Digital technologies impact our daily lives in ways that we wouldn’t have even thought about only five years ago. They have transformed how we connect with each other, learn new abilities, and discover new ideas. And as marketers, digital technologies have greatly changed how we target, reach, and even engage with our audiences.
As part of the upcoming 2018 World Tourism Day, taking place September 27th, we reached out to Maureen Haley, Director of Strategic Tourism Initiatives at Visit Houston, to learn more about how Visit Houston is reaching new audiences with their Houston Experience Marketplace, a technology platform that makes it easy for people to find, experience, and fall in love with Houston, Texas.
With over 10 years in the travel industry, Haley’s background has touched every part of the tourism industry. Originally from DC, Haley studied politics. But her career path changed when she interned with the Miami Tourism Board. Haley told us that she fell in love with the travel and tourism industry from day one. She loves that she has the opportunity to meet and work with people who make an impact where they live—showcasing why they live there and the love they have for their town.
“You can’t beat the joy of working in tourism gives you from seeing a direct impact on where you live!” – Maureen Haley, Director of Strategic Tourism Initiatives at Visit Houston
Historically, Houston has primarily attracted business travelers. But, there is way more to do in the big city of Houston than going to a conference or have face time with your fellow coworkers. Houston has a wonderful arts’ scene, interesting museums, top-notch food, and family fun for all ages. But still, Houston is not the top of many travelers’ bucket list as a must-see, fun-packed vacation. Houston was also overlooked by many of the Tour and Activity providers.
The Solution: Create a Digital Marketplace
Visit Houston needed to change its perception to a place that people want to visit.
This was the challenge that Haley faced when she first started working at Visit Houston back in 2016—how does Houston attract more leisure travelers and how can they do it themselves? That’s when Haley and the team at Visit Houston began looking for ways to transform their digital landscape with a marketplace where travelers could discover all that Houston has to offer.
How to Start Building a Digital Marketplace
The marketplace needed to be a place where consumers could not only find places to stay and activities to do but a place where consumers could customize the results to be the most relevant to their interests. Visit Houston also knew that they wanted their platform to be mobile-first since consumers would be searching, booking, and experiencing activities while on their Texas-sized adventure.
In order to achieve their vision, Haley explained the first step was to identify the right technology partner, which was not an easy task. They searched high and low—looking at smaller e-commerce platforms like Shopify to larger platforms like Sabre, ultimately going with Bangwango.
When deciding which technology partner could help them develop a marketplace, they looked for the following traits:
1. Flexibility and Reach
Since there is no average traveler, the consumer journey is all over the place. Haley’s team needed to find a platform that could adjust as Visit Houston uncovered new opportunities and partnerships; as well as provide the flexibility and reach to let consumers discover the activities that are personalized to them and the way they plan their trips.
“The consumer purchase journey is no longer a linear path. It’s a beehive all over the place. Knowing that, we looked for a technology partner that could give us the maximum flexibility for what we wanted to do.” – Maureen Haley, Director of Strategic Tourism Initiatives at Visit Houston
Haley’s team faced a huge challenge—learning new things every day. Since the space was so new for Visit Houston, they felt like they were in a position where they had no idea what they didn’t know. Haley’s team looked for a partner where they felt they could uncover and solve challenges together—understanding not only the space, but understanding them to help bring their vision to life.
“Visit Houston was embarking into unchartered territory – by developing, marketing, and selling destination experiences – and it has been become a tremendously strong partnership because of the collaborative nature of our efforts to solve problems together.” – Monir Parikh, CEO of Bandwango
3. Shared Vision
The partner needed to fully understand the tourism industry and have the ability to help guide Visit Houston’s vision through the development path.
“Buying a tour and activity is such a unique decision and transaction. It’s not like buying a t-shirt.”- Maureen Haley, Director of Strategic Tourism Initiatives at Visit Houston
Invaluable Data Provides Actionable Insights
Part of the value of transforming on a digital scale is the data gives you actionable insight to adjust as needed.
“We get incredible data. Not only are we able to see the transactions for the experiences, but we get an opportunity to see the patterns of redemptions of each activity.” – Maureen Haley, Director of Strategic Tourism Initiatives at Visit Houston
For Visit Houston, their digital marketplace allows them to see into how, when, and where a transaction takes place. Plus, they can see the nuances per activity based on purchase demographics. For example, not only can they see what experience is popular, but they can see the time gap between purchasing and experiencing. And because they can see the consumer’s billing zip code, Visit Houston has actionable insights into what type of experience is popular per region. This allows them to become smarter along the way.
Some of the most surprising data come from the lead time per activity. For example, the Brew Pass is usually purchased and experienced on the same day. Whereas the Museum Pass usually has 7-10 days between booking and experiencing.
Visit Houston first started working with their larger partners and anchor attractions. However, the insights from the amount of data they collect allow them to branch out to organizations like the Houston Arts Alliance, who work with smaller attractions and activities. Visit Houston is now in a position to help market smaller organizations so they can spend time what they do best—entertaining all who visit Houston!
Trust the Process
Digital transformation is not an easy task, but a much-needed move as the travel and tourism industry progresses forward.
“Don’t forget to tell yourself to trust the process. It’s so easy to get excited about a project and expect that it will magically happen. It takes time. Overall, the project turned out amazing—more than we could have ever expected. Help your vision come to life by staying true to the course, understand the goal, and work towards your vision!” – Maureen Haley, Director of Strategic Tourism Initiatives at Visit Houston
Huge thank you to Maureen Haley of Visit Houston, a client of Sojern.
Learn how Sojern helps DMOs, like Visit Houston, here.