Magnolia Market is a Tourism Sensation in Waco


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What is Texas’ hottest and hippest destination right now?  It’s a couple of upcycled grain silos a mile off Interstate 35 in Waco called Magnolia Market and it’s a home decorators dream. It’s the brainwave of Chip and Joanna Gaines, the HGTV celebs from Fixer Upper. 

I’ve personally enjoyed the show from my home in San Antonio, and followed the hoopla surrounding the opening of the Magnolia Market three hours north of my home.  But it wasn’t until I had an opportunity to stop by on a recent trip up the interstate that I got to see firsthand why all my Facebook friends were drooling about this place.

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I expected to encounter a cute shop with the accessories that Gaines is known to showcase in her “reveal” segments. If you watch the show, you’re familiar with the appearance of vintage-looking signs, handmade soaps, rustic textiles and ginormous primitive wall clocks –some of her favorites.

The Fixer Upper couple has taken their design sensibility—and sensation – and applied it to a shopping complex.   The retail store, Magnolia Market, appears modest until you walk inside and realize that it’s barn-sized.  Adjacent to it is Silo Bakery, a small picturesque storefront with outside seating for cupcakes and coffee.  The up-cycled grain silos themselves have shade, signage and seating.  Directly outside the silos is a Texas-sized field complete with soccer balls for kicking and swings for swinging.  Behind the silos is a garden shop and seed store. Lining the back perimeter are a handful of food trucks.  Everything is painted in an elegant black and white palette and squeaky clean.  Staff are strategically placed throughout to answer questions and direct visitors.    

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I consider myself a seasoned traveler,  but I’ve not seen shopping so elevated into the realm of a full day experience as it has at Magnolia Market.  It’s more akin to a theme park than a home decorating store. And that’s what everyone is talking about. How a couple from Waco went from modest construction/design team to the number one show on the HGTV Network.  In the last two weeks, they’ve been the cover story in Texas Monthly and featured on the Texas Standard, but they’ve been featured in numerous design magazines the past year.

Five years from now, we’ll all be looking back at the phenomenon of what’s going on in Waco Texas and trying to figure out how to replicate it.  If you’re wondering how to create and market a destination, just call it anything with the word “magnolia” in it and sit back and watch the tourists flock to it (35,000 visitors per week is a widely reported figure).   

But the bottom line, everyone in Texas is cheering them on. We want them to succeed.  

So let’s examine this phenomenon like we would any busy theme park.  It’s best to prepare for your visit to Magnolia Market.  Here is a checklist based on my recent trip and some ideas I’ve gathered from recent visitors.

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5 Pro Tips to Plan Your Trip to Magnolia Market

Be Prepared to Stand in Line…or NOT!

Depending on time of day and day of the week, there will be lines. Lines for “looking” at the beautiful home accessories on display and lines for purchasing them. There will be lines for cupcakes and lines for restrooms and lines for the food trucks.  But Dawn Monroe, of the Frugal Mom, had a completely different experience.

“About the crowds – we went on an overcast Saturday, at 2 p.m. It had just rained, so apparently the crowd left and we got really lucky.”

Have a Parking Plan

Sure there’s parking on the street, but at peak times, every space is taken.  A local church next door offers parking for $10. There’s a trolley running on weekends to and from free parking lots that are farther away,  but the parking is free and so is the trolley.  Best idea:  drive right up to the block, assess the situation and decide if you want to pay $10 for convenience or use one of the more remote free lots.

Take Your Time

The Magnolia Market experience is not to be rushed.  

“There are adorable touches everywhere,” says my friend Gloria Nwelue, the former San Antonio community manager for Yelp. “Those cute little picnic tables with black and white striped awnings and that super cool giant double porch swing? Swoon. Everything was even cuter than I expected, if that’s possible.”

“The outside entertainment area is lovely and I enjoyed sitting out there to have lunch,” says Janice Langlinas of Austin, a former tourism professional.  

