Inspiring Destination Marketing – A Recap of #DTTTGlobal

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Global Tourism Marketing Event held in Brussels – DTTT Global – Disrupting The Future Destination.


The 6th anniversary of the travel marketing event brought together travel marketers from Europe, Asia and North America to share in best practices for marketing destinations.  

Reminiscent of Online Revealed, the Canadian Conference I co-produced for 10 years, #DTTTGlobal has brought together education, community and inspiration to the global travel community.  The flagship event, along with the other programs that The Digital Tourism Think Tank  produce, provides a platform for Destination Marketers to be inspired, test innovation – and to share in best practices in marketing travel online.

Leveraging the stories, the people and the energy from last week’s event in Brussels, I will be drafting some summaries of takeaways in the coming few weeks. Until then, my recap of my week in Brussels.


As we head into 2017 in just a few weeks, it is time to reflect on strategies and tactics that drive new visitation, more engagement, and more conversions – and to prepare to pivot again as the digital ecosystem will once again shift before budgets and plans can adjust.


Top 10 Highlights of my Adventure in Brussels with #DTTTGlobal


1. Working alongside the  #DTTT team and watching them work tirelessly to prepare an event that would deliver inspiration and drive innovation.  



2. Meeting and sharing stories with travel marketing professionals from around the Globe, and seeing just how small a world this is.




3. Seeing that the challenges we face in marketing travel are Global, and knowing that there is a growing global network of professionals ready to share, help and inspire.




4. Le GrandPlace is awe inspiring.  I cried walking into it at night for the first time.




5. It’s all about people.  Nick, Ramona, Ilaria, Rob, Jeffrey, Emma, Roberta (virtually) and all of the amazing people the Think Digital Travel team brought together.  I look forward to our continued adventures and thank you for inviting me along for the ride.




6. Content is King is still a thing.




7. We destination marketers know how to pull the heart strings with video.





8. BeautifulDestinations. Enough said.

DTTTGlobal conference


9. Love of Beer and Food is universal among travel marketers.



10. We have come along way in marketing destinations – and we are about to embark on much more as digital and social continue to challenge and inspire us!




I’m already planning my journey to Copenhagen for #ContentCampus in March!

Social Media Case Studies by A Couple of Chicks™

A couple of Social Media Case Studies from A Couple of Chicks™  Digital Tourism Marketing.

Enjoy some of our favourite client case studies from Travelodge Canada, Worldhotels, Ontario’s Finest Hotels, Inns and Resorts, and the Shaw Festival Theatre.   A “bird’s” eye view of our approach to planning and executing successful social media campaigns.

[Bird’s Eye pun intended




A Canadian online travel marketing conference turns 8 and goes back to its travel roots

Patricia and I launched the first Online Revealed Canada travel marketing conference over 7 years ago, with an idea to educate Canadian Tourism professionals about how to market travel online.  At the time, we were all new to concepts such as Search Engine Optimization, writing content for the web, website usability, website analytics, and why we even needed to know about all of this as tourism marketers.

Looking back, we are amazed at both how the conference has grown, and how the tourism industry has changed to keep ahead of such a fast evolving new media world.

The first conference held in Ottawa in 2006 (in association with the Canadian Tourism Commission) drew more than 180 attendees, and had a focus on educating travel marketing professionals about ecommerce, and how the web was evolving as a key marketing and distribution channel for hotels, attractions and in destination marketing.  The inaugural event opened with a keynote presentation from eMarketer founder Geoff Ramsey, who once again made a guest appearance at our 5th anniversary event in Montreal.

Coming off of the success in Ottawa, we moved Online Revealed in May of 2007 to Toronto to reach further into the market. Over 200 attendees spent two-days learning about concepts from Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Content Syndication, Web 2.0, Revenue Management and more, with 15 workshop rotations and numerous keynote speeches and panels, with annual networking receptions, including the Travelzoo party becoming a must attend event, and the now annual Google eTourism awards.

2008 brought us to Calgary, Alberta where we hosted over 230 of Canada’s leading tourism professionals including Destination Marketing Organizations, Hotel Brands, Tourism Associations, Search Engines, Technology Companies and Tourism Marketing experts.  Yahoo! Canada was the premier sponsor, and the two-day event brought 16 workshops, 3 panel discussions and 3 keynote presentations addressing the critical issues influencing tourism in Canada.

