Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Travel Experience as a Brand

The travel experience, especially via air, has some problems. I just traveled to Austin, Texas, and back on business. Here are some of the problems I incurred. Unfortunately they are not isolated, and they undermine the brand for travel as an experience.
  • Seat assignments were not as preferred, because it appears we booked too early?
  • The wait for a cab in Austin was interminable, not because there weren’t any cabs but because of the process of calling them up one at a time, while they moved at a "crawl," with a line of 20 or 30 people all standing in 100-degree heat.
  • I thought the unusual and less-than-aesthetically-pleasing entrance to Austin must have been a cabbie shortcut, but it wasn’t much better on the return. Durham is worried about wayfinding, but we’re not alone.
  • Upon arrival at the hotel with a very courteous cabbie, we learned he didn’t take credit cards. We came up with cash and asked for a receipt but learned later it was blank… this is a loophole for fraud.
  • During the commotion, the bell staff had unloaded the trunk and immediately called me over to the stand. After the cab had left, I learned they had not unloaded a shoulder pack with my keys, my electronics and charger cables, etc. Fortunately, it occurred to me that it was missing right after checkin.
  • The first person I tried to explain it to at the bell stand was too busy to focus. We called the cab company and got nothing but a rude reaction from several dispatchers, all of whom explained that the company didn’t know which cabs were out on service and not all of them (and none of the ones serving the airport) had radios.
  • Finally one of the bell staff who had made the mistake took up our plea and went down to check the security tapes, only to find they didn’t capture either the cab number or whether the missing piece had or had not been unloaded.
  • The good news is that two and a half hours later, the cab returned, and the driver returned my pack. Good guy, and I was sure to commend him to the dispatch company and the security and bell staff at the hotel.
  • On the way out, the airport HVAC wasn’t working well in Austin. We were able to change our seat assignments at self-checkin but were not able to get seats at all in DFW for RDU. When we arrived in DFW, the terminal for departure was on the opposite side of the airport with only 15 minutes to make the trip.
  • We got there on time… got a person to switch so the seats worked… but then sat on the tarmac in a sweltering plane for two and a half hours while a mechanic worked on the hatches in the rear.
A lot went right on this trip. Austin has done a lot to rejuvenate its downtown without making it generic and fueling a very active street music scene with good restaurants, etc. The conference was exceptional. The hotel was outstanding.

But we need to do a lot to improve overall travel experience.

Friday, July 14, 2006


I’ve been going through and cleaning out the old "Central Information System," DCVB’s first "filing system." It has been both rewarding and very hard on my allergies. We’ve come a long way, and fortunately we have all of our history intact.

I’ve been a Chief Executive Officer for 30 years, in three organizations (granted, the first stint was an organization of 5 people and about $150,000 budget), and more than half, 17 years, have now been at the Durham CVB. Looking back, the position is definitely not for everyone. I’m fortunate that it suited my abilities and preferences, but there are several other jobs in destination marketing where I think I could be successful and just as fulfilled.

Time flies. I was 27 or 28 when I took over that first organization (after working my way up over a five-year period), just turned 30 as I took over the second organization, and less than a year past my 40th birthday when I came to Durham. I still feel like I’m in my 20s. I wake up every morning with the same drive and passion for this work as the day I started.

But when I talk about movies, music, trends, or use certain buzz words, it’s quickly clear that I’m working with people much, much younger. They humor me. They inspire me. They seem much better prepared and more mature and wise than I was at the same age.

What’s clear in these files, though (as we determine what to scan or place in hard copy archives), is how clear Durham’s challenges were right from the beginning... how far we’ve come but also how incredibly strategic and long-term it is to execute significant change. It deepens my sense of urgency all the more.

I envy younger people who work here. I wish I had worked in an organization like DCVB from the beginning. The intensity, the fun, the creativity, the sense of accomplishing good things for a good cause, the opportunity to change and improve and innovate…. They will always remember this time and the people.

I’m reminded of this blessing every day and not for a second do I take it for granted.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Another of Life's Great Ironies

If it didn't present such obstacles to destination marketing, I'd probably be amused at the irony that many businesses including news media outlets, while defiant about the integrity of their own brands, are often dismissive of others, particularly community brands.

It humors me, for example, to read comments attributed to a brilliant television and radio tycoon convey that no one cares about a community's brand. Like viewers really care which is the local affiliate for television programs on ABC, CBS or NBC? No, but they certainly matter to the viability of the affiliate.

Similarly, businesspeople (and even more perplexing, some community messengers) seem, with few exceptions, to fail to grasp why it's important for a community to adapt best practice branding techniques.

Well, a branding expert named Post probably put it as succinctly as anyone can when she once wrote...

Communities, cities, and even states all compete in the world of everything--commerce, tax bases, cultural riches, hometown intellects, the creative class, and happy folks using it all. It's the fuel to keep geographic areas going and growing.

It also brews healthy combat zones, the seduction of buyers to destinations. For business or pleasure, the game is called branding....

For decades, this practice has existed, but more recently it's become...a powerful economic advantage.

As people and companies decide where to plop down their roots and cash, just like with any other buying decision, they need to feel the emotional connection to their needs and the earned trust to reduce their fears.

Destination branding is about:
  • clearly defining a purpose
  • being distinct
  • consistently communicating a persona
  • delivering on a promise

Sounds easy enough. Then why is it that so many cities and other geographic destinations have a bad case of brand blues?

Clearly there are well-branded cities and places… These destinations have crisp stories, distinct attributes, and consistent messaging. They deliver the brand promise at all touch points. They affix a vivid brain tattoo on the minds of their markets….