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Lots of Helpers!

It’s quite obvious that Magnolia Enterprises is employing a LOT of people in Waco, which is great for the area. They were very well staffed on the day that I visited, sporting cute little aprons and holding maps of the layout to help visitors navigate.

“Extremely helpful staff spent about 20 minutes helping me purchase one of their large antique olive buckets they were using for display, said my friend Melissa Welch-Lamoreaux. “And, the decorating ideas I took away from the visit–priceless.”

Expect to Pay for Your Experience

The Magnolia Market experience is not without its price. Some of the visitors I queried had expected all the items to be artisan made. And some are, but the bulk of items for sale are not quirky, one-off finds, but are just as likely to be high end, imported goods.

“I had to wait in line just to view certain items in the market, not to mention the insane line to actually check out,” said Nwelue. “Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything because I’m not a fan of shouldering my way through the masses.”

Last Word on Planning Your Visit

Visit the website for hours and directions – the area is closed on Sunday!! https://magnoliamarket.com/silos/

Check out some of Waco’s other attractions here: http://wacoheartoftexas.com/

What to Know BEFORE you Book through a Vacation Rental Company

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Like many travelers, I’ve experimented with the new vacation rental sites like VRBO and Home Away. These sites allow you to rent a vacation home or apartment using filters like location, features and price. They are becoming formidable alternatives to hotel bookings.

I’ve stayed in a wide variety of with varying success. Here’s what you need to know before you book your next vacation.

The Bad Stuff

Hyperbole. Many landlords are vague and flowery in the language to describe their rental property. One example for my extended family was a holiday spot which said “sleeps 10” — 4 of those “beds” were air mattresses on the third floor (leaky ones at that!).

Location. Like many real estate listings, the description will always accentuate the positive and minimize the negative. We once stayed somewhere which was described as being in the “hip” neighborhood, which it was. But it was also next door to a very loud construction site.

Illegal rental. The instructions we were given at a gorgeous property during a girlfriends’ getaway were: ‘if you’re out walking and you encounter a neighbor, tell them you’re friends of John and Mary.’ This is less likely now than when these services first cropped up, but as a renter, you might want to make sure that the landlord has the right to do short-term rentals.

No dishwasher. Gross. How do I know the last tenant actually washed the dishes?

Really bad beds and lumpy couches. In several rentals, the furniture was old, in bad condition and might have been moved from a college dorm.

Junk. Or Missing Junk. We stayed in one place with no kitchen towels and only one washcloth, but a heap of junk in the closets and stale food in the cupboards. Who wants to navigate all that clutter?

Maintenance? What maintenance? One location had such a large crack in the bathroom window, you could make ice for drinks in the cold air that was streaming through it. No problems, we used the only available washcloth to plug up the hole.

Terms. Bad terms. Paying the entire trip in advance is a stretch for some people, not to mention the various cleaning/damage/replacement costs that vary from location to location. Equally frustrating is the method by which many rentals are calculated. Minimum stay requirements and event weekend surcharges often apply. Because of these terms, vacation rental sites lack the flexibility of a regular hotel.

The Good Stuff

Entertaining in Style! If you’ve ever planned a large gathering where everyone has individual hotel rooms, there’s nowhere to gather. Vacation rentals allow you to hang out in the kitchen, lounge in the living room, and connect with your fellow travelers.

Quirky perks! Beautiful freshly ground coffee in one location, complimentary wine in another and local produce and special treats in a third. All things you’d never expect in a standard hotel.

Local information! There’s nothing like getting a local’s perspective on area restaurants and attractions. “The binder” left by most rental managers is always worth a look.

Investing in the Experience. Some landlords invest in a quality bed and usually highlight it in the description. The same holds true for those with plenty of extra towels and quality wifi. Combined with an amazing travel destination, it can make all the difference in your trip.

