issue revolved around the running of a country music event in Okaloosa County. The idea was suggested that the county should run the event as a trial to provide business for the local convention center. If nothing else, they would break-even and learn lessons for future events.

The lessons learned were that the county were hamstrung by their (possibly understandable) complex and long winded purchasing and contract writing system; that having to refer everything to two committees including the Board of County Commissioners slowed the whole system to a snails pace; and that really they should leave such things to people who knew what they were doing.

Oh, and they made a staggering loss on the event.

The latter example resulted in the sensible decision that in future, such events should be outsourced to the private sector. A good lesson learned and kudos to the people involved for acknowledging this.

So, how do we move forward?

Speed and agility are the watchwords for tourism today. DMOs must be able to turn on a dime (or sixpence, depending on your location) to react to changes, developments and opportunities.

The nature of government is that it’s unlikely (though not impossible) to have the knowledge, awareness and nimbleness to recognize and react in a timely manner.

A local government agency that I know has taken a year to create a new website, and it hasn’t been implemented yet. They’re in tourism and have lost a whole season, possibly two. At the same time a private company has created a state of the art website, with different versions for smartphones and tablets; included video, web cams and on-line booking; acquired partners; and all in two months from pulling the trigger. The site will go live on schedule and on budget.

True, some private companies are as slow as government (An accommodation provider has taken 4 years to change a website and no mobile version. Hello?), and not all local government is unresponsive. But you get my point.

The suggestion is that government run DMOs should at least partner with private companies if not outsource the whole business. Visit Florida is a great example of a public/private partnership, although some politicians do want to be more involved which is a questionable move.

It’s a conversation well worth having between the politicos and private enterprise. Locals need to get involved too.

We probably shouldn’t have started the journey here, but that’s the where we are. We just need to get our directions, decide on our route and follow it – fast.Well.......

These are not the B&Bs we remember….

Back in the UK, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, there was an institution known as the ‘Seaside Bed and Breakfast’, a type of hotel for the masses to stay in during their two week vacation at the beach. They were usually presided over by a formidable landlady who ensured that all her rules were adhered to, that breakfast was taken at the hour of her choosing (when she rang a gong!) and that guests were out of the establishment by 9:30am and not allowed back until 5pm regardless that a hurricane force gale was blowing on the beach. Such fun!

Bed and Breakfast accommodation here in the USA these days is nothing like that hackneyed cliché. We’ve (thank you Researcher in Chief Bethany) sought out any number of B&Bs over the past while as an alternative to conventional hotels, and more precisely as an alternative to staying in anonymous chain, box, hotels when only one night is required.

Most recently we’ve stayed in Watkinsville GA, Auburn AL, Louisville KY and Tallahassee FL, each of which have been spectacular.

There is much media chatter about what AirBnb are doing to the hotel business, but to my mind the real story is how Bed and Breakfast is bringing a new meaning to true hospitality. Let’s look at our stay in Watkinsville…..

We chose the Ashford Manor (, which is right in the centre of Watkinsville, 10 minutes from Athens GA. Watkinsville itself is a pretty town, with a bunch of good restaurants and stores right outside the B&B.
The rooms are a delight – eclectically designed and very comfortable – just look at the photos. We stayed in the Cottage Gallery Suite – again see the photos – and it was absolutely charming. They also have a suite that is dog friendly (The Cottage Hideaway Suite) and a room in the main house that accommodates dogs.

The B&B is owned and run by Dave and Mario who are a case study in Hospitality Management. Check-in was easy (as was check-out!) and the breakfast was perfect. We stayed in mid-June and the weather was ideal to have Sunday breakfast on the front porch. An added draw is that Ashford Manor also specializes in weddings, so if you’re about to tie the knot, it’s a place to look at.

Back in April, we traveled up to Asheville NC (see the blog ‘Thinking outside the Kennel’) and on the way back broke our journey in Auburn – Researcher in Chief Bethany, is a graduate (War Eagle! apparently). Rather than stay in an anonymous chain hotel, we chose The Crenshaw Guest House ( No photos unfortunately but have a look at their website. We stayed in Thach Cottage, which again is dog friendly should you be traveling en-famille (or even ‘Avec Chien’!). As you’ll see from their photos, again the rooms are really comfortable and welcoming. But the common theme with these B&Bs is the welcome you get from the owners, in this case Steve and Sarah Jenkins, and the amazing breakfast they provide.

