Gathan D. Borden

Marketing guy working in the tourism industry, disguised under the title of "Director, Brand Marketing & Advertising" - I share my thoughts on a myriad of topics.

Should Your Destination Have A Mobile App?


Destinations are sexy. Mobile apps are sexy. But should these two marry each other? Yes and no…and here’s why?
Travelers are more reliant on mobile than ever. The average traveler uses 20-30 sites when planning their trip. Once they are in market, they use anywhere between 7-12 apps to share their experiences, all from a mobile device. They are using their device for pictures, videos, way-finding and recommendations, among other activities. Destinations are wanting to capitalize off this growing trend and provide a service to the mobile traveler, by offering up a destination specific mobile app. But I think destinations take the easy way out when building apps, and aren’t really taking into account the complete user experience. Here are six things you SHOULD DO or SHOULDN’T DO before you build your destination mobile app.
DO MAKE IT USEFUL, EVEN OUT OF MARKET. The reason that most mobile apps are successful is because they are useful no matter where we go. If your app is focused only on in-destination content, how useful is it really for a traveler? Do you really think someone will take the time to download your app for a one-time use and delete it? Wouldn’t you want an app that people use more than once? If your destination has a strong brand, why not build your app around that brand to create content that app users could benefit from. For example if you’re known for wine, make your app be an “all things wine” app with reviews, new releases, educational information, as well as, destination content. Now you’re useful, and when that app user wants to make a wine trip, you’ll be top of mind.
DO NOT MAKE IT A MOBILE VERSION OF YOUR VISITORS GUIDE. Listen, if I wanted a visitors guide, I’d get a visitors guide. Personally, I’m not a fan of visitors guides, as I don’t believe travelers like to read novels of bulleted information. Going this route is the easy way, but you haven’t created anything for the mobile traveler other than listings, and odds are, they’ll use another source to find listings. 
DO PROMOTE IT TO LOCALS. Some destination benefit heavily from VFR (visiting friends and relatives) travel, so getting your locals engaged in your destination app is key. Destinations also spend time educating locals on the power of travel and its affect on the local economy, and what better way to keep locals engaged with the destination than to market the app to them for everyday use? Locals also tend to be the best brand ambassadors of any destination, so involving them with any marketing initiative you have will guarantee success. 
DO NOT REGURGITATE SEARCH ENGINE INFORMATION. You can’t beat Google…or Yahoo!…or Bing…or any other search engine site out there - so quit trying to do that. I know you’ve heard of the slogan “if you can’t beat them, join them”, well that doesn’t apply here. Why join in regurgitating information that someone else already does. The reason people come to destinations is because they vary in experiences from one place to the next, so why would someone use your mobile app when it’s the same experience as a search engine?
DO PROVIDE SOME SORT OF INTERACTION. The most utilized aspects of an app is the interaction. Always ask the question, “what does this app do for me?”, to help guide you in the process. Creating some form of interaction, such as gaming, shopping or iconography can greatly enhance the user experience of any destination app.
DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY. Apps are expensive, no way around it. Not only are you paying money for research, development and production, you also have to shell out money for the promotion of that app. If you don’t have the dollars to handle these activities, along with the ongoing maintenance of the app itself, then why waste your time? 
Does your destination plan to build a mobile app? If so, how will you structure your app?

The ONE Thing I Learned at #SoMeT13US

I just spent four days at the Social Media Symposium for Tourism in Huntsville, AL. Four days with some of the world’s brightest minds in social media and tourism. Four days of meeting fellow colleagues in the tourism industry. Four days of Huntsville Hospitality - and I only learned one thing.

Normally when I go to conferences, I aim to walk away with 3-5 new ideas that I can implement in my or my co-worker’s daily performance, but not this time. This time I came with one thing, and here it is…

Brands need to give up control and give it to their communities.

As a marketer by day, I can attest to the fact that we as brands no longer own our brand identity. Despite all the research we do as a destination, our visitors are what define us as a destination. Our brand is no longer what we’ve manufactured behind our boardroom doors, but it is now what the visitor has either heard about us or experienced with us, no more no less.

