I had the pleasure of sitting down with Diane to learn about the challenges facing the tourism industry and how Wyoming is turning them into opportunities.
How did you get into the travel and tourism industry?
I got into it sort of by accident, which I think happens a lot of the time. Though, I guess I shouldn’t say by accident because it really matches up to my natural skill set. I think that often, if we put ourselves out there, many times opportunities and our natural abilities align. I’ve always had a personality well suited to working with people. Even as a young girl, my work was interfacing with the public through retail and a variety of other things.
So the opportunity to land in the hospitality world really began as a natural fit. My first career job in this industry was for a small hotel in Wyoming—and I loved it.
Plus, I had a lot of people who supported me, as well as great mentors. Throughout my life many people, my parents included, taught me the value of networking and relying on others. And this industry, in particular, is such a great one for networking.
The tourism industry allows you to build relationships that can continue throughout your career. Once you get your foot in the door, new opportunities happen so quickly. When you value those relationships, you will always have a network of peers and colleagues.
Whether you use them for career paths or a consulting foundation, whatever the need may be, the network in this particular industry is close-knit, and I’ve found it to be a tremendous value on so many levels throughout my career.
Why have you stayed in the tourism industry?
At times it certainly has not been for the money. I know there are very lucrative positions. But the positions for myself have been more in the public sector of the industry. It feeds the passion that I have and I love the challenge of it.
Whether I was in Chicago or here in Wyoming, I just enjoy the work. I like what this work is. For me, and the various lives, jobs, and businesses that the tourism industry supports, it’s meaningful work.
Afterall, a vacation and traveling together really are a valuable part of an economy for a local government, for a state, for a country, for the US. Also, we’re finding out—which I think we’ve always inherently known but we are learning so much—just how important the psychological value of travel, vacationing and having new experiences.
There’s something that always resonated with me about the work. I love it. And I have stayed because it’s been rewarding. It’s been challenging, but rewarding.
What are the biggest challenges facing the DMO industry in general?
I think there are a variety of challenges facing our industry but with each challenge, there’s an opportunity within that. Probably the things that are the most relevant today are the rising levels of competition. In terms of access to information, DMOs have a lot of inspirational content but there are a lot of others striving to provide that as well.
Thanks to technology and the access to information, there are many other sources travelers can access. But, travelers don’t know where the official source is. I think that’s a challenge but also an opportunity for us as an industry to rise up and meet those challenges—which I think we’ve done in many ways. But we’ll still always have that as an ever-evolving challenge.
Even on our side in terms of technology, research, and all the big and small data, while I think it’s an opportunity, it’s a challenge because you have to sort through it. You have to be willing to put in the time and find what’s relevant for your organization and budget.
Additionally, there are so many fluctuating changes out of our control that create challenges. But I’ve always been someone who understands that you need to keep your eye on the prize, on the goal, and be completely aware of what’s in your periphery and your world. You need to be aware of your challenges and distractions, while still being sure they don’t take away the time and energy you need to achieve your goals.
That’s how I approach the work I do. It’s important that we stay focused on what we’re doing. It’s my job to be aware of what’s out there, but you just have to keep moving forward. Take the information that you have today and build the best programs with what you have.
What do you think are some of the unique challenges facing the state of Wyoming tourism?
Again, I see our challenges as opportunities.
I think that one of our challenges today might be just in a financial environment. The state has been so reliant on the energy sector that’s providing revenue for funding everything from education to municipal government to state government. And we’ve been the beneficiary of that and we at the Wyoming Office of Tourism are deeply grateful.But as the global perspective on energy is changing, the state and the companies that produce here are also changing their business portfolios and models. In addition, the state is adjusting to a new financial norm; certainly, our revenue is not where it was 10 years ago.
Within that environment, we’re adjusting and rethinking how we maximize our budgets and enhance our partnerships. The challenge is when you have a state with a very small population—we are the least populated state spread across a beautiful vast western landscape—our capacity is limiting.
But we create an opportunity from that because people seek to go to those places where there are still wide-open spaces, where they can truly experience what hasn’t been popularized and commercialized as much.
Wyoming still is really that frontier of the West.
While that conjures up the feeling of authentic western experiences, it’s also a geographic place that has certain attributes associated with it. It’s a place that is wide open with a big blue sky and unobstructed views; a place where visitors have the ability to see wildlife in its natural habitat, to enjoy outdoor recreation and to visit small, authentic towns. While those could be seen by some as challenges, there are people who are very hungry for this and their longing for what the West signifies is one of our greatest opportunities.
Wyoming recently went through a gorgeous rebranding—how did you decide that it was time for a rebrand?
There was not any one ‘ah-ha’ moment that drove our rebranding. Rather, every year we review and renew with our ad agency. And we had, as we always do, very good numbers. But we are also required by the state that every seven years we have to go out with an RFP.
I thought that we should start looking at a new way of talking about our product. I wasn’t sure that it was about leaving the prior platform and moving to something else. I thought it was a transition from where we already were.
Through the RFP process, which was quite extensive, you are enlightened by what you can learn and the info that’s brought to you. We started to take that in and absorb.
Wyoming is still the brand. That stands over time. Always has been, always will be.
“That’s WY” is the conduit of the conversation. It’s the platform and the content bucket that allows us to engage in conversation through either segmentation or a variety of avenues. It is so simple that it has broad legs. That’s really how we came to be there.
I always ask, “Can we be doing more? Are we doing enough? Are we maximizing every opportunity that’s available to us?” And the rebranding is really a result of those conversations.
What’s your favorite place to travel to in Wyoming?
You know that is a crazy question to ask any tourism director or DMO marketer.
In all sincerity, the moment I’m there it’s my favorite place because I can be in the middle of the red desert and have an ‘ah-ha’ moment. There are places that are very special to me because I grew up here and there are places where I have fond memories of my family or my parents when I was younger. There are other places where I have memories of weddings or a time with friends or people in the industry. I was in Jackson last week and I remember sitting in a hotel with a former sage of the industry and I had a warm special feeling about the place.
I was on this great trip recently, driving along the western landscape of Wyoming north of Pinedale and looking at the Tetons and all the snowpack. It was gorgeous—there are cattle roaming the landscapes and you can see them so well because they’re against the snow. It was one of those days where the sun was just enough where you could see the landscape—it was just gorgeous.
Then, leaving Jackson and driving along the Snake River Valley with the Tetons—I never tire of that. And finally driving into Cheyenne Monday evening with the vast, vast wide-open prairie with the big sky and an 180-degree horizon. Again, this is so difficult for me to ever define it because I really do love everything across the state.
I love the people and experiences that make a vacation. It’s who you are with. When you go somewhere special and you’re inspired by an environment and you’re with people that you care about.
That’s where you build memories and that’s why a place like Wyoming is special because there’s a lot of these beautiful places. When people travel to Wyoming with people they care about, it builds really unique and special memories.
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