In this episode of TravelPreneur, we engage in an insightful conversation about the fascinating world of destination marketing with Amy Larsen, the Industry Relations Manager at the Wyoming Office of Tourism. The episode explores the agency’s strategies in promoting Wyoming as a vacation destination, highlighting the state’s unique attractions, cultural experiences, and natural wonders. Amy shares insights into adapting marketing campaigns to evolving trends and catering to diverse traveler preferences, ensuring Wyoming’s prominence in the competitive tourism landscape.
Lessons You’ll Learn:
Listeners will gain valuable insights into effective destination marketing and community collaboration. Amy Larsen provides lessons on building strong relationships with local communities and stakeholders, fostering collaborative partnerships for mutual benefit. The episode also sheds light on leveraging innovative technologies for enhanced marketing strategies, showcasing Wyoming’s charm through authentic storytelling. Aspiring tourism professionals will find inspiration in Amy’s advice on authenticity, pride in the destination, and the importance of passion in effective destination marketing.
About Our Guest:
Amy Larsen, the Industry Relations Manager at the Wyoming Office of Tourism, brings a wealth of experience in promoting Wyoming as a vacation destination. Her role involves collaborating with communities, businesses, and organizations to create impactful marketing strategies. Amy is passionate about showcasing the diverse offerings of Wyoming and building sustainable tourism practices for the state’s growth.
This episode covers a range of topics, including the Wyoming Office of Tourism’s role in highlighting the state’s unique attractions and cultural experiences. Listeners will gain insights into collaborative partnerships with local communities and businesses, contributing to the sustainable growth of Wyoming’s tourism sector. The episode also explores the agency’s adaptation to market trends, the use of innovative technologies in destination marketing, and Amy’s vision for the future of Wyoming’s tourism industry. Aspiring tourism professionals will find practical advice on building authentic connections and creating impactful marketing campaigns.
Our Guest: Amy Larsen, Architect of Wyoming’s Unforgettable Travel Journeys
Amy Larsen, the Industry Relations Manager at the Wyoming Office of Tourism, emerges as a goal-driven and dynamic professional with a profound understanding of community-building. Her extensive experience encompasses the art of forging meaningful relationships with diverse communities, groups, and organizations. A high-energy individual, Amy is known for her interactive approach, seamlessly connecting with people and fostering collaborations that contribute to the growth of Wyoming’s tourism sector.
Amy’s professional journey is marked by meticulous organization and a keen eye for detail, making her a standout figure in travel and event planning. Her role at the Wyoming Office of Tourism involves not just promoting the state’s attractions but also creating strategic partnerships that benefit both the destination and the communities it encompasses. As an effective communicator and speaker, Amy brings Wyoming’s diverse offerings to life, sharing the state’s unique charm with audiences worldwide.
Aligned with her values of integrity, authenticity, sustainability, and vision, Amy’s approach to destination marketing goes beyond mere promotion. Her strengths lie in individualization, strategic thinking, the ability to win others over (WOO), activating initiatives, and clear communication. Amy’s commitment to showcasing Wyoming as more than just a travel destination, but a sustainable and authentic experience, is reflected in her work. Aspiring tourism professionals can draw inspiration from Amy’s journey, which exemplifies the fusion of passion, strategic thinking, and a genuine connection with the communities she serves.
Amy Larsen: We do visit a profile so we know who is coming and what they’re interested in seeing, you know, where they’re coming from. And obviously too, when we’re marketing in different markets and stuff. You switch up the methods just a little bit because different people are looking for different things. I know a lot of those people are coming to Yellowstone. So we really try to promote what you can see on the way to Yellowstone. So we have a program we do with different routes that all route through the Yellowstone, and there’s four different routes that go through the state. Then we have itineraries and ideas and different things to experience as you go through.
