Jun 10, 2022
Pack your suitcase out and get ready to explore a historic corner of eastern Canada! In this episode, host Will Francis chats with tourism marketer Neil McKenzie all about how he operates the Yarmouth & Acadian Shores website in beautiful southwestern Nova Scotia. Using CrowdRiff as a UGC aggregator they continue to explore an omnichannel approach to content as the tourism sector starts to open up fully in 2022. Neil is also a graduate of the DMI and explains how he benefitted from the full spectrum of learning in the program.
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Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game", a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. I'm your host, Will Francis and today I'll be talking to Neil MacKenzie all about marketing for the tourism sector. Neil is the CEO of Yarmouth and Acadian Shores Tourism based in the eastern most part of Canada. With many years of experience in destination marketing, this gives us a chance to look at what the specific challenges of that industry in terms of digital marketing are, what works best and what lessons that Neil's learned along the way. Neil, welcome to the podcast.
Neil: And I'm really excited to be here.
Will: Oh, it's great to have you. We haven't actually spoken to anyone who specializes in destination marketing or tourism marketing. And yeah, it's lovely to have the chance to talk about particularly what you do because you live and work in such a beautiful area. Just set the scene for us. What kind of tourism takes place there? What kind of place is it? What kind of destination is it?
Neil: Sure, so thanks again for having me and yes, to describe, you know, our destination which is a lot of what I do and I can talk your ear off on all the beautiful things in Nova Scotia. Most tourism marketers can certainly, you know...we're really good at moving our hands around and talking about experiences you can have in our destinations. But Yarmouth and Acadian Shores is really the southernmost point in Nova Scotia which is the eastern most province in Canada. Well, technically, Newfoundland is but Nova Scotia is one of the Atlantic provinces or what we call maritimes of Canada. We definitely have a chip on our shoulder and we feel that much attention for the rest of Canada is given to beautiful places like the Rockies and other places.
But we've been working hard as a province in smaller destinations like myself to really build awareness and, you know, bring attention to the beautiful place that Nova Scotia is and certainly Yarmouth and Acadian Shores. So, the things that we have here, you know, we have...Nova Scotia has the beautiful Bay of Fundy on one side which is, you know, some of the world's highest tides and we have whales and fin whales and humpback whales and beautiful nature and that type of thing on I guess the southwest side of the province which certainty touches on areas that we're in. And then we also have the Gulf of Maine just to the south of us. And then the Atlantic Ocean on the other side and neighbors like you across the ocean or across the pond, as we would say.
So, it's just a really...very much influenced by the ocean, by nature, by...our biggest industry here is actually fishing, specifically lobster. Not tourism. Tourism is secondary to our lobster industry in our area but tourism for the province of Nova Scotia is actually...you know, pre-pandemic was actually the biggest industry in the province. So, we're known for our beautiful landscapes and welcoming culture and nature and, you know, a lot of history that's certainly connected to England and France and indigenous people as well of course that were the first folks here and the original inhabitants of the land, the Mi'kmaq.
Will: What am I packing on a trip over there?
Neil: Well, it depends on when you come and, you know, I guess that's something we can talk about later but we're really trying to push Nova Scotia as a year-round destination and not just a traditional time to visit would be, you know, the summer time, you know, between July and September. But if you're coming in the spring, it's quite warm. So, I was out for an hour walk today and with a T-shirt and shorts on and quite beautiful. And this time of year, basically from June until September, October can be very beautiful as well. We have really, really moderate climate. And actually, within Nova Scotia, this part of the province actually tends to be a bit warmer than the northern part.
So, Nova Scotia's kind of on a southwest perspective. And we try to...sometimes we brand ourselves as the banana belt of Nova Scotia. We actually have a really growing wine industry in the valley area of Nova Scotia. Some folks are actually growing wine in our area as well which you just wouldn't associate...probably...I don't know if you know that Nova Scotia actually has a wine industry and...
Will: No, I don't associate it with that. But it looks very fertile. I will say that. So, I can imagine that those sort of things are possible. So, tell me a bit about who your audience is from a marketing point of view. I mean, for a start, is it all B2C? Is there an element of B2B?