Be a Smart Trip Planner

Unlike hotel chains with brand standards, each rental property is owned and operated individually and managed under the vacation rental company’s umbrella. There are potentials for misunderstandings between landlord and renter and all have had their share of scandals. If you’ve never done your vacation in this way, do your homework before your next vacation. Check out these online stories before you make your next booking.

VRBO and Home Away are two brands by the same company. And they were purchased by Expedia last year. Read some of the reviews here.

Some cities are legally challenging the short-term rental market. Paris is one example and San Francisco is another. Here’s what the travelers on Rick Steves travel forum have to share about France and Italy using vacation rental sites.  This story, in the Los Angeles area, addresses the real reason why cities are trying to regulate rental companies – hotel occupancy taxes.

This story on tripping.com outlines all the information about various rental companies.

Scams have been reported about rental companies in Seattle.  And on Buzzfeed.

So before you book your next vacation rental experience, do your homework. Happy travels.

Theme Parks Introduce Demand Pricing

theme-park-demand-ticket-pricing-comparison-The Walt Disney Company announced a move last month to adopt demand pricing at their U.S. theme parks, a first for attractions.

Demand pricing, also called surge pricing, is a methodology in which prices fluctuate based on perceived or actual demand for a product or service. It has been used by the airline and hotel industry for decades and is also used by ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

For Disney, this means that on low demand days, a visitor could save $5 on a single day ticket. But on peak days, ticket prices are $20 higher. A single day “value day” ticket to the California attraction starts at $95.

When the LA Times reported the price change, they shared that a one year operating calendar for the parks would include 30% value days, 44% regular days and 26% peak days.

Looking at Disney’s online ticketing calendar, which shows prices by day for single day tickets, the breakdown is fairly even. This month, prices are at peak due to Spring Break, but during subsequent months, all three prices are available based on day. You can buy a regularly priced ticket every day in June, but if you plan a visit in July, the weekends will reflect peak pricing, and weekdays will be “regular” prices.

Universal Studios Hollywood also uses demand pricing at their California theme park, but their online ticketing calendar shows a mix of prices, with the incentive to purchase a reduced price ticket in advance online versus “front gate” pricing.

Pricing Strategies Changing at Theme Parks

Anytime a travel organization changes pricing, they are subject to criticism. Last October, Disney raised the price of its annual passes, one of which is now in excess of $1000 per year. At the time, Fortune magazine speculated that the changes in pass features and benefits was an indicator of a move to dynamic pricing. They weren’t wrong, as Disney made that move in late February.

Managing attendance during peak periods is a challenge for attractions. As Bloomberg reported on the price move, Disney is attempting to match price to demand. The double digit growth that Disney has seen for the last two years also played a part in the decision and let’s face it, every theme park has physical limits to the number of guests they can handle each day, no matter how many new attractions are added.

Now that two of the big players in the theme park industry have taken the plunge to demand pricing, there’s no doubt that others will follow.

Pros and Cons of This Change

If you run a theme park or attraction, why wouldn’t you want to manage your peak season crowds more efficiently? Create a better guest experience by limiting the number of guests and give them actual space to enjoy their visit.

If you are a traveler and you are taking a trip in a high demand period, you already paid a premium for airfare and most likely, your hotel stay. If a higher price at the museum, theme park or zoo meant that you and your family could actually see the place without the oppressive crowds, wouldn’t you take it?

This is just the beginning. Watch for demand pricing to change the way we experience theme parks, zoos, museums and other attractions in the coming years.

Survive Your Holiday Trip with These Tips

Christmas in San Antonio by Nan PalmeroThanksgiving was a warm-up to the big Christmas trip for many travelers.  With the peak travel period just weeks away, it’s time to look for some serious coping skills for the trip.

