There’s nothing quite like the excitement of turning the pages of a visitors guide and making plans to take in the views, taste the flavors, and experience the fun sprawled out in front of you. The pictures and stories pique your interest, move you to learn more, to make the reservation, and to take the trip. While the internet and online booking platforms play a hand in travel planning, official visitors guides (OVGs) hold an equally integral role in the traveler’s journey. That role, however, is shifting and industry experts say DMOs have to rethink what’s on the pages to keep their publications relevant.
Print is not dead
With so much information accessible with the tap of a screen or the click of a mouse, some may claim that print media is on its way out and the need for a printed visitors guide is declining. But that couldn’t be further from the truth…print is growing in popularity.
Print has stood out as a trusted option for consumers among fears of data collection, hacks, and disinformation on social media. A 2019 study by Kanter found that 78% of Americans surveyed agreed that print publications “provide news and information I can trust,” but that consumer trust drops for both websites and social media.
Print is also a tangible object that grounds us in the real world and cuts through the so-called “digital clutter” we all encounter daily. With an endless array of choices, online users skim more and retain less. While digital media may be the most popular and accessible medium, print still reaches all ages, with Gen Z reading print at a comparable rate to previous generations. What’s more, 92% of young adults who were surveyed said that they find print easier to read.
Propelling print forward
While there is room for print in a digital world, guide creators need to look closely at what they are offering consumers. In addition to inspiring travelers, visitor guides are increasingly retained as souvenirs, lasting long after the trip has ended. With nearby dining, attraction information, and hotel booking more easily accessible online, print publications are increasingly shifting toward timeless, inspirational, and experience-oriented content instead.
“The most effective way to create a visitor guide that inspires in-market action and leads to lifelong memories is by letting go of listings and ads to make room for more editorial and design,” said Marissa Selby, a content strategist at Madden Media. “This step can turn the guide into a publication more like a premium travel magazine.”
But what about partners?
Partners or member businesses are a large part of traditional DMOs and business listings in printed guides can be a major selling point when signing on new members. So how do you still offer the guide as a partner benefit, while still swapping the listings for more content?
Madden has been helping clients make the switch by leaning into QR codes. Instead of pages of small-type business listings, the pages can be filled with quality photos and stories with a QR code sending readers to a corresponding page on a DMO website. This, said Selby, is making the most of a limited number of pages to motivate travelers.
There are other benefits to the QR code listings too. For instance, if a partner moves, closes, or changes their website, it can be easily updated online. The use of QR codes also leads to increased web traffic on the DMO website and offers a better visitor experience for users who are searching for a specific category or location. QR codes also open the door for real-time marketing. By collecting visitors’ data while they’re in-market, interest-targeting and remarketing campaigns can be launched when it’s most impactful. What’s more is that QR codes can go beyond linking travelers to business listings, they can link to tips, deals or even audio walking tours. The options are endless, but all help the user better connect to the destination.
Travel and tourism is an ever-changing industry and over the years OVGs have remained a reliable marketing tool. Printed publications will continue to inspire visitors, so long as they change with the traveler and work in sync with their digital counterparts.
Want to see more?
Here’s a small peek at some of the work Madden has done helping clients upgrade their content by letting go of listings:
Madden Media is excited to announce four of our clients won a total of six 2022 HSMAI Adrian Awards for work we’ve done in collaboration with them. The HSMAI Adrian Awards recognize hospitality brands and agencies for creativity and innovation in advertising, digital marketing, and public relations. We are proud to share our clients’ accolades and applaud the outstanding destination marketing we did together this past year.
Congratulations to the following destinations:
Visit Buffalo Niagara
Florida’s Sports Coast
Visit Port Aransas (two wins)
Visit Idaho — Integrated Campaign – B2C
TTogether with Visit Idaho, we created the “Beyond Words” campaign. What will serve as the foundation for a multiyear campaign, “Beyond Words” is deeply versatile at its core, transforming to suit our target travelers, Idaho’s vast adventures, all four seasons, and the diverse geography across the entire state. The campaign cuts through the noise of advertising to reach consumers as they began to plan their trips and educate audiences about the opportunity for adventure found throughout Idaho.
Visit Idaho — Integrated Campaign – Corporate Social Responsibility
Visit Idaho represents a state that is home to five federally-recognized Native American tribes. Our goals were to connect with the tribes, preserve local culture through education, and build relationships between the local tourism industry and the Indigenous peoples who live in the state. We collaborated closely with the Native-owned organization NativesOutdoors to build a campaign that represents Idaho’s tribes and highlights Native American artists. We worked alongside the tribes to create these components: two print stories in the 2022 Official Idaho Travel Guide (“Translation Through Art,” a profile of three older Native American artists, and “Climbing the Selkirks,” a first-person account of rock climbing by NativesOutdoors CEO and a female, Indigenous photographer), three video profiles of on-the-rise Native American artists who are carrying on tribal traditions and one digital exclusive story, “Inspiring the Next Generation,” which is a companion to the videos.
