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Vermont, meet your visitors

Department of Tourism and Marketing unveils branding research

DOVER—In a three-hour presentation that would give Don Draper and Roger Sterling focus-group envy, members of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing (VDTM) presented research on the Vermont brand.

The Aug. 12 stop by Vermont Chief Marketing Officer Christine Werneke and Tourism Commissioner Bruce Hyde at the Mount Snow Ski Area was the fourth in a series of five presentations around the state. The 50-plus audience represented a cross-section of Windham County business owners and chamber employees interested in enticing more tourists their way.

The survey resulted from a partnership between the VDTM and Vermont Ski Area Association in order to “stretch their dollars,” said Werneke. Resource Systems Group, Inc (RSG) conducted the survey on behalf of the organizations interviewing people in Vermont, Massachusetts, the New York Metropolitan area and the Canadian cities of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

Questions focused on why travelers did or did not chose Vermont over other locations, the type of vacations they looked for and what words and images they associated with the Green Mountain State.

“We wanted to articulate [clearly] what the Vermont brand is,” said Werneke, adding it was important to confirm if residents and the VDTM’s perceptions of the state aligned with tourists’ perceptions.

“[Visitors’] perceptions are very similar,” she said.

The good news? The VDTM would not need to develop a completely new brand to match perceptions in order to draw visitors. 

Overall, the research revealed visitors came to Vermont looking for adventure, good value and an unspoiled landscape. People associated Vermont as mainly a winter destination.  “Don’t know what there is to do” was one reason given for not visiting Vermont. 

Visitors’ priorities differed among the New York, Massachusetts and Canadian markets.

Canadians marked “warm friendly people” as a high priority, while Massachusetts visitors were more concerned with “good value.”

A marketing goal expressed by Werneke, Hyde and audience members was how to convert winter vacationers into four-season visitors.

An inn proprietor said she wants more summer marketing literature advertising events and deals to give to her winter guests.

Hyde said VDTM is working to improve the situation with a statewide database and calendar as well as getting the state-published Vermont Life magazine “back on its feet” financially.

“I think it’s important to know we [VDTM] have such a limited budget,” said Hyde.

VDTM’s budget for the 2011 fiscal year is $3.2 million, although that figure may be cut due to other reductions in the Vermont Agency of Commerce & Community Development’s (ACCD) overall budget, said communications director David Mace.

Vermont spends less than most states on marketing, said Werneke.

Audience members also discussed improving public transportation, specifically improving Amtrak service and linking shuttle buses to stations and different destinations like Brattleboro to Mount Snow via the Moover bus service.

The state began marketing itself in the 1890s. After the Civil War, Vermont experienced an exodus of its population and the state wanted them to return.

“The perception of Vermont did not happen by accident. It was 120 years in the making. [Vermont businesses] can continue to build on that legacy so 50 years from now, the brand is still strong,” said Werneke.

“I think [the survey] is an excellent tool for our small businesses and chambers,” said Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laura Sibilia.

“It’s really important and helpful informing us how to use limited resources the best we can,” said Building a Better Brattleboro Executive Director Andrea Livermore, who was accompanied by Brattleboro Arts Initiative Managing Director Gail Nunziata.

Livermore said the meeting helped her see partnership possibilities between Brattleboro businesses and area businesses like Mount Snow normally operating as “little silos.”

Vermont is within easy driving distance to Boston, New York and Montreal, which may account for the state faring better than other tourist destinations.

According to Mace, although tourism has suffered because of the economy and unpredictable weather, the state didn’t experience the steep declines that other  national tourism destinations saw.

According to the most recent and complete data, in 2007, visitors made 14.3 million trips to Vermont. Estimated direct tourism spending is $1.61 billion annually. 

To read the complete survey, visit www.vermontpartners.org.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #63 (Wednesday, August 18, 2010).

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