#tourismchat – Q&A with Its Creators Anne Hornyak and Betsy Decillis

tourismchat logo[tweetmeme source=”pagetx”] Social media is a two-way street.  It’s about the give and take.  The conversation.  It’s about sharing what you know, and knowing that others will reciprocate when they can.

In the tourism industry, I think this comes naturally.  We’re all a pretty friendly bunch, with he sole goal of helping people have a good time in our destinations.

It works the same way with fellow tourism industry professionals.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard one DMO person say to another, “I’m gonna steal that idea!”  To me, that’s the highest form of flattery.  Someone else thinks your idea is good enough to use in their own efforts.  Why re-invent the wheel, right?  If there’s an idea you can use, modify for your situation, and put to good use, then why the hell not?

With that in mind, I’d like to take you into the world of #tourismchat.  In all my years in tourism (no comments from the peanut gallery, please), I’ve never seen anything that comes close to the kind of selfless sharing that goes on here.  I think that #tourismchat is the ultimate user-driven, real-time, on-the-job social media marketing community for tourism professionals and DMOs.

Y’all can tell I like to hyphenate things, can’t you?  I also tend to over comma, so just know that going into this.  Rather than have me ramble on about #tourismchat, I decided it would be best for you to hear it straight from the two creators.  And they tell an awesome (and at times, humorous) story.

So fasten your seatbelts, and get ready for an informative and entertaining ride.

1.  So tell me about #tourismchat.  What is it and how did this idea get started?

Anne Hornyak (@WhosYourAnnie): I was following @prsarahevans, saw how useful #journchat had become, and thought we needed something similar for the tourism industry.  I then saw one of Betsy’s tourism association chats through @irene_expcols‘ tweets.  I asked Irene about it and she introduced me to Betsy. We chatted one day about her strategy, but then I just kept putting it off.  Then we were chatting with some CVBs on twitter about Foursquare one day in late January.  We asked them if they’d be interested in a tourism twitter chat and received positive feedback, so we set the date (Feb 4) for our first #tourismchat.

Betsy Decillis (@decillis): #tourismchat is a place for tourism professionals to share ideas and chat about all things tourism and social media.  Last summer, I hosted a couple of chats through my company where I would ask an “expert” to talk to our members via Twitter about a social media topic.  One of our “experts” (Irene Alvarez from Experience Columbus) had been talking to Anne about the idea of a national tourism chat and told her to give me a shout.  We talked about my experiences and then the idea ended up getting put on hold.  About six months later, I said to Anne, “What ever happened to that idea?”  The conversation definitely got started again, and then we were talking about foursquare on Twitter with a bunch of other tourism professionals when I asked them what they thought about the idea.  After getting a positive response, we scheduled a time right then and it went from there.

2.  Once you decided to do this, how did you announce and promote it?

Anne: We used our personal twitter accounts, created a #tourismchat Facebook page, and more recently created a twitter account for #tourismchat.  I created a twub for the chat as well as a wthashtag page so our tweets would be archived.  We didn’t really have a promotion strategy and, as Betsy says, we are very much last-minute slackers.  I think, through our tourismchat screenshotlove (addiction) to twitter and chatting, #tourismchat was easily promoted via word of mouth marketing.  Power to the people!

Betsy: Anne has a huge network of national tourism contacts and I have a good list of contacts in Ohio.  We announced it via our personal Twitter and Facebook accounts.  From there, a Facebook fan page came about, with a fabulous logo from the wonderful Beth Conway (@mobethann).  And then, after I put an “@” in front of “tourismchat” instead of a “#”, we decided we needed to get a #tourismchat Twitter account too.  I’d love to say we have a cohesive plan for how we will promote each chat, but that just doesn’t go with our personalities.  Usually, one of us says, “Hey, maybe we should do this,” and the other one says, “Cool.”  I think that’s because of a combination of us being slight slackers and wanting to be very responsive to what works for the community.

3.  What was your first topic?  Why did you go with that?

Anne: Our first chat was on Foursquare and other location aware sites, like Gowalla, and how CVBs can use them to help promote their destination.  Many were aware of Foursquare, but didn’t really understand its full potential in the tourism industry.  The best part of #tourismchat is that it’s really a brainstorming session among tourism professionals.  For the Foursquare chat, the participants actually set the CVB/Foursquare standards (i.e., use CVB account to leave tips; check in with personal account, not CVB account, etc).  Just imagine how much easier it would have been if we had this when everyone created Facebook pages (and profiles and groups) for their CVB or business.  As scary as it sounds, we can be a very influential group in the tourism industry.

Betsy: Our first topic was location-based social media, mostly because that was what a small group of us was chatting about when we threw out the idea of tourism chat.

4.  How many people “attended” the first chat?  About how many do you get now?

Anne: We had just over 20 participants on the first chat.  I’m defining participants as an introduction or tweet during the chat; not a RT from someone’s following.  We currently have 50 members in the #tourismchat twub and 180 fans on the #tourismchat Facebook page.  Our April 8 chat on video had 40 participants.  With a twitter chat, especially one that archives the tweets, there’s really no way of knowing how many lurkers are on the chat live or how many others are referring to the chat transcript afterward.

Betsy: Anne knows the exact numbers.  What I think is more interesting than the numbers is that you will never see just the same old group on the chat.  The contributors change from chat to chat and we really get a variety of people, which is amazing.

