Samantha Cole discussing influencer marketing in tourism at Valley Forge event

Strategic Secrets to Destination Success with Samantha Cole of Valley Forge

Episode Overview

Episode Topic:
In this captivating episode of TravelPreneur, we get into the transformative power of “Influencer Marketing in Tourism” with Samantha Cole, the dynamic director of public relations at Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. As the tourism landscape evolves, destinations seek innovative ways to attract visitors and stand out. Influencer marketing, once a niche strategy, has emerged as a cornerstone of modern tourism marketing, blending storytelling, social media reach, and authentic engagement to showcase the unique offerings of destinations like Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. This episode unpacks the why and how of leveraging influencers to boost tourism and spotlight hidden gems

Lessons You’ll Learn:
Listeners will gain invaluable insights into the strategic planning, execution, and measurement of influencer marketing campaigns within the tourism sector. From identifying the right influencers who align with your destination’s brand to crafting campaigns that resonate with target audiences, Samantha Cole shares her expert strategies that led to viral successes for Montgomery County. Learn about the importance of storytelling in showcasing destination highlights, the role of social media platforms like TikTok in planning travel, and how to measure the impact of influencer partnerships on visitor engagement and tourism growth.

About Our Guest:
Samantha Cole serves as the Director of Public Relations for the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board, where her innovative strategies have significantly enhanced Montgomery County’s visibility and appeal. With a keen focus on multimedia storytelling and a strategic approach to influencer marketing, Cole has succeeded in capturing the essence of the area’s unique attractions, from its historical significance to its dog-friendly venues. Under her guidance, Valley Forge Tourism has launched several successful campaigns, utilizing everything from viral influencer collaborations to unique marketing materials like comic books, all aimed at drawing diverse visitor demographics to Montgomery County.

Topics Covered:
The enlightening conversation covers a wide array of topics central to the successful integration of influencer marketing into tourism promotion strategies. Discussions include the inception and execution of influencer campaigns, the selection process for influencers, and the importance of aligning influencer content with a destination’s brand identity. Additionally, Samantha Cole shares insights into targeting niche markets, such as dog owners or families looking for unique travel experiences. The conversation also touches on the broader role of social media in travel planning, the impact of DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives in tourism marketing, and the future trends expected to shape the tourism industry post-COVID.

Our Guest: Samantha Cole-Pioneering Destination Promotion with Influencer Marketing in Tourism.

Samantha Cole is a distinguished figure in the field of tourism marketing, currently serving as the Director of Public Relations at the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. With a rich background in communications and a passion for travel, Cole has adeptly navigated the complex landscape of tourism promotion, bringing a fresh perspective to the branding and marketing efforts of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Her strategic vision has been instrumental in elevating the county’s profile as a premier travel destination, leveraging its historical significance, natural beauty, and unique attractions to captivate visitors from around the globe.

Cole’s approach to marketing Montgomery County is deeply rooted in storytelling and multimedia engagement, recognizing early on the potential of social media to transform destination marketing. Under her guidance, Valley Forge Tourism has pioneered the use of influencer marketing within the tourism sector, creating campaigns that not only highlight the region’s diverse offerings but also resonate with a wide audience through authenticity and creative content. Her initiatives have successfully bridged the gap between traditional marketing techniques and the dynamic, fast-paced world of digital and social media marketing, resulting in viral campaigns and significant increases in visitor engagement and tourism-related economic benefits.

Before her tenure at Valley Forge Tourism, Cole accumulated extensive experience in various facets of marketing and public relations, contributing to her holistic understanding of the tourism industry. Her educational background in marketing, combined with a keen interest in travel trends and consumer behavior, has equipped her with the insights needed to navigate the challenges of promoting a destination in today’s competitive market. Cole’s leadership extends beyond campaign management, as she actively contributes to the board’s strategic planning and innovation efforts, always with an eye toward fostering inclusivity and diversity in travel and tourism. Her work not only promotes Montgomery County but also serves as a model for destination marketing organizations worldwide, demonstrating the power of adaptability, creativity, and strategic partnerships in the digital age.