2009 saw Online Revealed hosted in Niagara Falls with over 300 attendees, and high profile internet marketing experts from Google and TripAdvisor elevating the conference to new heights, as well as a keynote by well-known TV personality Arlene Dickinson of the Dragon’s Den.

In 2010, we celebrated the 5th anniversary in Montreal with over 250 industry Professionals attending, and Online Revealed 2011 in Toronto (the first year that the conference was co-located with the Canadian Hotel Association Conference).  The conference exceeded expectations with over 500 attendees, and incredible content including a keynote by the mastermind behind Google Maps; Michael T. Jones, Chief Technology Advocate, Google.

ORC 2012 Speakers2012 was the conference’s 7th anniversary, with record attendance and once again, held in Toronto, and co-located with the Hotel Association Conference.  2012 saw the launch of the Destination Marketing Online Benchmarking report with 16 participating Canadian DMO’s.  The report will continue to evolve moving forward to build a research-based approach to benchmarking online marketing successes against Canadian Destination marketing organizations, and against international tourism destinations such as New Zealand and the USA.

Conference content has expanded with innovative topics including; mobile marketing, social media marketing, and keynotes from both Nikki Germany, head of Industry Travel, Google Canada as well as Steve Irvine, Director of Facebook Canada.

The inaugural conference in 2006 produced by “a couple of chicks who knew what they were doing online, and thought they could show the rest of the industry,” has since evolved to become the go-to event for the travel and tourism industry in Canada to learn, connect and be informed about the ever evolving world of digital marketing.

Our focus from the start was to provide hands-on education, and actionable tactics for marketing tourism online, and a community of shared resources and support.

8th Annual Online Revealed Canada conference logoPatricia and I are excited to be back on the road, and back to our “travel roots” for the 8th annual Online Revealed Conference, which will be held this April 2-4th, 2013 in Windsor, Ontario at Caesars Hotel and Casino, with an anticipated attendance of 450, who will once again come together to connect, learn and share with industry experts and peers – successes, opportunities and strategies in marketing tourism and travel online.

In just 7 years, Online Revealed Canada and A Couple of Chicks™ eMarketing have produced 7 Conferences and 6 road shows educating over 1,600 industry professionals by providing over 100 workshops and presentations.

We would like to thank Tony Pollard, and the Hotel Association of Canada Conference, for co-locating our events during the past two years in Toronto.   We would also like to thank all of our past attendees, sponsors, partners, clients, colleagues and friends who have participated in shaping what this event is today.

Moving into our 8th year, we are busy preparing for our best event yet!  As we look forward to the next Online Revealed chapters, I wonder where the next seven years will bring us?  Mark your calendars for April 2-4th for Online Revealed 2013 and we will see you in Windsor!

Join the Online Revealed Community:  Online Revealed on Facebook

Online Revealed on Twitter                         Online Revealed Blog

the evolution of an online marketing agency

Reflecting on the past 6 years, it is amazing just how much the online world has changed. When Patricia and I started A Couple of Chicks eMarketing over lunch in September 2005 (now that is another story!), we were inspired by a great idea and a passion for sharing what we knew about how the internet was changing how we reach our customers.

It was our mission to make sense of how the internet was going to change marketing and distribution, to demystify online marketing, and to provide a fun and non-intimidating approach to educating brands about the power of the web.

At the time, our primary focus was on developing strategies for marketing websites, and above all for making sure that websites could be found in the search engines.  It was all about search engine optimization (SEO), paid search marketing (PPC), and website usability – and specifically about showing marketers how to leverage this new powerful distribution channel to reach their customers.

Today, 6 years later we are living in a world where consumers are not simply going online, but living online. The pace of change has been fast and new media has pushed marketers to keep up in an ever evolving online ecosystem that now includes Social Media, Wifi Mobile access from devices such as smart phones and tablets, Cloud computing, instant messaging, Video sharing, VOIP technology and so much more.

It has been quite a ride! On behalf of Patricia, and our entire team of 14, thank you for sharing in our adventure – and specifically thank you to all of our clients who have allowed us to share in their growth and success.

We look forward to what the next 6 years brings!

QR codes and Mobile Apps: What can they do for Destination Marketing?

First I must define yet another acronym and piece of digital technology that has been sprung upon us as of late to “help” us as marketers connect with our customers.  Help it will – if properly adopted as a technology to achieve conversion – and not simply a cool thing to add to a travel guide just because we should

By definition according to Wikipedia, a QR code or “Quick Response” Code is a specific matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by dedicated QR barcode readers and camera phones. Simple enough right?

