Be More Productive

This week I led a session for the Texas Travel Industry Association on productivity tools and apps for small travel organizations.  It was fun to talk about some of the tools I use to increase my efficiency and simplify the day-to-day functions of my business.

At the beginning of the session, I polled the group about the pain points in their business and the participants weren’t shy about their challenges. Some of the challenges they shared included information overload, keeping up with technology, getting organized and learning to delegate.

Sound familiar? Most small business owners have felt at least one of these pain points.  The presentation offered some suggestions on tools for work productivity, project management, accounting and other small business needs. The tools and links to them are included below.


It’s easy to tie a perceived level of efficiency to the tools you use. Even more important than the actual tools, though, is to THINK productively.  That’s when the tools you choose will change your working habits. So before you run out and adopt a bunch of tools, you need to think productively. Here’s a few ways to get started:

Principle No. 1: Test it, Don’t Get Married to it

There are so many new tools out there, use the 30 day trial to see if this is the right tool for you. If it doesn’t live up to your expectations, move on. Chances are you can find something similar that does work for you.

Principle No. 2: Listen and Learn

Learn to monitor your brand and your industry to stay on top of trends and see what people are saying about YOU and about your brand.

Principle No. 3: Learn to Say No

Create reasonable boundaries for trying new technologies. You don’t have the time to try every new social network or cool tool out there. So pick a few, master them and add more as time and resources allow.

Principle No. 4: Invest to Simplify

Ask yourself: If I invest in this, what will I gain? If you invest 2 hours digitizing your business receipts which will save you at least 4 hours at tax time, that’s an investment worth considering. Sometimes thinking long term about adopting a tool or app is a better way to evaluate that tool.

Ready to be more productive? I’d love to hear how you made changes to your work habits in the comments.

Many thanks to the team at Texas Travel Industry Association for inviting me to share this information and for all the great work they do in Texas to help regional tourism organizations succeed.

Halloween is Sweet for Texas Attractions

A big spider in a tree at SeaWorld In case Halloween is under the radar at your attraction, here are some staggering stats from the National Retail Federation.  170 million people will celebrate Halloween this year, according to the group’s annual consumer spending survey.   24% of those plan to “visit a haunted house,” a category which has grown consistently year after year from 14.9% in 2005.

It’s no surprise then that area attractions are looking to capitalize on spending this holiday. Why shouldn’t they?  Most Texas attractions can only grow so much in the summer months and are looking for ways in which travelers can enjoy a repeat visit, extend their length of stay or spend additional money.

While Halloween activities are not new, they are growing in popularity and diversity with categories for children and adults. Here are three in San Antonio which are new this year.

Face Your Fears Tour at SeaWorld

This is an add-on to a SeaWorld visit and includes backstage tours of key attractions at the park’s Howl-O-Scream event, front of the line access and reserved seating.  When you purchase this tour, you get a daytime look at how the Frightmare Forest is designed and a makeup demonstration with real tips you can try for your own Halloween costume.  The Face Your Fears Tour  is one of several unique experiences offered by SeaWorld at Halloween.

“Halloween is one of our park’s most celebrated and well-received traditions,” said Brian Carter, director of PR & Digital for SeaWorld San Antonio. “We add new elements to Halloween and our other consumer events as a way to grow the footprint of the event and keep our guests coming back to see something new.”

Terror on the Plaza

In downtown San Antonio, just across from the Alamo, Ripley’s Believe it or Not added Terror on the Plaza during select dates in October.

Dinner and a Ghost Tour

This combines dinner at the Menger Hotel with a local tour by Sisters Grimm Ghost Tours for a special combination attraction in September and October. Details here.

These all address the “ghastly” side of the holiday, which is an expensive investment for smaller attractions.  There are many other themes which a destination, hotel, or small attraction can consider to take advantage of the milder temperatures, seasonality and consumer travel habits.

Harvest – PSignposts at SeaWorld's Howl-O-Scream point the way ! umpkins and apples are a natural, but special menus and festivals for foodies are on trend.