Neil: Yes. So, most of it...a lot of it's B2C. So, you know, we're marketing...the U.S. is our biggest market and now that the travel restrictions have been lifted and the U.S.-Canada border is open for, you know, unrestricted travel, we're certainly leveraging that opportunity as much as possible because the Northeast U.S. is our biggest market traditionally and certainly the consumer and pleasure traveler. So, someone traveling for leisure is what our biggest market is as opposed to the largest city in Nova Scotia. You know, they do a lot of business travel as well but business travel has obviously been hugely impacted by the pandemic and people's mindsets and how they think and wanna move around.
But really our market is Northeast U.S. from a consumer perspective and then also Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Quebec if you looked at it, like, you know, geographically. And, you know, age groups, we're looking at...tends to be 25 and older. We position our products to, you know, to kind of, you know, grab at those types of folks that are looking for history and culture and outdoor experiences. So, and light adventure is kind of something we utilize too and culinary tourism. I mentioned wine earlier. We also have lots of beer and breweries in Nova Scotia. Craft beer's a real growing, huge industry in the province.
Will: So, you've got a quite...there's quite a few things going on there. Do you utilize something like content pillars? You know, do you have key things...you talked about light adventure in a way that I sense it's that...that's probably a content pillar for you and sounds like that you've got other ones. Is that how you think about your content output?
Neil: Yes. So that's a great question. So, we do have content or pillars we like to always try to, you know, ground ourselves against. So, one is Acadian culture. So, we do have...I, myself, am not Acadian but we do have a lot of Acadians, you know, living in this area. French speaking people who originally descended from France and were actually expelled from the province in the 1700s with the English. So, France and England were often at war as we all know and they often fought over this part of the country. So, there's a lot of history. And Acadians that actually live here and they have very strong culture, food, music, art, everything. It's really beautiful. And so, we leverage the living culture of the Acadians that is here. That's the story that the Americans very much like learning about.
We also leverage our seafaring heritage. So, I mentioned earlier about fishing and our fishing industry and lobster is really huge. So that...so not only is lobster or fishing, you know, and seafaring heritage and the history that's related to that...and we can articulate that through museums and tours and experiences. You know, we have a brand-new experience here where you can climb a lighthouse right to the top of Cape Forchu Lighthouse. It's 77 steps. Something that was never able to be done and something that we actually launched during the pandemic. But that touches on seafaring heritage. But the location itself was discovered by Samuel de Champlain, you know, an explorer, French explorer and also has an Acadian connection.
And then we also leverage, you know...so seafaring heritage and Acadian culture can definitely overlap but we try to look at those as two separate pillars and try to create content and marketing around them. And one of the real cool things that we're really trying to own and take ownership of is Astro tourism. So, we wouldn't really, you know, use the term Astro tourism with visitors. We would certainly just...we would say something like starlight or stargazing or, you know, the dark skies for example. But we have an area here that's been designated by the International Starlight Foundation as a dark skies reserve and dark skies tourism destination. So, and that designation took real money and effort and resources to actually get and what it does is it establishes this area in the province of Nova Scotia as an area where you actually can have amazing starlight...stargazing experiences and we have tourism and operators and product that's been positioned around leveraging that resource or that designation.
Will: One way to describe the internet is, like, this massive patchwork quilt of niches, right. And one way to describe content marketing is about finding these quite small but very specific niches and resonating incredibly strongly with them in the ways you're talking. So, you're right. The dark sky thing and the designation as a place in the world that has very little light pollution is a way for you to connect with this quite random sounding audience at first but in a very specific way that resonates very strongly with them and then you can kind of build a wider story around that, why you might wanna take, like, a full-blown...your annual holiday there and build a trip around that. So that is interesting. I think a lot of destination marketers probably have to think about that.
And I suppose that's one of the big challenges with what you do, isn't it?
Neil: Trying to position product and content, I guess, that...you know, A, one of the things is too we actually have to develop content. So, you know, we're doing it in the actual real world. So, you know, we have places where you can do stargazing or, you know, talk to a real fisherman on a wharf or eat, you know, fresh lobster. But, you know, one of the things we always have to do as a destination marketing organization is also work with partners directly to try to build tourism product and experiences that will keep people here because we are a growing destination. We've really only been doing destination marketing here really focused...from a focused perspective for about 10 years.