While relinquishing control of the brand can be scary, allowing visitors (fans) to control your brand actually arms you with a large sales force. A sales force that you don’t have to pay. A sales force that works nights and weekends. A sales force that is honest and shares insight into aspects of your brand that you haven’t even thought of. A sales force that is viewed as more reliable than you - the brand itself.

So, while I walked with one thing, it was a big one thing. I’m going to challenge myself to develop marketing concepts that put our visitors in control of our destination, and then we as the DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) move from marketing our destination to managing our destination.

Here’s to the challenge!

THE DMO OF THE FUTURE: Should They Hire Event Planners?

Every now and then, I like to sit back and think about what the future holds for the travel & tourism industry – specifically for DMOs and CVBs. Although I’ve only been in this industry for a short period of time, one thing that I have noticed is that there seems to be a lack of vision within our industry. And when I say lack of vision, I’m talking about where is the DMO/CVB going to be 10 years from now? What will the role of the DMO/CVB be in 2025? And how do we start to lay the groundwork now for that transition?

Maybe we can shed some light on that topic through this series of posts, titled “The DMO of the Future”. I like sharing my thoughts and I like looking to the future, so why not write it down and share with you? With that said, here is my first installment, and it is posed as a question: Should DMOs/CVBs hire event planners?

Let’s look at the definition of an event planner: An event planner is someone who manages the process of a project such as a meeting, convention, trade show, ceremony, team building activity or party. They handle budgeting, timelines, selection of event sites, food planning, transportation, theme development and contingency plans.

HERE’S A SCENARIO. How resourceful would an event planner be to every meeting planner who is planning their meeting in your destination? Not only would the DMO/CVB Event Planner serve as an extension of the organization, but they would become a valuable resource to the meeting planner or organization that lacks resources for a successful meeting (i.e. Small Meetings). Most planners hire event companies through destinations anyway, so why not just bring that outsourced work under the umbrella of the DMO/CVB? If you couple this with your Destination Services team, you’ve got a strong package to deliver to the meeting planner and their organization.

HERE’S ANOTHER SCENARIO. When the DMO/CVB sales staff travels to other cities to recruit visitors via trade shows  festivals and/or fairs, how valuable does the DMO/CVB Event Planner become in arranging an event/activity on behalf of the destination? They find the venue, create the theme, arrange the food and transportation, and now all your sales staff has to do is what you hired them to do – sell.

HERE’S ONE MORE SCENARIO. Does your destination lack in having adequate festivals and events? The DMO/CVB Event Planner could be the lead project manager in developing a festival or event for your destination that brings in visitors from all over the world. Developing a festival with the organizational backing of the DMO/CVB is vital to its success.

Having someone on your staff, solely dedicated to planning events for sales activities and for booked business would be an interesting shift in how DMOs/CVBs recruit and retain visitors. Think of having a mobile wedding reception at your disposal anytime you wanted, but the person who plans it actually works with you. Do you think this would work?


Right on time to kick-off 2013, I made a list of 13 things that I think destinations need to be prepared for. DISCLAIMER: These are not sure-fire predictions. Think of these more as tiny morsels of information to keep in your brain.

1.  The evolving role of communications/marketing staff. Press releases, story pitches and travel writers are no longer the main focus of marketing communications departments. Now we’ve got social media, website management, in-house graphic design and creative direction, just to name a few, that our communications departments are responsible for. In this ever-changing media world look for more staff members to become chameleons.

2. Consumer confidence increase. By all reports I’m reading, everyone is predicting that 2013 could be a record travel year. Consumers are feeling more confident now, and are willing to make that trip. Whether that trip is out of town or a staycation, the good thing here, is that they are spending money again – money that you want spent in your destination.

3. Government meetings decrease. Despite other market segments of travel seeing a rise, the government market segment is heavily scrutinized for its spending. Expect to see lesser government meetings in your neck of the woods. This now opens the door for you to pursue another market segment that you may have been neglecting.

4. Mobile takes over the travel experience. If you can remember one thing, it’s this, “Mobile is the needle. Social is the thread.” Our lives, in particular our travel experiences, are woven together by the use of social media, and mobile is the tool that starts and ends the process. Mobile usage is on the rise, and will continue to be so in 2013.