Visit Buffalo Niagara — Digital-Website
Visit Buffalo Niagara’s new site spotlights the destination’s energy and better connects each website visitor to Buffalo’s brand identity. As the city continues its renaissance with new hotels, attractions, and more opening in 2023, we wanted to ensure that the website reflected the same energy for a breakthrough year ahead.
Florida’s Sports Coast — Digital-Website
FLSportsCoast.com spotlights the destination’s energy and active nature, and better connects each website visitor to Florida’s Sports Coast’s brand identity. Madden streamlined navigation, crafted a dynamic layout, produced creative assets that celebrated diversity, and developed a rich storytelling library. Both existing and new content were optimized with SEO best practices while still telling the story of the communities that make up Florida’s Sports Coast. New videos, animations, graphics, and illustrations capture the spirit of the destination and keep visitors engaged throughout the website.
Visit Port Aransas — Digital-Multimedia Multiple Channels
The Salty Stories series set out to introduce potential visitors to the human side of Port Aransas, Texas. This destination is blessed with one of the best beaches along Texas’ Gulf Coast, making it all too easy for visitors to overlook the eclectic island community that’s worth exploring. The Salty Stories Series used a mixture of traditional interview videography, shots of the interviewees interacting with their day to day tasks, relevant locations, and B-roll shots collected around the island. This intentional mixture pulls the viewer into the story, strengthening the connection between the community of Port Aransas and the beach they may be more familiar with visiting.
Visit Port Aransas — Digital-Contest/Sweepstakes
The pandemic caused many Texas businesses to close, and these restrictions were especially harmful to the bar and restaurant industry. This resulted in Margarita Madness, which we brought to life for the second year in a row. In an effort to drive visitors and residents to local bars, Visit Port Aransas aimed to create an event similar to Shop Arounds and Restaurant Weeks.
The State (of the State) of Digital Marketing in October 2022
Search engines are changing. While this statement is true year-round, it feels especially true now, as the travel and tourism industry hits the tail-end of 2022. Since August alone, Google has rolled out not one but three updates as part of its ongoing efforts to improve search results, meet user intent, and reduce spam.
And it’s not just Google that’s changing. Other search engines and apps are also jumping on the UX improvement train. TikTok (you’ve heard of TikTok, right?) has also released several enhancements to solidify its status as an organic search engine.
As organic search changes, destination marketing organizations should focus on two key goals heading into 2023. First,whatever they do, match user intent, and second, exceed user expectations by providing rich content and unique experiences to set your destination apart from the rest.
TikTok: The Authentic Search Engine
It’s no secret that TikTok is popular. In 2021, TikTok made headlines as the most popular web domain in the world, surpassing Google as the longtime champion. Taking a look at the numbers backs up this claim: TikTok officially reached 1 billion active users per day in 2022. What helped get TikTok to this point?
What Makes TikTok a Good Search Engine?
TikTok has created an economy of authenticity, something critics complain Google lacks as many agree search results are getting worse. “The user-generated content is authentic and provides tips, tricks, and advice that resonate and answer important daily questions,” says Nicole McElroy, Media Strategist at Madden Media. “This content ranges from top new restaurants to the best places traveled.”
As a search engine, the platform offers endless sources of entertainment and discovery. This sense of discovery, however curated it may be, has several benefits.
Users Feel in Control on TikTok (even if they aren’t)
TikTok’s For You page creates a sense of control for the user. Humans love feeling like we’re in control, especially in a world where so many decisions feel made for us.
TikTok Content Feels Personalized and Inspirational
TikTok’s content feels personalized, and users love it. Users love it so much, even 72% of users report finding paid ads inspiring. “This is important as destinations seek to inspire and increase curiosity through visual storytelling,” says McElroy. “Marketers can use TikTok to cut through the advertising noise and reach people while they are attentive and in the exploratory phase.” Indeed, Google might be borrowing a page from TikTok’s playbook. In September 2022, Google announced plans to offer more personalization, and crucially, show users what goes into generating their search results.
Younger Audiences Prefer TikTok over Google
Lastly, TikTok is preferred among younger audiences. 40% of Gen Z users turn to TikTok for search instead of Google.“TikTok’s search feature delivers fast and efficient answers through visual videos that are short and to the point,” says McElroy.
Engage users with TikTok series
For the reasons above, McElroy stresses that it’s time for destinations to lead the conversation for travel. Share tips on unique places. Highlight seasonal events. Create a sense of community. Destinations that do all of this will truly be recognized as the authority for all things travel. One way destinations can lead this conversation is through TikTok series, a strategy where content creators upload videos in parts and stagger releases throughout the week. This keeps the user engaged and shifts the dynamic from passive to interactive. “Destinations can create a series on wellness, dining, and seasonal events — options are truly endless,” says McElroy.
TikTok Increases Character Limit from 300 to 2,200
TikTok SEO is here to stay. “With TikTok’s rise in popularity and engagement, it’s leaning toward SEO-driven opportunities,” says McElroy. “This change is most notably expressed through the recent announcement of increasing the character limit in the post caption from 300 characters to 2,200 characters — a 730% increase.”