Prior to that, we were just seen as kind of the way into the province because we have an international ferry to Bar Harbor now. It actually just started last week. And it's a high-speed catamaran ferry that goes to Bar Harbor, Maine and that's our main connection and our biggest market opportunity. So, we do have a lot of similarities to Maine but, you know, some things that we can...we try to leverage is obviously starlight, Acadian tourism, Canadian, you know, the Canadian-ness and the differences that are here. Certainly, Americans can...their dollar goes a bit further here now for sure. So, these are all positive things and the whole area has always been kinda built...
Like, we have probably more hotels here than would seem normal for a small town and a small community but it's because we've always had that Americans flowing into the province to do other areas and go to other places in the province. So that's kinda where we are.
Will: Yeah, no, that's interesting. So, you've...what's interesting about what you're doing and I think what a lot of destination marketers have done is they've started to harness tourists and their content in the form of user generated content and UGC and that's become quite a central part of your output. Tell me how that's played a role and the effect that that's had on your output.
Neil: Sure. That's a great question as well. And, you know, we're big fans of UGC and we leverage it in lots of ways and I think probably the only challenge we have right now is that sometimes we just don't have the people power to actually leverage all the opportunities that come with UGC. We use a program called CrowdRiff and they were brought to our attention through a partnership with Destination Canada who provided some support and basically a partnership with them for other DMOs like ourselves. So, if we installed this content or...it's basically...CrowdRiff is a UGC aggregator so it allows you to follow and pull in content from content creators and influencers that you wanna follow and allows you to publish that content on your, you know...in an email newsletter, in a traditional print media and certainly on your website.
So, we've really, really leveraged it and it's just been great for engagement, holding people on our site. It's still one of our biggest, you know, items that people engage with on our website. And it certainly has helped our time on site.
Will: [crosstalk 00:13:24] what kind of content you're talking about here?
Neil: So, images mostly. So, it's...you know, we're pulling...we're following...you know, for example, if you were an influencer, which you are, but if you were a tourism...you know, a traveler that we wanted to follow, we would set you up in the CrowdRiff app which is an online program and then we would say, "Okay, we're gonna follow you on these platforms." And then your content automatically flows into a large gallery. We can then sort your content based on our content goals. So, if you happen to be traveling here and you eat a beautiful lobster dinner, then we're gonna probably grab that content if it looks good and we're gonna place it into a folder or a gallery specific to culinary tourism. And the same thing if you did an Acadian experience or a night sky experience.
You know, and so, like, what we do is we build these galleries and then we publish these galleries on different parts of our website. And as you know, you know, people trust UGC or, you know, content more than branded content that someone like myself as a marketer would create from a DMOs perspective. They certainly don't disagree with it but there's a higher, you know...it's my experience that there's a higher...a trust value based on, you know, someone like Will traveling to Nova Scotia and then he has a great experience in Nova Scotia and he's sharing that with your followers. People trust that more than me telling them that it's going to be a great experience.
So that's kinda...that's one of the ways we use it and we'll publish these galleries all over the place. We'll even have specific galleries to specific operators. So, Will, if you were a hotel operator in our area or a... let's say you offered a tourism experience, you would exist on our website as a tourism operator and we would have a specific CrowdRiff gallery that was associated with your content. And the CrowdRiff galleries offer things like call to actions that we can customize. We can also have automated requests to request the rights to images which has really been great. So, you know, one of the big spends that we have as a DMO is we're always...not only are we harvesting UGC content but we're also paying people to produce high level video and photography.
And there are timelapses and all sorts of things. But all this content is out there and often you just have to ask, "Hey, do you mind if we use that? We would like to use your photo. It's really beautiful." And, you know, our experience is most people will say, "Sure. Just credit me for the image." Or, you know, they don't even say that. They're just saying, "Sure, you can use it." And so, there's even automation within CrowdRiff that allows us to reach out to creators and ask for rights...permissions to use their content and then...so then we have content that we can use in other channels.