A QR bar code looks like this: QR Code


Users scan the code into a smartphone (QR code readers are either built in or are a free app download) and they are taken to a web based landing page or mobile app.

As a marketer, the worst thing you can do is to simply send a QR code link directly to a website – and even worse, a website that is not mobile friendly.

(ok so the QR code example above when scanned goes directly to the website…we did that on purpose to show you what NOT to do…and we had a contest page that was out of date but you get the point).

QR codes will certainly revolutionize what we can do as marketers to reach customers – but must be used at the point of consumption, or close to the end of the travel buying cycle.

Why? By asking a prospective customer to scan a code that you have placed in a print Ad, on a window storefront, or on a brochure – you are asking them to engage with your brand – and you had better have something unique to say or offer.

A customer now has so many choices about how to consume content and marketing messages that it’s critical for travel marketers to give them something valuable, especially if you want to continue the dialogue (and don’t we all!). Smart phones and other mobile devices have made it so that consumers expect instant results all of the time whether they are looking for a nearby restaurant or a particular product or service.

So how do travel destinations use this to their advantage?

The Destination Marketing organization has always been the “official” point of reference for travellers. DMO’s and VCB’s small and large are funded and organized very differently, but all are in place to achieve the following primary objectives:

A. Encourage visitation to their Destination
B. Ensure stakeholders receive the benefits of Tourism
C. To act as the official voice or guide to the destination for consumers

Marketing efforts such as digital display and pay per click advertising, social media marketing, traditional print and television etc. all ensure that the destination is visible to its target audiences when consumers are in the travel dreaming and planning stages.

Beyond the visitor centres and visitor guides that are usually associated with a destination VCB or DMO, how do these organizations provide value to stakeholders and consumers beyond drawing consumers to the destination?

Enter Mobile.

Destination marketers can now use innovative mobile marketing vehicles such as mobile Apps and QR codes to continue the engagement with consumers while they are in market and experiencing travel. As well, mobile plays an important role in the post travel time where consumers are likely to share their experiences via review sites and social media. If a destination can effectively engage a visitor while they are in market, and act as the guide throughout their experience and post experience – they are taking the role of the DMO to a new level.

Mobile devices such as the smart phone and tablets have given us the opportunity to do just that. The travel buying funnel starts with online research, word of mouth (via online review sites, social media and face to face accounts), and continues with conversations both online and offline. That buying funnel for a destination should also extend throughout the travel experience to ensure that stakeholders are being seen while visitors are in market, that consumers are feeling guided – and that they are willing to talk about their experiences – and to visit again.

How can destination marketers use mobile devices, Apps and QR codes to achieve this?

1. At the very least, a destination marketing organization needs to have a mobile version of the website:
Travellers are now relying on smartphones and tablets and do not typically browse websites from mobile devices.

2. Provide a Destination App that gives value to the consumer:
Users will only download an App that provides value. Offer mapping functionality or unique travel experiences with walking routes to your destination app. Give them a reason to use your App while they are visiting and encourage consumers to share experiences while they are in the destination.

3. Use QR codes to offer consumers value and to drive visitors to stakeholder products and services:
A QR code marketing campaign must be specifically designed to assist visitors when they are in market.  The QR code could send consumers to a page offering them special offers from restaurants and stores – with codes visibly displayed for scanning from their mobile devices in travel guides, websites and on storefronts – used to assist visitors while they are experiencing the destination will ensure consumers actually engage with the brand. This will also encourage consumption of stakeholder products and services. A campaign such as this will also allow the DMO to continue to act as the official “guide” to the destination while consumers are in market.

So what can a DMO do to ensure that I as an avid traveler am engaged throughout the buying cycle?

A destination can provide me with a useful mobile app (love this one from Tourism Australia) to download before I visit; one that may help me with directions and other tips to making my experience easy and more fun.  (I am guessing that the app cannot ensure that I will be on time for my flight – but you never know…)

A DMO might also want to promote on their website, and on their social media sites that they have a useful App available so that I can download it in advance and can plan how I will use in while I am travelling.

While I am in the destination, a DMO could invite me to scan a QR code (from a travel guide or on a storefront sign – or from Times Square for that matter!) using my blackberry – taking me to a page that shows me that I am steps away from half price lunch at a quaint sushi bar, and that there is a big sale at the shoe store located in the shopping district known only to locals!  Heaven…

I will then tweet that I love this place and upload a photo to Facebook of my new shoes!

