Online/Offline Marketing Integration Case Study: This is Athens

User Generated Content & Reputation Management through Integrated Online & Offline Marketing efforts

Back in 2010, BreathtakingAthens.com, the official visitors’ website of Athens, Greece launched an online initiative titled This is Athens, a concept developed by the Athens Tourism and Economic Development Co. (ATEDCo) in partnership with abouTourism destination consultants and MindWorks/ website design & development by ATCOM . The campaign’s objective was to create the largest photostream ever made for Athens, inviting the city’s residents and visitors to upload their own photos online and show the whole world what Athens was all about.

The campaign rolled out at a time when the city’s and the entire country’s image was put to test due to intense but short lived public unrest incidents. The blow on the city’s image due to intense and one-sided media coverage was fierce and at the same time local residents needed an opportunity to revamp their pride for the city. The most effective way to achieve both and fight back was to show the world what was really happening in the city.

At a crisis time, when no tourism marketing campaign seems to be convincing enough, the challenge lies in depicting the actual and multi faced situation, leveraging the negative connotations which stay with the audience for much longer than those few days that the actual incidents lasted. This is when the actual people that form and represent the destination come into the equation and can play a crucial role.

The goal of the ThisisAthens campaign was to engage local people, showcase the everyday life in Athens, promote a flavour of true experiences and an alternative image of the city through user generated content. The campaign created the first-ever real-time photostream documenting daily life in Athens through more than 5,000 pictures. Every day, Athenian locals posted hundreds of photographs taken by them of  “their own” city.

The campaign received thousands of tweets and shares on Facebook and Twitter and contributed greatly to the image of this contemporary urban, historic and culturally-rich city we know as Athens. Furthermore there was the possibility to add tags, comments and descriptions in every uploaded picture thus making it easier to share and spread via social media channels.

In continuation of the online marketing campaign, in July 2011 the Athens Tourism and Economic Development Co. (ATEDCo) launched the This is MY Athens initiative, a visitor greeter program designed to give visitors the insider’s edge of the city through a walk with an Athens local.

According to the abouTourism perspective on strategic tourism marketing and integration, the second part of the ThisisAthens campaign was a transportation of the strategic drivers and objectives of the digital campaign initiative into an offline environment, while still utilizing online and offline media to promote it.

This is My Athens is free program available to visitors to Athens and staffed by volunteer Athenians who are excited to show visitors “their city” and all it has to offer.

Launched during a challenging period at a national and local level, during which tourism- an industry the destination is relying heavily upon- was also affected, the This is MY Athens program was greeted with unprecedented enthusiasm from Athenians. They were constantly expressing their desire to show the entire world what Athens was all about, in contrary to the city image they knew was circulating globally. Hundreds of volunteers registered their availability to meet and greet potential visitors to the city and many walks have already been organized while the list keeps growing.

Following a full destination tourism product audit, the program’s goal is to showcase the variety of the city’s tourist offerings through the program’s promotion and processes, offering visitors the opportunity to select from a variety of experiences.  In order to ensure the best possible visitor satisfaction levels, we ensured quality control standards and measurement were in place through documented visitors’ feedback and explanatory introductory sessions for all selected volunteers, informing them about the tourism product as well as the program’s ideals and objectives. The volunteering Athens Locals are then left with the freedom to create their own itineraries and the choice to show what they enjoy most about their city.

To facilitate the program’s processes, support the volunteers and achieve the best possible results in terms of service, we also incorporated the city’s Visitor Information network, by offering further information and registration possibility through the city’s Info Points positioned in high visitor flow locations. With the use of high end technology equipment (LCD screens and iPads) visitors are able to explore all the city has to offer digitally as well as register for a walk with an Athens Local.

The initiative was promoted through online and offline media and received extensive coverage mainly due to its voluntary nature and the fact that there was already a public desire building up for corrective actions. The campaign cleverly employed the public’s motivation to help promote their city and show a positive and alternative side of Athens by actually giving them the opportunity to become the city’s brand ambassadors. More than 300 Athens Locals have registered as volunteers making this one of the most successful visitor greeters programs available, while more than 100 visitor applications have already been received in less than 2 months of the program’s operation.

The two parts of the ThisisAthens campaign are an example of integrated marketing where online and offline marketing initiatives complement each other, driven by an accurate situational analysis and set marketing objectives to ensure consistency of the promoted message and efficient brand management. It is an ongoing reputation management campaign which involves the local population.