Will: That's cool. I've not come across that functionality before, you know, that automation of that request because in our market here in the U.K. and Ireland, we've seen UGC blow up for tourism brands but also just for a lot of consumer brands because just like you say, they've become switched onto the fact that, A, people trust other people and, B, it just takes a hell of a lot of work off the marketing team. They get in better images, really more relevant images than they would've created anyway to be honest. I wonder why so many brands are leaning on that now. Like, my theory is that it's two things. It's the phone cameras have gotten really good but also your average consumer has become more media savvy and everyone, particularly everyone under the age of 30 is essentially some sort of influencer, even if a nano influencer.
And they just know how to take photos and videos of things. And we're more aware in that way.
Neil: I think so. I think that there's just so much content out there and that, you know, you're bound to get something that's just amazing that someone who may not even consider themselves a professional is taking, you know. People, like you said, they know how to position themselves to take a photo of a sunset or a sunrise.
Will: Do you elicit it? Because I know in tourism, Ireland I think do a really good job of this and they have this thing which is quite common which...in their bio, it says, "Tag us and use this hashtag to be featured." And it operates very much as what we call a feature account on Instagram where it's just all reposted featured content. But they very much kind of promote that. Do you do that?
Neil: We have a call to action on our website basically that says, "You know, tag us to be featured." But we don't have a specific...we'll sometimes reshare content on our Instagram or Facebook but we don't have a specific account that's just UGC on Instagram but we do feature anyone's content. You know, we have homepage galleries and then we have specific galleries for our operators. So, some of the things that we wanna make...we often have to do is...we have to push our operators to push good content too. So, and tell their patrons to tag those restaurants so that we can see that and then pull that into their listings as well. So yeah, but it's, you know, just a simple thing, like you said.
Asking people to tag, you know, visit island or Yarmouth and Acadian Shores. And then people are like, "Okay." And they see value in being featured on that content. So, then you're getting this amazing UGC that you often can get rights to and haven't had to pay anything for other than the cost to run CrowdRiff and the team, etc. But you're not intrinsically paying directly for every image. Sometimes we do but it's still, you know, great contacts and it helps local photographers and content creators that are trying to get off the ground. But it's been really good for us.
Will: And has that escalated to working with what we would more traditionally call influencers?
Neil: Yes. So, tourism Nova Scotia which is the larger provincial DMO for Nova Scotia...it's basically, you know, responsible for driving business in the entire province. They have a program that they partner with smaller DMOs like mine and we find influencers that have audiences and content that align with the products. You know, those pillars that you talked about earlier with different destinations. So, you know, some...and so the influencers we have are very much into nature and stargazing and, you know, light adventure, etc., and that's the types we try to bring in. We bring in people...influencers that are, you know, French or have bilingual...that can be bilingual and actually produce content in French as well because we like to also promote that.
And so definitely, yeah. We find influencers that align with our content and want to experience our...the things that we have to offer but that also have significant audiences. And we've been quite successful. We haven't worked with, you know, people that have millions of followers but we've certainly worked with people that have, you know, tens of thousands. And when everyone's been really trapped in Nova Scotia...not trapped. That's kind of a hard work but when everyone hasn't been able to travel outside of Canada for so long, the influencers that we had in the province were actually really great. And a lot of them had never been here. So as small of a province as Nova Scotia is, there's still lots of people that haven't experienced, you know, Yarmouth and Acadian Shores and there's influencers too.
So, it really helped us reach their audience in Nova Scotia and then drive some business our way during the pandemic.
Will: That's really good. I mean, to be honest, you know, you talk about you didn't use influencers with millions of followers but there's been a real shift away from that, it seems, in recent years. And, you know, towards micro influencers. That's been a big buzzword. And for so many reasons they can be a lot more fruitful really to work with or easier to work with. You can have direct conversations and collaborations. It's not just going through some agent and paying for a post or something like that, right. It feels more collaborative. You can have a conversation, bounce ideas around. And it matters more to them. They're a bit more invested and I think you just get more for your money.