Megha McSwain: Welcome to Travel Preneur, the weekly business show for the travel industry. I’m your host, Houston-based travel journalist, Megha McSwain. Each episode will be exploring what it takes to thrive as a business owner in the travel industry. From conversations with leading travel business executives and venture capitalists to exploring the innovations that are shaping the next generation of travel businesses if it impacts the travel industry, we cover it here on Travel Preneur. Hello, fellow travel enthusiasts. Welcome back to another episode of Travel Preneur. I’m your host, Megha McSwain. Today we are joined with Amy Larsen, the industry relations manager at the Wyoming Office of Tourism. Hello, Amy. Welcome to the show.
Amy Larsen: Hi. Thank you for having me. This is an honor.
Megha McSwain: Amy, the Wyoming Office of Tourism plays a crucial role in promoting Wyoming as a vacation destination. How does the agency work to highlight the unique attractions, natural wonders, and cultural experiences that make Wyoming stand out?
Amy Larsen: The Wyoming Office of Tourism, we are the only statewide organization that is just completely dedicated to growing the Wyoming tourism economy. And that means bringing in non-resident visitors to Wyoming by promoting the state as a vacation destination. Obviously, we want the overnights. We don’t want them to just drive down our drive-through. Stay here to stay here and experience it. And we do it through several different mediums. We have a very large and great Brand Studios team that does a lot of our marketing efforts, and we market on every social media platform. Plus we still do the good old travel guide. We still are in print, which we get great success from. And then we also have another leg that does our called Global Partnership. And in global partnerships, we focus on the domestic trade, which would be the package travel, motorcoach trade, and also the international trade, primarily in markets that we have a pretty good following in. And we have people that are dedicated to being at those trade shows and in those countries, and just building those relationships and working to get that overnight visitor.
Megha McSwain: The success of local tourism often relies on other effective marketing campaigns. So how does the Wyoming Office of Tourism collaborate with other communities, groups, organizations to create a cohesive and impactful marketing strategy?
Amy Larsen: I think one of the fabulous things about the Wyoming tourism industry is we’re a very large state, but we are a very small industry. And that being said, though, we are the largest private employer in the state of Wyoming, it’s the second-largest economy in the state of Wyoming. And as such, because we are so small, we work so well together. So the Wyoming Tourism Calgary, that brand, which we see on everything and we use, but we also give our partners the opportunity to help leverage that brand. Many of our destinations are very small. They’re run by a volunteer or part-time lodging board. And so being able to gain the exposure as a state is something that many of our communities and our areas wouldn’t be able to do or afford on their own. We work really hard on co-op opportunities that we can do with you here at the Marketing Messages things that you can buy into. But also we make a concentrated effort to make sure that we are highlighting the vastness and the uniqueness that is Wyoming. Oftentimes when people think of Wyoming, they think of our amazing national parks, which why wouldn’t you? How fortunate are we to have bucket list destinations? But what people don’t realize is that we still have like areas where you can pretty much trace back to the beginning of the Earth. We have our paleontology, like dinosaurs are huge in Wyoming. You can actually go on dinosaur digs in Wyoming.
Megha McSwain: That is so cool.
Amy Larsen: Yeah. And people don’t understand that there are places in Wyoming. One of my favorite places to take tourists is to the Oregon Trail. Right. We have places in Wyoming that you can still stand and walk on the Oregon Trail. And what’s so fascinating about that is that you stand there and when you look west, which the early pioneers did, that view hasn’t changed. Like you don’t see skyscrapers, you don’t see communities. So you truly get to have that full-on experience of what those early pioneers really did experience. And we also are the Cowboy State. And one of the things that really sets us apart and how we work well with our communities, is we have the the unique sense of Western hospitality. We truly are that last bastion of the West, and we’re not putting on a show for the tourists. This is authentically who we are.
Megha McSwain: Sure. Yeah. It’s not like a kind of kitschy, just trying to attract tourists for the sake of a good photo.
Amy Larsen: Absolutely. Like, We just exist. I always tell people when I send them pictures that my reality is their postcard. Yeah. So we work well with our partners on how do we leverage that. How do we move people through the state? We don’t have a major airport, but we are very reliant on a drive industry. And so our communities really do have to work together, and we have to work well with our community because they’re all dependent on one another. And how are we moving from one town to the next? And what are those experiences? Because every town has something somebody wants to see, an experience.
