05/19/2014 02:15 EDT | Updated 07/19/2014 05:59 EDT

What I Learned This Week: The Three-Word Secret to Tourism Success

Most greeting moves are micro, but their effects are macro.They set the mood and the tone for one's stay, no matter how long and no matter where, be it a few nights in property, two weeks at a destination or even an hour or so at a simple restaurant or attraction.

Denali - Mountain Landscape from AlaskaWe were so fortunate to see Denali on a clear day, when you can clearly see the mountain. When you're in Alaska, you call the mountain Denali, elsewhere in the United states you call it Mount McKinley. I wonder what the rest of the world calls it.

You should know this by now -- I try to spend much of my life learning. It's my driving force, my passion and the raison d'etre of this blog.

Most of the time, my learning comes unintentionally. Sparks ignite from things I just so happen to read, watch, live and/or observe. Those "aha! moments" are inadvertent flashes I live for and cherish.

But there are other moments when the learning is more intentional, albeit in a table-turning way. From my marketing class at McGill to discussions with younger co-workers and heart-to-heart talks with my sons, especially when researching speeches I am asked to give (or better still, be paid for), I sometimes find myself learning by teaching.

Case in point is a speech I first gave two years ago in Ottawa, and adapted for an encore a couple of weeks ago in the Yukon. It was about tourism, a subject that was never in my traditional wheelhouse. I was asked to give this speech as an emergency measure, subbing for my friend, partner and tourism expert Gilbert Rozon who was called out of town on a business emergency.

At first, I told myself -- and the crowd assembled for the Tourism Industry Association of Canada speech in Ottawa -- that I knew little about the topic. But then, given that in my careers at Just For Laughs and Airborne Mobile I have both travelled the world AND have welcomed the world to my comedy festivals, I realized that I knew practically EVERYTHING about tourism.

So with that conceit in mind, I put this little ditty together. It's a teaching-cum-learning that lets me try something new with you -- my first-ever speech-turned-blog post, called:


Amazing but true, but each of the secret's three words has the same suffix, or almost. (At least they rhyme.)

Word #1 is GREETING

In tourism, the first impression one leaves is invaluable. Like the old cliché goes, you never get a second crack at one.

Over the years, I've been greeted by dancers (getting off the plane in Barbados), by a brass band (off the boat in St. Petersburg, Russia), by warm chocolate chip cookies (Doubletree Hotel, Atlanta) and by an email from a prescient concierge, saying that he knew I'd be checking my iPhone by the time I got to the elevator (Mondrian Hotel, Los Angeles).

Most greeting moves are micro, but their effects are macro.

They set the mood and the tone for one's stay, no matter how long and no matter where, be it a few nights in property, two weeks at a destination or even an hour or so at a simple restaurant or attraction.

Start off strong, and your work is half done. Start off weak and you'll be playing catch-up until the end.

But once they're there, what will they say?

That's the driver of Word #2: TWEETING.

Okay, a bit of a cheat here. Word #2 is not merely about the 140 characters of a Tweet; it encompasses social media sharing of all types. From new age behemoths like Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, Vine and Pinterest to the old school action of a simple phone call (remember those?), tourism success requires you give people something to show and tell others.

And these days, nothing is more important in the "sharing economy" than photos; to paraphrase a hockey idiom:

"They shoot, YOU score!"

Late last winter, Instagram said that people shared 45 million photos a day through its app; 16 billion in total since it began less than three years ago. On Facebook, people share 300 million images each day, or 100 billion photos a year. And they ain't just taking photos; this is a new language, today's way of communicating.

Look around you. If there's nothing camera-worthy, get something fast. Don't be lazy or common; anything can be a photo op, including the one atop this post. It's origin? On a trip to Vancouver, I saw people crowding around, pointing at and taking pictures of, of all things, a park sign. Imagine my surprise when I saw what it was for.

But people shooting photos isn't enough; you have to be able to react rapidly once they do. A photo is just a catalyst for a conversation, for a relationship.

Which conveniently brings us to Word #3: REPEATING.

This is where the money really is. Recurring revenue is the Holy Grail to any business, so it's now up to you and your business to give people a reason to come back...and keep spending. The trick here is simple:

Get started on the next visit before the current one ends.

Here are a couple of examples for you.

  1. My family and I spent seven years in a row snowboarding at Vail. A prime factor is our booking agent, who made sure to call us a few days before we left and enticed us to book the same place next year at a discount.
  2. In its closing hours as everyone is hyped up, C2MTL (the creative conference in Montreal) announces the following year's mega-headliner and offers a sizable price break if you commit right away.

In tourism, the goodbye is almost as important as the hello...especially if the ultimate goal is to say hello again. And again. And...well, you get it.

Does all this work? Well let's see. Consider that this blog post itself can be a tourist attraction...if you follow the rationale of the Three Word Secret:

1) GREETING--Snappy headline and opening sentence that set the tone

2) TWEETING--Hopefully, the big bold words were profound enough for you to share

3) REPEATING--Let's see how many of you will be back for next week's post...or ask me to deliver this live ;)

So there you have it. Perhaps not as dynamic as my frantic onstage presence, but the basic concept lives in print.

And hopefully, in your heads, marketing plans and actions.