You reach more relevant audiences because they're smaller, tighter audiences. So, there's a long list of reasons why that's a good thing, particularly for niche things that form your pillars. That makes a lot of sense to me, for sure.
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So, thinking about UGC, if I worked in tourism in a different part of the world and I said, "Oh, yeah, Neil. All this sounds great, this UGC lark." What do I do? Like, how do I get started with getting some value out of that for my destination? What would you tell me?
Neil: Well, you know, one of the things that really saved us was that before we had this latest iteration of our website which has an online store and is much more responsive and it's built, you know, with, you know, proper research and SEO and all those things in mind, we actually had our existing website obviously but it was really at the point where, you know, I was trying to figure out, "Okay, I need some budget because we have to build a new website." It's just not cutting it anymore. But what we had done in the meantime is we had installed CrowdRiff and started building that content and knowledge and experience with that product and that tool.
And that really saved our engagement metrics and our time on site and really continued to keep people on our website even though I think our website was at that point nearing its end of its life. It gave us the opportunity to learn how to use it well and do some interesting things with it. And I'm not even touching on all the things that CrowdRiff can do and I don't work for CrowdRiff. It's just...that's my experience with that tool. There are other UGC aggregators out there that we've looked at as well. But, you know, it's...if I were somebody that wanted to get into this, I would reach out to those companies. They all offer demos. They'll have somebody that will speak to you and do one on one consultation and say, "Okay, here's how you could leverage it. Here's the return on investment you can look at. Here's innovative ways that other places are doing it."
So, and we're again...I think the only limit with UGC that we have is just our imaginations and our...because it does still require work to leverage it. It's not fully automated. You have to manage it. you have to look at things. You have to still, you know, use it as a tool. It's a tool. And it works as well as you can...but there are some automation tools in there. There are call to actions, there are some great metrics, trackable, measurable things that we can see. And you can also...you know, there's...for example, one of the things it does is it...you can have galleries that automate images within the gallery based on how much engagement those images are getting. So, when you go to our website, if you engage with some of those images, you click on them and then maybe go to the...or click on the call to action, etc., and then come back again, you may see the gallery in a different way because it actually will automate...you can...so there's different tools within CrowdRiff that you can basically automate.
So, and that's smart and that's, you know...one of the things I learned a lot in taking the course with DMI was how much we need to do...really leverage automation, certainly in our email marketing but also with UGC too. So, sky's the limit with this type of thing but really the limit for us is just people power and our imagination and time because it can save you time but there's...I feel there's always something else we could be doing because it's such a great tool.
Will: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Well, that's...you can only do so much but it sounds like, yeah, you're saying that to get into UGC and really get the most value out of it, it's about getting a good tool like that and then really learning what it's capable of and trying to get the most out of what you're paying for it really because it sounds like they do some pretty kind of intelligent stuff. I like that. So, this all sounds lovely, what you're talking about. How do you measure it? How do you know it's working/ how do you know it's successful? How do you define that success?
Neil: So, you know, again, our benefits...I guess from a tool perspective, we measure the success of it just by the simply fact that we know we're spending less...we could spend more on producing content directly ourselves. We know how much it costs to produce a 30-second video or hire a photographer to produce...you know, for us to get 15 beautiful images, it's 3 days of shooting and coordination and time. And we might get close to the same with this tool. So, we can certainly measure it from the perspective of, "Here's what it would've cost us to grab this content if we weren't using CrowdRiff and the savings it provides us." We measure it by how much engagement and, you know...the engagement rate and time on site metrics that we have with regards to the galleries.
So, we know that those galleries hold people there. They're still one of our top, you know, items on our website that's engaged with on each one of our operator's pages and certainly on our different galleries. Again, we use them in email marketing and we theme them around seasons and events and other things. So, we can do a lot of specific things. It's not just something we create and just leave there.
Will: Just to really bring it back to reporting and measurement, I always like to think of the marketing funnel. Love the funnel. It for me just really nicely frames, like, what we're doing here, what's the point of me coming to work today. Because we wanna drive awareness by telling people who've never heard of what we do that we exist. I wanna drive consideration, get people thinking about it more, get them engaging with it and then I wanna drive some sort of conversion. So, a lot of what you're doing sounds like it's driving more awareness and perhaps more engagement as well. What is that final metric? What is ultimate success that gets talked about there?