Key Focus: Include More Context (and Keywords)
“This change allows for more real estate in the caption for creators to explain, educate, and inspire users with how-to’s, use important facts, and increase the use of hashtags,” says McElroy. As TikTok rolls out this new feature, destinations should use the increased character limit to provide more helpful context while naturally including keywords and key phrases. “There is an increasing opportunity for brands to gain exposure under relevant keywords through content creation,” says McElroy. “TikTok offers unique ways to increase SEO opportunities by using text on video and saying keywords aloud in the video.”
Nearby Content on TikTok
Around the same time as the increase in character limit for the captions, TikTok began beta testing a “Nearby” content feed for testing. McElroy says, “TikTok’s Nearby video feed will work in tandem with the increased character limit to pull information from the caption and hashtags used to show a user nearby restaurants, attractions, local businesses, and events.”
Key Focus: Highlight nearby Towns, Cities, and Things to Do
To take advantage of TikTok’s nearby feature, McElroy recommends using hashtags for nearby towns and cities to help the algorithm feature your content to a nearby audience that is more likely to convert.
“The idea of the nearby feed is to feature local content. If a user’s For You Page consists of dining spots and hiking trails, the FYP will feature those types of places nearby,” says McElroy. “If an FYP consists of live events and music venues, the nearby page will feature those types of businesses. This ties into the relatively new launch of tagging a location in video content. The algorithm will pick up the location tag and SEO drivers including hashtags and captions to generate content into the Nearby feed.”
Now’s the Time to Start TikTok SEO
With the platform’s popularity, 2022 is the perfect time to start posting content on TikTok. “TikTok’s search engine capabilities are still new with less competition in the space than Google, so get in while it’s new.” says McElroy. “While TikTok continues to rise in both popularity and engagement, it is important to create a strong footing now to rise with the tide.”
Google as a Semantic Search Engine
For years, Google has been the recognized leader in all matters of search. As of October 2022, the search engine giant holds 91 to 92% of the total search engine market share worldwide and boasts over 8 billion searches per day.
As TikTok implements search features, Google has also been making efforts to innovate the way users search and find answers, especially as it seeks to combat TikTok’s rise in popularity.
What Is Semantic Search?
Semantic search is a method of searching where users are shown results based on relationships between parts of speech and entities. Rooted in natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU), users are served results based on intent versus exact-match keywords or key phrases.
What Does Semantic Search Mean for Travel SEO?
Google has made it clear in their recent updates: user intent matters. As travelers search on the web, and search engines get more intelligent, Google is shifting from a “string” search— focusing on exact match keyphrases — to a “thing” search— focusing on meeting user expectations.
Focus on inspirational content. Instead of generating content based purely on search trends and keywords, destinations must craft content that understands a user’s goals. Not only that, but content must also offer clear and actionable solutions.
For instance, while a user searching for “best places to eat near me” is probably looking for restaurants, they’re probably looking for more than just a simple listicle. Users are also looking for the menu, popular food items, pictures, prices, and ratings.
Maybe they’re also planning a day trip from a nearby location, or are looking for nearby things to do or places to stay as part of a longer trip. Whatever the case, destinations can provide all of that information, and more, to engage and inspire users once they visit their websites.
Most importantly, destinations should focus on placing themselves as the authoritative voice of all things travel. Amplify the voices of locals, highlight fun businesses through stories, and continue posting unique photos and videos that cannot be found anywhere else.
Web Stories & User-Generated Content
In today’s digital world, content no longer means just written text: It also encompasses images, video, and user-generated stories. And Google has noticed. For this reason, Google has announced plans to switch to a widget-based layout for mobile search results (much like what you’d expect on iOS). This new layout will highlight stories and experiences from other users, much like how TikTok displays content for users.
Web Stories for Travel Inspiration
If you aren’t already, destinations should consider creating web stories, and promoting them in content calendars and social media regularly. While web stories aren’t exactly new, Google is encouraging creators to use their WordPress plugin (especially as they’re trying to combat TikTok). Web stories can be an effective tool for conveying inspirational stories, especially when coming from authentic sources and influencers.
Multisearch: Text Meets Photo & Video SEO
As TikTok has already discovered, users love short-form content and curated images. That’s why Google’s app has created Multisearch, a new and unique way of searching for answers when words aren’t enough.
The days of typing in and refining a query are quickly falling behind, as users can now take a picture and pair it with voice or text to get better results. The implications of this feature range from ensuring destinations load pictures of popular locations in Google Maps to making sure they host photos on their own websites as storytelling platforms.
Multitask Unified Model (MUM) and Video
Videos matter too! The Multitask Unified Model is Google’s algorithm developed specifically for searching for answers through text, image, and video to provide users with the best answers to their questions.
This means that Google understands what’s in videos now, and can decide which sections are the most pertinent for an answer that meets user intent.
Starting in early 2023, Google also announced that they’re going to start testing auto-translated news articles in search results. Traditionally, if destinations wanted the content to rank in multiple languages they’d have to implement hreflang, ccTLDs, or even some combination of the two.
But now, with Google testing MUM’s robust auto-translation, the possibility of reaching audiences across the world seems easier than ever before.
