Thursday, October 31, 2013

What if you have no ticket to clip?

I've been giving some thought to this, since TRENZ actually.  TRENZ of course is a commercial environment and therefore by definition doesn't accommodate the ability for free to visit attractions to be put in front of the international tourism trade.  Sadly for the regions though, this means some of our best products and experiences that add value to our regions are not known.

From where I sit here in Wellington this is a bit of a challenge.  We have very few commissionable products of offer that are put in front of our tourism trade partners, but many many more experiences and highlights not represented.  To name a few: The Cable Car, Parliament, Colonial Cottage, Old Saint Pauls, the Reserve Bank Museum, Botanic Garden (it's a historically significant garden) and many others.

In a recent trawl on Trip Advisor for Wellington I note:
  • There are 136 attractions listed in Wellington
  • In the top ten are 2 paid attractions (and one of those is an annual event)
  • There are 34 cultural attractions listed - most are buildings and monuments
  • There are 15 museums listed - most are free
All of these experiences offer the visitor wonderful insights into our region, our history and our stories.  We know from research that our international (and many domestic too) visitors are keen to get inside a destination, to understand what makes the locals tick and to learn about our history and culture.

Now I get the tourism distribution system works on commission, everyone needs to make a buck by clipping the ticket.  But what if you have no ticket to clip?

The challenge therefore is how do we present these places to our tourism trade partners?  And I'm not suggesting our RTOs are responsible for this, I think it's in the best interests of a region for all operators and suppliers in a region to do this.  A few ideas I have thought about (this is not by any means exhaustive) include:

1. Levering off commercial operators by packaging product - around a common theme or story - this enables these institutions to create a revenue earner by offering a small portion of a tour.  Could be a cup of tea, a souvenir book, a coupon telling visitors about them, etc.

2. This is where the online world comes in, sites such as Trip Advisor are great at listing free and charged for attractions - after all the content is generated by the visitor.  So for these institutions they;d do well to ensure they're listed on this site.

3, Hosting media - domestic and international - where opportunities arise can help raise awareness.  Those resultant stories of course can be circulated electronically and online that can help grow the number of eyeballs who read it.

4.  Creating a tour that you can charge for.  Te Papa and Museum of Wellington City & Sea have done just that to good effect. It's not your core business but it is a small revenue stream and gives you something to present to trade.

5. Providing your RTO with stories or personalities, etc that link to the regional story.  Make it easy for them to write stuff and share it about your institution.  Don't forget to include pictures!

6. And I'd also suggest you start with your RTO and at the very least list in your local regional visitor guide.  These are distributed through every i-SITE in the country.  I'd do this if it was the only thing I could afford to do.

7. Influence the influencers! Ensure your local i-SITES know you exist and build a relationship with them.  They can be your local advocates.   These folk could also include hotels, motels, restaurants, other visitor attractions, etc.  If they know who you are and have experienced your product for themselves, they'll be far more likely to recommend it.

8. Select some well known public figures who can be your advocates. It's always good when the mayor gives you a mention in a speech!

9. Add value to the work of your RTO.  Make sure they know what you offer, build that relationship, support their efforts.  They are an important link between the prospective visitors and you!

10. Oh and don't forget online.  In the same way you buy magazines from a shop, prospective visitors will be searching for experiences in a region they're visiting.  Make sure you're listed in those online portals of entry: (that's free) and your local RTO website.  Also list on any websites of similar products around the country (museums, galleries, event guides, etc) or any local partners you work alongside.  Simple to do and up's your SEO too!

I do think thought that in general, we in the tourism sector need to give more thought to this dilemma.  It's sad to think that a region would miss out on international tourism opportunities just because they didn't have enough commissionable product and therefore weren't even considered.

It's an opportune time to discuss this as we work together to create a tourism strategy for New Zealand created by the industry... especially with its focus on economic returns.  Many regions are rich with commissionable product, making the job that much easier for the small free institutions just by sheer weight of visitor numbers.  But I expect there are just as many struggling to gain attention.

I'd be very keen to hear what you think?

Nga mihi

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Role of Social Media in Tourism Marketing

I've had the honor of addressing a couple of  classes of tourism students from Victoria University recently.  I became aware that the content that's changed in this korero over the past three years is that of social media and it's part in the marketing mix, particularly for the tourism sector.  A good topic for a blog me thinks!

