Case Studies: ‘Nearcation’ Destinations Create Digital Buzz

Images from the New Mexico "nearcation" campaign.

Digital and social media have generated a lot of buzz in recent years. However, as Peter Shankman, founder of and CEO of The Geek Factory, observed at the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) Digital Marketing Strategy conference on Tuesday in New York, “I have yet to meet a CEO who thinks that cool trumps revenue.”

To that point, HSMAI’s Adrian awards honored hospitality, travel and tourism organizations whose campaigns also drove results. A panel of digital marketing award winners presented their case studies at the conference, and two awards involved ‘nearcations,’ vacations to a nearby city or state.

New Mexico Tourism Department’s ‘Day of Enchantment’ campaign:  M&C Saatchi created this campaign involving a user-generated photo contest to encourage New Mexicans to travel within their own state.

Objectives and challenges: The goal was to create interest in the entire state as a year-round vacation spot, beyond the most popular cities. Key challenges were to motivate leisure travelers to visit despite the recession and to overcome the perception that New Mexico is just a dry, empty desert. Given budget constraints, they focused on in-state travelers.

Campaign details: They launched a photo contest with the message, “An enchanting moment happens every minute.” New Mexico residents were encouraged to send their photos for a chance to win $10,000, and entries were time-stamped. The campaign was supplemented with digital banners online, outdoor billboards and a TV spot.

Results: The contest generated media interest in addition to social media buzz since users could vote on Facebook and Twitter. The photo contest led to an increase in site visits and Facebook fans, as well as nearly 15,000 photos for future use. Initial data also shows an increase in bookings.

Lessons learned: Group account director Rachel Nairn said the keys were to keep it simple with photos only, manage the image database, prepare for better than expected results, keep them coming back to the site with smaller weekly prizes and to have a retail component with travel deals to drive bookings.

St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission’s ‘Kidnapped Chicagoan’ campaign:  Hoffman/Lewis created the campaign, and Mark Schaeffer, president of the agency’s St. Louis office, presented highlights. He said “We generated interest in visiting St. Louis by staging a felony,” and he explained the strategy behind the stunt.

Objectives and challenges: Their goal was to increase top of mind awareness among Chicago residents who represent the largest feeder market for St. Louis tourism. Among the challenges were that paid Chicago media is expensive, so they used non-traditional channels. They also needed to showcase St. Louis in an engaging way to dispel its bad press.

Campaign details: They ‘kidnapped’ a native Chicagoan, a comedic actor, and launched a mass transit campaign showing him enjoying his time in St. Louis. The teaser led Chicagoans to a website,, where they could guess where the actor was. They also used streaming video, a Twitter feed, Foursquare check-ins and an 800 number to call for more information. Prizes included a kidnapping weekend package in St. Louis.

Results: The campaign generated 108 million impressions over an eight week period, a marked increase in website traffic and unique visitors in addition to numerous phone inquiries.

Lessons learned: Schaeffer said the key was to make the creative “over the top” to avoid any kidnapping confusion. He added that they should have offered more rich content on the website and managed the Twitter feed on a more ongoing basis. Since this was a one-time concept, they’ll need to use a different approach next year.