5. Your website is your life and blood. How many times are we going to experience the wrath of Edgerank on Facebook, privacy setting changes or the complete shutdown of a social network site to understand that we don’t own that land. Don’t allow outside networks to influence your marketing success - it’s only rented property. Build up the assets that you do own, and that is your website.

6. iPads are the new black. We live in a time-strapped society, where our sales people only have a small window to influence a planner or tour operator to book the destination. iPads have breathed new life into sales presentations, that don’t require Wi-Fi, plugs or a screen. Make sure you’ve got your sales materials loaded on the iPads in an easy-to-use interface for your staff so that they can effectively sell the destination.

7. Get personal with your visitors. In the marketing world, we are so inundated with mass communications, that no one takes the time to write us a personal note. Ditch the mass e-blasts and try one-on-one communications again – we’ve seen great success in it, with the ability to connect to our potential visitors in a more personal way.

8. RTOs are worth a shot. Regional Tourism Organizations are a great way to bring a collective group of people together to promote a niche market that everyone can benefit from. Look around and see what you share with other communities within your state/region and develop a plan to capitalize on that experience so that you can dominate that segment of the market.

9. DMOs need to be the expert. While we are the tourism expert for our respective destinations, DMOs need to go one step further, and become the expert in particular fields. Our hospitality partners need our support and providing them with expertise in terms of marketing, planning or some other business aspect will result a team-wide effort to win business for the destination.

10. Don’t create, curate. Social media has opened the door to allow anyone to become a content creator, so odds are, what destinations want to create someone else has already beaten you to it. Just because DMOs are the authority on the destination, doesn’t make them the authority on destination content. Some of the best stories are told by those who have no affiliation to the DMO, so reach out to those people and use what they have instead of reinventing the wheel.

11. Local bloggers are the new media. If your local bloggers are not on your media list, then you are missing the boat. Bloggers are just as credible, if not more credible, than your traditional journalists nowadays. And given the importance of reach and social media, bloggers have wide networks that allow for your message to be seen by more than just the local media.

12. Direct mail is not a bad thing. Snail mail is back on the rise I tell ya! Because of the increased number of digital communications options consumers have a hard time sifting through which emails to read and delete. Take the time and craft a direct mail campaign that allows the end user to touch and interact with your message for your destination. Go one step further and make it personal, and I guarantee you it’ll be a great sales lead.

13. Niche can make you rich. Every destination has a story, and every destination has something unique. A niche marketing strategy is specific to one product. As the DMO, your goal is to uncover that one thing and market the hell out of it. In turn, that niche market can lead you to rich content that makes you a “top places to visit”.

Are any of these things are your list to do for 2013?


The best way to encourage and persuade travelers to come visit your destination is through advertising. Nothing tugs at the heartstrings more of potential buyers than to be able to see the product that they are about to purchase, and in this case, nothing is more important than for the traveler to be able to see themselves in your destination. We all can use a little guidance as we continually develop new advertising strategies, and for that reason, I have decided to share with you five reasons why your destination advertising sucks. (For the context of this post, we’ll refer to advertising as just TV, radio, print and digital – no social.)

Your skyline is your advertisement. How many destination/travel publications have you read, where the ad used by the destination is a beautiful shot of their skyline? Too many to name I’m sure. BREAKING NEWS – people can get a skyline shot anywhere! In this day of technology, skyline photographs are easy to come by, so odds are that if travelers see the same shot in your advertisement as they have seen on your digital properties, it won’t be enough to keep their attention. Use a hero image that is indicative of the traveler’s experience, as you cannot visit a skyline.

Your copy is not compelling. Surely there is a list somewhere of the “most overly used” words in destination ad copy. Words like ‘experience’, ‘unique’ and ‘ideal location’ are used all the time. Read your copy, and if you feel like you can insert Anytown, USA into the ad, you have a problem. Let your ad tell the story of your destination that leads the reader to research it a little further on your website where you can convert them into a visitor.