Megha McSwain: Can you share any of the partnerships like mutually beneficial partners? Partnerships that you’ve had with the surrounding communities. Or, like you said, the Office of Tourism, how to promote it as a vacation destination for what people know, but also the stuff that you mentioned that people don’t know. What’s the best way that you do that? To really reach a lot of people. There’s so many diverse travelers who are interested in different things.
Amy Larsen: Absolutely. A lot of our co-ops are going to be there and optimization, a lot of Google things, a lot of the standard that everybody does, we don’t create anything unique, but we really try to tell the story. And I think that’s what’s so important is that we want you to not just get here in and stumble upon something. We want you to know the story before you get here. And I think that we’re very good on building itineraries and promoting itineraries. We’re very good on making sure people understand. How do you get from point A to point B? We definitely make sure they understand road conditions, right?
Megha McSwain: Yeah. No surprises.
Amy Larsen: But we also do ad effectiveness studies. And so we know who’s reading our ad, who’s reaching our ads. And that way we can shift to whatever the demographic or the demand is at that time. We do visit a profile so we know who is coming and what they’re interested in seeing. We do studies on the visitors of origin so we know where they’re coming from. And obviously, when we’re marketing in different markets and stuff, you put up the methods just a little bit because different people are looking for different things and a lot of compute, especially with the domestic trade. I know a lot of those people are coming to Yellowstone. So we really try to promote what you can see on the way to Yellowstone. Right? So we have a program we do with different routes that all route through the Yellowstone. And there’s four different routes that go through the state. Then we have itineraries and ideas and different things to experience. As you go through, you have to know one of the fun things we do. We have a road trip sticker campaign. Each of those routes have their own specific name and specific sticker. And then within those routes, the partners are able to purchase and do a co-op and have their own unique sticker. And so as people travel from location to location, they can pick up those different stickers. And you can only get those stickers in those locations. So it’s not like you can go to the state center and get everything that’s phenomenal. That’s probably one of our most popular programs in the state is the Road trip stickers.
Megha McSwain: People want to get all of them. Yeah, they’re like little trophies.
Amy Larsen: Yeah, they are. We get emails all the time from people saying, well, I go through Powell, and the visitor center was already closed, so I didn’t get their sticker. Can you send me one? I’m like, I don’t even have them. You need to call Powell. But it’s been a great way for us to market and also for our partners to showcase who they are and what they are. That’s the beauty of Wyoming is every area is so diverse and so different than any other area. Um, but it also makes it easy to market it because you can show a high Plains desert all the way to a gorgeous mountain lake.
Megha McSwain: Right. And how does the Wyoming Office of Tourism prioritize building relationships with various stakeholders within the industry, like hotels or attractions or restaurants, just local businesses? And how do those relationships contribute to the overall success of the tourism sector?
Amy Larsen: Like I said at the beginning, we’re a super close industry, so we do an industry newsletter once a month. We have a Facebook page, but we also do two state conferences every year. We do a fall summit, which we just concluded, and that just lays out what our plans are, where we’re at. And then in the winter, we always do governor’s conference. That’s a great opportunity for us to sit down and to talk with all of the partners that you said. We also have members on our staff, with me being one of them, that are actually the contact person for a region of the state. And that way the hotels, restaurants, people, they just have one person to reach out to a state and we can help direct, you know, where they need to go. But on the other end, do we make it a priority to be out in those areas, too? And we’re out there meeting with the hoteliers in person. We’re out there experiencing the attractions in person. We’re out there if they want advice, and we just make building those relationships a priority because again, it’s like the saying goes, the rising tide floats all boat. And we know that the stronger we all are, the stronger our industry as a whole will be. And again, the co-op are huge. I should have mentioned this earlier. It’s really important for us and how are we responsibly moving the visitors around the state to our national parks, especially during Covid and right after Covid? We’re just super popular with people. It was a great time for us to work with our federal partners, the Forest Service, the national park, our state parks. Then how do we also showcase similar experiences? So you want this grand mountain lake. And so Jackson. It’s a phenomenal lake in Grand Teton National Park, but we also have the upper Grand River Lake in Pinedale, which are less crowded. And so working together to move people around our state gives us a unique ability that it’s not competition and co-opetition.