Storytelling and its role of marketing online

Patricia and I were recently asked by a colleague “why the focus on the story?” … “Isn’t what you do really more about Google algorithms, applying online marketing statistics and trends to individual web strategies, and measuring ROI for the client?

This question has had us thinking.

Why the story? Over the past five years since Patricia and I founded A Couple of Chicks’, we have had the pleasure of not only traveling across Canada and the US, but also of really knowing the places and people we are working with – and more importantly – what makes them unique.

So why are these stories so important to the success of what we do? I guess we could just go back to the marketing 101 textbook, which among other things, teaches us to understand the customer. Yes, we have research for that (and lots of it), and while many businesses don’t have the time or resources to individually know every customer, Patricia and I have been lucky enough to be invited into communities, and to really know the people we work with and are speaking to in the workshops and presentations that we do.

In fact, the “stories” have become so ingrained into our methodology that I am not quite sure that our strategies would be as effective without them.

Yes the latest digital marketing trend is important and relevant, and yes we need to understand the latest shift in Google’s algorithms, the new rules on 301 redirects, and how to add a source code to paid search ads for proper measurement – but we also need the narrative behind each unique web strategy, and the people that are building them. How can we truly roll out a successful and engaging web marketing program without first understanding the nuances of the business and who the customers are?

I will quote a Blogger who recently attended one of our presentations (said Blogger happens to be the “techy” son of the owner/operator of a successful Inn in Eastern Canada, who tagged along with his dad to listen to what the Chicks’ were saying about this whole online marketing thing). (Note the “story” in this paragraph)

He writes, “If every prospective guest to the Carriage House could flip through the pages of the guest book sitting in the lobby, they wouldn’t even consider staying elsewhere. With Facebook and Twitter, this is now entirely possible to do online, and relatively easy to promote.”

I could not have said it better myself! So although the research, the training, efficient process and project management skills are all key to assisting businesses to be successful online – sometimes telling a story does it best.

Hey L.S – we think you are on to something btw. The technology driven “writer’s utopia” may just be in sight, but alas we must make sure it is profitable too. And yes I did just use “btw” in that sentence!

Social media for hotel brands – the why not just the how

Great article in (HNN) this week discussing how the big hotel brands are looking at Social Media – specifically in more of a tactical way which is really quite refreshing to see. The article summarizes Kimpton Hotel’s & Resorts use of the social space for “forging specific relationships with their guests and building brand loyalty.”

Niki Leondakis, COO of Kimpton also points out in the HNN article that integration of social tools such as Blogs into the main websites is planned for the coming year as well as a continued focus on encouraging “tweetups” and other ways for social communities to connect around Kimpton brands. This approach to integration instead of a web presence over here on facebook, one on Twitter – another on a Blog will be confusing to consumers as we grow more comfortable with true interaction and communication directly with brands.

My guess is that the successful hotel brand website as it is today will look very different in the very near future and will need to be the central gathering place for all brand points online – as well as the place for transaction.

Jim Zito, VP of interactive marketing for New York-based Morgans Hotel Group speaks more about going back to what works offline to assist in strategy for the new online media world. Zito is consulting with groups offline and online to really listen to how consumer behavior has changed in the new social online world. Smart. Not jumping in without understanding why first and making sure you are truly ‘hearing’ what your customers are responding to.

Then there is Fairmont Hotels and Resorts – a brand who has not been shy in adapting to this new marketing medium. David Doucette executive director of Internet marketing for Fairmont speaks about the brand’s use of exsisting social networks where consumers are already living and interacting (Tripadvisor), as well as the launch of a new social networking platform built around Fairmont brand stories for Fairmont brand loyalists.

Brilliant if I may say. Fairmont has a storied brand history, an consumer segment that is passionate about the brand, beautiful historic properties – and ‘stories’ to tell which may just be why building a specific brand social media community will work for them. Fairmont’s social media community has just recently launched.

fairmont's social media community recently launches

fairmont's social media community recently launches

What I like specifically about this article is that it focussed not on the “What” the big hotel brands are doing but “Why.” It is clear that Kimpton Hotels and Resorts, Morgan’s Hotel Group and Fairmont have clearly laid out strategy, deployed testing, feedback from their customers and have determined their key measurables for both Brand loyalty and ROI. This is clearly not a result of which chains have the largest budgets – and a good lesson to the industry as a whole.