Adding complexity to this discussion are a couple of other observations:

1. Last month a quarter of visitors to our Carter Observatory website came via a mobile device ie. a smartphone or a tablet. We gotta be in it or we'll miss out!

2. Observing the changing of the media mix with the intervention of social media at events such as the recent Boston bombing where mainstream media picked the story up via twitter  rather than the more traditional routes of well written media releases sent to media outlets.  News is now instant - good AND bad!

What I have noticed for us, as a smaller visitor attraction is that social media helps us in a couple of significant but not necessarily obvious ways:

1. It amplifies our word of mouth

Again, this can be both positive and negative.  We have mainly had positive feedback but I am quick to respond, very publicly to anyone who has a negative comment, it shows we're involved in the discussion.  Like it or not, you can bet your bottom dollar that you're being talked about so best to be part of the conversation rather than fall victim to it!

So if you consider that word of mouth is any businesses best advertising tool, then if you overlay that with online comments made on platforms such as Facebook, Trip Advisor, Rankers (NZ), Google Places; and then you multiply this by the expanded number of eyeballs looking at these listings - well you get the message.

Earned media is much harder to get but it doesn't have to cost you as much money. It doesn't negate other channels, but it certainly enhances them!

Advertising on TV
Advertising on radio
Magazine advertising
Newspaper advertising
Retail Store
Public Relations
Word of Mouth
* Social Media allows you to take advantage of word of mouth

2. It expands our vision into an online community

Carter Observatory's vision is: that Carter Observatory will use the science, heritage and culture of the Southern Skies to excite, engage and inspire.

Our vision statement brilliantly describes what we're about.  It gives us direction and a filter by which we make decisions in our business around creative, tone of voice, programming, etc.  It gives us a personality and a focus in our marketing communications.

To me, all that Carter is online reflects this in our tone, the content we share and the programmes we put together.  It expands our brand by engaging with an online community that serve as our ambassadors - this despite the fact that many (if not most) have never visited us!

I love seeing the pictures folks put up of photos they've taken of the skies above us, the questions they ask, and the online community that answer many of them.  It has life outside of us sometimes - but we facilitate it. That's got to be good in our quest to make space accessible to all.

3. It drives media attention to us

Our Facebook page currently has over 3,600 likes.  We're earned these over the past few years but the very interesting thing to me is that we gained 1,000 of these in a 24 hour period!  Here's how:

We linked to an international story about the Sun releasing a solar flare.  These are critical in the phenomena known as Aurora Australis - the Southern Lights.  A curious newspaper journalist then called and interviewed one of our astronomers and the resultant article linked to our Facebook page as the place to go for information.

Well three of us worked that page all day - people from all over the country wanted to know if they'd be able to see it and what it was all about.  This story tapped into our natural curiosity as human beings and also reflected the interest there is out there to see this amazing sight - it is a bucket list item for many.

Following this, we have had many, many occasions where we are contacted by the media following our Facebook posts. For one local photographer who uploaded a time lapse video of the Moon over Mt Victoria - it went viral and was picked up by CBS in Los Angeles and was the Astronomy Picture of the Day - internationally!

They all relate to space (such a wonderful subject matter) or navigation or Maori cosmology or local Wellington history - all these topics connect to Carter.  This media attention has certainly helped build our profile locally and nationally.

These examples demonstrate to me the advantages of social media.

I haven't spoken of the various social media channels, except that we do work with a few and often.  Facebook would be our primary social media tool at this stage though.

I know there is much discussion on the ROI, particularly for those investing large sums of money.  We're the opposite, we don't have large sums of money, nor do we pay others to do the work for us so we use it to maximum advantage within the limitations of our skills and experience.

And while those returns are often intangible, if you can build your reputation using these tools, surely it's worth embracing!

See you online :)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Happy New Year!

Nga mihi o te tau hou ki a koutou
It's that time of year again .... Matariki / Puanga.  It's in with the new and out with the old .... a special time of celebration and for the reconnection with whanau as we celebrate the Maori New Year. I am not Maori but I do know enough about this special and unique event to understand its beauty.

As I understand it,  Matariki / Puanga has been a long celebrated event in the Maori calender beginning long before European occupation of our land. It makes complete sense that indigenous peoples of the world looked to the stars to determine the key times of the year and events such as harvesting, fishing, storing food in preparation for the upcoming winter months, and remembering those who have passed during the previous year.

