July 27, 2022

What Every Marketer and DMO Should be Thinking About, with Stuart Butler, CMO of Visit Myrtle Beach


We often talk about the importance of not building your marketing house on someone else’s land (Airbnb, Vrbo, Google etc), but in this episode we discuss how creative marketers are building their brands on their own channels.  

Stuart Butler, CMO of Visit Myrtle Beach and undeniably one of the sharpest minds in all of hospitality marketing joins us today to explain the concept of creating gravity in a destination, and why creating branded entertainment is key to distinguishing your destination or company. 

Stuart brings a wealth of knowledge and insight that is applicable for any type of business – and of course, we share some laughs and fun along the way! Tune in! 


CONTACT STUART BUTLER
stuart.butler@visitmyrtlebeach.com
Visit Myrtle Beach
LinkedIn

CONTACT ALEX & ANNIE
AlexandAnniePodcast.com
LinkedIn | Facebook | Instagram

Alex Husner - Linkedin
Annie Holcombe - Linkedin

Transcript
Alex Husner:

Welcome to Alex and Annie, the real women of vacation rentals. I'm Alex and Im Annie. And we are joined today with Stuart Butler, who is the CMO for the Myrtle Beach area Chamber of Commerce and CVB. Stuart, welcome to the show. Hello. This this is a long time coming to that for it's amazing to think that I have you on our podcast because I've been a massive fan of your podcasting days, which were there many years there that look forward every Wednesday or Tuesday, I think it was for your release to come out. But we're very excited to have you here. And you've got such a rich history within travel and hospitality and more recently on the on the chamber and CVB side, but very excited to have you here today.

Stuart Butler:

I'm excited to be here. I've missed podcasting. So I'm glad to brush off some dust and hopefully, do you guys proud and I've been listening to the show it's excellent. You nailed it. The the camaraderie you have just the report. It's it's great. It's entertaining, right? Which is what it needs to be first and foremost entertainment and then education. You guys nail both sides of that, but it's entertaining more than anything else.

Alex Husner:

Oh, thank you. Thank you appreciate that. You know, I remember, I was a little bit nervous when I sent you the first episode because your feedback was important. You're so skilled in this we've got a long ways to go to get to where, where you were, but we're working towards it. But

Stuart Butler:

No, you are doing great? Yeah, you are way ahead of where we were, by this time, like our first 30 episodes, back in whenever that was 2015 16 were pretty rough. And so you guys sound like professionals from day one.

Alex Husner:

Stuart to get started. I know, you know, I just took for our audience in case I'm sure most people don't know. But I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Myrtle Beach chamber and CVB that Stuart works for. And a lot of I get questions on this quite a bit on what our chamber is and what is not what a chamber is, but what the CVB is versus what the DMO is. And I'm going to give my explanation of that. And you can tell me yours if I miss anything. actually perfect. Do you work at the day to day I work on the side support but so, Myrtle Beach is a unique entity and that we are a chamber and a CVB in one and in most destinations. They are two separate organizations. But we've combined forces here to be one group and the CVB stands for Convention Visitors Bureau. And the DMO stands for a destination marketing organization. SR one can you tell a little bit about what that means in your world?

Stuart Butler:

Yeah, yeah. And so I think if you look back historically, a lot of destinations started out with the CVB slash DMO being a part of the chamber. But then over the years, they've sort of separated because their agenda has kind of shifted, and so they're not necessarily aligned between behind the goals. What what's been interesting here, and I think I think that 10% are still combined, but the vast majority, 90% plus are are separate. But your chamber of commerce, I think most people know it's, you know, their representative organization made up of business members. So they represent the business community in a destination. And it just so happens in Myrtle Beach, that, you know, 85 90% of our businesses are either directly or indirectly tied to tourism. And so it makes sense for us in a lot of ways to keep that together with the CVB. So the CVB, you know, for us, and for me personally, what how I look at it is our job is to promote the destination in a way that drives incremental business, you know, we want to certainly keep the people that are coming happy in and we'll talk about this later on, because it's part of my secret sauce of marketing. But we want to turn those into advocates by spreading positive word of mouth. So we're certainly focused on who's coming and why they're coming and making sure they're having a great time. But then, you know, really our job is to go find new new people to come and that way it says CVB Convention and Visitor's Bureau is the scope isn't just leisure to travel. It also gets into group travel and things like that. So we have a sales team here that going out trying to find meetings in conferences. We've got folks looking at bus tours, we've got folks trying to bring in sports tournaments, you know a lot a lot of youth sports in this area. So really we run the gamut in terms of who we target. But that that's you know, at job every day is how do we figure out how to drive value to our local stakeholders, our businesses, and residents by driving incremental tourism and a DMO destination marketing organization is really just the designated entity within a destination that is responsible for that. So in our case with a sole DMO for the Myrtle Beach area but we also represent that with the DMO for the larger Grand Strand. So we represent 14 communities including inland like Conway and Loris and Aner and SOX de book but also North Myrtle Beach and they all the way down to Pawleys Island. So it's a pretty far reaching DMO. One interesting thing that's happening now though, is a lot of DMOS are beginning to call themselves DMMOs. So it's a destination marketing and management organization. So they're getting a lot more into the placemaking. side, as well as the the promotion side as well. That's a really boring concept, but hopefully sets the tail,

Alex Husner:

d m n o was

Stuart Butler:

M M. So destination marketing and management, right? Would you seen us do a little bit you know, we haven't switched that designation to add the second dam. But we would certainly playing more in that role of how do we make it a great place we've worked in with our cities, and towns and we're working with other organizations like economic development and such to, to bringing bring in new offerings within the area.

Annie Holcombe:

So as it relates to kind of our listeners, our core listeners are vacation rentals. I am in the Panama City Beach market. So very similar to Myrtle Beach. And we had gone through kind of a metamorphosis years ago where our chamber of commerce was actually doing a lot of the marketing and handling the advertising for the destination. And then we had a CVB that was kind of coexisting with them, honestly, peacefully, but they weren't really working well together. Now, they, they do work well together. But one of the things that was always glaring was that the vacation rentals were not kind of incorporated in the message of the market, it was very much controlled by the hotels. And so I think we're seeing that shift as the focus on vacation rentals comes and again, similar markets, Panama City Beach, Myrtle Beach, very, very heavy in condominiums and vacation rentals, how are you seeing the ability to incorporate that type of accommodations or getting those people that have those accommodations within their portfolios, as invested in the marketing message and participating in the message?

Stuart Butler:

Yeah, it's, I mean, it's really complex how DMOS function and a lot of what you've seen from a behavioral standpoint is a direct result of how they fund it. So if you look historically, most DMOs are funded through an a tax or some other tourism based fee that primarily is driven by hotels, right, the most destinations, hotels are the largest driver of revenue for them. So so that kind of gives them that that power of leverage in a lot of areas. And as included to the weird thing is, a lot of that money is restricted money, you can only use it for certain things i.e. promotion and advertising can't use it for say salaries and an operation. So a lot of DMOS end up creating a mechanism to generate on what we call unrestricted money. So money we can spend on salaries and whatnot. So a lot of times the people that are driving that train end up again being the hotels because they're making a large chunk of the revenue in the market. So again, it's it's like hotels get the power, because that's where the money's coming from what we've done and I've only been here in Myrtle Beach DMO for eight months, but we recognize that to challenge because if you look at most destination marketing organizations websites, they're very very hotel centric. They're not really selling the destination as well as they could they're not selling the reason why people travel in most people don't travel because of the accommodations right they have to stay in accommodations and they want choice but they're staying because of the events or the you know the amount of

Alex Husner:

they're not coming for the hotel room. Are you are you amazing are the kings King suite? Balcony

Stuart Butler:

Yeah, it's it's amazing that people forget that like an ad in both of our cases Myrtle Beach and Panama City Beach, they're coming for the beach primarily. That's number one. Number two might be dining might be golf might be , might be shopping, you know might be the attractions, it might be a festival, but way down is the combination. So one of the things that we've tried to deconstruct as well how do we tell a better story of what Myrtle Beach is and what it has to offer? In order to do that we need to focus a little less on the hotels and it was really weird become an end because I had 20 years of history. Working with hotels, everyone thought I was the hotel guy coming in and it would just write down right but but I've done the opposite. I like to create what I call gravity in the destination like something that attracts people. And so how do we talk about what the gravity is to attract people and it certainly isn't hotels, but it is once people stop being sold on the destination. It is the DMOS job to tell people that is a variety of options. And I think one of the reasons Myrtle Beach was so successful last year one of the reasons Panama City has been pretty successful over the years is the diversity of accommodation, it gives people choice. You know, both of these destinations have a lot of hotel traditional hotel product, but both flagged in independent, they have a lot of condo hotel product, which, which means that, you know, the hotel rooms have full kitchens or kitchenettes. And then they also have vacation rentals and beach homes, which offers a little more privacy or a little larger scale. So you can meet as a group, and who doesn't love traveling with their friends or family, you know. So I think this, this era where hotels have driven the train is, is passed. And I think we're now moving into an era where we, as DMOS are recognizing why people travel. And then we're really trying to tell the story of the diversification of offering. Because when I travel, depending on why I'm traveling, I may want a different experience. So I'm traveling with my family, and may want to vacation rental beach home, you know, where I've got more space and privacy. If I'm traveling on business, I probably just want to whatever you know, so being able to understand who that consumer is why they're traveling, and tell them that whatever it is they're doing, and whatever they want you they have choice, it's all comes down to choice.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. And I think you know, you're coming into this role. That's why it was such a powerful hire for us. Because you're experienced you were COO of Fuel Travel, which that was a hotel specific hotel marketing organization, correct?

Stuart Butler:

Yeah, correct. We were a software company and full service agency. So we built that up really, over 20 years. Starting out as just a simple web development sharp in. We figured out pretty quickly that people, and this is this was kind of sort of the early 2000s, when it was was actually creating the light, late 90s. I started in the early 2000s. And we were trying to figure out what we wanted to do. But it wasn't until 2015, we became fully focused on the hotel space. And by that time, we had Booking Engine software, CRM software, we had a mobile app, we have all these tools to help independent hotels compete with the with the flags, and it was pretty it was pretty interesting. But but you know, we we ended up selling the software off in the end of last year, which is what kind of prompted me to say, Well, maybe it's it's time for a new chapter, I felt like I'd had a good run there for 20 years. And this job just happened to open up. I wasn't ever planning on becoming a destination marketer, but it sort of fell in my lap. And glad it did. Because now we've the relationships I've built over 20 years and really paying dividends as I help this market grow.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, and I think your experience with fuel, it doesn't matter that you were specifically focused on hotels and your your breadth of experience within hospitality marketing could go on any vertical. I mean, there's so much that we do on the DMO side that we're promoting everything about the destination. And I think you've brought a great perspective to that. But you know, our market is different to you kind of touched on this. But vacation rentals are within our properties that really operate as essentially hotels, when they have a front desk, they do the f&b, they check the guests in there, but they are individually owned units. So I mean, we've always, you know, our hometown has had that mix of inventory there. And you've gotten to see, I've gotten to see the the challenges that presents in terms of how you can mark it between being a hotel and being a vacation early and kind of both at the same time. And that's our market really has, has grown but has been able to offer so much value to our visitors too. But I mean, as far as you know, when we're looking at competition, both as a destination and individual businesses, and I think our destination is very good on the collaboration side. But how do you how do you view that now? I mean, is it what are you seeing for from the competition in other destinations? And how should we be looking at that?

Stuart Butler:

Well, the good news for Myrtle Beach, but the bad news for travel is that most most DMOS are so fixated on their internal stakeholders that they're fixated on the government organizations that fund them they fixated on their their members, if they're a member driven organization. And in I would say we've been guilty of that in the past. But But I think it's a mistake in here's why I think at the end of the day marketing is always about the consumer, right? It's always about who's consuming the product or service that you're trying to promote. And, you know, before I got all into hotels in 2015, I spent a lot of time in the E commerce space. We worked with big consumer brands like Southern tide and YETI Coolers and really under learn to understand how people behaved online and what drove them consumption and interested in all that stuff. And so the big pivot we made eight months ago when I joined here was instead of us no offense, Alex because you're both a board member and in that chair, but it's less about us driving direct value to the accommodations by focusing on the combinations it's not driving value to the destination which results in value to the to the absolutely So we we're in the process right now of fundamentally rethinking our infrastructure. We're, I'm a big believer that paid advertising, in its traditional form is is diminishing in value. Like we spend most of our budgets as marketers leasing space on someone else's audience, right? So we pay a lot of money to Facebook to Google, to people like that. And it's gone. It's fleeting, right? It's once we've spent that money, we have to continue to feed the beast if we want to continue to compete. And so how do we take that money and invest in annuities in I think there's there's two primary areas you should be in that everyone every marketer should be invested in. One is data, and infrastructure around data. And then the other is content, in the reason is that they will continue to pay dividends year after year after year. So we got two big initiative. Well, three big initiatives right now. One is we're investing heavily in a CDP a customer data platform, and we're on a mission to really understand every touchpoint of the consumers journey from you know, initial inspiration, consideration, booking in anticipation, the actual stay, post stay, remembering, sharing all that so we really mapping out every touchpoint we have and how do we collect data in a way that's not self serving, but actually proves the guests experience. That's the key, you got to keep your focus on the guests. So we're doing that we're also overhauling our website, you're you're gonna sit on that task force, we just

Alex Husner:

are, like two weeks time blocked off, man. Yeah,

Stuart Butler:

it's a beast. But that's a big project, because DMO websites are flawed in that people don't use them to choose where they're going to stay like there was someone at a conference a couple of years ago that stood up in front of and I won't say the destination, but he asked everyone in the audience or DMOS. They said, How many of you use the this destinations, DMO website to research before you came to this destination and not one hand was raised? Right? Yeah. So there's a fundamental problem in that it's not serving the needs of the consumer. So so we're doing that. And I think it's more of a media and entertainment site than it is a a traditional travel site. And then third is we are building a massive army. And this is where the collaboration comes in. You have so many content creators in and around your market, right? So the DMOS that have been successful right now are the ones that are going in weaponizing those. So rather than the DMO controlling all the content and pushing it out. And like this vanilla generic, nonsensical, non useful way, let's go create value by creating interesting diverse content from both mobile voices. That becomes a utility so people can actually make decisions about where they're going to stay and what they're going to do and all that stuff. So every everyone should be doing that. And we were really on this bandwagon that I didn't coin this race. I don't know where it came from. But I was trying to come up with a term for it, I stumbled upon this term, but branded media, or branded entertainment. So So we believe that just like this podcast, you have to create entertainment. First, you have to give a reason that people are going to tune in every week. Because if they don't, they're not going to hear the message has to start with entertainment. And then the message is embedded as a Trojan horse, right? So you're educating people on vacation rentals, but they can get vacation rental education anywhere, right? It's everywhere on the internet, they choose to listen to you guys. Because it's entertaining, they enjoy it, they look forward to it. So this is you're already on this path of branded entertainment. And that's what every every marketer

Alex Husner:

should be doing. Yeah, absolutely. And I think we're on that path of turning Myrtle Beach into I think you've you've said this into a lifestyle brand, which really plays into what we've been working towards for several years. But now it's it's really coming to come into fruition, with the right tools to make it possible. But you know, internally with our own companies that are part of the CVB. We've been learning from this concept for the last several years. And you know, how you turn your guests into true brand evangelists for your company. And we've done certain things. Flip to is one of those tools that the chamber and CVB brought to us probably about four years ago, I'd say. And it's one of the best tools that we use as marketers in our company and for the destination as well. Direct speak to a little bit about what that tool does. Yeah, or as a destination.