Traveling this time of year is stressful.  More than 46 million Americans traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday this year according to AAA. Based on statistics from last year’s Christmas season, double that amount will be “en route” for December and January. With fuel prices way down, it  just might be a record year for travel. There are bound to be weather issues, crowds and unexpected surprises during the journey, but it don’t let that ruin the trip.  Here’s real advice from some seasoned travelers, including me.

Tips for the Plane Ride 

Take zippered plastic bags–fill them with a change of clothes for you or your kids and later, they can transition to laundry bags or to contain wet things or trash.

Carry on your essentials—your toothbrush, one or two days’ worth of medications and a change of clothes will hold you over if your checked baggage is lost.

Travel Wipes – Lots of them.  For you, for your kids, for dubious-looking surfaces along the way.

Tips for the Car Trip

Window clings are great for the car (or plane) window and kids can color the surface safely.

Stickers to Count down the Time—this is brilliant! My friend Christie puts stickers on the visor, one for every 30 minutes their family will travel, then removes them as the time passes. Great visual for kids to manage the “are we there yet?” syndrome.

Always have an Activity Bag.  I have seen numerous parents traveling by car and plane who may have remembered diapers and the pacifier but expect their kids to sit quietly for hours!  The Huyse family has a “go bag” with activities, books and toys that the kids have never seen before. The Pfitzenmaier family wraps them in foil, so the unwrapping becomes part of the fun.  These don’t have to be expensive, just new to “them.”  This is true for adults too. Don’t forget books, crossword and Sudoku books to keep your brain engaged.

Tips for the REALLY LONG Plane Ride

My family has a ton of personal experience with this phenomenon.  With half of our family in Australia, we’ve made the trip from the US to Australia (and the reverse) more than a dozen times.  It usually involves 3 or more airplanes and 14-24 hours of travel (the beaches are WORTH it!).  This involves a different set of coping skills entirely.The author and her son getting ready for a long plane trip

Quick Change Artist — My husband takes a full change of clothes plus a wash cloth, towel and soap in his carry-on.  At the halfway point of the longest flight, he takes a “bush shower” (washed up in the sink).  The timing of this activity is essential.  If you wait until the flight attendants are serving breakfast, it’s too late because the line for the restrooms is LONG.

Books for Gifts – On one trip, I got a bunch of paperbacks from a used bookstore, read them on the plane, and then left them with people who hosted us during our trip. That was before e-readers, of course.

More Carry-on Essentials – For longer flights, you need more stuff. Ear plugs, eye mask, neck pillow, especially if you are traveling coach.

Take off your shoes – On really long flights at higher altitudes, your body actually swells. Taking off shoes and wearing slipper socks is far more comfortable.

Strike a pose – Check out the stretching exercises in the flight magazine and make sure you get up and move throughout the flight.

Packing and Organizing Before You Leave

There are plenty of resources for better packing and organizing, including a lot of video demonstrations which you can see at this link. But some of the best advice is always from friends. Here’s what mine had to say:

Learn to Chant – Lisa Lauf says every time you get to a checkpoint, a plane, etc., say to yourself “phone, computer, wallet, passport” so you don’t forget something (there’s probably a story there).

Clothes Make the Trip – Beth Graham packs “from the floor up”—shoes, socks, pants, underwear, shirt, etc. Also rolling is the universal anti-wrinkle treatment for clothes. Wear your bulkiest shoes so you can get more into your suitcase.

Travel Documents – lots of people recommend travel wallets which can be very useful. For a family, a snap shut plastic file folder will work too. Print out your maps and other confirmation numbers in case your cell service or wifi is spotty.

It’s about those Bags – Make sure they have wheels and if you can bring two, do it in case you take a side trip!

Don’t Forget – an extension cord, umbrella, scarf, coat. Oh and where you parked at the airport – write that down or take a picture with your phone so you can find your car when you return.

Pack Your Smile – If you do a little bit of planning, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the experience.  Merry Christmas and happy travels this season.