Photography – While your visitors are munching on seasonal goodies, they might also be taking pictures, as the folks at Tourism Currents point out in their recent newsletter.

Family – Any theme that helps families carve out time together can bring added visitors to your destination.

With the average person spending $79 at Halloween (up from $49 in 2005), it’s a season that attractions need to think about expanding in the future.

Read the National Retail Federations’ complete Halloween Spending Survey results here.

Ed Note: I was given the chance to experience the Face Your Fears Tour at SeaWorld in preparation for this story.

Travel Takeaways — Mike Walsh at TTIA Summit

Suitcase, ready for travel

Travel Takeaway

It’s easy to get lost in conflicting advice when you attend conferences.

I’ve been to one too many conferences in which I came away with a mere checklist of tactics which I was told to get….right now.  Lately, the list includes social media, mobile web sites and integration. All those things are important to those of us who are embedded in the travel industry.

In order to become influential in the next ten years in the way Walt Disney was influential in the 1960s, then a different line of thinking is in order.

At the recent Texas Travel Industry Summit, one speaker stood out because he helped us to elevate our thinking beyond room nights and attraction attendance.  Mike Walsh, CEO of Tomorrow, might actually be from the future. He takes an anthropological approach to identifying trends and consumer behavior. His street cred is sky high and his view is global in a way that few in our industry can claim.  Read more about him here.

Walsh’s presentation was like a bolt of lightning, delivering nuggets about the future of travel too numerous to mention in one blog post.  Three of his points really resonated with me.

Stop looking at individual trips and start looking at the travel experience life cycle.

We used to call it repeat business, then we called it loyalty programs, but Walsh’s advice is to look beyond individual experiences. Can you weave your organization, destination or attraction into the consumer’s life cycle by offering experiences that transcend individual purchases?

Start looking ten years ahead by listening to teenagers now.

Most focus groups used by travel organizations look at their current consumers, usually women in the 25-45 age range.  These are the current travel decision-makers. But in order to offer products and services for the next generation of decision makers, we need to start listening to their needs, habits and interests today.

Disruptive technology has changed the way we process information.

Like it or not, the long-term effects of multi-tasking and “hummingbird” searching is changing the way we think and the way we make decisions.  As travel organizations, we need to be poised to capitalize on spontaneous travel decisions and more circuitous decision-making.  This should, in essence, change the way we approach marketing and communications plans.

Walsh’s presentation liberally hinted that the travel industry is about to reach a tipping point. Will your travel organization be ready?

Grand Rapids Raises the Bar

It’s the end of another summer season and tourism destinations are about to ask themselves the hard questions as they start to plan next year.

What worked? What didn’t? What should we change for next year?

It’s hard for some destinations to rise above the well-funded voices of the “biggies” like New York City, Orlando and California.

Here’s one destination who is learning what Keith Bellows of National Geographic Traveler advocates – celebrate your destination, don’t sell it.

Watch this 8 minute long video and tell me that you don’t want to go visit Grand Rapids.  I know I do.

Let’s Re-think Airfares – Can Jet Blue’s New Pass be a Sign of Change?

Earlier this week, Jet Blue announced a different sort of airfare.  Unlimited three month airfare “pass” between two of their key cities.  Like the unlimited rail passes so attractive to backpackers in Europe, the unlimited fares have a number of desirable characteristics.

The fares are good until November and include the ability to book up to 90 minutes prior to flight time, the ability to fly standby and no change or cancellation fees.

This is great news for frequent travelers looking for a break on a repetitive route.  Business travelers have been battered by the ongoing recession and could really use a break!  In the days since the announcement, one of the three options is already sold out.

So is this an indication of airlines that airlines are finally starting to think like their cousins in the travel industry?  Could it be that airlines are taking a page from the theme park and destination book and might even consider……bundling?

While Jet Blue’s announcement is already making waves, there are several other models which have a great niche.  Airlines should consider how to leverage these well-known, and popular, bundles.