The next stages of the campaign’s development will include its expansion to the local audience, organization of street events, flash mobs, walks with celebrities and …well that’s enough for now…..Stay tuned for more!

For more information visit: www.thisisathens.org

Destination Marketing & Reputation Management

Brand image is everything when it comes to tourism. No matter how beautiful and attractive a destination is, if the travelers have doubts especially regarding their safety, then they will most probably choose one of the competitors.

Many countries in the world face a variety of issues, either one-off or continuous, externally sourced or internally. When the country’s economy however relies heavily on tourism then it surely needs to be proactive and safeguard its reputation, so that it can minimize the effects and protect its tourism industry and therefore to some extent its economy.

Unfortunately bad news never stop surfacing, so it is wise for especially tourism reliant destinations to have a mechanism in place that will not only allow them to address that issue affecting them more effectively, but also manage the accurate dissemination of information both internally and externally as per the accuracy and timing.

Political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East has affected the travel industry in entire countries like Egypt and Jordan. Japan has also witnessed a severe decrease on visitor numbers, following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in March. While Mexico fights to convince USA, its major market that it is safe to visit in general despite all the issued travel warnings, the Netherlands issues a ban on soft drug sales all around the country in order to shed the image of a drug destination.

Mexico

Mexico has recently launched a new marketing campaign to counter its image as a country wracked by drug-related violence and reinvigorate the vital tourist industry after US travel alerts warned Americans of violence south of the border.

Tourism Officials acknowledge the fact that they left a gap in their communication following the events, since for two years they had not addressed the issue. This gap was quickly filled by bad news mainly regarding drug related violence and affected the country’s image in their major US market severely.  Some of the travel alerts had gone headlining ‘If you want to stay alive, don’t travel to Mexico’ as in March, the Texas Department of Public Safety warned college revellers not to travel to Mexico for spring break with the message: “Stay alive”.

Mexico is now spending millions of dollars on print media and billboard advertisements in US cities showing its ancient pyramids and sunny beaches to stop Americans from cancelling their visits. The U.S campaign is called “Mexico, The Place You Thought You Knew” and highlights Mexico as a destination not only for sun and beach, but also for culture, history and cuisine.

While thousands of American tourists have been scared away by the brutal drug war raging in parts of Mexico, Mr Lopez-Negrete, Mexico Tourism Board CEO,  said the volume of people visiting Mexican resorts was back up to 2008 levels, although revenues were down because hotels were offering cheaper deals to draw wavering tourists.

“We were able to drive volume upwards at a cost of lower pricing but we are happy with that because as in any other business, volume comes back first, then you start escalating to the proper pricing” he said, “That’s the strategy”. Mr Lopez-Negrete said the inaccurate travel alerts were hurting tourism, which accounts for 9 per cent of Mexico’s economic output and is its third biggest source of foreign currency.

The challenge Mexico Tourism Officials now try to tackle  is to draw visitors back to the destination while ensuring everyone’s safety. To that direction, the secretary of Mexico Tourism, Mrs Gloria Guevara says that attempts are being made to inform the industry and communicate with US tour operators and cruise ship representatives to increase visitation to the popular destinations that are completely safe while acknowledging that word of mouth is very important.

Japan

Reshaping travelers’ mental images of Japan and other affected countries is going to take considerable amounts of time. Government officials and tour operators in all of these countries are using several methods in attempts to convince would-be travelers that they shouldn’t be afraid.

What they’re trying to do is entice the most adventurous travelers to visit, in hopes they can reassure more nervous friends that these places are, for the most part, perfectly safe.

A travel agency in Oregon, led a group of about 85 Americans to Japan. Most will be doing volunteer work in Sendai and other cities that need some cleanup help. But some will just be seeing the sites, because tourism is important for rebuilding the local economy, too. The group is being wined and dined, personally welcomed by U.S. Ambassador John Roos and plenty of Japanese tourism officials. They all recognize the importance of showing that Japan is a safe place for foreign guests. The message the group wants to promote is that Japan as a whole is safe and tourism is alive. The message of real life stories of average people is always more efficient than that of government officials.

The strategy of inviting the hardiest travelers to help signal that all is ok  is one being pursued in many countries that have suffered from a recent streak of bad news.

Advertising is important, but “much more powerful is the unsung story — people who have gone over there and told their friends they didn’t feel scared,” says Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

Egypt

Travelers looking for adventure or ways to help out can be “pioneers” that help lead people back into Egypt, says Basem Salah, a tour operator in Cairo.