Neil: You know, you're absolutely right and it is very wise of you to see that. I would love sometimes...and as a DMO...because we kind of get tired sometimes of just, you know, telling people we exist and where we are and where we are in Nova Scotia. But it's also a positive thing, you know. It used to be when I would tell people or show people beautiful images from our location, they would say, "Where's that?" You know, and I would say, "That's Yarmouth, Nova Scotia or that's Yarmouth and Acadian Shores. That's our beautiful Tusket Islands. That's our lighthouse. That's, you know, X, Y or Z." And they...now they...they used to say things like, "Why would I wanna go to Yarmouth or why would I wanna live there or what's down there? There's nothing to do."
And now they're saying, you know, in my anecdotal conversations with people, they're saying things like, "I've never been there. I have to get down there. It looks really beautiful." And to me, I see that as a, you know...just an everyday word of mouth that's getting...you know, information that's getting spread around that people are seeing it. but we're definitely...I guess to circle back, we're definitely in the awareness level of the funnel and certainly within the interest.
Will: Because you're not selling something. You're not driving...I mean, are you driving any referrals to accommodation providers or anything like that?
Neil: That is one of our...a key metric on our website that, you know, we would see that as clickthroughs to operators.
Will: That's quite close. I mean, it's not a conversion but it's, you know, it's further down, isn't it? That shows quite strong intent to plan a trip.
Neil: That's...the best conversion we can do is say, "Okay, Will, we've sent a... we've created some marketing. It's attracted Will to our website. Will is now on our website and has found a hotel or an experience that he wants to do and he's clicked and now he's off to book that experience with them." That's the best we feel we can do within that funnel and that whole consumer journey.
Will: Like you say, I suppose for you it's about looking at metrics and building a case in some way and putting certain metrics together in a certain way that would indicate that it's all going in the right direction, right.
Neil: Yeah, you know, organic traffic is one thing we're looking at now and we've seen that grow. So, we say that's definitely within...to me, that's a measure of the awareness that is turning so that we're getting more people that are searching for us or hearing about us or seeing our content somewhere and that's triggering them to search for us. So that is growing and we see that as a key measure of what we're doing. Again, we talked about the level and the volume of UGC. We talk about the number of people that are actually staying here. And, you know, our experience providers provide numbers to us too and they'll say, "Okay, I'm having a good year. Here's the numbers." Or, you know, people aren't staying or people aren't coming. And I certainly can't just shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, that's not on me. I can't, you know...we're doing our best."
We have to try as hard as we can. But unfortunately, that is something that we all think about is that we can't ever really truly say once we've sent that lead off to you, Will, as a hotel operator, for example, I can't see that that room is booked and how long they stayed and how much they spent, if they had breakfast in the hotel or ordered room service or any of those things. That's up to the operator at that point.
Will: I mean, have you toyed with the idea of doing some sort of...like, being an affiliate? You know, so basically being, like, a booking.com affiliate and pushing people towards bookings with affiliate platforms like that. Has that ever...or would that not feel appropriate?
Neil: One of the things we do with...we have a local levy group which is hotel levy. So basically, you stay in Yarmouth and Acadian Shores and hopefully someday you'll visit us. You'll pay $2 Canadian on your hotel bill. Not for every...like, not in an Airbnb for example but, like, in a specific hotel. We have five that are partners. And, you know, that would show that you're a visitor of outside the area because it's obviously only paid on consumers but our people...visitors for example. But one of the things we do, you know, we have a team on our international ferry for example that we have found through experience that a lot of people who come across on the ferry, they just haven't considered their hotels. They just assume that they're going to be able to book a hotel once they get here and that's often not the case.
Will: They just get on an international ferry without a hotel booked?