Qantas has offered “Around the World” airfares for years.  You create your route, which needs to keep going in one destination, and must return to the city you departed from within a certain amount of time (usually three months or more).  The fare offers up to 15 stops and leverages the One World Alliance between Qantas and its partners.

Who the heck has time to go around the world?  Australians do.  When they travel, they go farther and travel longer than Americans.  Of course, they also have an 8 week vacation annually, too.

Another bundling example which airlines could use as a model for new fare structures,  is the venerable Eurail Pass, friend to backpackers for decades.  Still available and still reasonably priced.

Theme parks have been doing all types of “frequent visitor” programs for years – tailoring to consumer travel habits.  Annual passes, two day passes, second day free incentives, all keep visitors coming back.  Even destinations like San Francisco, New York, Boston and others are doing City Passes, which bundles multiple attractions for one low price.

It’s time for airlines to look more closely at this idea.

Traveling with your Grandparents is Nothing New

The author with two of her brothers and grandfather on a summer trip

Summer Fun with my Grandpa and Brothers

Multi-generational or 3G travel is an emerging trend that has gotten media and public relations professionals talking.

Earlier this summer, it was the focus of one of the livelier sessions at the PRSA Tour and Travel Section Conference held in June in San Antonio. (Disclosure:  I was part of the local, logistics team for the conference. )

Leslie Yap, an editor at AAA Journeys was joined by travel writers Evelyn Kanter and Norm Wilkens for a  session called Destination Family: Tapping the Burgeoning Market of Multigenerational Travelers.

Yap combined her personal experience of planning several recent extended-family gatherings with her nose for the business side of travel and offered some guidelines as to why this is an emerging trend. One of the most compelling is that 70% of leisure travel is planned around a life event – like a wedding, family reunion or anniversary.

“Families want to reconnect with what’s important in their lives,” Yap said, citing the fact that many of us live farther away from our families, so traveling to see them is a must.  Yap has researched cruise events, a camping vacation and a houseboat adventure for her extended family.

Her criteria – and theoretically that of anyone considering this type of vacation – is having enough variety in activities to keep all the age groups interested.

Kanter has really strong feelings about what she wants to share with her grandchildren –experiences.  She has taken her grandchildren to Boston, Quebec and Cape Cod.  As the American population ages, there will be more grandparents so there should be more opportunities to “grammy sit” as Kanter calls her sojourns with her family.

I do not disagree with anything that these well-heeled journalists shared with us.  But the more I thought about this session, the more it brought me back to my own travels with my grandparents.

Every summer, my grandparents put together a special itinerary of things they would do with me and my brothers.  They both worked in a Cleveland steel mill – grandpa in the factory, grandma as a file clerk – and when the plant closed each July for two weeks, they didn’t plan elaborate vacations , they planned events for the grandkids!

Riding a miniature train with my Grandpa

Riding a mini train with my Grandpa

Some of my greatest memories are visiting the Cleveland Zoo, riding a big dinner cruise boat on Lake Erie, eating in a train car restaurant in Hudson, Ohio, and taking a dozen day trips to events, festivals, fairs and attractions.  One summer, we even splurged and spent three days at Cedar Point’s historic Breakers Hotel, riding the rides, playing the Midway and eating their famous French fries.

Those shared experiences are some of my best childhood memories.  We didn’t call it multi-generational travel.  We just called it summer.

The Tourism Paradox

Tourists vs. travelers. Which do you want visiting your destination?

Tourists are those somewhat doe-eyed, hapless visitors who are incapable of decision-making without a guidebook or map, while a traveler is some independent soul enjoying a physical and spiritual journey independent of coupons, specials or freebies.

Not true. They’re really one and the same. The dictionary doesn’t really offer significant differences between the two monikers.  Tourists visit a place for leisure or culture, according to Webster, and a traveler “is one who travels.”  Hmmm.

So why do tourists get a bad rap? And, for that matter, why do travelers get forgiveness for their easygoing stereotype?