Episode Transcript

Samantha Cole: We are noticing that especially the data that our team is looking at, folks in the younger generations especially, are looking to social media to plan travel. We’re really focused on that. We’re partnering with local videographers to come out and capture the hidden gems in Montgomery County. So things that folks can’t necessarily get everywhere. We want to make sure that we’re putting a spotlight on those hidden gems that are exclusive to our area. But we know that folks are really looking to social media TikTok specifically.

Megha McSwain: Welcome to TravelPreneur, the weekly business show for the travel industry. I’m your host, Houston-based travel journalist, Megha McSwain. Each episode, we’ll be exploring what it takes to thrive as a business owner in the travel industry. From conversations with leading travel business executives and industry-focused venture capitalists to exploring the innovations that are shaping the next generation of travel business, if it impacts the travel industry, we cover it here on TravelPreneur. Welcome to the TravelPreneur podcast, where we explore innovative travel ideas and experiences. I’m your host, Meghan McSwain. Today we’re diving into the world of destination promotion and tourism. Joining us today is Samantha Cole, the director of public relations at Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. Hello, Samantha. Welcome to TravelPreneur.

Samantha Cole: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited.

Megha McSwain: So, Samantha, in your role, how do you leverage multimedia storytelling to showcase the unique offerings of Montgomery County?

Samantha Cole: We at Valley Forge Tourism, it’s a little unique because we identify with Valley Forge, but we are actually all of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. And the reason that we do that is because there are so many Montgomery counties across the country that Valley Forge is actually nationally and internationally recognized. A little fun fact there, and what we do from a marketing and communication standpoint is we have this overarching Visit Valley Forge brand, and then beneath that, we really lead with our sub-brands or different campaigns. So those cater to all types of people with very different unique interests. So we have marketing campaigns. For instance, one is called Embark Montco which targets dog-friendly folks, people who have pets and are looking to, come to an area that’s very dog-friendly, to travel with their dog. We have Crave Montco, which is putting a spotlight on all restaurants, breweries, wineries, and distilleries in Montgomery County. So really having those different unique brands we call them but the really marketing campaigns to talk to folks of all different interests.

Megha McSwain: I know you mentioned some of these, but what are some of the standout stories or experiences that have resonated with visitors? Maybe not so many locals, but like people from out of town who have come and, you know, really kind of enjoyed themselves and maybe things that people, our listeners wouldn’t know about.

Samantha Cole: So we actually recently partnered with an influencer back in the fall, and we know that our audience is really looking for family-friendly things to do. And this was our first influencer campaign that really went viral. The videos generated over 4 million views across all content. So we were super thrilled about this. The influencer really just came out to Montgomery County from Philadelphia and showcased in an itinerary format what a weekend getaway would really look like in Montgomery County. So dining, attractions, they visited this really cool greenhouse, Mum Mountain. Also, a fall-themed train ride that’s perfect for families. And we know, as I mentioned, that our audience is really looking for that family-friendly thing to do, that attraction really things to do on the weekend. We actually had several moms after this campaign went live, tag us in very similar content that the influencer published saying, hey, I followed what so and so did when they went out to Montgomery County. I went to this restaurant, I went to Austin Mum Mountain, I went to Coalbrookdale. So really seeing them follow that itinerary so closely, we actually then were even able to go to the Coalbrookdale, which was the railroad, and say, hey, did you guys see a ticket sales here? Did you guys see an increase in website visitation? And they were like, absolutely. We actually had to compare this year to last year, we had over 1200 more train rides. During that time frame, because of this campaign, it’s so cool to see those results and to be like, all right, this is working.

Megha McSwain: Influencer marketing is really up there with magazines and papers now, maybe even more sometimes, they’re just so visual and people really want to kind of live through that video or that photo. So in the competitive tourism landscape, what strategies does Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board beyond influencer marketing, employ to stand out and capture the attention of potential visitors? I mean, I’m sure there are newsletters and things like that, like advertising on the Internet. But beyond influencer marketing, what else can you guys share?