Neil: They will sometimes, yeah. They'll say, "Yeah, we're just gonna get something to eat and we're just gonna get a hotel." And many book the stuff well ahead but others will just, you know, kinda wing it. And we try to help them and so we'll book those rooms for them or we'll call the hotel and directly do it. So, we track that...those numbers. You know, how many actual people we spoke to, what they were...what we counseled them on and where we told them to go. So, there's other places in Nova Scotia obviously that people wanna go that are very beautiful. And we track where we're sending people or recommending they go. But we also directly help guests book rooms in our local hotels if they're looking for a place to stay and then we also of course have that metric.
But we don't use online travel agents. Like, we don't work with those guys so much because we found that certainly people are using that but one of the things that's happening is that the inventory that is sold to in OTA by a local hotel is not all of the inventory that they have. But if somebody is on an international ferry, they'll just check and say, "Oh, well, the hotel's sold out. There's no more rooms." But in actuality, there are rooms. It's just that the, you know, the inventory that's been sold to the OTA is sold out. So unfortunately, someone like booking.com or another OTA will say, "Oh, there's no rooms available." And then the person will just move on to a different hotel when there's empty rooms sitting there.
So, we find the direct conversation and also trying to spread that message is key.
Will: Yeah. No, I get that. We're over two years past the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you see the travel industry picking up again after that and how has it changed?
Neil: Well, certainly I think people are looking for safe destinations and they, you know...Nova Scotia is certainly a place that is...I think still has a really positive brand hopefully around the world but I can say certainly in the U.S. and Northeast U.S. Nova Scotia is still seen as a very safe place to go both from a COVID perspective and just a personal, you know, safety perspective. And so, I think people are thinking about that. I think what's changed with the pandemic too is that we also have to think about destination sentiment. So, this behavior and this thinking wasn't really something that we thought about that much in our area because we're taking baby steps and we're just still trying to really grow this destination. Again, very much in the awareness level, as you mentioned.
And so, we weren't really considering what locals thought or weren't considering it as much as we should maybe, what they thought about visitors coming. We were always just marketing ourselves and promoting ourselves as very hospitable and welcoming and we still are. But some of that thinking has changed during COVID. People have other fear...it did certainly during the pandemic when things were really, really going strong and we're still, you know, dealing with it. There is different feelings locally and around the world I imagine, certainly in Nova Scotia, with how people wanna welcome visitors. Overwhelmingly, though, Nova Scotians are very welcoming and wanna welcome guests to Nova Scotia now.
And we see a huge amount of pent-up demand in the U.S. Demand for travel's high. There's a lot of interest in, you know, the types of experiences we have here. And we think tourism is really roaring back. Certainly, the times that we've been in the U.S. with myself and my team over the past three or four months, we've seen a lot of demand and Americans are looking to travel. And we know Canadians are too. And hopefully some folks from overseas will start arriving too because we have direct flights right into Halifax again, Halifax, Nova Scotia and they can come and visit us. So, we think it's roaring back. We think that's where it's going to go and continue.
And the challenge now is really labor. We just...a lot of people have left the industry. They've moved on to other sectors and now that we have all this business, we don't have enough people to actually take advantage of it. That's the challenge we're really dealing with now on the ground.
Will: Haven't more people moved there, you know, in search of a more remote place to live perhaps?
Neil: Lots of Canadians in Ontario and other parts of Canada, sorry, have moved to Nova Scotia. So, we've seen a big influx of other Canadians moving to Nova Scotia because of the quality of life here and the fact that they can sell their home in British Columbia or Ontario for a lot and then their money goes a really long way in Nova Scotia.
Will: Yes, yeah, no. We've seen the same thing definitely happen in our part of the world as well. Zoom towns, these kinda beautiful country towns that get full of digital nomads doing their job. Just before you go as well tell us a little bit about your experience studying DMI Pro that you recently did. How did that go?
Neil: I really liked it. I learned a lot from it. It was really extensive and I felt it was really good for someone like me who's been doing tourism marketing but, you know, I'm not an expert and I don't have all the answers and, you know, the course itself is not specific to tourism for example. So, it forced me to think about, you know, consumer behavior and all the other things associated in that, you know, in that program. Content and the Google Ads piece was really great for me because we use that a lot. We do a lot of stuff with the display network. Social, we're big on social. You know, one of the things that it taught me too is that, you know, we really need to take advantage of automation as much as possible and I intend to make some changes with our organization to try to do more of that, certainly with email and other things.