Your creative doesn’t match across platforms. There is nothing worse in the world of advertising than when your ads do not match across multiple forms of media. Between print, TV, radio and digital, there should be some cohesiveness to the look and feel of your ads. There may also be times where you have changed the creative design of your print advertisements, but haven’t changed the creative design of your website. No worries, as that happens…your simple solution here is to create landing pages within your website that reflect the current ads you are running, and integrate them seamlessly into the skin of your website.

You are in the wrong publications. As a destination, it is imperative to know your story and know who you are for in order to reach the right people – and I’m talking beyond the women 25-54 segment. Audience segmentation is key, so make sure that your ads align with the right forms of media to get your message to the right audience at the right time in the right place.

Your agency does it all, and you just say ok. I’m all about teamwork, heck, “teamwork makes the dream work” (I just had to say it.) I truly believe that the best ideas are born out of collaboration, no isolation. Don’t allow your advertising agency to isolate you so far from the marketing process that the only input you give is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You should know more about your brand than they do, so it is critical for you to lead the strategy planning of how and where your messages go.

THE SOCIAL MEDIA PYRAMID: Three (tions) of social media

The Social Media Pyramid

How are you gauging your brand presence on social media? I’m not talking about the likes, followers, fans, etc, but more about your actions on social media – actions that are broad enough for us to understand, but yet narrow enough for us to focus on.

Let’s look at a pyramid real quick. Pyramids are triangular in shape, with sides that converge to a single point at the top, with the majority of the weight at the base, which is the foundation. Strong foundations are the main reason why pyramids are still standing today, and have lasted since ancient civilization.

We can take this same pyramid, and use it as an analogy for social media. There are three action levels in the social media pyramid for brands, and quite frankly there are three social networks that align perfectly with each of these strategies. While some of us are at different levels, we should all strive to be doing all three – to get us to the top.


This is your base, and probably the greatest strength of social media. Information is key, right? We already know what a simple internet search will provide us with, but social media is now giving us that same information without having to search for it. We can open up any number of social networks now and get breaking news, current affairs and other updates. Consumers are spending so much time on social networks that brands need to understand the importance of sharing information as opposed to waiting for a consumer to search for it. So at a minimum, you should be sharing information.

BEST TOOL: Facebook


What brands like the most about social media is using it as a way to converse with consumers – and by all means, they are correct. It’s one thing for you to share information, but it’s another thing for you to have conversation. At level two is where most brands fail, as they forget how to communicate with people. How many times do brands forget to respond to comments – both positive and negative? That is a killer. Conversations lead to prospects, prospects lead to purchases, and purchases make them customers. I always tell people to follow the 80:20 rule, 80 percent communication, 20 percent information. If you follow it, it forces you to have conversation.

BEST TOOL: Twitter


Now we are at the top, and this is the newest phase of social media – one that is taking off rather quickly. If you’ve figured out the art of sharing information, and mastered the craft of conversation, then inspiration is where you can get consumers to make that purchase. Social purchases are still not widely adopted, as consumers still make that final purchase in the store or at another time on an e-commerce website. But, I believe those times are changing with the rapid adoption of sites like Pinterest and Gentlemint that are built around inspiration – which in turn can easily link to a transaction page on your website. The group-buying sites Groupon and Living Social are good at this, and pretty soon brands will figure out a way to do it too.

BEST TOOL: Pinterest

Where are you at in the pyramid of social media?

Is Foursquare the New Travel Guide?

So I’m in on vacation this week in Destin, FL, experiencing sunshine, the beach, the family and a little sunburn. One of my biggest joys about vacation and traveling, is getting out and exploring my surroundings. So when I was looking for places to eat and things to do, I ditched the visitors guide, and went straight to Foursquare!

Because I work in marketing at a tourism organization, my goal of introducing Foursquare to our social media mix was to be an extension of our visitors guide. Being able to connect and communicate with people exploring our city in real time is key, and being able to give them recommendations and tips makes the experience even better.

So back to Destin… I’ve been to several new restaurants and attractions in my week here all based solely on what I found through Foursquare. I will admit that I used Twitter and Urbanspoon to reinforce my decisions, but Foursquare is where it all began.

The new updates in Foursquare, under the ‘explore’ tab have a wealth of information. From places offering specials to food and nightlife, Foursquare became my mobile visitors guide. And to make the experience even better, when I checked in to places and posted it via Twitter, surrounding businesses decided to strike up a conversation with me.

