Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Jettison the Generic

One of the perks of being involved in the tourism industry is that I frequently get to travel myself. This time the professionals involved in the Nebraska Travel Industry are gathering in Norfolk Nebraska for the annual Nebraska Travel and Tourism conference put on by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and the Division of Travel and Tourism.

While I had hoped to have some great pictures of the beautiful scenery between North Platte and Norfolk to add to the blog, unfortunately, it was overcast, foggy and rainy the whole way, so pictures wouldn't have done justice to Beautiful Nebraska. Looking out my window right now I see that the parking lot is dry, unlike yesterday when it was awash in driving rain. Checking the weather back home, it is currently snowing lightly.

Here in Norfolk, we are staying at the delightful Norfolk Lodge & Suites, which is attached to the Divot's Conference Center. This is a wonderful facility to be located in a town of about 25,000 people away from the metropolitan centers of Nebraska.

The rooms are wonderfully comfortable! It is a 100% nonsmoking facility which is another plus.
They come equipped with an iPod port in the clock radio, so I'm a happy camper (yes family, I am keeping the tunes to a less-than-window-rattling level).
The giant fireplace that greets guests in the lobby has certainly been a comfortable gathering spot given the cold wet weather of the past couple of days.

Oh yes, what are we really here for? Learning how to do our jobs better and increase the economic activity of Nebraska through tourism. I just about forgot.
Besides many meetings of statewide tourism groups, the Nebraska Association of Bed and Breakfasts, Nebraska and individual Byways, the Nebraska Travel Association and Nebraska Association of Conventions and Visitors Bureaus, there are exciting and informative general sessions and breakouts.
The first general session was presented by Roger Brooks. The title of this post is his signature mantra: Jettison the Generic - discover what you have to offer that people can't get closer to home, then promote that like crazy! If you ever want to get excited about the possibilities tourism has to offer, then make an opportunity to hear Roger.
I won't give away all of Roger's hints and tips, but I will say that he told us that success revolves around marketing ACTIVITIES not locations. Americans will type what they want to do into Google, then find out where to do it. They won't type in a location, unless it's iconic like Disneyland or Las Vegas, then find out what there is to do in that area.

He also pointed out that destinations must separate their primary draw from the secondary or diversionary activities, then market the primary draw. That is difficult in small town Nebraska, where every attraction feels like they're the most important and should be marketed equally. However, only 4-6 hours of a visitors time is spent at the primary draw, while 80% of their money and time is spent on the diversionary activities. So get them to town for the primary draw and everybody wins!!

North Platte is so fortunate in that we have identified hands-down our primary draw - more trains pass through North Platte Nebraska than anywhere on the planet! While that may not rattle your cage, it is music to the ears of rail fans, which are a huge market. Thanks to the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center and Rail Fest, we are beginning to capitalize on our unique niche in the tourism industry. Plus we have great diversionary activities such as the North Platte Canteen exhibit at the Lincoln County Historical Museum and Buffalo Bill's ranch among others. A great combination.
Our evening entertainment in Norfolk began with a visit to the Elkhorn Valley Museum. This Museum is a wonderful facility filled with local history and lore,
and memorabilia from the area's past, but what kind of unique niche does a local history museum have to offer?

Well, in Norfolk's case, heeeeeeeeeere's Johnny! Yes, Norfolk Nebraska is the hometown of America's own beloved Johnny Carson. The Elkhorn Valley Museum contains an impressive exhibit of Johnny's life, including his Presidential Medal of Freedom and all six of the Emmy awards he received as host of the Tonight Show. It was great to put on the headphones and see exerpts of some of his most memorable guests, monologues and skits.

Gatherings like this are a wonderful opportunity to network with colleagues, catch up with old friends and talk shop.
To capitalize on it's unique claim to fame, Norfolk has developed the Great American Comedy Festival in honor of it's favorite son, held each year the third week in June. The evening ended with the 2009 winner, Sam Adams performing for a very appreciative audience.
Thanks for stopping by. The hotel lobby serves coffee 6:30am to 9:30am. See you there.

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