Forums & Discussions Rich Snippet Features
In an attempt to serve more user-generated content to the people who are looking for answers, Google has also announced the addition of a new forum and discussion-rich snippet features.
Death of “[Insert query here] + Reddit” in search?
There is a large subset of users who use Google to search popular forums like Reddit, where they’ll input queries like “things to do Tucson reddit,” or “places to eat Phoenix reddit.”
Some users also search in this manner to find authentic content from a primary source, much like the users who use TikTok. Google has received the message, and now offers relevant forum threads and discussions in search.
Looking Forward: Meet User Intent with Content
As we wrap up 2022, and we look toward TikTok and Google, it’s clear that meeting expectations and driving conversations will continue to be the key players in travel and inspiration.
Content is king. User intent is queen. Marry the two together and watch your traffic grow. Destinations should continue generating the content, using their websites to tell and share stories, and look toward short-form videos as an effective medium for serving users’ information and inspiration.
The United States will hold its midterm elections on Tuesday November 8. With election season just around the corner, here are several media and marketing strategies to navigate competition with political ads and polarizing news coverage.
Eliminate Perception of Preference by Proximity
DMOs should tighten up where ads are running. Politics and news websites, especially ones with partisan preferences, can publish increasingly provocative content as election day nears. It is best to avoid these topics in general, but especially so during election campaign season.
We always recommend political sites be added to DMOs’ exclusion lists.We also recommend not running ads on articles with political tags. We believe it is a best practice to do these things year-round, but it’s especially important to do so when the country approaches election season.
Double Check Negative Keywords
Working in the DMO space, having affiliations with public departments, and being linked with municipality, county, or state governments, makes it likely your organization or brand will appear in election-related internet searches. We recommend neutralizing this possibility so your brand is not associated with these searches.
A DMO should set the negative keyword match on Google to include any iterations of its destination with election-related words, such as candidates’ names, slogans, or election campaign messaging.
Eliminate the Chance to Tie You to a Campaign or Candidate
Consumers are starting to associate brands with causes, candidates, and political parties as companies become more open with their support and attention is paid to corporate campaign donations. This correlation can negatively impact brands trying to stay out of the political fray. This is especially true of DMOs that are publicly-funded.
Taking the above steps can help DMOs stay away from political topics this time of year, and remove any chance consumers will associate their brand with a candidate or political party. Our media team is standing up to help your team navigate the intricate election season advertising landscape.
While TikTok grew in popularity during the pandemic, travel and foodie influencers weren’t able to take immediate advantage of the fast growing platform. The initial public health guidelines kept people from traveling or visiting restaurants, so TikTok was immediately filled with tourism industry content as its user base rapidly expanded.
It’s important for DMOs to plot a long-term strategy and allocate budget to get their brand on the platform while creating authentic content that resonates with Millennials and Gen Z travelers. Our team worked with Visit Tampa Bay and the Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council to achieve that very goal.
Tick Tock, Time to get on TikTok
The Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council, which comprises 14 counties, wanted to host a digital content creator trip to use influencers to elevate the many offerings of the region to their target audiences. Our team utilized Tagger, an influencer marketing platform, to identify creators that focused on the Finger Lakes’ core pillars of outdoors adventures, small town exploration, and craft beverages.
Our team curated multiple itineraries that touched all but three counties within the Finger Lakes to amplify those strategic missions in their key travel markets. We were able to highlight story lines of waterfall exploration, craft beverages mixed with adventure, and the specialities of the area’s small towns through TikTok posts, as well as daily Instagram stories, short form videos, posts, and blogs.
128 Posts over three days
Potential Reach of 7 Million+ accounts
Over $267,000 in earned media value
Create Influencer Worthy Experiences
Visit Tampa Bay was recently awarded Michelin Star City Status with 19 restaurants in the region receiving Michelin recommended ratings. Visit Tampa Bay wanted to build awareness and generate consumer buzz of their new elevated status in the highly recognized culinary destination, New York.
Our team curated a unique and custom Visit Tampa Bay destination takeover at Smorgasburg, one of the most popular food festivals in New York. An immersive pop-up was created to highlight Ybor City in Tampa with on-site sampling of the iconic Cuban sandwich. To generate consumer buzz and build third party credibility, we partnered with three influencers to create on-site content of the activation highlighting the food and destination offerings. One influencer traveled to Visit Tampa Bay prior to the event for an immersive experience to the destination’s food scene.
Over 227,000 impressions
Over 1.2M video views
Over 36,000 engagements
Over $545,000 in earned media value
Results During Event
Over 184,000 impressions
Over 80,000 video views
Over 1,600 engagements
Over $92,600 in Earned Media Value
The media landscape is shifting. Consumers’ eyeballs are turning to digital channels. There are only eight TV networks with over one million primetime viewers, but TikTok has over 1 billion monthly active users internationally, and counting.
By keeping our finger on the pulse of the media industry, we can ensure your media plan is tailored to meet users where they are showing up — right now that’s video-centered digital channels. To make your media spend impactful, your brand needs to have a meaningful presence on TikTok and other popular social media platforms.