And to just think more about trying to push people further down the funnel I think is really important too because we are often stuck in this awareness and interest level but there are ways to...as a DMO, you know, we're responsible for doing it...you know, marketing a destination and not any one specific person more than another. There are still ways that we can find real measurable ways to figure out that...if the work we're doing is...can be attributed to what we're, you know...our marketing.
Will: Yeah. That is so important. That's cool. That's good to hear. One last question for you. What are your top tips for other travel marketers out there? If you're really to distil and think of them as bullet points in your head, what would they be?
Neil: The pandemic has taught all of us that, you know, there are markets closer to home that can actually produce results. So, when Nova Scotians couldn't travel other than in Nova Scotia, we actually...we saw people coming here that had never been here and were really impressed. And I know that I had family and other people travel around the province and were really impressed by the other parts. So, discovering your own backyard, I know that's probably a term that was overused in tourism during the pandemic but it's still an opportunity. We've learned that, you know, the markets in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada are valuable markets for us and something that we were probably underutilizing prior to the pandemic. So, I would say one tip would be to, you know...don't just assume markets that you're not in are, you know, put away forever and leave them on a shelf.
Maybe open that book once in a while and take a look and say, "You know, what is the logic that says we're not in this market?" How could this market align with some of our pillars for example, as you mentioned? I think another one would be flexible and to really understand that travel has changed, certainly business travel has changed, what people are looking for in a destination from a safety perspective and from consumer confidence perspective I think is key. You have to have that mindset. You know, put yourself in the consumer shoes, the traveler shoes. As a destination marketer, things around us are very familiar to us and not that special sometimes but really kinda think from the perspective of a visitor is key.
You can't assume that a sign that makes sense to you is gonna make sense to a visitor. You can't assume that because the address in your content or that the content is obvious to you, where it is, that it's obvious to somebody else. So, keep thinking from a traveler's perspective. I think from a DMO, again, perspective, have some differentiators. Have some marketing pillars. Do that market research to differentiate your brand. And then stick to it. You know, work with your partners and figure out, "Okay, what can we do that's sustainable that will differentiate us from all the other places in Canada, in Nova Scotia if possible?" Keep going back to your pillars. Have a marketing plan. Have a brand strategy and keep building it.
And I think that's really helped us certainly move along. And from a DMO, again, we're a local organization so when you're trying to market a destination, I think you have to get your partners on side. So, they have to understand what you're trying to do. They have to understand your messaging. They can be huge advocates for you if they're using the same kind of language and positioning for their product that you're trying to do. They grow the audiences. They have customer interactions and touchpoints in there every day. That's going to build your brand and support you too.
Will: Yeah. That's good, good advice. Thanks, Neil. Just before I let you go, remind our listeners where they can connect with you and find you online.
Neil: Well, they can certainly visit our website, yarmouthandacadianshores.com. So, the Yarmouth, A-N-D, acadianshores.com. And they can find everything that you and I were talking about today with regards to the destination. And they can find me on LinkedIn. And just type in Neil MacKenzie and Yarmouth and Acadian Shores and you'll find me on LinkedIn.
Will: Yeah, well, thanks. I will do that. And Neil, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it. It was very interesting to hear your perspective on this stuff and very valuable to our listeners, no doubt. But yeah. Thanks very much.
Neil: Well, it was excellent to be here. It's interesting to me to be talking to you in person when you were actually part of my course. So, you know, when you see an instructor and you're kinda like, "Who is this person?" Now I'm actually talking to you. So, I very much enjoyed learning from you and the whole DMI process and it's great to talk to you and I really appreciate the interest in our destination and in Nova Scotia and you're welcome any time to come over here. Please give us a call and we'll show you around for sure and you'll love it.
Will: Oh, thanks so much. I can't wait. Cheers, Neil. Take care. See you.
Neil: You're welcome. Bye, bye.
Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to digitalmarketinginstitute.com. Thanks for listening.