Megha McSwain: I like that. Co-opetition, I like that. That’s clever. This episode is brought to you by travelpayments.com. Travel businesses have unique needs when it comes to credit card processing. From large average ticket sizes and tolerance for higher chargeback ratios to simple integrations with the most popular shopping cart systems, the travel industry specialists at travelpayments.com Have you covered. Unfortunately, many of the most popular credit card processors initially accept travel businesses, but without warning, freeze their merchant accounts and the thousands of dollars in them. Because these service providers don’t understand or support the unique needs of travel industry business. Don’t get stuck with one of the big guys who will freeze you out without a moment’s notice. Instead, work with the travel industry specialist who will support your business every step of the way. Visit travelpayments.com to get a free quote today. So what is your vision? I’m sure in the last few years, the initiatives that you guys have put in place there, you see how they pay off and everything. What are your vision? What is your vision for the future of Wyoming’s tourism industry? And how does Wyoming Office of Tourism plan to further solidify it as a premier vacation destination?
Amy Larsen: Yeah, so one of the things that I think we’re most proud of right now is that we’ve been able to work with the majority of our counties and the lodging tax boards, and those are the ones that primarily promote their destinations to work with them on some strategic planning so that they have a five-year plan on how to move forward. And then one of the great things we’ve been able to do is we started the destination development program. They were actually able to give these areas some funds in order for them to help create the strategic plans into reality. And sometimes the funds might be as simple as building a website, having somebody be able to maintain it, wayfinding signs to getting bleachers at a rodeo. So I think what’s great is we’re able to look at each community individually and help them build a sustainable economy, a sustainable tourism community moving forward as well. And we also really are keyed into sustainability. You don’t want to just throw something and sustainability, not just in protecting our environment, which you can imagine in Wyoming with our wide open spaces and open lands. And just the reason people come here, we obviously want to protect that for future generations. But also how do we protect our communities from being over-inundated and losing a sense itself of who they are to helping them find that balance of tourism and residents?
Megha McSwain: Technology continues to play a significant role in destination marketing. How does the Office of Tourism leverage innovative technologies and digital solutions to enhance its marketing strategies, if any?
Amy Larsen: Oh, we are everywhere. We definitely are on every.
Megha McSwain: Social media, for sure.
Amy Larsen: But we also look for some great opportunities to partner and think outside of the box. So the summer, for example, we did a partnership with Outside magazine because obviously, they would be a huge demographic, their readers would be a huge demographic, and we were able to partner as well with Ford Bronco. And we did it outside. It was called Wildly Wyoming, and it was a Wyoming version of kind of The Amazing Race a little bit, where there was four teams that competed all around the state, and they had to do different challenges and different things in each location, and then be the first to get back. And then the winning team actually were racing for charity, so we were actually able to give money back into the charity based on this wildly Wyoming. And it’s just been so cool for us to be innovative. Right? So like, we’re on this new digital platform and to showcase all the kind of fun, crazy things you can do out here, it’s still be responsible in doing them.
Megha McSwain: Right. And was that all filmed and then like put on social media or on a website and then people could can watch it?
Amy Larsen: Yeah.
Megha McSwain: Yeah, that’s really cool.
Amy Larsen: It was hugely successful. Another thing we’ve done that’s been a lot of fun is for our international program. There’s two guys that they work with us and they created what’s called a howdy neighbor theory, and they showcased some things around Wyoming for the international market. And just you don’t just come here and go to a rodeo. There’s more things to do. You know, kind of being creative and how we’re setting that stuff out. Like we’re pretty proud of some of the creative ideas we are allowed to do. And again, so much of that we’re able to do because we have such great relationships with our partners and our partners want to do that. And they see that again, we’re not just advertising one or marketing one part of our state. Like we really strive to showcase the entire state and everything that you can do here, right?