Samantha Cole: So our president and CEO really challenge us to get creative, be bold, and be different. And our team, I think we do that. We kind of look at things a little bit differently. We have a mascot. We’re one of the only tourism boards that really has a mascot, so he’s at a different level. His name is Monty The Fox, different from all. We also have several different publications. There are a lot of tourism boards like a visitor’s guide, a dining guide, an arts guide, and a golf guide. Our team also created a comic book, too, because there are so many different historical venues and historical things that took place right here in Montgomery County. So we have a comic book series that really focuses on the history that took place here, in Montgomery County. Our marketing team, also as part of our summer campaigns, has flown airplanes with banners across the Jersey shore promoting our summer campaign. So really looking at things a little bit differently. And I know we were just talking about influencers too. But as part of that Embark Montco campaign, when we first launched that, we actually invited an Instagram famous dog to come out and social media influencers to come out and really promote those dog-friendly things to do in Montgomery County and show that to his audience, which is hopefully a lot of dog owners. My dog, I think, has more Instagram followers than I do.

Megha McSwain: It’s so much fun. This episode is brought to you by 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, 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 the 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 a travel industry specialist who will support your business every step of the way. Visit to get a free quote today. So Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board places a strong emphasis on DEI. How does the organization translate these core values into its promotional efforts and engagement with visitors?

Samantha Cole: But we believe that everybody should be represented in all of our marketing materials. So whether that’s the publications that I mentioned, the graphics in our advertising and marketing, in our videos, or our photo shoot talent. We also experimented a little bit with adding a translation option to some of our social media advertising as well. So translating our copy to different languages and really just focusing and putting a spotlight on my minorities and minority-owned businesses too. So right now, our team is firming up our list of black-owned businesses for ahead of Black History Month. So those are just a few of the things that we’ve done here at the tourism board.

Megha McSwain: So as you mentioned, Make It Montco, is a destination. Montgomery County encourages visitors to probably use that hashtag on social channels. And when they’re posting, how does this mantra align with the commitment to diversity? And how do you ensure that the region is welcoming to a wide range of travelers with that kind of Make It Montco?

Samantha Cole: So Make It Montco, that is our branded hashtag. That is part of our core values. But in our core values, we also have Make It Inclusive and we really believe that too. So the Valley Forge National Historical Park, which is what I mentioned in the beginning, that’s kind of how we identify ourselves. We have that Valley Forge name in our name, and we say that the gateways of Montgomery County are really Valley Forge National Historical Park and the Welcome Center, the Montgomery County Welcome Center at the park. That means that we have marketing materials over there that are in all different languages because we are welcoming people from all over the world to that welcome center and Montgomery County.

Megha McSwain: With the evolving landscape of travel and tourism, especially after COVID. It’s a whole different world now. What trends do you anticipate will shape the industry, and how is the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board preparing for those? Or have you guys kind of already started noticing that you’re implementing new things?

Samantha Cole: Yeah, so I think we touched on it a little bit earlier in the podcast, but we are noticing that especially the data that our team is looking at, folks in the younger generations especially are looking to social media to plan travel. We’re really focused on that. We’re partnering with local videographers to come out and capture the hidden gems in Montgomery County. So things that folks can’t necessarily get everywhere. We want to make sure that we’re putting a spotlight on those hidden gems that are exclusive to our area. But we know that folks are really looking to social media, TikTok specifically, which is so fascinating. And I mean, I find myself doing it too. Social media, and I think influencers, we at the tourism board really consider the PR now, too, with the ever-changing landscape. And we are looking for influencers to push out our stories and tell our story. So incorporating them into launches up campaigns and making sure that they’re sharing out our releases, things like that.