Many thanks to friends and colleagues who contributed ideas for this story, including:  Kami Watson Huyse, Jennifer Duplantis, Julie Pippert, Alysia Cook, Katie Hornstrom, Debi Aronson Pfitzenmaier, Jennifer Hatton, Christie Goodman, Patty Constantin, Lisa Lauf Rooper, Jennifer Navarrete, Sheila Payson, Kristie Guthrie, Beth Graham, Taylor Williams and Melody Campbell Goeken.

Photo of Christmas and the Alamo by Nan Palmero.  See more of his work on Flickr. 

Packing Your Suitcase – Video Advice

Here are 5 Resources for packing for your next trip. Check them out!

This video from Real Simple is focused on packing womens’ clothes.

This packing video from Holiday Inn Express is perfect for business travelers — with a really unusual way of folding shirts with collars.

This is not really a video, but it’s a compilation of photos with 20 tips for packing your suitcase. If you take lots of beauty products and jewelry, there are some great ideas here too.

Of course, there’s a video of Martha Stewart and Matt Lauer in a packing throwdown of sorts.

Leave it to our friends at Travel and Leisure for a great video demo on packing a woman’s suit in a carry-on.  You have to see the video to figure out the tip.

 

 

Stitch Together Information for Your Visitors

A man hiking through a wooded area I pride myself on being a pretty good planner, especially when it comes to trips.  I also think I’m pretty good at online research, but a recent getaway with my family in Tennessee showed me (and now my clients!) just how important the little details are to travelers who are putting their faith into what is online about your destination.  Here’s what I found.

We were planning a four day weekend in Tennessee in early October. This was the second year in a row we had planned to explore the area’s beautiful parks and lakes. We were hoping to do some hiking, kayaking and maybe rent a fishing boat for one day.

Things I booked very early– airfare, the cabin at the state park, rental car.  Nothing unusual there. After that was finalized about 8 weeks out, I turned my attention to the activities.

Here was my search process to find rental canoes or kayaks.

  • Go back to the state park website. It mentions a marina but no further information except it is run separately. NO hyperlink.
  • I do a web search for “canoeing near ABC state park” and “rent canoes near ABC state park” and “rent canoes in Tennessee” and get results on the third try, but none were anywhere near where we were staying.
  • By now I am toggling between an online map of the area, my results, and several other websites, but nothing is taking me to where I want to go.
  • I reach a dead end.

Next I try to find out about renting a fishing boat for a day during our stay.  Here’s what I did:

  • I go to the state park website and look for the information about the marina. One or two sentences about where it’s located within the state park, but no detailed information.
  • I do a web search for “marina located at ABC state park” and an entire website for this marina and its rentals is there.
  • The website says they don’t rent fishing boats. But if I want a houseboat to rent, they got ’em!
  • I reach a dead end.

I decide, due to other pressing deadlines, that we would wing it, that I would make phone calls when we got to Tennessee because we were going to spend a day in Nashville first and deal with it later.

Once we are in Nashville, I am planning to purchase food for the weekend. since we are in a rental unit, I am stocking in groceries, but it’s my vacation, so I don’t want to cook the whole time.  So I Google “restaurant at ABC state park” and an entirely different website comes up. With a catering form, messages about booking early on the weekends, etc.  I think “perfect” we will have dinner here one night during our stay.

We head out the next day. As we are driving in – you already know how this ends — we drive right past a ginormous canoe-shaped sign in front of a ginormous business advertising canoe rentals and guided trips. And, look! – there’s a vinyl banner hanging off the welcome sign of the park saying  “ABC restaurant is closed for the season. See you next year.”

I could not believe it! The Internet failed me.

Thank goodness for the free magazine published by the local tourist association which I found in the rack at the local gas station on my way to the ladies room.  It had better maps of the waterways than I had seen anywhere and put items of interest into categories which finally gave context to the possibilities around us.