The star cluster The Pleiades (Matariki) is the best know  but there are many tribes who can't view Matariki given it's low position on the early morning horizon. Many tribes therefore refer to Puanga (Rigel) for their indicator.  For many tribes, the first new moon from this initial sighting signals the start of the maramataka or lunar calender.

It is also a time to set intentions for the year ahead.  In our current culture this is often linked to actions such as quitting smoking, eating healthy, etc.  Celebrations are held around the motu in the form of feasts, art exhibitions, film festivals, public talks, etc, etc.  Here at Carter Observatory we offer a month long celebration of Matariki / Puanga that speaks of the science behind the stars and holds whanau based activities and interesting public talks.

Matariki / Puanga occurs in the middle of winter, a time of year that has massive opportunities to grow visitors to Aotearoa in the off season and a neat way to warm those cooler days as we reconnect with eachother.  

Many Kiwis think it should be a public holiday, I tend to agree.  It's messages are positive and uplifting, very whanau focused and very unique to our country.  

I don't know how much you know of Matariki / Puanga but keen to hear what do you think?

Here are some links so you can learn more about this special time of year.

Maori Language Commission -

Wikipedia -
Te Ara Encyclopedia -
New -
Te Papa -

Mauri Ora

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

One in a Billion

So, this astronomy thing...

When I first started at Carter Observatory there were 7 full time staff, about the same as now.  Some knew about astronomy, some knew about Te Ao Maori, some were Kiwis but several weren't.  It was a great time of team building and one thing we instigated was to share one space fact every day and I'd share one kupu / word each day so we shared our knowledge - at least as it related to the new Carter Observatory.

One of the early facts I learned that continues to blows my mind was that there are more stars in our universe than all the grains of sand on all the beaches and deserts of planet Earth!  Or put another way, more than all the heartbeats of every human being that's ever lived!

Now I don't know about you but that blows my very tiny mind and every day reminds me:

1. We're on this tiny spaceship called Earth - we'd do well to look after her and nurture her and work together to continue to live here - it's all we've got!

2. My problems I woke with this morning are tiny - in the scheme of things anyway - so perhaps a new perspective base on this information is worth considering.  It re frames my thinking and gives me a daily does of reality.

3. And reminds me of a quote by Carl Sagan, the late American Scientist, who said, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff.”
Carl Sagan, Cosmos

I love this quote - it speaks of limitless potential and our ability to create our own reality.

So my workplace inspires me daily and reminds me of the vastness of our universe and the absolute wonder of the skies above.  My jaw drops now when I view a full Moon, or see the rings of Saturn, or can make out the constellation Scorpius in the winter sky.

My astronomy colleagues who know so much, make my journey through this aspect of tourism an absolute joy and a wonder to behold.  It is a marvelous thing to apply my knowledge and experience from a 25 year journey through the tourism sector to a new visitor experience with space as the primary subject matter.  To learn as I work is truly awesome.

It just goes to show that inspiration is right on our doorstep if we take the time to breathe.

“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It's a new day

It's been a while, actually a couple of years since I wrote in my blog.  I've decided to resurrect it and to continue sharing my thoughts relating to various aspects of my world.  For work that's all around tourism.  For my life, well it's a vast and wonderous place :)

I now work at the Carter Observatory here in Wellington.  I began the role of Marketing & Communications Manager back in February 2010, just a month or so before we re-opened as a revamped visitor attraction.  Of course, by name, it's all about space and here we use the science, culture and heritage of the Southern Skies to excite, engage and inspire our visitors.

Our Maori name "Te Ara Whanui ki te Rangi" was gifted to us by the people of  Te Ati Awa and means the expansive pathway to the heavens.  I love it!  It really signifies just what we're about, it's all a journey to find meaning in our lives and a visit her gives new perspectives to many.

New Zealand is blessed in having much better viewing of the beautiful skies above us.  Most visitors from around the world simply don't see the stars at night.  I think there is a great opportunity for us to develop this offering and raise the awareness of it as part of a 100% Pure New Zealand experience.

Our colleagues at Earth and Sky in lake Tekapo and Stardome in Auckland held a special event at TRENZ recently to do just that.  The dozen or so people who attended the evening left totally blown by seeing the planet Saturn through a telescope!  They saved the image on their phones and shared the shit out of it - why?  Because it's a rare and wonderous sight, it has brag value and well it changes you.

So you'll probably hear a bit more from me around this topic but I am a convert!

Po marie