How Social Media is really affecting the electronic distribution of travel

Patricia Brusha, co-founder of, moderated a panel this week at the HEDNA (Hotel Electronic Distribution Association) Conference, held in Las Vegas. The panel discussion was centered around the affects that Social Media has had on the electronic distribution channels for travel.

This article in Hotel News Now summarizes the discussion nicely – but I must also highlight the summary of points that Patricia gave me that nicely puts things into perspective.

The panel, which was titled, “Economy in Transition” with Panelists from Expedia, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Trust International Hotel Reservation Services, and Smith Travel Research, pointed out the following:

1. Watch the Buzz – but Buzz doesn’t always = Buy

2. Go back to basics with your value proposition, an easy booking process and good service. (seems logical)

3. Use Social Media to better understand your customer (Customer relationship management at it’s best – isn’t that a no brainer!? We can now see exactly what our customers are saying – all of the time.)

As Patricia stated “We’ve gone from going online to living online…Consumers, particularly in hospitality and travel, are looking for things relevant and authentic.”

So is Social Media affecting the electronic distribution channels for the travel industry? Sure it is…but we have been through this before and will be down this road again.

Perhaps as this panel pointed out we should get back to basics of listening to our customers (who are living online) and providing an excellent travel experience no matter how they found us.

Twitter for Tourism

Coming off busy few months of speaking to groups about online marketing strategy, I must conclude that this year the big burning question is Why Twitter? The Facebook phenominon has continued to evolve. I remember when there were only one or two people in a room that would admit to being on Facebook. Now audiences happily admit to their addiction to and even share stories about their experiences and successes.

    The verdict is still out on Twitter it seems. Although we have run across some great Twitter success stories over the past few months, there are also some very confused marketers who are wondering why they signed up and what they are supposed to be doing there.

    Last week in Halifax, we met the tweeting “Hotel Dog” as an example (aka or @thehoteldog as she is known as in Twitterland) who is a chocolate lab at the Best Western Chocolate Lake Hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She has been tweeting now for a few months to a loyal following and is even now featured on the home page of the hotel’s main website .

    She gets fan tweets, fan mail, and has become an attraction unto herself at the hotel. Having a dog like Cocoa (her real life name) as a concierge also allows the hotel to engage with an audience of dog lovers who may also like to travel with their dogs. The Best Western Chocolate Lake is pet friendly of course. Now there is a great use of Tweeting in Tourism to engage a consumer audience!

    I too keep hearing the research that reports that only 5% or less of North American’s are actually active on Twitter and that other social media channels like Facebook continue to expand to audiences that now include all demographics etc. etc. (It has now been confirmed though that my 82 year old Grandma Ivy is not the oldest Facebook user in Canada – but she is one active social networker!)

    Interestingly I put a call out to my “tweeple” this afternoon asking the question (in 140 characters or less of course so please excuse the grammer)

    Tweet: “Looking for feedback…Twitter working for B2C or just a great place for networking and B2B? thoughts?”

    This is the beauty of Twitter – one can shout out to their peeps and get some great feedback fast. A second validation for Twitter to consumers came from the“>Fairmont Empress Hotel Tweeter who responded with the following via Twitter: “BOTH…success has to due with part instinct and part response. I get excited when I see RT of special offers & events posted.”
    With more than 900 followers I think it is working for Victoria’s Fairmont Empress Hotel.

    Specifically I was looking for some comments about measuring the ROI of Twitter for a business to consumer audience. When we are asked in our workshops whether or not someone should be Twittering, the answer is always “it depends.” I can definately attest to the power of the Tweet for building professional credability, business to business networking, and for me and many of my fellow tweeters – fun!

    Then we come to the most recent news that Search Engines and will index not only Twitter and Facebook Fan Pages and profiles, but also Tweets and updates in the very near future.

    Wow – now there is a game changer!

    The implications to this are too much to discuss in one Blog post, but it will definately shake things up in the future for businesses that rely on the web to reach their consumers (are there any that don’t anymore really?) Check out this “Marketing on the smart web” Blog post by Joe Buhler who discusses some of the implications in some more detail.

    In summary – at this point I will stick to the mantra that you should not jump into any form of social networking intiative for business (or personal for that matter) without a full understanding of the channel and the people using it.

    But I will say that the indexing of real-time results from status updates and tweets is reason enough to take a good look at all social networking vehicles as perhaps a necessary marketing and PR focus in the future.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Drop us a line

Yay! Message sent. Error! Please validate your fields.