Creating a value proposition is key to destination marketing success

Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) have evolved beyond simply serving as a source of information for visitors. They play a much wider role as a voice for communities, businesses, workers and residents and a link to the visitors they serve.

As the official DMO for Center County, The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau (HVAB) embraces this expanded role while staying true to its core mission of building a strong local tourism economy by increasing recreational, sports and business visitation. Just as the roles of DMOs have transformed over the years, the manner in which HVAB and similar organizations carry out their tourism promotion objectives has also changed significantly.

Historically, DMOs have marketed a buffet of things to see and do; offered to a wide audience; and positioned their destination as everything to everyone. This approach is inefficient and expensive and does little to differentiate a destination in a crowded, hyper-competitive travel market.

The Internet, social media, and the rise of influencers and user-generated content have changed the playing field. Visitors have more readily available information about more travel options than ever before. All of the above are valuable tools used by HVAB in marketing Happy Valley. However, with so many methods of message delivery, it’s critical to hone in on the basic consumer question, “Why should I visit?”

Answering this question means creating a destination value proposition and accepting that it’s okay not to be all things to all people, ie. visitors. This is what HVAB did when it rebranded in October 2019.

Penn State, for example, is a huge draw, and that will be especially the case in our efforts to develop sports and leisure tourism. The challenge with this is that there is still an audience that doesn’t know Happy Valley outside of university. Too many potential visitors don’t know enough about our historic communities, beautiful valleys, thriving craft breweries and field-to-fork dining scene or abundant outdoor recreation.

All of Happy Valley is our brand, and being an affordable and accessible getaway for adults looking to escape the chaos of the big city to relax and unwind is very much our value proposition.

Visitation trends at Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park—one of our most popular tourism assets—demonstrate this value proposition in action.

After Penn’s Cave was able to reopen after being closed for more than 8 weeks in 2020, it has seen an increase in visitors from the New York area.

“A lot of these people have told us they’ve rented cabins, whole houses, Airbnbs so they can bring their whole family and escape the city,” said Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park Marketing Manager Terry Schleiden. “They seemed to feel more comfortable in a more rural environment where they could enjoy the open spaces that our beautiful Happy Valley region has to offer.”

Penn’s Cave still bucks the trend for big-city visitors to view Happy Valley as a sanctuary.

In addition to new ways to send messages, HVAB also relies on new research tools to reach the right audience. Artificial intelligence is essential for destination marketing. AI, especially anonymized mobile phone technology, helps identify target audiences, understand visitor behavior while at the destination, track visitor spending, and evaluate accommodation performance. HVAB shares these insights with its tourism partners to promote coordinated marketing efforts.

In providing tourist information, even the traditional visitor center model has changed. Successful visitor centers must be destinations in their own right. HVAB is creating The Happy Valley Store at 204 W. Beaver Ave., where visitors – and residents – can purchase Happy Valley souvenirs and merchandise. The recently opened Moshannon Valley Heritage Center in Philipsburg – a partnership with Visit Clearfield County – will introduce people to the history of the region.

In today’s competitive tourism promotion industry, effective DMOs are the ones who maintain the position in visitor cultivation and answer the all-important question “why?”

Fritz Smith is the President and CEO of The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau.

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