Megha McSwain: And as a respected figure in the travel industry, what advice would you offer to aspiring tourism professionals and destination marketers specifically?
Amy Larsen: I think the biggest thing is be authentic. Don’t overfill yourself. On the same end, Don’t undersell yourself either.
Megha McSwain: Sure, yeah.
Amy Larsen: When I was studying for my master’s in tourism management, I had a teacher say that there is something in every community somebody wants to see. And I know that when I travel, especially around the state, I always try to find that one thing I haven’t seen that somebody wants to see. I think you also need to be proud. If you don’t believe in the destination and you’re not proud of the destination and you’re not proud of what you’re doing, then you’re not being effective. Because people can read between those lines. Your passion and your ability to tell the story and share the story is probably more effective in marketing than it is to just put a picture up on a billboard, or put a picture up on your website. You have to not only believe in the experience, but you have to be excited about the experience as well.
Megha McSwain: Right. Even a video or a photo, people can look at that on social media, but it’s not necessarily going to sell itself. As beautiful as Wyoming is, it sometimes takes the words of another person or trusted person who lives there and loves it. And that kind of can be all the difference.
Amy Larsen: Well, even today, when there are so many ability to filter things and change the reality of the right.
Megha McSwain: Exactly.
Amy Larsen: And it’s like, why would you do it? And I actually had a friend out here last weekend from North Carolina, and we were up in Yellowstone and basically all the roads, but one in Yellowstone closed because we got a pretty big snowstorm. And we were driving through, and she just kept saying, this is like living in a snow globe. We just were so familiar with it. And I’m like, I hope I never lose that excitement. Like, I hope I never lose that or that other people don’t either. And yeah, you can send a picture of a tree covered in snow, but until you see it with the geysers behind it. A completely different experience.
Megha McSwain: Yeah. And just all those experiences where the roads are closed. I mean, yeah, it’s not ideal, but it’s like these little things that make it charming to be in Wyoming at a certain time.
Amy Larsen: Yeah. There’s times where we can’t even leave Cheyenne for a couple of days because the roads are closed and people are just like, how do you do it? And you’re like, I don’t know, We do it. Yeah, it’s just the norm. And when we even joke with people that we get snow in July, there are times that like at upper elevations. And so people are like, what should we wear? And you’re like layers.
Megha McSwain: Well, you are selling it to me. I’m in Texas and I just want to be anywhere but here in July.
Amy Larsen: Heck, this is one of our top states, right? Yeah. But there’s a lot familiar with it too. Like really that Western culture. And that’s really even in our big marketing campaigns right now, we know that’s what differentiates us, is that we really are seen as the last bastion of the West, where the cowboys still exist. The lifestyle of the good nature of the cowboys really instilled in all of us.
Megha McSwain: I love that. It sounds amazing and you’ve definitely sold it to me. I hope you’ve sold it to our listeners, but it just sounds lovely. Amy, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your journey and the initiatives that you guys do to get more people to Wyoming. Let our listeners know where they can learn more and where they can get in touch with you.
Amy Larsen: Sure. So you can always go to our website which is travelwyoming.com. You can find us on Facebook at Wyoming Tourism. You can find us on Instagram. We are not on TikTok. I believe at one point we were even on Pinterest. We do have a YouTube channel as well. So you can find a Wyoming Office of Tourism or Travel Wyoming on all those platforms as well. They do a lot of great real and a lot of great stories on the Instagram and Facebook platforms too, but again, kind of immerse you in the experience as opposed to you about it.
Megha McSwain: Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it. And to our listeners please follow and subscribe for future episodes. Thanks so much, Amy.
Amy Larsen: Thank you. Have a great day.
Megha McSwain: You’ve been listening to Travel Preneur by travelpayments.com make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast listening platform so you never miss a new episode, and we’ll see you again soon on Travel Preneur.