Our digital media strategists and PR experts and creating relationships with influencers everyday. Reach out to see if there are any who can help elevate your brand.
How Madden Mastered Winter Marketing in the Northeast
DMOs in the northeast often struggle with marketing a destination during the months of unpredictable winter weather. Unless your destination has a large-scale attraction like a ski resort, indoor water park, or a convention center – figuring out how to encourage and maintain a steady flow of visitation in the wintertime can require creative and unique approaches.
In November & December of 2021, Madden helped the quaint small towns of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, promote their local treasures as a holiday getaway – and it worked. Occupancy rates in Montgomery County soared to pre-pandemic levels.
Located in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Valley Forge region encapsulates all of Montgomery County. As a suburb of Philadelphia, the destination may not be immediately top-of-mind for travelers at this time of year. But, the region is packed with many hidden gems that offer charming, family-friendly activities for the holiday and winter seasons. During the holiday season, Montgomery County reaches many people traveling home for the holidays, whether it be students returning home from college, young couples leaving the cities for a getaway, or families seeking a haven for holiday fun that won’t break the bank.
The goal of the “Valley Forge for the Holidays” campaign is a great example of how a DMO can bring awareness to its destination during traditionally slower times of year. The campaign highlighted destination features including unbeatable shopping excursions, craft beverage makers, quaint Main Streets, seasonal family fun, winter adventures, and more.
Madden and Montco Unite
Madden and the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board (VFTCB) spun a seasonal play on VFTCB’s “Make It Montco” campaign to help drive foot traffic to businesses in the small communities. We started by designing a seasonal adaptation of the organization’s original logo. A landing page was developed by the VFTCB that showcased available hotel packages for the holiday season, including booking information. For campaign assets, Madden’s creative team utilized a unique approach that mixed bright, graphic elements with rich destination photography. We also featured animated aspects throughout the creative work that would catch the consumer’s eye.
Madden’s account strategy and media teams deployed a mix of channels, including digital mainstays like Facebook and Spotify complemented with traditional channels like billboards. Our team leveraged a strategic stack of tactics that allowed us to create unique ad experiences and cultivate relationships with users along various points of the booking funnel.
In addition to traditional geographic and interest-level targeting, we used strategic conquesting efforts to target visitors who might be visiting other holiday-related attractions in our key origin markets. These visitors were targeted with ad creative that showcased the experiences that were available throughout Montgomery County, PA, including hotel package opportunities.
The success of the “Valley Forge for the Holidays” campaign was demonstrated through strong KPIs in digital ad placement. Throughout the campaign, all tactics performed at or above goal, with many reaching above industry standards. Our successes from this campaign can also be traced through conversions of arrivals in-destination, as demonstrated through the DMO’s occupancy data provided through STR reporting.
Working with Madden on this campaign was an important part of reaching and surpassing goals.
Justine Garbarino, Associate Vice President of Marketing, Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board
During the months of this campaign, the VFTCB reported significant year-over-year occupancy increases (nearly reaching 2019, pre-pandemic numbers). In addition, the DMO saw its highest-ever referral and search numbers through their Book Direct data.
Cold-hard conversions like this are music to our ears as we help client destinations recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Helping our clients find new tactics and solutions to highlight the unique businesses and people in their community during a normally slow time of year is the best kind of holiday cheer.
Ready to learn more about how Madden can help drive results for your destination? Complete the form below to get the conversation started.
Voyage is Madden’s industry-leading, destination intelligence platform. Built with DMOs in mind, this tool enables partners to inform strategies, measure impact, and fulfill fiduciary responsibilities.
Our goal with this tool is to serve our clients’ data needs. One of the biggest needs DMOs face is not having data that shows how tourism actively impacts their destination.
Two added features in Voyage aim to obliterate this key challenge. These new capabilities unlock visitor spend and event measurement insights — strengthening Voyage’s status as the most powerful DMO data tool in the industry.
DMOs are now able to track in-market visitor spending. Voyage gives users access to data sourced from over 3,000 financial institutions and over 100 million debit and credit cards.
Our partners are now able to gain insights into visitor spending behaviors across merchant categories to see which attractions and businesses are generating the most tourism revenue. Voyage also enables DMOs to analyze spending trends between different demographic segments and combine visitor spending data with location data to enrich insights into origin market value. For example, a DMO could analyze which origin markets generate the longest length of stay and highest visitor spending, and then prioritize those markets in media targeting.
It’s well known that events bring with them an influx of visitors. However, there is more to learn.
What are events’ overall impact on a destination?
Which events make the biggest impact on a destination? What venues generate the most revenue?
All these questions and more can now be answered through Voyage.
DMOs can unlock event data that measures the impact of local events, such as festivals, concerts, sports, conferences, and more. Voyage users have the capability to:
track event attendance for both out-of-market visitors and locals
forecast attendance and attendee length of stay of future events
analyze top event venues
gain insights into market compression due to planned future events
Destination Intelligence Leadership
DMOs must provide a clear vision and goals for their destination. This is impossible to do without data-driven insights or the ability to prove out ROI with demonstrable results. Voyage gives DMOs the ability to do both, and when you pair the platform’s power with our team’s full-service destination marketing capabilities — you’re ready to put the ACTION into actionable data.