So I guess to answer my own question, yes, Foursquare is the new visitors guide…at least that’s my opinion, what do you think?


As companies continue to explore ways to capitalize on the use of social media, especially location-based social networking sites, other companies have already figured it out. I’m an avid social media user, borderline “social media junkie”, and I play around with several location-based social networking sites, i.e. Foursquare, Gowalla and Whrrl. On my recent trip to Chicago, I experienced something I’ve never experienced before.

 And it went a little something like this:



Gathan D. Borden (@GathanDBorden)

4/14/11 12:56 PM

Pretty fancy rooms now, they’ve upgraded since I was here last time. (@ Hyatt Regency Chicago, Chicago)


Hyatt Reg Chicago (@HyattChicago)

4/14/11 1:40 PM

@GathanDBorden good call on the upgrade! We just completed a $90M guestroom renovation Welcome to the hotel Gathan.


 Look at that! Within 45 minutes, I had a response from the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Not only did they respond and acknowledge my tweet, but they also added a link via YouTube, which was a video of the hotel renovation process that included the Hotel General Manager talking about the renovation. And what they did was simple…follow the basic rules of social media.

 Be responsive. Join in the conversation folks. Half the battle with social media is just listening. Don’t allow your brand to be discussed and you not have any say. Be it positive or negative, you should be monitoring what others are saying about you. Respond in a timely and positive manner, and bring something of value to the conversation.

 Be personal. Cut the corporate speak. Make sure that your social media tone matches your brand voice. Talk to people as if you were at a party, and discussing your brand over drinks. The less formal, the better. Know who you’re talking to by calling them by their name, it adds more of a personal touch.

 Be open. Allow people who are talking about your brand to really know what’s going on. Bring them into your world and make them feel a part of your social circle. Ask questions, post videos and showcase photos. Be comfortable enough, to leave the social door open, so that people can make suggestions and comments to you.

That about covers it. Next time you’re in Chicago, I recommend you stay at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Along with the newly upgraded rooms, when you check-in (socially, that is) you’ll get a friendly welcome.

 Remember, there is no such thing as a social media guru…my thoughts are simply that, MY THOUGHTS! What works for some, doesn’t work for others. It’s all about exercise and execution.


Every Super Bowl Sunday, the world watches in anticipation of the next great television ad to hit the tube. As a marketer, I love this aspect of the Super Bowl, and it’s so big now that people refer to it as “The Brand Bowl”. But there is always that one commercial that resonates with you and makes you think outside of its product message, and Chrysler’s Super Bowl Ad did just that for me. Not only do I like Eminem and his craft, but I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for the city of Detroit and all it has been through over the past years. High unemployment, vacated buildings and lots and increased crime, just to name a few. So from this commercial, I came across three messages that are applicable to destinations and the tourism community.

KNOW YOUR STORY, AND EMBRACE IT. There’s an old adage that says “History repeats itself.” As a destination, it is vital that you know the history of where you are, but also now the vision of where you’re going. And when I say history, I don’t mean the late-1500s, I’m talking about recent history, about 50 years ago. Cities tend to develop in cycles.  At one point, the emphasis is on downtown, and then people migrate out to the suburbs and downtown suffers, and then people begin to migrate back downtown, and the downtown is revitalized with new attractions, hotels and restaurants – history repeats itself. Every city in America has dealt with these issues, but it’s the stories of how your destination chooses to rebound that will get people interested in what you’re doing. That story of being knocked down and getting back up resonates with everyone in America. And it’s that fortitude to get back up that can create the brand of your destination.

KNOW WHO YOU ARE, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY WHO YOU AREN’T. How do you define your destination? It’s always easy to compare ourselves to others, or simply mimic what see other do. If you are a Tier 2 or Tier 3 city, you won’t have the mass appeal to compete with a tier 1 city… it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean you can’t win in the tourism game. If you constantly compare yourself against, and imitate other destinations that are not in your competitive set, then your resources become stretched and no goals get accomplished. Tourists continue to look for those unique, off-the-beaten-path excursions, and if you can deliver them an experience that is unique to you and only you, you are steps ahead of the game. If you’re hurting in trying to define your destination, try these things: (1) Determine your goals. (2) Think about how far your destination has come and what has changed. (3) How do you react and respond with tourists, and lastly (4) Make a list of new initiatives that match with steps 1 thru 3.

