LAKE PLACID - What people are saying about your business is a key factor in your success, said Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism officials at the organization's annual meeting Monday, Jan. 20 in the Whiteface Lodge.
"Word of mouth and the reputation of your product are really driving your business more than any other means right now," said ROOST President and CEO Jim McKenna. "To be successful long term, we have to put more emphasis on the planning and management so we can ensure sustainable tourism."
The evening was not all presentations, rather an opportunity for local business leaders to relax, network, eat good food and dance to the very talented Le Groove band that had people up on their feet. Sandra Mishanec, their vocalist, was simply divine, and all the musicians quite skilled.
Jim McKenna and Mike McGlynn (Photo — Naj Wikoff)
McKenna gave a presentation on the challenges and opportunities of tourism that would be a great value to have repeated in a public forum with time for questions and answers, as it was timely, thought-provoking, and based on a lot of market research.
"Outdoor activities is number one reason visitors come here, followed by relaxed shopping and dining, followed by sightseeing, followed by the Olympic sites," said McKenna. "So these are the kind of things we gear into overall when promoting this part of the Adirondacks. We also try to gear our marketing to the most successful visitors that we have. When we drill down into outdoor activities, we learn that their priorities are hiking followed by canoe and kayaking, followed by fishing, skiing, riding and boating.
"These numbers are from our entire 2013 calendar year. People who clicked on our outdoor website was 580,000 plus. From that we look at hiking, which is 280,000, and looking into that we see that it is not the eight-hour hike, as almost 100,000 people are looking for short day trip activities. That's an important thing to understand because the next-largest area that people come here for is R&R.
"For some people, all they need is a hike around Mirror Lake, and they call that a wilderness experience. So the number two thing for the visitor is to have a good time, lodging, retail and restaurants, and that's the area that we are seeing more and more site visitations because successful tourism today is not about marketing; marketing is almost by the individual now. It is really a mix of marketing and destination management because the reputation of your destination - the destination experience - is what's going to drive your future visitors."
McKenna went on to discuss how the days of 800 calls and brochures are starting to be less and less valuable. People want instant information, and they want to be able to look at other people's experiences while they are making their decisions to travel. As a means of providing an example of the speed of social media, he asked if anyone had texted their impressions of the meal at the Whiteface Lodge that night, and one already had.
"It's a media wherein we are all immediate marketers right now," McKenna said. "If the experience is exceptional, that's the message we want to get out because if it is not exceptional, we can't control it. Therefore, we need the destination amenities to be all working together in harmony. We can reach many more people than we ever reached before, and we have to make sure that the destination is a very positive experience. People are making decisions based on experiences posted on social media. It's growing at a rapid rate, and it's going to continue. What we have to do is work with the successful customers we have and make them advocates for our products. The social media gives us the ability to do that."
McKenna said his agency has learned that for the economy to be successful, the environment has to be successful, and the best way to do that is to get involved in the economic areas and the environmental areas. He built on that theme to discuss the importance of building other strategic partnerships, such as with sports, and the importance of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council as a means of enabling us to chart our own economic plan for the future.
Making the case for the importance of arts and cultural amenities as strategic partner in economic development and tourism, Beth Hill, director of Fort Ticonderoga said, "What's special about the area is one can come here and visit an internationally significant historic site, appreciate some of the greatest art one can find in the state, experience the traditional trades of the region, and celebrate musical and theatrical performances in some of the most majestic settings in all of America. That's certainly part of the quality of life for those who live here and part of the attraction for people who come here as guests to our region."
"The Adirondacks are a great place for people to come heal and rejuvenate," said local guide Wayne Failing. "Many of my customers come here for a spiritual and healing value. They want to come to a place where a cellphone doesn't work. There is a spiritual aspect to be out in nature, be out of touch with civilization, and go in deep."
"I am more optimistic this year than I ever have before," said state Sen. Betty Little. "The governor has been coming up here often enough that he sees what's going on, sees what needs to happen, and looking back through the years he sees that there's more that should have happened and is trying to come up with funding. He didn't know that the Whiteface Highway was in such bad shape, but once he did, he came up with the money. I am more optimistic. I work with the governor. We don't always agree on some issues, but my heart is in the Adirondacks, and we agree there."
"I think the Adirondacks is the best place to be. I think we are on the edge of something great here," said chef Dave Hunt, of Generations Restaurant. "Seven million acres of wilderness that is forever wild, everybody is going to want to come here and visit it."