Pre-pandemic, two weeks of paid time off was an industry standard. You know the drill. If you had a family, you got one week off for winter break and another week off for summer break. If you were single, you might take a two-week vacation or multiple three-day weekends year-round. The point being, you had options. The two-week PTO policy made sense, and many employees probably thought this is as good as it gets.
The Pandemic changed everything.
In 2019, the world experienced an enormous cultural shift. Across states, countries, and industries, work that was once conducted in person became fully remote. The needs of employees changed, and companies were confronted with countless new challenges. How would remote technologies unite teams? How long should offices be left empty? Was two weeks PTO enough time, given the state of the world?
Prior to the pandemic, Madden had roughly 15 remote employees of our total 100. By mid-year 2020, the entire company (like everyone else) transitioned to a temporary, fully remote work model. Pretty quickly, it became clear: the lockdown was here to stay. Madden’s executive team sought long-term solutions to support employees and its clients.
Permanent hybrid and remote work models meant employees were no longer required to be in the office. For the first time in company history, our staff could opt into the model that best suited their lifestyle. It all worked beautifully.
“When the executive team looked at productivity, they found nothing had decreased. In fact, productivity had increased,” said HR Manager Torre Naas.
This new model of remote work allowed employees to better balance their professional and home lives. Team members were now allowed to self-regulate and maintain their workloads in a manner that best suited their lifestyles. Moms and Dads could start later in the day to prepare their kids for school. Anyone could shift their schedules to make a doctor’s appointment. The system worked better than ever before, and it worked because it was founded on the basis of trust.
“We know our team is invested in providing great work for our clients and are invested in their mission,” said CEO Dan Janes. “Our PTO policy is built on a foundation of trust. We hire great people who do great things from wherever it is they need to be. At our core, if we cannot trust each other, then we probably should not be working together.”
It was all working so well, so seamlessly, in fact, that executive leadership took a closer look at the pre-Pandemic PTO policies. While the previous model of PTO was generous, it was antiquated. The nature of work had changed. As the world reopened, we all craved travel and community more than ever before.
“With so many of our clients in the travel and tourism space, we know the important benefits that travel has on individuals,” Janes said. “We know that in order to be your best for yourself, family, and our clients, you need rest, relaxation and vacation. That looks very different for everyone across our team.”
As the future of work experienced evolution, so too did Madden. Employees were now welcome to take whatever time they needed, for whatever reason. PTO was now less about managing the time of people and more about a broader discussion of performance, results, and output that placed individual autonomy over traditional management systems.
The new models more than worked — they flourished. Madden now has 142 employees spread across 31 different states (and counting). And as a result, productivity is at an all-time high, and so too is paid time off.
See Responsible PTO in Action
Our team impacts the growth of communities by creating personalized, immersive content that connects people to places. This summer, Madden employees have traveled across the world and back again—from Greece to Colombia, from Oahu to Nashville, and beyond. Explore some of their stories.
Bordeaux, France: Media Strategist Wes Condray-Wright
“I have a relative who owns a B&B in a small village called Saussignac,” said Condray-Wright. “We came to spend some time enjoying the countryside and of course, enjoy all the wine the Bordeaux region has to offer. The flexibility to be able to work from anywhere makes it so easy to take advantage of summer travel. All you need is a stable WiFi connection, and boom, instant office. I appreciate that Madden not only promotes travel externally but encourages us to explore the world as well.”
Orlando, Florida: Director of Destination Strategy Kaitie Burger
“My brother lives in Orlando and works at Disney, and I was heading to Florida for some work-related travel. I was able to tack on a few PTO days to spend visiting with my brother, who I haven’t seen in quite some time,” said Burger. “Our PTO and remote work flexibility impacts my decisions tremendously when it comes to travel! It’s great to be able to take long weekends without feeling the pressure of being away from my desk. And our remote work flexibility means that I can even treat myself to a little workcation where I can spend some productive time, but also be able to see friends and family in the mix too. A little poolside work time is never a bad choice.”
New York City, New York: Content Specialist Josh Johnson
“This summer I visited NYC because I love the chance to explore solo, and NYC has all my favorite things — good food, great bars, and plenty of people watching,” said Johnson. “Madden’s responsible PTO helps me craft new experiences for myself without the guilt often times associated with frequent travel — which as a creative in the tourism space helps to fuel future stories, ideas, and concepts.
Interested in learning more about Madden’s benefits and company culture? Explore more of Madden Media here.
Madden Media is over 140 people strong with over 140 offices across the United States. Yes, you read that right. During the pandemic, we discovered a physical office was an unnecessary constraint to finding talent. Our teams are more productive, engaged, and creative, working from anywhere. While we are thriving remotely, there’s nothing quite like hanging out in person. So we did it.
Four Madden teams left their home offices to travel across the country for three days of teambuilding in client destinations. These are their stories.
