Building a DMO Content Machine That Delivers Beyond the Pandemic

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Building a DMO Content Machine That Delivers Beyond the Pandemic

As destinations further open into a post-Covid world, many are finding that their previous tourism marketing strategies are no longer relevant or at minimum, outdated.

Destination Marketing Organizations, or DMOs, are the local or regional groups tasked with the creation and execution of marketing plans to bring visitors to a place. As Covid wreaked havoc on the tourism sector, most DMOs were forced to reevaluate their visitor-attraction strategies, and some to reinvent themselves entirely.

Case Study: Discover Long Island – Long Island, New York’s Regional DMO

The Long Island region is home to nearly 8 million people and covers a huge geographic area, from barrier beaches along the Atlantic ocean, to dozens of working vineyards, to the famed Hamptons on the east end of the island.

THR spoke with Kristen Jarnagan Reynolds, President and CEO of Discover Long Island, about the DMO’s response to Covid, and the strategies that Discover Long Island designed to not just overcome the challenges of the short-term effects of the pandemic, but to create a self-sustaining content machine that keeps both residents and visitors engaged over the long term.

Covid’s immediate effects on Long Island tourism

The New York City area was one of the first and hardest hit regions in the United States in the initial phase of Covid. This impact extended to adjacent Long Island, forcing the entire region to shut down essentially overnight.

Discover Long Island brought its paid marketing efforts to a standstill (more on that later) and stopped encouraging visits to Long Island or even for Long Island residents to move around. The first priority became keeping residents safe and helping businesses stay open.

Quickly, Discover Long Island realized it needed to adapt to be a different type of DMO for both residents and potential visitors.

One of the first visitor behavioral changes Jarnagan Reynolds and team noticed was that because of Long Island’s close proximity to New York City, which traditionally provided a substantial supply of seasonal guests, large numbers of people who were able to left New York City and moved full-time into their second homes on the island, or rented homes with family or even friends and then decided to stay full time.

“This was a completely different model of visiting than the island had previously been accustomed to and required a different way that Long Island destinations had to react to visitors,” Jarnagan Reynolds pointed out.
The net benefit was a larger, more semi-permanent visitor set than ever before, who realized that Long Island was a great place to spend time.

But how to capture and capitalize on that new awareness?

Switching into content production overdrive

There’s a reason that Discover Long Island recently won the “Best Social Media Campaign” award from the US Travel Association. With a relatively limited staff of 14, the DMO developed a content production strategy that had several focused aims:

  • Keep visitors and residents engaged

  • Highlight local Long Island businesses

  • Broadcast relevant and updated information about the pandemic as it evolved

  • Rely less on paid marketing – it would be over a year before the DMO started advertising again

  • Do everything in-house – no outside creative agencies required

To start with, Jarnagan Reynolds’ team produced a new YouTube video titled “Hold Fast” in March 2020, on their Discover Long Island NY channel. The phrase “hold fast” – for sailors, to see through a storm - is as well a nod to Long Island’s maritime history and visitor offering.

Then in June of that year, the DMO broadened their messaging to encourage Long Island residents that it was safe to go out again. This time, the target audience was not visitors, but residents themselves, principally to support local businesses.

Through a new video themed “Renewed Gratitude”, the DMO reminded local residents of the bounty that they had in their own backyard and, in Jarnagan Reynolds’ words, encouraged people to “laugh harder, hug tighter, and support our businesses.”

Then came another channel: Long Island TV. The DMO partnered with a local doctor, “Fit doc” Dr. Michele C. Reed to become the official health and wellness ambassador for Discover Long Island, giving tips on topics such as how to go out to a restaurant safely, for example, that encouraged residents to more confidently patronize local businesses.

Subsequently Jarnagan Reynolds’ team decided they were ready for even more and launched two new TikTok accounts. As Jarnagan Reynolds notes, “fewer than 50% of destinations use TikTok despite the huge increase in video consumption during the pandemic.”

Importantly, the TikTok channels never focused on Covid per se, but on more on inspiration such as fun videos of activities to do across Long Island. As well, the videos highlight the many small business across Long Island that were otherwise challenged to reach large audiences.

Then, a podcast

Finally, the Discover Long Island team launched a podcast called Long Island Tea, a play on the famed Long Island Iced Tea cocktail and the current popular catchphrase “to spill the tea,” or chat and gossip.

Long Island Tea became successful by applying a strategy different to that of most destination podcasts, in that it does not necessarily directly promote Long Island and its attractions.

Rather, it functions more as a talk show with subjects such as working moms, summer plans, personal mishaps, and other more generalist topics. There are frequent local guests on the podcast, and as Jarnagan Reynolds notes, “it’s very real – often it’s funny and sometimes it’s serious but overall it’s very subtle and subliminal.”

During the podcast, the hosts drink a bottle of wine – sponsored by the Long Island Wine Country – and talk about Long Island life. The show has overall had a very popular reception and as well become an important channel for residents to connect with and give feedback to the DMO.

A new relationship with residents

One of the unexpected upsides of so much content development was a new relationship with residents.

As with many destinations, an introspective pandemic refocusing of the priorities of Discover Long Island resulted in a clear strategy: that local residents are the primary concern, and that tourism exists for them, not for the visitors.

Discover Long Island, through the content they were producing, created genuine relationships and dialogue with residents.

The big takeaway for the DMO was, as Jarnagan Reynolds put it, “we didn’t want to utilize influencers; we wanted to *be* the influencer.”

What’s next for Discover Long Island?

For Jarnagan Reynolds, the big wins of the DMO’s activities during the pandemic continue to deliver a high return on investment: a closer connection with residents, higher engagement from and support for local businesses, and the successful utilization of multiple social channels that have built a loyal following which the DMO can continue to deliver content to post-pandemic.

Jarnagan Reynolds says that she is seeing a renaissance across all regions and activities on Long Island, not just in the prime Hamptons and vineyards areas. On the horizon for Long Island tourism: the island’s first major convention center, a new train line that connects Grand Central Station in New York City to Long Island, multiple new hotel openings, and more activity from the UBS sports arena, among many other initiatives to look forward to for the region.

Article by THR Senior Marketing Director Benjamin Rhatigan

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