By Andrea Rayburn, Tourism Specialist

The U.S. Travel Association’s Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations brought more than 800 travel ambassadors, trendsetters and innovators from across the U.S. to Portland August 22-25th. This national forum had its largest attendance since its creation 32 years ago. The four day event brings state tourism offices, destination marketers and visitors bureau together as a way to streamline and encourage information sharing. It’s a cross-country snapshot of what’s working and what’s not when it comes to drawing the eye and cash flow of the traveler.

This year, one thing was clear: People want a travel experience not just a trip. People want to “do” something – an event like a half marathon, the perfect family vacation at a lakeside yurt, or conquer untamed mountain bike trails –rather than simply “go” to a popular destination. The job of travel promoters is to tap into those most basic feelings of happiness, adventure and connection in order to help travelers craft the full experience they are seeking. The search is a sensory one, combining strong imagery, emotion, and genuine exchanges with the use of thoughtful and engaging content.

Technology continues to play a huge role in travel planning and execution. Travelers are putting much more weight in editorial content and peer ratings when making choices before and during a trip. Apps like “Yelp” and “Eater” are gaining more and more traction when it comes to identifying local stops where travelers are likely to spend. Social influencers play an ever present role across all generations in this “self-serve” planning option, helping to inspire and in some cases, guide a trip for some followers. Travelers are searching for an authentic and genuine experience when consuming travel content across all platforms. Mobile optimization is extremely important. In one case study, many millennials gave up on trying to reserve rooms or book an experience if the website did not function on a mobile platform.

Right now, Americans are leaving more unused vacations days on the table than previous generations; approximately 429 million vacation hours go unused each year. Recent mercury awardresearch shows that many Americans are missing out on major life events (like milestone birthdays and even funerals) in order to meet the demand for work. It’s a scary and alarming trend, so the tourism industry is taking up the Project: Time Off cause, giving destinations a voice and working on ways to encourage and inspire consumers to step away from a desk or the office to actually experience the life they’ve been working so hard to achieve.

The conclusion of ESTO was highlighted with an awards ceremony that celebrated the outstanding tourism campaigns and promotions across the country. During this celebration, The Idaho Division of Tourism Development and Drake Cooper Advertising Agency were recognized with the Mercury Award for Best Print Visitor Guide. The highly coveted and competitive Mercury award is awarded by peers in the industry and Idaho Tourism’s win speaks volumes about the state’s tourism promotions programs.

The ESTO experience is an important tool for all those involved in travel and tourism promotions. The Idaho Tourism staff that attended is excited to share the inspirational and informative lessons shared during the conference.

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