A tourist map and brochures Don’t get me wrong. Our October getaway was wonderful.  There was fishing, hiking, beautiful leaves and a surprise trip to a beautiful Appalachian Craft Center run by Tennessee Tech University.  It could have been even better, if all the little pieces of information were stitched together.

Here’s what could have improved our experience:

  1. Liberal hyperlinks to nearby businesses on the state parks website instead of vague references in copy.
  2. An active website which is updated to immediately mark changes in hours/season. A big “Closed for the Season” banner along the front of the restaurant website should have been added on the last day of operation.
  3. Destination context. Have you ever noticed how the little town that is listed as the address of a state park is never anywhere on any map or navigation? How about telling me what county you’re in or that everyone refers to this area as the Upper this or the Lower that.
  4. Better SEO keywords/ tags/categories to give context to the person searching on the Internet. If the canoe outfitter had done that, I would have found it and rented a canoe, too!

It doesn’t really matter the size or seasonality of your destination, stitching together information will help future travelers find you and spend more money while they are visiting, too.

 

Taking a Fall Vacation? Take My Advice

Welcome Sign at a Tennessee State Park This time of year is considered off-season by the travel industry, and for many, the lure of lighter crowds makes a fall getaway very appealing. But if you’re thinking about taking a vacation in fall or spring, the travel industry’s “shoulder periods,” you should be prepared for a different experience. Here’s what I found on two recent fall getaway trips.

Crowds were lighter, but so were available services. Many destinations power down toward the end of the season (or are gearing up before summer). You might also find some experiences which happen only in this time frame, which make the trip very desirable.

Rate changes abound. Sure, you’re not paying the same rate as July or August. You might even find a bargain or two. But hundreds of destinations have fall or spring festivals of some kind. Art, craft, music, heritage, are all celebrated in these shoulder periods. These events tend to have loyal followings and nearby accommodations fill fast. Shop ahead and book ahead, unless you like sleeping in your car.

Still, there can be cost savings in an off-season vacation, according to a story in last week’s US News and World Report.

“It is important to remember that sometimes a destination’s peak season is not the best time to be there; rather, it’s the time when school is out in locations nearby and that’s why crowds arrive and prices go up.”  Said Wendy Perrin in the story, which you can read here.

A boat making its way across a lake under stormy skies Whatever the weather! Forget the lovely postcards of trees turning orange or beautiful cherry blossoms emerging after a long sleep, the weather is a crap shoot.  When you’re from Texas (like I am), it doesn’t matter where you travel, you are just never prepared for rain.  Be prepared for rain – or any weather, for that matter. This fall, a huge storm system caused a power outage at our rental unit which lasted several hours.

Bring stuff with you. Take the time to print out a map or two. During our recent getaway to the Tennessee Hills, our cell service was sporadic and we relied way too much on our mapping applications, which was a mistake.

Surrender to the middle seat or “friendship seat” as one airline calls it. There are still no empty seats on the plane. Summer season or shoulder season, it really doesnEdgar Evins State Park’t matter. the airlines are running at full capacity. Be prepared to be cozy during your flight.

In a recent story from Travel Leaders Group, it appears that travelers are embracing the off-season. 90% of the travel agencies polled said fall bookings are the same or better than 2013. Their top 5 destinations for fall – Orlando, Las Vegas, Maui, New York City and Honolulu – means that less known destinations have room for more travelers! You can read the results of that study here.

We loved our fall vacation, despite its quirks and crazy weather. My advice: It’s worth considering — just take an umbrella and have a Plan B!

Round Up: Best Travel Advice for the Holidays

Photo: "Hither and Thither" by Robert S. Donovan  http://www.flickr.com/photos/booleansplit/  Published using Creative Commons

Photo:” Hither and Thither” by Robert S. Donovan
http://www.flickr.com/photos/booleansplit/
Published using Creative Commons License

It’s that time of the year when families pack up everything they own and head out for the holidays.