KNOW WHERE YOU ARE, AND WHO YOU’RE FOR. While this may sound similar to the previous statements above, this one is more about what products your destination offers and who’s buying. Unique dining, original cuisine, one-of-a-kind attractions is what will set destinations apart. But you have to be realistic in determining (1) Who is going to come visit me?, and (2) How will they get here? Make sure you are reaching out to right people for your destination. Instead of the typical demographic: Female, 35+, Married w/ kids, College-educated with a HHI of $75k+, let’s expand it, or drill down further, because in this case, it sounds like only women travel. What about men, bachelors, artists & musicians, senior citizens on motor coach buses, etc.? Is your destination a drive-market or a fly-market? If you are a drive-market destination, it doesn’t make much sense to focus your efforts around the fly-market and vice versa. We always like to talk about Las Vegas in the tourism world, and if you search for trips to Las Vegas, the majority of your searches are about flights, because they are a fly-market, they know who they are and who they’re for.

As I was writing this, it dawned on me that these same headings of “KNOW YOUR STORY, AND EMBRACE IT”, “KNOW WHO YOU ARE, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY WHO YOU AREN’T” and "KNOW WHERE YOU ARE, AND WHO YOU’RE FOR” are applicable to our everyday lives outside of our destinations. Great destinations are made by great people and great experiences. Remember, my thoughts are simply that, MY THOUGHTS! What works for some, doesn’t work for others. It’s all about exercise and execution.


I got asked this question earlier today, and have been asked multiple times about running effective contests via a social networking site. Now I do them often for our destination for the Bourbon Country brand through two of our primary social networking pages (Twitter - @justaddbourbon and Facebook - Bourbon Country: Just Add Bourbon, shameless plug there.)

I think there is this myth that it is a complicated strategy, of which it’s not. But I also want to dispell the notion that it’s not as easy as a hit-it-and-quit-it post.

Running contests provide great opportunities for live feedback between you and consumers and dramatically increases the engagement you will see on your various social networking pages. Allow me to share with you my 10 tips on running an effective social media contest.

TIP #1. Let your followers know that a contest is coming, with build-up messages the day before. Telling them to get ready and asking them to invite people to join in the fun.

TIP #2. Let your followers know when you will announce the winner, sharing with them the dates and times.

TIP #3. Always include a photo of the actual prize that is being given away in your post.

TIP #4. Tag people on the photo or post to help increase awareness and ask them to help spread the word.

TIP #5. Let the contest run all day, with the 1st post around 9a. Then send reminder posts about the contest at 12noon, 3p and 6pm.

TIP #6. Randomly go back and check on the comments and respond in the comments section on Facebook about what people are posting or share people’s comments on Twitter. On Facebook, I find it easier to keep track of entries as opposed to Twitter. I use a “comment to win” strategy, where they must put their answers to the contest or whatever it is in the comments section below the post.

TIP #7. I normally don’t do trivia contests, because all of the posts that come after the 1st person who answers the question right, are the exact same. I prefer contests where I’ll post a prize photo and simply ask “Do you want this?” (Generally speaking of course) or I ask people to share their stories with me and I’ll pick the best story. You get some very random and funny posts, but it keeps the conversation going.

TIP #8. Use Facebook and Twitter to cross-promote the contest. I think we are getting to the point where most people are on both sites, but may not check each of them equally. If anything else, this just adds awareness.

TIP #9. When the winner is selected, that should be a status update, all by itself.

TIP #10. The prize should be packaged and mailed, along with a handwritten note from YOU. Simply thanking them for following, and asking them when they receive their package to post back to your wall. If the prize is something that can be worn, then ask them to take a photo and share with you as well.

So there you have it folks, pretty simple and to the point. Remember, there is no such thing as a social media guru…my thoughts are simply that, MY THOUGHTS! What works for some, doesn’t work for others. It’s all about exercise and execution