By Hannah Ross
This post is part of the Conference Series, where 2016 PRSSA National Conference attendees from AU PRSSA reflect on the lessons they learned from the conference’s events and panels. Click here for more conference blogs.
When you think of public relations, tourism isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. At the Coming back, again and again panel, I learned so much about how the city of Indianapolis markets itself to promote tourism. Morgan Snyder, the director of public relations at Visit Indy had so much interesting insight to share about the tourism and hospitality industry.
Morgan’s job is to manage the reputation of Indianapolis and help make it known as a must-see destination. Tourism is a huge business and every major city has a person like Morgan managing its reputation as a travel destination. This job is important because tourism supports a city’s economy, which helps the citizens who call it home. It also employs lots of people. In central Indiana, 75,000 people have tourism related jobs.
Visit Indy is considered a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO). DMOs measure their success by “heads in beds,” meaning the number of people staying in hotels. A major role of a DMO is to promote their city to meeting planners to get them to hold big conferences or meetings there (like PRSSA National Conference). At the same time as our conference, the Future Farmers of America had a conference in Indianapolis that brought over 62,000 attendees. Professional conferences like these can be planned up to 10 years in advance. To tout the benefits of the city, DMOs often utilize third party groups to provide a more unbiased recommendation to meeting planners.
Visit Indy also promotes the city to professionals by distributing targeted ads in trade publications. One of the features the ads promote is the fact that several of the hotels in Indianapolis are connected by skywalks, making them great for large groups spread among the hotels.
The challenge for Morgan and the others working to promote tourism in Indianapolis is overcoming the city’s reputation as a “flyover city.” A wide variety of tactics are used to build up its reputation. Earned media is a big one. Visit Indy pitches to families, friend groups, and sports fans, and also works to build relationships with travel writers and reporters by showing them around the city. They also pitch to reporters in nearby cities.
Morgan talked about some interesting promotions the city does. One of them is a literary tour of Indianapolis based on the novel The Fault in Our Stars, which takes place there. To celebrate the opening of the Vonnegut Memorial Library, 10 bars in the city created Kurt Vonnegut inspired cocktails. There’s also the signature “ndy” sculpture, where visitors who take pictures with it pose as the I in Indy. The sculpture was created to attract social media buzz and give the city an iconic symbol.
Another interesting aspect of tourism PR is its occasional involvement with public affairs. When a religious freedom bill in Indiana proposed regulations that would make certain populations feel unwelcome in Indiana, Indianapolis responded by circulating the hashtag #IndyWelcomesAll. This was the city’s way of dispelling the idea that it would be unfriendly to some groups.
Indianapolis is a city on the rise. Morgan and the rest of the people at Visit Indy are using a multifaceted approach to attract a wide variety of visitors. Morgan talked about the need to “keep the bubble from bursting” by keeping the city’s unique character while still promoting it to new visitors. This involves walking a fine line between preserving the city’s authenticity and overcrowding it. Learning about what Morgan does gave me a new respect and interest in travel tourism, for its unique challenges and strategies.