Isn’t the point to experience the place, culture or event and come away changed? Shouldn’t tourists or travelers or even citizens for that matter, enjoy and preserve what they see and experience?

I recently attended the PRSA Travel and Tourism Section conference in my hometown of San Antonio, as part of the host committee team assisting the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau with logistics. (Disclosure: I was paid for this project).

The closing speaker was Keith Bellows, TITLE who talked about the principles of geotourism.  He was the perfect ending speaker. Bellows’ call to action was loud and clear: some of our best-loved and most beautiful destinations are “under siege,” buckling under the weight of visitors, traffic, pollution.

After reflecting on his presentation, I think we should create a new definition for visitors, one that reflects a higher consciousness about preserving the character of places.

Should it be geotourist? Maybe geotraveler? How would it be defined? How would it be different to what the dictionary currently describes? Here’s a suggestion to get the discussion started:

Geotourist:  One who visits a place, embracing its culture and contributing to its future viability.

If you knew your favorite monument, lake or park would most likely not be there for your grandchildren to see, would you contribute to its future?  This summer, let’s look at viability and preservation as our guiding principles for the tourism industry.

Celebrate Your Destination, Don’t Sell It


This was the clear message from National Geographic Traveler’s Keith Bellows to attendees at the Public Relations Society of America’s Travel and Tourism Section national conference two weeks ago.

This is a hard message to hear for destination “cheerleaders,” those who make their livelihood from promoting destinations, attractions, transportation and hospitality.

Bellows has been a traveler for as long as he can remember and in his presentation, he noted that, of all the childhood destinations he has returned to as an adult that “none are as remotely pristine as I remember them.”

While his presentation was geared toward presenting the principles of geotourism, Bellows’ key points included more of a mournful look at what successful tourism has done for OR to many of the world’s key destinations.

With stunning images that could only come from the collective eyes of National Geographic photographers, Bellows recounted many destinations which are in peril or “under siege” as he explained.  Notable examples include Venice, which is sinking at a rapid rate; Easter Island, which is threatened with overdevelopment; the pyramids of Egypt, which are crumbling from traffic and pollution; and the Great Wall of China, which may soon be interrupted by transmission cables.

However, not all the news is bad.  Bellows, who was visiting San Antonio for the first time, actually sounded sincere when he said he wished he had more time to spend here.  While strolling the Riverwalk around his downtown hotel, he got a chance to experience first-hand our city and its culture.

“There’s a real sense of preserving what is there,” said Bellows.  “The bones are here.”

This was high praise for our city and our sensibility. Bellows went on to say that tourism, when done correctly, sustains or enhances its environment.  He also lauded Vermont, the Canadian Rockies and several other destinations for creating and maintaining experiences for travelers.

So what is the happy balance?  Bellows pointed to several ideas that will assist the virtual traveler, the first of which started with his publication in a series called “50 Places of a Lifetime.” That list, and the accompanying online photo gallery are now available as an IPad app, which is getting great reviews from Wired, among others.

But what if you represent a destination and are truly concerned about managing future impact on your most visited places?  Bellows offered several solutions.

  • User Pays – Raise the price to manage the crowds. Using the Grand Canyon as an example, Bellows suggested that visitors might book two years ahead and pay $200 to view our national wonder.
  • Multi-Generational Travel – Encouraging families and groups to travel together and learn from each other, celebrating the differences in culture and point of view. This is a concept that is much talked about in travel circles today.
  • Curate Experiences – This is NOT about packages or specials, but speaks more to what Bellows calls “serving the essence of a destination.”

Finally, he warned tourism professionals that travel should be:  culturally legitimate, tell stories of place and include a passion for preservation.

These are tall orders for tourism professionals today. But if we think long term, planning for the next generation, many of our best places will still be around for our grandchildren to enjoy.

Author’s Note: I was part of the SACVB team who organized logistics for this conference.

Photo Credit: PRSA Travel and Tourism Conference attendees enjoying a reception at San Antonio’s Mi Tierra Cafe by Shane Kyle