Thursday, October 8, 2009

Government Tourism Advertising Campaigns and New Media

There are few better examples of zero sum games than can be found in the field of government tourism advertising. When multiple jurisdictions spend money to promote tourism, they do not increase the total number of tourists. That is pure common sense. People only have so much vacation time. This is not to say that there is no justification whatsoever to have a modest tourism department to give potential tourists basic information that may be helpful. Beyond that, it just gets silly. No matter how many ads the province of Saskatchewan places on the Toronto subway, or how often I see a commercial that begs me to come to Newfoundland, I will not be any more likely to visit either (though I may have done so anyways.) The wasted effort wouldn't bother me so much if these forms of advertising weren't so expensive. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador spends $12 million dollars annually to attract tourists. That's $24 dollars for every man, woman, and child in the province. Even if it was possible to measure the effect this money has, I doubt it would justify the cost.

Though I object to large scale tourism advertising, I have to say that I have been impressed by the efforts of one jurisdiction to use new media to promote tourism. The State of Pennsylvania has a beautiful, interactive website that focuses on displaying the natural beauty of rural Pennsylvania. It has everything from detailed road trip suggestions, to an online booking service for bed and breakfasts, cabins, and campgrounds. What's more is that the road trip suggestions actually seem really cool. The last time I was in Erie I was literally counting the minutes until my connection came. Now I actually want to go to back so I can stop at Russ' Dinor (sic)! The website probably won't bring in thousands of tourists, but it also doesn't cost $12 million per year.

As impressive as the website is in general, there was one thing that really stood out: a low budget show about a man with two first names. This weekend I was sitting around with a few friends when two of them made a joke about the man with two names. My blank stare must have convinced them to put it on. That, or the fact that they were laughing hysterically at the apparent inside joke. Peter Arthur Stories (PA Stories, get it?) is among the best G rated comedies I've ever seen. The show is much like the popular Flight of the Concords, though the episodes last less than 10 minutes each, and there are only 4 episodes thus far. Though I won't divulge plot details, it involves a young man who decides to take a road trip through the Pennsylvania countryside. Hilarity ensues. The show uses amateur Pennsylvania actors, and operates on a fairly low budget. The Peter Arthur campaign came with a bill of $1.3 million dollars. While that is a large sum, the bulk of the costs came from conventional media advertising, including a 30 second spot during American Idol, and a giveaway of 12 all inclusive Pennsylvania vacations. Given that a 30 second spot during American Idol runs around $750 thousand dollars, that doesn't leave much for the show and vacation packages. Had they relied solely on viral marketing, the price tag would have been substantially lower.

As in the case of the high budget advertising discussed earlier, this probably won't do much to increase tourism--but it might. Given the dearth of references to it on the internet, it doesn't seem that many people have seen the show yet. However, if it gains even a modest viewership, it would be safe to assume that some people would be interested in visiting some of the sights where memorable moments occur. Frankly, I never would have gone to rural Pennsylvania until I saw this. Now that it's an inside joke with my friends, there is no question that I will be heading to some of the random destinations in the show (and dragging at least one enthusiast with me). Rather than throwing money at major tourism programs, governments should learn to harness the power of new media. With a small, creative staff, and a modest budget, there is no reason why governments can't equal the modest success of large scale tourism campaigns for a fraction of the price. And while they're at it, maybe they can give us a few more laughs.

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