Marketing The Berkshires
During these crazy times, we wanted to let you know what 1Berkshire is doing to continue to keep the Berkshires on the map as a world class travel destination. Despite the impact of COVID we have found a way to put together funds that have allowed us, starting July 1st, to again market the Berkshires and bring visitors back to our downtowns and to your business.
According to US Travel research, the Berkshires is poised to be a very popular vacation destination for the foreseeable future, as we offer amazing outdoor recreation where social distancing is easily achieved. The footprints of our cultural venues are much larger than our urban counterparts, which will allow visitors the space they need to feel safe before they enter a museum as well as inside the venues. We are an easy drive market for most Massachusetts residents as well as those from other New England states, New York and New Jersey. We are fortunate that for the foreseeable future the Berkshires will be a place people consider traveling to versus more urban destinations. Although the pandemic has presented a number of challenges, we at 1Berkshire are focused on the silver lining: marketing to visitors who may have never considered the Berkshires for a variety of inaccurate and misinformed reasons including the perceptions that the region is too expensive, too rural, for old people, and offers nothing to do in the off-seasons. We believe this is a time and opportunity to alter their negative perceptions and turn them into loyal visitors. This requires shifting who we market to.
Unlike in the past when our dollars are primarily focused on the NYC metro visitor, for this campaign we will focus there but also market to all of Massachusetts. This is a bit of change for us, but as people will most likely be traveling closer to home or for day trips we felt having a strong message in MA was important. We are also targeting visitors in New York and Boston now that the 14-day quarantine has been lifted for New England states. Our focus will be on people who enjoy outdoor activities, foodie travelers, young families, and wellness seekers.
Because a lot of visitors may not feel comfortable spending the night, more of the focus will be on day-trips with a primary target of demographics that are younger (25-45) than we usually market to. We are also lowering the annual income demographic to $50k+ as we see this as a moment in time to let people know how accessible the Berkshires truly is, especially if they can bypass lodging costs.
More than ever, people want to feel safe, but many are likely feeling cooped up after so many months at home. As businesses begin to reopen, people will resume booking travel and thinking about getting away, even if just for a day. A survey by the luxury tour operator Overseas Leisure Group found that 72% of American travelers are already planning their next trip, with 35% of travelers considering vacations as early as this summer. We want to capture these travelers and know that we can offer an experience that is first and foremost safe, but also fun and relaxed. Our messaging will be: Let the Berkshires be Your Backyard.
We plan to create itineraries and other content that will lead the visitor through each step of their visit in the Berkshires, helping them feel secure in that every detail has been well-thought-out, and that we are looking out for their best interests no matter where they go in the county or what activities they pursue. We also have the Know Before You Go page on our website to ensure that visitors are aware of the state’s reopening guidelines and the regulations around visiting to help assuage concerns. Coupled with this resource, we are updating our website daily to have it serve as the most current portal for what is open in the Berkshires and how to access what is open. Simultaneously, as we market to people to visit, we will continue to create messaging for those who are not yet ready to visit. For travelers who need more time to feel comfortable leaving home, we want to keep them travel dreaming by creating ways for them to enjoy the Berkshires virtually – whether through our newly-launched virtual tour video or our Virtual Berkshires page. In all our efforts we aim to keep inspiration alive, whether in person or online.
Public relations will continue to be an important part of our marketing plan. The impressions we garner through this earned media channel typically are 10 times more than our paid media channels, therefore making it immensely effective in getting out the Berkshire brand. Along with this, we will run a digital retargeting campaign on Google and on our social media channels. Additionally, we will be scheduling a display ad campaign for Facebook. We have been able to maintain our SEM campaign throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so, with a shift in some keywords to keep our campaign relevant. We will also design a variety of e-blasts to key markets, and we have collaborated with the other Regional Tourism Councils, of which the Berkshires is one, to participate in With Love From… billboard campaign which will run in the eastern part of the state for 3 months.
Along with this, we will continue to utilize our owned media channels and send monthly e-blasts as well as continue to provide daily social media engagement. We plan to create a digital We Are Open Brochure in lieu of the printed Guide that was canceled for this season to let people know that the Berkshires is open for business and an ideal destination for a socially distant and yet fun getaway.
Our ability to launch a marketing campaign for late summer into fall is due, in large part, to our community partners, who have stepped up and collectively given over $110,000 to 1Berkshire. These partners include Berkshire Taconic Foundation, Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health , Berkshire Bank, Berkshire Gas, General Dynamics, and the Fairbank Group. We continue to reach out to businesses to raise additional dollars for this marketing fund, so if you are interested in supporting Berkshire marketing please reach out. Currently, funding levels from this initiative will be enough to run a campaign from July-November. At that time, or hopefully sooner, we will be able to layer back in the RTC Grant funding along with member marketing dollars to continue our marketing efforts.
Success for us will be when YOU, our members report increased visitation numbers in line with pre-pandemic 2019 metrics, closed businesses begin to reopen, new businesses open their doors, and staffing across all industries returns to a healthy level. Success will also be reflected in anecdotal evidence from members about a younger demographic visiting the Berkshires and patronizing our local businesses.
Directly at 1Berkshire, success in PR will be marked by journalists traveling back to our area for familiarization tours, along with multiple placements about our region in regional, national, and international publications at the same level as in 2019. Our digital footprint success will be measured by website visitation recovery. Usually, in summer months, we see approximately 70,000 monthly visitors to our site; visitation has dropped to about 35,000 since the pandemic began. In conjunction with increasing site visitation back to 2019 numbers, we look to grow our opt-in subscriber numbers by 15%. Other areas for notable success include renewing more than 50% of our current membership, increasing our investor levels by 10%, and engaging members to actively participate in 1Berkshire’s robust marketing program, which is where we bring in revenue for the matching of our grant. Our goal for our marketing program is to reach 75% of our pre-pandemic FY19 income. If we can accomplish this, it will allow us to rehire staff and again put 1Berkshire on a growth trajectory for FY22.
FY21 will be a year unlike any other. Every business within the Commonwealth and beyond will be struggling to survive. We at 1Berkshire want to be here for the entire community, providing business support, educational support, promotional support, and more. Tourism is the third largest economic driver for our region and for the whole state, and we must ensure that we have a loud voice at the table so that we can contribute to our collective success.