The DMO Download

A weekly digest for those who market and manage destinations.

This Dark Prison Is Driving One Town’s Revitalization


The Creativity in This Week’s Download Made Our Jaws Drop

The tourism industry is full of interesting news and ideas this week! We found some fascinating resources that we hope inspire your creativity for your own destination. Read about one Tennessee town’s switch from incarceration to tourism, Sweden’s strategy to get more visitors in their vast forests, how Alaska is making millions of tourism dollars in a niche industry and so much more. Check it out!

Once a Maximum-security Prison, Now a Tennessee Tourist Attraction

In a small town in eastern Tennessee, a formidable sight greets you as it has greeted thousands of prisoners since 1896: Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. The castle-like structure, once home to nearly one thousand inmates at a given time (including the notorious James Earl Ray), is now an unlikely tourist attraction. Walking through the building, visitors are met with tall stone walls, minimal sunlight and air that’s 10 degrees colder than outside temperatures. There’s a weight and somberness to the place that allows little room for any laughter.

Despite such a heavy environment, the prison is a popular attraction for visitors who want to learn more about the darker side of American history. For the small town of Petros, TN, the change from incarceration to attraction is an unusual one. The 500 residents who lived near the prison used to be largely made up of prison workers and their families. Now, the prison boasts a dining hall experience called the Warden’s Table and a gift shop that sells Tennessee whiskey.

The local economic alliance group hails co-owners Pete Waddington and Brian May as positive neighbors in the community. They donate to local causes in the region and offer the prison as a venue for a variety of local events including weddings, fundraisers and concerts. Transferring the prison from state to private ownership also took a huge financial weight off the local government’s shoulders. The electric bill alone was $15,000 per month.

The strong relationship between the local residents and Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary is an excellent example of how tourism can change a community for the better. The historical significance and notoriety of the prison will attract many visitors for years to come, allowing the community to support themselves and share their heritage with the world. While Petros is adjusting to many new changes, the positive economic impact has practically saved the town.

“It has brought a lot of outsiders to the community. In terms of money, it’s really good for the community. Once the prison closed, there was no one else to bring money into the community,” said Petros Public Library Director Carol Smith Beene.

This Horror Story Can Only Be Heard in Sweden’s Ancient Forests

The next chapter in Sweden’s creative tourism marketing campaign is a thrilling blend of horror and the paranormal. In partnership with horror novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist, Visit Sweden released an audio story, called “Kiln,” with a geo-restriction that only allows people to access the story in Sweden. The story is written in the first person and begins at a kiln on the outskirts of the forest where the protagonist becomes enchanted by a “huldra,” or forest nymph.

People have been intrigued by horror and paranormal stories for centuries, making this the perfect avenue for Sweden to share the country’s supernatural cultural lore. The campaign comes at the heels of two other unique campaigns in recent years, including a phone number where tourists can be connected with a random Swedish resident to learn more about the country’s personality. Another previous campaign announced that Sweden registered the entire country as an Airbnb, inspired by an ancient law that allows Swedish citizens to roam freely anywhere in the country.

While Visit Sweden is a major DMO with many resources at its disposal, we love to keep an eye on what this destination is up to in the marketing realm. If you’re looking for outside-of-the-box ways to relate to and attract more visitors, then take a look at Visit Sweden for inspiration. Imitation is the best form of flattery, so don’t hesitate to steal ideas from other destinations and shape them into campaigns that fit your destination’s personality.

Alaska Is Making Millions of Dollars in Birdwatching Tourism

Known for its wilderness and rugged beauty, Alaska is a favorite destination for visitors who want to see whales or the Northern lights. But it’s also a hotspot for visitors in the birding world. Every year, hundreds of thousands of birdwatchers flock to Alaska to catch a glimpse of the elusive bluethroat north of the Brooks Range or hear the sound of thousands of feeding shorebirds by the ocean.

According to a 2016 report, birdwatching tourists spent $378 million and supported 4,300 jobs that year. Today, the birdwatching industry is worth about $20 billion in the United States alone. Compared to other tourists, birdwatchers spent more money, stayed for longer periods of time and traveled to more remote parts of the region. They also tend to stay in smaller groups and engage in more guided tours and structured activities. It also is a sustainable activity, supporting habitat conservation.

“Sustainable and well-managed birdwatching is a growth sector. Birdwatching in Alaska is a type of tourism where Alaskans can capitalize on the region’s intact lands and waters,” said David Krause, Audubon Alaska’s interim executive director and director of conservation. “It’s an exciting place of opportunity that protects irreplaceable and fragile ecosystems while supporting jobs.”

Sustainable, Value-Based Tourism and What It Means for Your Destination

Today’s travel market increasingly emphasizes sustainable and value-based tourism. More visitors are prioritizing the health of destinations, making efforts to leave positive economic and environmental impacts on the region during their stay. When DMOs uphold sustainable tourism values and encourage their stakeholders to do so, too, tourists are reassured that the destinations they visit align with their personal values. It is essential to emphasize this when crafting a strategy that speaks to your travelers.

So, what does sustainable tourism mean for travelers and tourism destinations? Sustainability is an essential factor when it comes to the modern traveler’s decision-making journey. Leaning into what your region currently offers is crucial for effectively marketing your destination with sustainability in mind. The following tactics will help your destination attract travelers who are willing to pay more for better experiences:

  • Determine your target audience and personas so that all of your efforts work toward attracting the right types of travelers.
  • Create a Community or Events page on your destination’s website to make a connection with other local happenings.
  • Create marketing strategies that encourage all stakeholders to engage with your location, including local officials, hotels, restaurants and bars, hotels and venues.
  • Create online and offline advertising campaigns that highlight the value that your location offers.

When DMOs effectively position their destinations, travelers are able to book trips that support their values and preferences. It is essential for DMOs and heritage tourism destinations to shift their mindset to adapt to the fluctuating travel trends. This will not only benefit travelers, but it will also boost local economies and communities by shifting the focus toward sustainability. Learn more about leveraging a marketing strategy for your destination with our on-demand webinar.

How To Get Your Destination’s Content to Rank on Google

As the travel industry continues to be affected by rising inflation, it’s a good time for DMOs to reevaluate their SEO strategy. Many visitors are choosing to stay close to home this holiday season, so it’s likely that attracting out-of-town travelers may not be the best move. Taking time to attract your locals and their visiting relatives might be a better revenue driver this season, building a rewarding sense of hometown pride just in time for the holidays. According to the Search Engine Journal, searches like “what to do in [destination] this weekend” or “fun things to do with kids in [destination]” continue to be high-performing key phrases.

“By using activity-based terminology, the focus remains on individual attractions and experiences that drive traffic to both the DMO site and those of their partner organizations such as museums and restaurants,” the article reports. Content like this can be made into evergreen pieces or tweaked to feature seasonal offerings, making them versatile options all year round. Consider optimizing for phrases that are activity-based or solution-based to help your content get in front of your target audience.

Rather than optimizing for keywords that are broad and competitive in nature, focusing on a local SEO strategy can bring in more relevant users that are likely closer to making a decision. Almost half of Google searches include local intent. This season, keep your SEO at top of your mind when planning winter content. Learn more about maximizing your destination’s tourism marketing with seasonality here.

  • Paige Schamberg

    Content Production Manager at Bull Moose Marketing. A lover of literature and a sunshine enthusiast who probably drinks too much tea. Connect with me on LinkedIn @paigeschamberg

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