Megha McSwain: And in the age of digital communication and social media, how crucial are the online platforms are there online newsletter blasts that you guys use? I mean, of course, social media, Instagram, TikTok, you know, Facebook, LinkedIn, all of that great stuff. I mean, it’s so easy to use. What strategies prove the most effective in this day and age?

Samantha Cole: Being consistent on all platforms, I think, is absolutely crucial. Our marketing team, pushes out regular e-blasts as well to our subscriber base, making sure that our web content is up to date too, and just offering those experiences and those things to do for those families and those folks that are visiting or locally too, that are just really looking for something to do. It’s funny because I’ve been with the tourism board for almost six years now. Next month it’ll be six years. And before me, there wasn’t a full-time social media person. And now there are a few different people. There are at least two on our team that are really contributing to the day-to-day content that we’re pushing out. So it kind of speaks to that, that ever-changing landscape and the ever-changing world of social media and how organizations are really pushing out their messages.

Megha McSwain: And these days, social media isn’t taking a photo in that moment and posting it. It’s content creation, which requires so much planning. And I mean, sometimes an entire team, you have to kind of figure out where you’re going to be shooting that photo or that video. So there’s just so much more that goes into it than it used to be even ten years ago.

Samantha Cole: Oh my gosh, yeah. We have meetings here that are just called content planning meetings. So we are putting together content calendars and reviewing them with appropriate members of the team, making sure that all businesses that we want to make sure are included, are represented, and what days we’re pushing these blogs or these campaigns, user-generated content, things like that. So I mean, I love it. It’s what I do every single day. But it is fascinating just seeing how much it’s changed us over the last few years. When I went to college, and graduated in 2015, social media wasn’t even like a concentration or social media marketing. And now they do offer classes and courses and minors and concentrations under the school from which I graduated. So it is fascinating watching it kind of turn into. It’s so hard to because you’ll learn it, you know, you’ll learn the back end of meta, you’ll learn business management, everything like that. And then they are always changing it. So then you go in the next day and it looks completely different and you’re like, all right, but it keeps you on your toes.

Megha McSwain: It keeps you on your toes, that’s for sure. And you know, with a destination that’s got so much going on I find that social media really is more than a story. I mean, I’m a writer and I’ve written plenty of stories, but it brings, social media brings ideas to life. Sometimes I feel like these campaigns go further than a story can. So as someone deeply involved in promoting a destination, how do you think travel entrepreneurs can align their businesses with DEI principles for a more inclusive travel industry?

Samantha Cole: I mean, I think you said it. Just keep it inclusive. Vow to, continue to develop a safe space for travelers and residents in your area, ensuring that they feel represented and that really everybody feels welcome to come out and visit or live in your area, in your region.

Megha McSwain: Yeah. And I’m glad you mentioned the residents too because we’ve touched a lot on visitors and out-of-towners and tourism, but it’s also kind of making sure that doesn’t encroach on the people that choose to live there and want to live there and are open to the fact that where they live is a tourist, maybe destination, but kind of the balance between both of them.

Samantha Cole: Absolutely. And the people that work here too, you know, business owners or just everybody.

Megha McSwain: Well, thank you so much, Samantha. This is so interesting to hear about how a certain place really kind of shares its stories with everyone else in the world. So I really appreciate you sharing these key insights. Thank you for joining us today and talking to us about Valley Forge and Montco. What’s the hashtag again?

Samantha Cole: Make it Montco.

Megha McSwain: Make it Montco. I love that it’s cute. So let our listeners know where they can learn more about Valley Forge and where they can connect with you.

Samantha Cole: Absolutely. Well, first, thank you so much for having me. This was awesome, thank you. And on social, you can follow us at “Visit Valley Forge”, on Facebook, we are at “Visit Valley Forge and Montco”, and our website is So we can’t wait to welcome you guys to Montgomery County.

Megha McSwain: Thank you so much, Samantha. To our listeners, please follow and subscribe for future episodes and we will see you next time on TravelPreneur. You’ve been listening to TravelPreneur by 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 TravelPreneur.