A Herd of Goats Wander Boise, ID
Did you know that in Idaho specifically, you’ll find Goat Lake and Goat Falls and even rental goats? When Madden Media was named agency of record for the Idaho Department of Commerce and Idaho Tourism, we took inspiration from the state, and Team Goat was formed. The herd headed to Boise, ID, to reconnect, have some fun, and immerse themselves in Idaho.
“It’s one thing to see Idaho on your computer screen every single day, but to actually be there and experience downtown Boise and its energy was really special,” said Content Specialist Amanda Oien.
Since its formation, the team has grown and expanded, with many having never met in person. So they all got acquainted (or reacquainted) over dinner and drinks before their full retreat day. Idaho Department of Commerce Marketing and Innovation Administrator Matt Borud joined them, sharing how his team works and their goals. The topic of conversation turned to Team Goat, examining team aspirations, challenges, successes, and team culture. Next, it was on to the team adventure — whitewater rafting. Idaho has some of the best paddling and rafting in North America, so it was a must. While the team was apprehensive (some can’t even swim, and most had never tried it), they conquered the rapids and experienced team bonding at its most extreme together.
“As cheesy as it sounds, we made lifelong memories that day because we not only got to bond with our coworkers, but we also got to do something completely out of our comfort zone,” said Oien. “We were on this beautiful river surrounded by wilderness; it was just incredible.”
A Clan of Honey Badgers Explore Tampa Bay, FL
Notorious for its strength, ferocity, and toughness, the honey badger is one animal not to be messed with. Each member of Team Honey Badger uses these traits to deliver holistic solutions for clients such as Discover Atlanta, Visit Buffalo Niagara, South Carolina’s Hammock Coast, Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council, and Visit Tampa Bay. The Honey Badgers found themselves beach bound and headed to Tampa Bay, FL, to hang ten together.
“I am just four months on the job now, and so this was my first time getting to meet everyone on the team,” said PR Strategist Brianna Francis. “The excitement was really building for this because half of us have been with Madden for ten years or more, and the other half are brand new.”
The Honey Badgers left their computer screens at home and met face-to-face in Florida. The retreat kicked off at Top Golf, connecting over golf swings, dinner, and drinks. The team assembled the next day for presentations by discipline, sharing an in-depth look into their day-to-day. Visit Tampa Bay joined in to explain the inner workings of the DMO and identify trends for the upcoming year before leading them on a tour of their visitor center. They also experienced the Florida Aquarium in Tampa Bay and took a trip to Ybor City.
“We had an incredible meal at Florida’s Oldest RestaurantSM, Columbia Restaurant, in a private room and watched the flamenco show. Afterward, some of the team found the roosters that roam the city,” said Francis. “It was a great experience. We immersed ourselves in our client destination while getting to know each other in person.”
A Conspiracy of Ravens Land in St. Louis, MO
Ravens are playful, social, and intelligent animals, as are the folks who make up one of Madden’s largest teams. Team Raven works with midwest clients, including the Missouri Division of Tourism, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, and Explore St. Louis. So when it came time to plan their Madden retreat, St. Louis, MO, was the ideal destination where they could reconnect while learning more about the area.
The team stayed in the heart of St. Louis in a historic hotel near the America’s Center Convention Complex across the street from Explore St. Louis’ offices. The first full day started with a presentation by Explore St. Louis, where members of the DMO shared more about their roles, how the DMO operates, and where they get funding. Next, they got to explore Union Station featuring The St. Louis Wheel, the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station, the Fire & Light Show at Union Station, and so much more. Throughout the experience, they sampled St. Louis delicacies, including toasted ravioli, Provel pizza (only made in St. Louis), and gooey butter cake. Not to mention they all enjoyed a full spread of ballpark favorites during Star Wars night from their private suite at The Cardinal Ballpark Village with a few representatives from Explore St. Louis.
“As much as I love remote work, you really do need that in-person connection to bolster relationships and meet the new team members. Travel is one of the most meaningful things you can do with another person, building unique experiences that you won’t have anywhere else,” said Content Strategist Marissa Selby. “Plus, getting to experience a client’s destination ignites more passion for what we do.”
A Tribe of Sasquatch Infiltrate Milwaukee, WI
Tall, respected, nature-loving — that’s a Sasquatch in a nutshell. One of Madden’s largest teams oversees many “great outdoors” sections of America, such as the Wyoming Office of Tourism, Grand Canyon West, and Galena Country, Illinois. Yet this mysterious team is just as comfortable representing urban areas, including one of Madden’s newest clients — VISIT Milwaukee. So when planning the Sassy Retreat, the team went wild in Milwaukee, WI.
“A bonding experience like no other. This team, this company. It’s truly changed me as a person,” said Managing Account Strategist Alison Mairena. “The energy and work ethic my fellow sassies bring to the table is unmatched, and while this inspires me to be the best I can be, this also drives my passion for the work we do.”