Stuart Butler:

Yeah. I mean, it's unbelievable. Yeah, we've been using it for four or five years now. And you know, it really is a way to system systematically approach what you're talking about. So you're 100% right, your consumer your happy guest is always your best advocate right in there. What we call your secret Salesforce. If you turn every guest into an advocate, your job is a whole lot easier, isn't it? So, so first part of that is you got to make sure they have a great experience, which means at the very beginning, you've got to set expectations the right way. So they don't come and get shocked in a negative way you want to surprise and delight them and just make them giddy about the experience, then you have to find a way to unlock that potential what flip two does, it has a couple of components. But I've talked about the advocacy component, because it really is great is it it engages the consumer at an appropriate point, it indicates them after the state in a, in a way that's really a soft initial touch. And it asked them a couple of questions. And it's, you know, what could we have done better? What could we be in? What What would you like to see us? Do? You know, what would? What did you really like about us? So those three kind of common questions you've heard throughout history in sales and marketing. And then depending on the responses, if someone's favorable, they then likely to want to go on and comment positively, they'll ask them to share a story. And the story is usually in the form of a photo, in a memory or some comment on this day, it's really interesting, because you see a diverse range of white people enjoyed their trip, it is a lot. But where the real power flip to is it then it gamifies That in turns that into a contest and encourages that person to go share it on, on social media so that they can win something, and then the people that will vote on that person get caught into the trap to be asked for their email addresses and gives them a chance to win something as well, or an incentive. And a lot of times with accommodations, that incentive can be something that leads towards a booking. So this is what they call a warm introduction or a warm lead. So by voting on your friends, story to win, you may unlock a 10% discount at that same property. And we know as marketers that that you know, the consumer we have today. And next best target consumer is is them, right? Because repeat business is the easiest to get the next best consumer to get after that is the friends and family of your current consumer. Absolutely. People tend to look alike in terms of what they like in what they choose and things like that, right. So if you can now, everyone that stays at my property, not only is going to choose choose to tell everyone is now you're going to choose to submit a photo and a story about it, which I now have content, which I can tell to everyone, right, I can use that in my marketing, which is powerful. But they're also going to tell every one of their friends and family on social media that they had a great time at your property as well. So it just, it blows up exponentially in terms of your reach. But having a great experience.

Alex Husner:

We've we've we've seen it just completely blow up literally over the last few years that it started, you know, kind of modestly and then oh my gosh, over the last few years, we've grown our email list. We've grown our Online Exposure, our social following just exponentially. And it's you know, it's not rocket science. I know, Stuart, I know you have a degree in this actually, it's not rocket science is actually it's very ground, you know, it's very grounded and sound and it's in a conceptual way that it works. But the way that they've put it together is the secret sauce there that it's I've never seen anything else out there. That's quite like it. But yeah.

Stuart Butler:

All right, because Ed St. Onge is one of the owners of that company. And he made his name in the hotel space, creating Easy Yield the first channel manager, so he's a guy that sees a problem and develops a solution for and he's never really just developed software, he develops point to point solutions, including strategy. And that's the difference with Flip.to, there are other things tools out there that do similar stuff, but none of them quite package it in a way where it's foolproof, they have the full strategy in so I would encourage every every accommodation, really any business that's dealing with a consumer to consider Flip.to. Just

Alex Husner:

we're gonna have ad on the show. I think we record with him in the next couple of weeks. So that'll be coming up. Yeah, he's great on more detail on it.

Stuart Butler:

He's one of the smartest people I know. And very, very opinionated. Yeah. It's just far away that you disagree. But but that product is, is lights out. It's just, it's a no brainer. When I was on the marketing side for hotels, it was the first thing on my budget every year for every one of my clients. It was a it was just so powerful. And they've got other tools that are coming now like the discovery tool. It's I think it's gonna revolutionize the the booking process, and we're going to integrate that heavily in our new demo site.

Alex Husner:

Well, it's interesting. I just I just got back from Vegas last week and was walking around the Bellagio and the I forget what they call it like the sanctuary the section in the middle with all the the plants and the fish and it's just the beautiful lights everything and literally all people are doing is they have their phone out and they're just staring at their phone taking pictures. They're not looking at anything that's there every now Everybody wants, they're more concerned about taking, I mean, myself included, not taking a picture. So I can send it back home to everybody, right? I tried to walk around a little bit. So I didn't completely bump into people. But, you know, trying to be in the moment is a challenge for everybody these days. But that's just the nature of our consumers now that they are, they are so cognizant of making sure they're taking pictures to show where they were. And that totally leads into not only flip to, but just our whole marketing approach as a destination and individual companies that, you know, you've got to give them those Instagrammable moments. And when you when they have them, you now want them to be able to share those out to their friends and family, because they are your best recommendations.