These include not just adventure travelers but travel agents, who are being lured to places like Cairo and Tokyo with free travel packages. “Some countries will offer package tours that are reduced in price,” says Jafari, the tourism professor. “This may not attract all the tourists they’re looking for, but may bring in people on a budget who always wanted to come.”

Salah says the major tourist sites in Cairo and the monuments from Aswan to Luxor are perfectly safe. But he recognizes that potential guests will need some convincing. As incentive, he and some others in the local travel industry are offering “revolutionary tours” of recently important sites like Tahrir Square.

“Now it is a re-brand that you will also see the Egyptians who made the revolution,” Salah says. “It’s not going to be monuments only, but the revolution and freedom. We will have people who participated in revolution coming to visit you.”

Salah and a number of other Egyptian tour operators are partnering with nongovernmental organizations to put together packages aimed at bringing over volunteers. In addition to sightseeing, they might spend part of their visit working with children at a cancer rehab center, or teaching deaf women to build a business by turning rice stalks into craft paper.

The hope is not just to convince people willing to come over at a difficult time to come back, but to get them to convince their friends that Egypt is a safe place to visit now. Word of mouth is the best weapon the travel business has to convince people that things aren’t as dangerous as they may look on the news.

Like a certain streak of politician, travel industry officials are fond of blaming the media for showing relentlessly negative images. “I hate to blame the media,” says Dozono, a tour operator in Portland, “but they go from one disaster to another, and they don’t show the recovery. They only show the damage, and people think it’s not safe to go there.”

On this point exactly, the destination’s tourism officials’ role is to feed the appropriate content to the media and their partners in order to ensure the accurate dissemination of information.

Lower Manhattan 9/11

A new large-scale tourism campaign will help drive more visitors to Lower Manhattan — spotlighting the area’s remarkable recovery in the nine years since the 9/11 attacks.

Beginning this month the global initiative will promote downtown neighborhoods, restaurants, shops, museums, and open spaces among local and international tourists in New York City. The campaign will include new tour itineraries, special offers at local hotels, multimedia advertisements, and discounts at shops, attractions, and the new “Downtown Culture Pass.”

Announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the NYC & Company-designed campaign is launching in anticipation of a major tourism surge downtown — where the 10th anniversary of 9/11 already is drawing scores of visitors to the World Trade Center area.

“In less than four months time, the eyes of the world will be on Lower Manhattan, as we commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and open the Memorial,” said Bloomberg. “An important part of the story of 9/11 is how Lower Manhattan has come back in the past 10 years. Today Lower Manhattan is one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in New York City. Our new campaign will help ensure visitors from around the world know about that vibrancy and have an opportunity to take advantage of all that Lower Manhattan has to offer.”

In tandem with the new campaign is a new welcome program at John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Terminal 4, which will debut in June with posters, wall clings and column wraps showing imagery of New York City with a particular emphasis on Lower Manhattan. The campaign will encourage visitors to stay in Lower Manhattan, and, for those who stay elsewhere, it will encourage them to travel downtown by mass transit.

Tourism to New York City’s five boroughs reached record levels in 2010 with 48.7 million visitors and $31 billion in visitor spending. NYC & Company — the official marketing, tourism and partnership organization for the City of New York — estimates that the city will achieve Mayor Bloomberg’s goal 50 million annual visitors by 2012.

Netherlands

Amsterdam attracts more than 3.5 million foreign tourists per year, many of whom are drawn to the coffee shop culture and promise of being able to easily and legally obtain marijuana. However, the coffee shop cannabis trade will soon come to an end since the Dutch government plans to stop drug tourism by forcing coffee shops to become private clubs that only sell to Dutch citizens that show proof of identification.

The city of Amsterdam, where most tourists go, is against the decision. The outcry from critics has been deafening, as it is anticipated that the anti-tourist marijuana law will cost The Netherlands millions of pounds annually in lost revenue. Moreover, there is concern that the law will push the drug trade underground again, as Dutch residents will likely take to selling marijuana to tourists at inflated rates.

“The cabinet expects that the closure of coffee shops to foreign drug tourists will result in that they no longer travel to the Netherlands for the sale and consumption of cannabis,” the Dutch cabinet said in the statement. “After all, for many of them applies that they can use the existing illegal market in their own country. Nevertheless will the possible side effects of these measures be monitored closely and adequately addressed by the police, judiciary, and administration.”

Sources:  www.npr.orgwireupdate.comwww.lowermanhattan.infowww.telegraph.co.uk