Whenever I have to travel to the Florida State Capital, Tallahassee, I always check into The Little English Guesthouse ( run by fellow Briton Tracey Cochran and her husband Thom. It’s very English themed and the welcome is perfect. Hospitable but not intrusive. The food is exactly what’s needed before a day treading the halls of government and the afternoon glass of Sherry doesn’t go amiss either.

Speaking of amazing breakfasts, you can’t beat the DuPont Mansion in Louisville KY. We stayed there for nearly a week in March. to check out the photos. The property itself is both beautiful, historic and very convenient. The welcome from the InnKeepers as they term themselves was exactly as you’d be taught in the best hotel schools. ….and the breakfasts….. Simply amazing.

One more for your list. The Shade Tree Inn in St Francisville LA. ( ). We stayed there back in 2012 and it’s as different from the others I’ve mentioned as it could be. This is a 4 acre hilltop bird sanctuary hidden away in the Deep South. I’ve added a photo of the panorama from our room. An unbelievable welcome, perfect hospitality and great food.

The thing that comes from all these outstanding Bed and Breakfast establishments is that they are not providing a commodity – a room to stay in and that’s it. They are providing a true experience, a reason to go there in addition to visiting the destination for vacation or business.
My visits to Tallahassee for example could be achieved in a day – early morning drive down I-10, business meetings and a drive back. But the experience of staying in the Little English Guesthouse encourages me to go the afternoon before. I’m rested and calm before I start my day of meetings and I’ve had an experience, not just a night in an hotel.The same applies to all the B&Bs I’ve mentioned, and others we’ve stayed at.

Traveling these days, no matter for leisure or business, must involve more than just a bed to sleep in, a plane ride to get there or a beach to lie on. The experience and the memories can stay with you and encourage you to return. The great experiences that are offered by these hospitality experts encourage their guests to become advocates and ambassadors, spreading the word by TripAdvisor and other review sites

The Main House, Ashford Manor
The Main House, Ashford Manor
Breakfast on the front porch, Ashford Manor.
Breakfast on the front porch, Ashford Manor.
The Cottage, Ashford Manor.
The Cottage, Ashford Manor.
The lounge in the Cottage Suite, Ashford Manor
The lounge in the Cottage Suite, Ashford Manor
The bedroom in the Cottage Suite Ashford Manor.
The bedroom in the Cottage Suite Ashford Manor.
The Shade Tree Inn, St. Francisville, LA
The Shade Tree Inn, St. Francisville, LA

and by the stories they tell their friends and family.

If you’re involved in tourism, hospitality, restaurants or attractions, that must be your number one goal – surely?

How Micro-Moments are reshaping the Travel Customer Journey – Google report.

Google have just published a report that examines how people plan for travel. It examines the devices (that’s definitely multiple devices!) that they use and when they use them. The report is certainly well worth reading if you’re in any way involved with the tourism, hospitality or associated industries.

It runs to 41 pages and it hones in to what Google terms ‘micro-moments’. It certainly shows that habits are changing fast. If you’re not seeing the rise in mobile bookings in your business, believe me you will – and sooner than you expect. currently 40% of travel site visits in the US come from mobile devices. You’d better make sure that your site handles mobile in a clean and efficient way.

The report has a number of case studies which are worth taking time to study.

These Micro Moments break down into ‘I want to get away moments’, ‘Time to make a plan moments’, ‘Let’s book it moments’, and ‘Can’t wait to explore moments’ . Depending on your business, you could fit into one or more of those. Be assured that you’re not the only site people are looking at for your particular moment.

To be successful you need to actually be in the booking space, and you need to offer a useful service. You need to be part of the ‘experience’.

52% of travelers with smartphones said they’d switch sites or apps if a site took too long to load. 45% said they’d switch if it takes too many steps to book or get desired information. Have you looked at your booking process on a smart phone recently?

Some other stats –

Only 23% of leisure travelers are confident that they can find all of the same hotel and flight information on their smartphone that they can on their desktop.

2/3 of leisure travelers double check prices on a desktop after shopping for flights on a smartphone.

Over 50% make the switch to double check hotel prices.

94% of leisure travelers switch between devices as they plan or book a trip. Where does that leave your tracking systems?

View Google’s report here:

There’s more and we’re happy to consult on this and other similar issues. Contact us for more information.