Earlier today, AAA released their holiday travel forecast and the news is good: travel is down this year, so ONLY 43 million people are going to hit the road next week.  Since you’ve been so busy cleaning off your desk before the trip, here’s a handy round up of key stories from around the internet, whether you are flying solo or it’s a total family affair.

Mom and former flight attendant Heather Poole has some great advice here about flying with your kids.  I’ve always wondered about unprepared parents on planes, mostly because I always lived by the Girl Scout motto: Be Prepared. If you’re not yet, read 5 Tips for Flying with Kids before you go.

Another important source for information comes straight from the Transportation Security Administration.  This post, from the TSAblog, has information for military travelers, a guide to what to bring and not bring onboard including very clear photographs plus contact center hours and details. Did you know the TSA has an app too? You will when you read their Travel Trips.

The Travel Channel has ten tips for  surviving holiday travel, including some good information about days to travel and times of day to travel.

There may still be some time to save money on your holiday travel expenses. Check out what the smart people at Real Simple magazine have to say about that. My favorite is number three: don’t drive yourself to the airport.

If you’re a procrastinator, there are even tips for you from The Fiscal Times.

Photo courtesy of:  www.cyclelicio.us/ Published under Creative Commons License.

Photo courtesy of: www.cyclelicio.us/
Published under Creative Commons License.

If you’re driving to your holiday celebration, AAA is always a great source for road safety.

If you’re one of those people who are concerned about road safety on particular days of the week and times of the year, take heart. This chart from safe motorist.com shows the worst days, months and times of day to drive.

Finally, here’s the word on the worst highways to drive all the time, which means they won’t be any better during the holidays.

Safe travels y’all.

 

Retail Fails but Travel Wins: 3 Stories about Customer Experience

Are your customers having good, bad or GREAT experiences? I recently had 3 different service experiences in each of these categories which really surprised me, and not always in a good way.  Let’s start with the bad surprise.

Retail Fail

When trying to make a purchase at a large department store, I found that the employee in that section was too busy chatting with another employee to notice that I circled her department 5 times.  I was ready to purchase; she was not ready to help me. I left without spending any money there and posted about it on my Facebook page.  (see picture below).  The irony of this bad service story is that I have been a customer at this store for more than 10 years.  Now I doubt I will go back.  It’s not the only department store in my city.  I have choices.

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Good Restaurant Service

Last week, I traveled with my husband to Dallas for a business meeting.  We were staying at the Marriott in Irving, near the DFW airport.  I had breakfast alone in the restaurant and was immediately treated well by my waiter, David.  He asked if I was visiting Dallas, what brought me here, what my plans were for the day.  I asked for shopping recommendations and he gave me three suggestions. Then, he went and got a map from the front desk and marked the suggestions on it for me. I sent the Marriott Corporate Offices an e-mail about David.

Great Hotel Fix

IMG_1382Two weeks ago, I attended a conference and in the frantic preparation to get ready to leave town, I threw all my clean, but wrinkled clothes into my bag and decided I would press them all when I got there.  After I checked into the Omni Bayfront in Corpus Christi, I got out the iron and ironing board to get the pressing out of the way.  The sole plate on the iron was burned and I did not want to use it on my white suit jacket.  I wish I could remember the name of the young man on the desk who took my call. He assured me that he would find a replacement. Then called 10 minutes later to say they were still looking. (I told him I was not in THAT much of a hurry, just needed to press the clothes sometime that day).  When he called again, he couldn’t believe that there were no spare irons.  What he said next made the experience GREAT.  “I’m sending up someone from Housekeeping — just give her your clothes and we will iron them for you and return them to your room later this evening.”  And he did, as you can see from the picture of my beautifully ironed jacket with the offending iron.

What’s the difference between these experiences?

The first difference is awareness.  The department store employee did NOT have it and the hotel and restaurant employees DID.