5.  What changes or additions have happened lately?

Anne: The biggest change in #tourismchat is occurring behind the scenes.  It’s not a secret that we were going with the flow for the first few chats, but we now have a schedule and are working on more intricate chat ideas.

Betsy: We got organized.  Like I said before, we were really flying by the seat of our pants.  Things used to happen like a couple of us would post the same thing on our fan page, and we wouldn’t be ready to announce the next topic at the end of the chat.  That just doesn’t happen now.  We have topics mostly picked out through June, which is allowing for us to have more complex and better topics.  We are treating this more like a business, while at the same time still holding on to the community nature of the chat.

6.  How do you get ideas for upcoming topics?

Anne: We’re still getting the #tourismchat topics from the participants, as it should always be.  We have a few great topics coming up and are always looking for more ideas.  We encourage participants to contact either one of us with ideas or to post topic suggestions on the Facebook page.

Betsy: In the past, our topic selection process has been pretty slacker-y.  We treated it more like a chore than an opportunity.  That has led to us putting the choice in the community’s hands.  This is how we have gotten so many topics scheduled already.  I see this continuing with us adding topics as necessary.

7.  Where do you see this going in the future?

Anne: The potential for #tourismchat is unlimited.  I think Betsy and I are both willing to take this any direction the group wants to head.  As I said earlier, the chat participants are setting the social media standards for the tourism industry.  I would love to find enough time to organize the chat transcripts into easy-to-follow documents for further reach.

Social media topics are mostly of interest right now because many of the participants manage their bureau’s social media efforts.  I think there may be enough interest in the future, especially among smaller CVBs, to include some non-social media topics such as “voluntourism”, partnerships or advocacy.

I think the connections we make on these chats are also extremely valuable and will become even more so in the future.  If someone has a question and I don’t have the answer, I know who to ask.  We’re more than just chat participants.  We’re a community.

My most favorite tweet came from @disneyjen after the March 25 (flickr) chat:

disney jen tweet

Betsy: We are willing to take it wherever the community wants it.  I see us testing the limits of what a chat can be.  For example, an upcoming chat is going to be a “Meet the Bloggers” chat where we connect our chatters with the bloggers that might write about them.  I see more chatting and sharing going on outside of the regularly scheduled chat times.  That is already going on with the fan page and to a lesser degree, via the hashtag.  Perhaps, we will also use the fan page and the Twitter account to pass on relevant information.  Basically, if there seems to be a demand for it, we are willing to try it.  Just ask.

8.  Anything else you want people to know?

Anne: The chats are not about me or Betsy.  They’re about sharing knowledge and brainstorming together.  Everyone is free to voice their opinion, share their best practices and see what others are doing in the industry.  At first I wanted to create the chat solely for CVBs, but it’s much more than that now.  We have hotels and travel writers participating, as well as other businesses in the tourism industry.  And the beauty of it is that these businesses are sharing knowledge, not pushing their products.  We all have one goal: promote travel.

Author’s Note: Both Anne and Betsy want to acknowledge the contributions to #tourismchat from Beth Conway (@mobethann) and Katherine Hoppe (@oregonkat).  Both provided ideas for potential topics and helped (and continue to help) promote the chats.  Beth also designed the cool #tourismchat logo and helped select the schedule for the chats.  Anne, Betsy, Beth, and Kat are co-administrators on the #tourismchat Facebook page.

Anne and Betsy also wanted to give Sheila Scarborough (@SheilaS), blogger extraordinaire and Tourism Currents co-creator, a shout-out for being a staunch supporter and promoter of #tourismchat.

#tourismchat happens at 2pm Central time every other Thursday.  For a schedule of upcoming chats and topics, visit the Events section on the #tourismchat Facebook page.

14 Responses

  1. Thanks for putting this together, Sarah! You rock!!

    • Betsy – I can’t tell you how lucky I feel that you and Anne did this! What you have done is an incredible service to the tourism industry, and I was thrilled to play a small part in telling your story. Thank YOU!

  2. Hey, that’s me up there! Yippee! 🙂

    • Hey Jenny – Yup, that’s you! And I couldn’t agree more with what you said in that tweet. #tourismchat is an amazing opportunity for us to share and learn from our peers, as well as build relationships. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

  3. This is great! Thanks so much Sarah! And thanks for including me. It’s been a privilege to assist in the creation of such a great tool, but it’s been the participants that make it successful.

  4. I wouldn’t dream of leaving you out! The four of you had an incredible vision, and the trust in the community to let #tourismchat go where it needed to go. You’re right – it’s always been about the participants. That’s the coolest part!

  5. […] talk about that here.  If you want to learn more about that, Sarah Page wrote a wonderful post on #tourismchat that will answer most of your questions.  Needless to say, we have had a lot of fun, but have […]

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  7. […] is a biweekly twitter chat focusing on social media in the tourism industry. Sarah Page has a great Q&A post about the chat. Our last chat focused on Mobile Website. Feel free to read the entire chat […]

  8. […] is a biweekly twitter chat focusing on social media in the tourism industry. Sarah Page has a great Q&A post about the chat. Our last chat focused on Mobile Website. Feel free to read the entire chat […]

  9. […] a biweekly twitter chat focusing on social media in the tourism industry, check out this Q&A post from Sarah […]

  10. […] a biweekly twitter chat focusing on social media in the tourism industry, check out this Q&A post from Sarah […]

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  12. […] Take a look at the Twitter hashtag chatter for SOBCon or TBEX or all of the 140 Characters Conferences – and many of the SoMeT attendees met each other first through #tourismchat. […]

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