De-“Mist”-ifying Travel Marketing With Michelle Blackley From Niagara Tourism

We are starting a new series of blog posts centered on understanding the challenges, success stories, and best practices for travel and tourism marketers. In this story, we had an opportunity to interview Michelle Blackley, communications manager for the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation.

Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation

Social Media Marketing for the Travel and Tourism Industry

Before we get into the interview, we want to highlight the importance of travel marketing given the increase use of social media by travelers. About Tourism posted a SlideShare back in 2011 that still contains many relevant principles for travel marketers looking to tap social media to promote their destinations or attractions. The full presentation is shown below:

Starting on slide 58, you’ll see 4 important concepts to keep in mind when it comes to social media marketing for destination marketers (as per Forrester):

  1. People – Listen to what your target groups are saying online and locate where their conversations are taking place. Identify visitors activity and determine how best to move forward.
  2. Objectives – What is the goal? Awareness? Engagement? Collaboration? Visitors? Select metrics that fit the objective and measure success regularly.
  3. Strategy – Be authentic. Be human. Listen to your audience. Establish an ongoing dialogue. Create content that adds value for the user. Engagement comes in many forms–mix it up.
  4. Tactics – Which tools and communities best fit your audience, objective, and strategy?

It’s amazing how these concepts are still relevant from 3 years ago, and we believe that travel marketers are always tasked with understanding and mastering the tactics that allow them to create successful marketing campaigns. Ms. Blackley is one of the industry professionals who has developed successful marketing and communication strategies for promoting Niagara tourism. Onto the interview!

Michelle Blackley

Introduce yourself

My name is Michelle Blackley, and I have been the communications & community relations manager at Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation (NTCC) for almost three years. I came to Niagara USA with a background in journalism and publicity for the book publishing industry, however I was born and raised in Niagara USA; therefore I came to the role with a skill set that has forever been part of my life – a passion and familiarity for one of the best regions in the world. I started with NTCC as the communications manager, filled in as the marketing and communications director as an interim position, twice; and I’ve been happily back to communications for the past few months. My position has morphed to include community relations because of my relationships with our constituents and elected officials.

Describe your marketing team at NTCC

There are four of us in the marketing and communications department (MCD), and we oversee all of the communications that come out of the office, including press releases, newsletters, blog posts, website content, and social media. An online reservation system on the NTCC website is also housed in the MCD. We have a bustling department in a very busy office, however it’s exhilarating to be the wordsmiths, voices and personalities behind the branding of Niagara USA.

What are the 3 biggest attractions potential tourists should know about in Niagara County?

  1. Niagara Falls – A World Wonder, bucket list destination and Honeymoon Capital of the World. Over eight million people visit Niagara Falls USA every year to experience the Falls first hand, cross it off their list and fall in love – or get married (there is something about those negative ions)!
  2. Maid of the Mist – I constantly hear from visitors and media how they way to ride the iconic boat up to Horseshoe Falls. It never gets old and despite being drenched under a blue poncho – one does get goose bumps when they hear “Ladies and gentleman, this is Niagara Falls!”
  3. Cave of the Winds – An attraction that comes down and rebuilt every year by the same handful group of men? Kids and daring souls alike love the Hurricane Deck – I’ll only get under the American and Bridal Veil Falls on a blistering summer day and for special visiting media – it’s just part of the job.

What are your biggest challenges with getting people to learn about Niagara’s tourism opportunities?

Everyone thinks of the waterfalls when they think of Niagara, and our goal is to communicate to people we are more than just the Falls. The Erie Canal, world class fishing, the oldest fortress on the Great Lakes; there’s so much to see and do year-round.

What types of traditional or digital marketing activities do you currently do or plan to do to attract more visitors?

We do two seasonal marketing campaigns (spring/summer and fall) in digital, radio and social media. Communicating a narrative to our audiences is important these days – empty nesters in the fall, families in the summer, and couples year-round; if we can show the Niagara USA brand people will want to visit and emulate those experiences.

Tell us about one specific promotional strategy that worked really well for NTCC. Why do you think it worked so well?

The “I Believe” campaign that led up to National Travel & Tourism Week 2014 informed residents what tourism means in Niagara County. Tourism is the second largest industry in the county and the advertising and media campaign featured our stakeholders. This campaign was special because it told Niagara USA’s tourism story to our residents, whom may not have been aware just how important the industry is to the county. I think it resonated well because we all take for granted what we see every day; but there’s a reason why eight million people visit Niagara County every year – it was important for locals to know how this success happens, why and what we have planned for the future. The possibility of economic growth because of the tourism industry is very exciting for the region and our residents understood that with this multi-media approach.

Has your team used social media to promote certain attractions? Which social media platform has led to the best conversations with potential visitors?

Yes, we are currently doing #90daysofsummer and will give away a Vespa at the end of the season. It’s through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This campaign has been extremely successful in building our audience, just a short time into the program we saw over a 30 percent increase in “likes.” We are looking to expand social media with “Pintineraries” and LinkedIn. Travel is a visually driven industry and when you are promoting Niagara Falls, a beautiful countryside and Class V rapids that can be transversed via jet boat or hiked alongside, we must use photos to the best of our ability. We also love seeing our visitors’ photos because we know where some great vantage points are but not all of them!

Many destinations have a motto or slogan that encapsulates the experience at their destination. What is the one message you would like to get across to potential visitors about tourism in Niagara county?

Get Up Close and Personal in Niagara USA. Only in the U.S. can you experience the power of Niagara Falls Up Close and Powerful.

Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation Marketing & Communications Team

Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation Media & Communications Department (MCD) Travel Marketing

From left to right: Libby Woock (NTCC Media Marketing Manager), Stephanie Magnuszewski (NTCC Marketing Coordinator), Michelle Blackley (Communications & Community Relations Manager)

Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation Travel Marketing Team

From left to right: Michelle Blackley (Communications & Community Relations Manager), John Percy (NTCC President & CEO), Julie Gilbert (NTCC Director of Marketing & Communications), Libby Woock (NTCC Marketing Media Manager)