The second difference is industry approach.  I do not want to denigrate the retail industry, but I have had more bad experiences in retail settings than travel settings.  I can make my entire retail transaction without ever interacting with someone and often do that — by purchasing things online. In travel, you can make all the plans online, but eventually, you are going somewhere and you will interact with people at hotels, attractions and restaurants.  Maybe travel people try harder to make a good impression because industry success depends on it.

The third difference is expectation. Today’s consumer expects good service and more than ever, smart businesses are noticing that investing in their customer’s happiness pays big dividends.  But are businesses sharing that expectation with front line service staff like the employee in the department store, the restaurant waiter or the ticket taker?

Businesses who invest in their front line staff are winning. That’s the simple difference between bad experiences and great ones.

What are your customer experiences in retail and travel?

 

 

Marketing Plans: Dust Collector or Useful Tools?

Last week, I facilitated a session by the same name at the Texas Travel Industry Summit in Corpus Christi.  It was a “shirtsleeves” session designed to help travel professionals talk about their successes and challenges and draw sessionphoto1from the collective group to find solutions or ideas they could take back to their organizations.

Our panel of experts included Beth West of Meredith Corporation, Daryl Whitworth of Madden Media and Shanna Smith of the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.  Each panelist brought a different point of view and had past experience creating marketing plans for different types of travel organizations or clients.  Prior to our session, the team curated a list of resources for travel organizations on building marketing plans. You can see the list here: http://bit.ly/mktplansrock.

Here are some of the best practices we discussed.

Make your Plan Relevant

It’s a key challenge to make sure your plan is relevant to your current marketing challenges and the audiences you are trying to reach. To be relevant, your plan should include a variety of disciplines including public relations, social media, advertising, sales and stakeholder outreach.

Give Your Plan Context

This is the starting point for a marketing plan.  It should include your mission and vision or statement of purpose as well as an assessment of where you are. That might be a SWOT Analysis or assessment of how last years’ plan turned out.  This sets the stage for your new ideas to follow in terms of creating goals and objectives.

Do Some Research

Before writing next years’ plan, reflect on what happened this year.  Which stakeholder groups are up or down? Which events had better attendance? Can you attribute success to a particular channel or campaign? What happened in similar destinations? What research findings from US Travel Association and TTIA are relevant to your plan? This should form an entire section in the early part of the plan.

Create a Timeline

Many travel organizations traditionally plan one year out.  While some use a calendar year, others are forced into a fiscal calendar which begins in October and spans one year.  Rapid changes in technology make this timeline challenging. Many tech companies only plan one quarter at a time. Since that’s not an option with travel organizations, the timeline is tough.

Build Flexibility Into Your Plan

Having a plan with flexibility is one way a travel organization can beat the timeline crunch.  One destination manager shared her agreement with a governing board which allows for discretionary spending on a percentage of the annual budget.

Integrate Your Plan

Media Spending is NOT a marketing plan.  Media spending should be PART of your marketing plan.  Integrating all the functions of your marketing team makes your plan richer and sets up your organization for success.  It also minimizes the possibility of missing a consumer touchpoint, too.

Have a Contingency

Contingencies are a great way to leverage a last minute opportunity.  They are also necessary for travel organizations in the event of a disaster.  Most travel organizations have a small spending contingency, we had no consensus as to what that level should be.

Engage Your Partners

Destinations have specific partners which they must engage for a successful marketing plan.  One new destination group shared that they have a day-long  workshop with their hotels and attractions to talk about the successes and challenges of the year and begin planning for the next year. This early buy-in from their partners guarantees that everyone is happy with the final result.

Be Visible to Your Stakeholders

One destination at the session shared that they meet with their stakeholders monthly to take a pulse on attendance and revenue. This goes a long way to informing the key elements of next years’ plan.

Incorporating one or more of these themes into your next marketing plan should take your travel organizations’ marketing plan from dust collector to useful tool.  Do you have best practices in your travel organizations’ marketing plan that you can share?