Travel campaigns on despite cuts

Tourism boards from California to Maryland are running direct and digital campaigns to attract consumers to their beaches, lakes and attractions for summer vacations, despite slashed state budgets.

Last week, the California Travel & Tourism Commission (CTTC) kicked off an online marketing contest with Southwest Airlines called “California – The Game.” Despite the recent recession, the CTTC is predicting travel will increase 3% in the state this year, and even more next year. The group is targeting prospective travelers with the game.

“We are trying to tap into the pent-up consumer demand to come to California,” said Kathryn Burnside, director of communications for the commission. “This is a peak time of year to get in front of people and inspire summer travel.”

The tourism group is using e-mail, search, display, social media and in-airport ads encouraging consumers to go to, where they can answer trivia questions about the Golden State. The game, which was created by ad agency Mering Carson, includes a virtual trip through the state.

“We thought it was a fun new way to reach out to consumers and show them the depth and breadth of what California has to offer,” added Burnside.

Consumers can play the game to compete for weekly airline ticket giveaways on Southwest through June 27. Two grand prize packages – a “Southern California Ultimate Family Getaway” and a “Northern California Wine, Dine & Culture Getaway” – will be announced July 19. To play, consumers must enter their e-mail addresses. Participants can earn an extra game point by sending a link to a friend through Facebook Connect. California Travel and Tourism will remarket to players.

This is the first entirely digital execution the two organizations have conducted since they began working together in 2005. The partnership allows each organization to market to the other’s lists.

“We serve nine cities in California, so it is a big market for us,” said Ashley Rogers, a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines.

Burnside would not disclose the campaign budget, but she did say the group’s spending did not decline from last year because it is funded by private businesses.

Maryland, which saw its budget drop $150,000 for the first half of the year, is running an integrated campaign that includes direct mail, telemarketing, social media, TV, radio, search and e-mail. The effort encourages consumers to contact call centers or go online for information about travel ideas. Consumers can have tourism packages mailed to their homes that include coupons for hospitality businesses throughout the state. Trahan Burden & Charles created the campaign, and Mediaworks is handling media buying.

“There is a lot of pent up demand for leisure activity,” said Liz Fitzsimmons, manager of advertising and communications at the Maryland Office of Tourism. “People are moving out of ‘the sky is falling’ mode.'”

Travel Michigan’s overall marketing budget for the year was cut from $30 million in 2009 to $15 million this year. And, what money it did get was approved later than usual, so the Wolverine State began its push a month after it usually does. Instead of running ads in April, the state didn’t begin its integrated effort until May 3. To save money, the state is focusing on national creative, rather than conducting both national and regional versions for nearby Midwestern states.

The state is continuing its “Pure Michigan” effort, which highlights water activities, outdoor adventures and golfing trips, which are popular across the state. Advertising agency McCann Erickson and digital agency Gammet Interactive created the work.

The campaign includes search, TV, out-of-home, e-mail newsletters, print and social media. All elements ask consumers to visit The site’s e-commerce element allows tourists to plan and book parts of their trips, including golf tee times and hotels. It runs through the end of June.

This is the second year that state is using social media to drive viral activity and reach new audiences.

“It is a low cost way to engage to a younger audience,” said Dave Lorenz, manager of public and industry relations at Travel Michigan, a division of the Michigan Economic Corporation. “We hope social media will bring in people under 35, who we haven’t done a great job reaching in the past.”

Like Michigan, Virginia has also seen its marketing budget cut in recent years because of the recession. While this year’s $6 million tourism marketing budget is up $3.6 million from last year, it is only at 1996 levels.

The state will use the revenue to target consumers in Washington, DC, Baltimore and Raleigh. Its campaign includes search, e-mail, social media, print and TV.

“Online marketing is less costly, and most people nowadays book and research their travel online, so it is more effective,” said Diane Bechamps, VP of marketing at the Virginia Tourism Corporation. Virginia Beach-based agency BCF created the effort.

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