Janette Marson of ShelbyKY Tourism On How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Make sure your attractions are open. I know this sounds like it should be common sense, but many times people come to a destination ready to have an experience and everything is closed. Work with your officials and attraction owners to make sure your tourists have a good experience when they come to visit. Good memories make people return in the future.
As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Janette Marson.
Tourism industry executive Janette Marson is the President and CEO of ShelbyKY Tourism in Kentucky. Prior to her post with ShelbyKY Tourism, Marson was the Executive Director of the Lake Cumberland Tourist Commission in Russell County, Ky. With a vast career in marketing, advertising, broadcasting and public relations, Marson is also the President of the Kentucky Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus and holds a Travel Marketing Professional Degree from STS Marketing College at the Univ. of North Georgia and an Advanced Certificate in Tourism.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have worked in broadcasting and advertising for many years and absolutely loved it. In 2007, we decided to make a big move to our family farm in Southern Kentucky and I noticed there was an opening for an Executive Director of Tourism. The job description covered everything that I had done up to that point… all things that I absolutely love about my job. I knew immediately that “Tourism” was my dream job. A happy end to the story is that I did, indeed, get the position and stayed with the Lake Cumberland Tourist Commission for 9 years before coming to ShelbyKY Tourism as their President & CEO.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Wow, it is hard to narrow it down to just one interesting story. Since starting a career in Tourism, I have had the opportunity and honor to serve on a Tourism Advisory Committee for the KY Senate. This past year it has also been my honor to serve as the President of the KY Tourism Director Association, KACVB (Kentucky Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus). I have been able to travel across Kentucky and met some of the most amazing and creative people. If you work in Tourism, every single day is a happy surprise…one day you might be out on a houseboat getting photos and the next day you are in a kayak paddling down a river or horseback riding through the Kentucky hills. In order to properly promote a destination, you have to get out there and actually experience everything that place has to offer.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I can’t think of one individual mistake that I have made… and I have made my share of them for sure. I truly believe that you can’t move forward without making mistakes. Trying new and different approaches to marketing a destination are important. Some things I have tried were not a success, and I learned and have grown from that experience. Other new approaches ended up being successful. If you don’t put yourself out there and try new things, stretch yourself and explore new ways to market your destination, you can’t truly grow.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When my husband and I moved to Kentucky we were new and “unknown” in the small southern community. Two of the ladies that were on the hiring committee really valued my experience and resume over being new to the community. They took a chance and hired me as the Executive Director of Tourism. Had it not been for then Tourism Chair, Moochie Hart and Commissioner Sherry Daniel (of Russell Co, Ky.), I would never have been able to get into the Tourism Industry in Kentucky.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
I am fairly new to the Shelby County, Ky. area, so when beginning something new, it is important to understand the destination. I needed to know “who are the people coming to visit ShelbyKY”, “where are they coming from”, and “how many of them are spending the night…or just spending.” In order to get those questions answered, I began working with a research company that tracks people coming into our destination and can tell me who is a “tourist” vs. resident, where are they going and how much are they spending. This kind of technology and research is revolutionary for a destination! I now have a research-backed plan for advertising. I have documentation that I can give to my elected officials letting them absolutely know the power of tourist spending and how it is impacting our destination.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
I guess the “pain point” would be the problem of the community or elected officials not really seeing that there is a benefit of a tourism office, nor seeing the benefit of tourist spending. The research that we are gathering truly paints a picture of how many visitors we have to our destination vs. how many residents AND what economic impact those outside dollars are making. I don’t think this kind of information is a disruption, but rather a welcomed change to how we had presented information in the past. I am thankful to work alongside a wonderful group of elected officials that are open to information and research.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
Even in 2022 destinations that have “wide open spaces” and outdoor adventure seem to be the most popular places that travelers are visiting. Smaller cities that have outdoor activities, even during the height of COVID, were booming with business, where larger cities had a harder time.
We are very careful in our marketing and advertising to feature our outdoor experiences along with all our many other attractions. In addition to our Shelby County’s Bourbon Distilleries, we also have a very popular Outlet Mall in Simpsonville — all those places have outdoor experiences which we have promoted.
In the next five years, there will still be some people that decide not to fly, but I think things are getting better. Before the rise in gas prices, travelers were choosing to drive longer distances to vacation destinations. It was very common to see people drive to Kentucky from California, Texas or New York, and these states were not previously main markets for the Bluegrass State. COVID has changed the market makeup for Kentucky and widened the states that we are drawing from. Kentucky is very popular with people looking for a Safe Getaway — when you think of Kentucky many people think of Fresh Clean Air and Water and Outdoor Activities, which is wonderful for our travel industry.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
Everyone has their own idea of the “perfect vacation experience”; my idea would include my family and being close to water. A little-known fact about Kentucky is that the state has more miles of running water than any other state except Alaska. I just think that is amazing! I love traveling inside my own state. Not only do we have great water vacation getaways, almost 50% of Kentucky’s land is forested and absolutely breathtaking!
Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.
Connecting with nature is important when you are traveling or even just doing a staycation in your own hometown. We at ShelbyKY Tourism are working hard to connect all people with the beauty of nature here in Shelby County. From our lakes and rivers, to the experience of a guided horseback ride through the Kentucky woods, connecting with nature and having nature wrap itself around you is calming to the soul. Surrounding yourself in nature is proven to reduce stress and produce a feeling of calmness. We are cultivating wellness through nature here in ShelbyKY!
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- The main word here is “Experience”… you need to give them something to do that is memorable. People want to be able to DO something. For example, we have a lot of Farms here where people can look at horses. We began asking our farms to also provide an experience for their guests. One farm had a great idea of letting guests ride 4-wheelers through the horse fields and let the horses run alongside — this is truly a memorable experience!
- Keep the Experiences fresh and new! Don’t let your visitors start saying, “Been there done that” — always keep it fresh so they need to keep coming back. When I was at Lake Cumberland Tourist Commission, we promoted houseboat rentals. We made sure to promote the new experiences people could have — I think the last year I was there, the “new thing” was Yachts! Always look for what is NEW at your destination.
- Make sure your front-line workers are well versed on what there is to see and do in your destination. The worst thing someone can say when asked, “What’s there to do here”, is Nothing. I think everyone in tourism can relate to this. A good idea is to have a “Front-Line Worker Job Fair” where everyone is invited to come see all the different tourism jobs that are available. Be sure to have the attendees watch a Hospitality Video while there. Entice them to watch the video by offering a prize of some sort.
- I love video! Create some new videos highlighting your destination and share them on Social Media.
- Make sure your attractions are open. I know this sounds like it should be common sense, but many times people come to a destination ready to have an experience and everything is closed. Work with your officials and attraction owners to make sure your tourists have a good experience when they come to visit. Good memories make people return in the future.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I would like to think that I have a part in helping families make great memories and have happy vacations. We advertise our wonderful ShelbyKY Destination all over the world. I hope that having a quality vacation destination helps to bring peace and tranquility to those that vacation here.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If I could start a movement, it would have to be something about travel of course. I would love to see more happy families traveling together. I would love to start a fund for families that cannot afford to travel, but would like to do so. Vacations and family travel truly bond people together and I would love to see more families have that opportunity.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!