The clan arrived from all corners of the country, descending on one of the coolest hotels in Wisconsin, Saint Kate — The Arts Hotel. This creative hub for the city was a perfect base camp, where every aspect of the hotel is inspired by music, painting, sculpture, and design. The team wasted no time making the most of their short time together. They sang karaoke, dined and drank, and solved mysteries to get into a speakeasy. Some of them kayaked the Milwaukee River, others experienced the city’s best bars, clubs, and pubs from a bicycle bar, and still, others went on a go-cart tour of the city. What they all did was a friendly team challenge pitching new and innovative ideas before meeting with members of VISIT Milwaukee, The Wisconsin Center, and Summerfest to learn more about what this incredible city has to offer.
“Expect more in 2024 because the Wisconsin Center District is expanding! The news of the expansion has been the driving focus of our marketing efforts, and I was finally able to see just how much of an impact this will have on the city,” said Mairena. “We were lucky enough to get a tour of the district as well as an inside look of the Panther Arena and Miller High Life Theater. Milwaukee is a beautiful city, and I will most definitely be back, especially for the cheese curds.”
The Power of Travel
Here at Madden Media, we recognize the positive impact tourism has on the communities within the destinations we serve. Travel makes the world better by generating tax revenue to support communities, paychecks to feed families, and experiences to grow empathy through understanding. We don’t want to only create campaigns that drive visitation; we want to walk the walk and be those travelers. And while it was fun to all be together, the impact of these retreats will carry over to our work.
“Working in the tourism industry, we know that meetings drive impact not just for the communities that host events, but the attendees as well. When you bring people together, you create deeper connections that can solve bigger challenges, and you generate creative collisions that create new opportunities through purpose-built collaboration,” said CEO Dan Janes. “Each of our teams was able to build those connections, and they all came away with new ideas and deeper understanding of the business and opportunities we can create for our clients.”
In a recent study conducted by Destination International, residents reported that they felt left out of the conversation when it came to tourism development in their communities. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, local economies nationwide witnessed enormous booms in travel and tourism — both to the benefit and burden of the locals. With mounting concerns surrounding overtourism and sustainability, it’s now more important than ever that the voices and concerns of the community and their partners are taken into account.
Creating Meaningful Connections
Residents are an often overlooked target audience in destination marketing. While locals largely benefit from travel and tourism in their community, they also bear the brunt of the consequences. Building deliberate and thoughtful relationships between locals and visitors can generate immeasurably positive effects for both stakeholders. When resident sentiment is high, buy-in and pride in the community increase across the board. One example of an effective regenerative tourism campaign through the lens of the locals is our work with Visit Port Aransas.
Once known as a sleepy fishing village along the Gulf Coast of Texas, Port Aransas is now widely regarded as a hip and happening vacation destination for the young and old alike. As the community of Port Aransas grew, the community felt like their concerns weren’t being met and identified an increasing need for sustainable tourism. Salty Stories was their solution.
In creating the video and podcast series Salty Stories, Visit Port Aransas was able to share first-person stories about the island’s locals that were both authentic and humanizing. These stories created a personal connection to the community, which led to increased bookings and greater stewardship efforts from visitors.
An equally important facet of resident sentiment is partner sentiment. Despite positive perceptions of travel and tourism broadly, a disconnect can sometimes be present between partners and their DMOs. It’s not enough to just run ads highlighting a destination, partners need to feel equal buy-in regarding destination marketing — after all, they are the primary economic drivers in their community. It’s also vital they feel supported when times are bad, such as during the pandemic. For this reason, it’s important that DMOs create accessible opportunities for discourse that both engage and educate their partners.
Cooperative marketing programs pose the perfect opportunity for communities to collaborate with and boost unique partnerships. In 2021, Explore Branson partnered with Madden to offer cooperative sales opportunities to their partners. Five co-op opportunities were offered that aligned with the Branson/Lakes Area CVB’s overall destination marketing strategy. Participants were featured in both the Official Annual Visitor Guide and ExploreBranson.com, which gave coverage across a spectrum of both print and digital media.
Not stopping there, Explore Branson and Madden grew the program even further. Research indicated there was growth potential in Branson’s Theatre District community — a community hit especially hard during the pandemic. Following this data, the first-ever 100% matching search marketing co-op program was born for live shows. This program saw Branson/ Lakes Area CVB matching all SEM marketing funds invested by its Theatre District partners, and included educational seminars and webinars from Madden for Branson’s partners, teaching them the value of SEM.
This program quickly sold out for all 14 partners, with Branson/Lakes Area CVB matching $300,000 in SEM funds, and the co-op has generated 45% of traffic to partner websites, with 88% of that traffic coming from new users. The co-op was a resounding success and served as a model for future partner sentiment initiatives.
Building a Better Tomorrow
Travel truly makes the world a better place. Heads in beds generate meaningful tax revenue, which in turn builds schools, roads, and parks. Paychecks feed families. Exposure to new cultures and ideologies builds empathy. There’s no question that the positive impacts of travel far outweigh the negative; however, as the demands of the modern world change, so too should we. And who better to help us build a brighter tomorrow than the individuals of a community? From defining the role of a DMO, visitation volume, and sustainability, it’s our responsibility to collaborate in tandem to ensure our efforts ripple positively through generations to come.