Stuart Butler:

Yeah. And I think to that, you know, whenever there's a shift in behavior, you got to look at what was the opportunity, there's always opportunity and shift right in. So I think, especially with COVID, it's changed how we interact with our devices has changed how we interact with each other. And you're right, a lot of people are so you know, head down, and have a lot of neck issues in the next generation. Always looking down, but what how we've leveraged that, you know, with people's adoption at a at an exponential rate of QR codes. I think it's a really neat and simple and elegant solution to a problem we had before, which is how do we how do we? How do we understand people's behavior when they're in market and on property? And so what we've started doing just as a test, and this will be a part of SCTP is how do we create a QR code ecosystem throughout the destination? That is frictionless, but is a utility that offers value to people? So how do we create you know, something, and it could be as simple as like restaurants do it with the menus or whatever. But it could be at checkout with the check in packets, instead of having a physical guide in the room or something, it could just be scan here for the events that are going on right now. And you could have signage throughout the properties. You can have them at local area attractions and events, you can unlock discounts. So we're really saying, Okay, how do we bridge this offline world to the online world? How do we get people from the real world walking around looking at their phones to to join in on it in a community online, in how do we capture data about that consumer, not just who they are, but what they're doing while they're in town. And if you extract, excuse me, if you extrapolate that out, you can really get a three dimensional view of what makes people's decisions, you know, in terms of why they're coming to the market and what they're doing.

Annie Holcombe:

You talked about kind of the going back to the engagement getting people when they come to the market to share their experiences and the Panama City Beach CVB started a program and I don't it's been around for as long as I can remember currently, but I don't know how many years but real fun beach that was kind of what they got to dubbed our destination what used to be known as the world's most beautiful beaches, and it was real fun beach. But in that there was the real fun beach hashtag and then they created that hashtag my my PCB, and had people send in their photos and they just populate them on the website. And it is really interesting to see the difference in what people are experiencing why they're here, like some people are, you know, it's it's about the view from their balcony, or it's something on the beach, and it can be something eating at a restaurant, but it's just everybody's experiences are different. And they are again, they just become the brand ambassadors for the destination. And it's just, it's non paid content that just builds up, you know, their their audience. And I think it just drives engagement from people who maybe never would have come to the beach before, but they see like, oh, there's things to do besides the beach. And we talked about both of both the destinations, Panama City Beach, and Myrtle Beach, very heavy in sports. And I know for our destination here, the sports just like the week of Christmas, we were almost sold out just because we had baseball tournaments at the second new sports complex that we have, and they're building more facilities that go around it and I want to do to talk about something that you had brought up in what you guys are doing in Myrtle Beach was the esport so it's like again going you know, people are on their phones, people are very electronically engaged and maybe not so much going to the beaches, you know, they were 10 years ago, that was all they were doing. But now they're coming to the beach to play games on their computer. And I find that so interesting, but it's but again, it speaks to you know, where we're generations are going it's a it's a business that can be year round, it doesn't matter if it's raining, you know, it's things that people can do. So I think you guys have a really good program to kind of dip into that. That you know, I guess segment of business if it is one Yeah, just have a little bit more about Yeah,

Stuart Butler:

we we think it's a big opportunity for a lot of destinations and the great thing is most destinations are resistant to it because there's a stigma around it. And so, we've really done a lot of groundwork to prepare a market for this new trend and it is a new trend. It's really not it's been around for a while but we commissioned a study a A year ago, which which basically, it was a feasibility study to look at what facilities we had, what are the needs of folks that put on eSports. And so let's step back a little bit and define what eSports is. So eSports is essentially gaming versions of what we now know a sports right? So, but it doesn't have to have to necessarily be, you know, someone playing NASCAR or someone playing football, whatever, it could be any video game. But the behavior of these these groups is very similar to sport. You see, most high schools now are developing sanction groups for esports. And they're competing against other high schools, we see most colleges now are now participating in national competitions. We also see this a professional circuit, where people are filling out Madison Square Garden with professional gamers and hundreds of 1000s of people come in to watch them. So there's, it's just like with sports, right? You you have a spectrum of events. So if the analogy I kind of make is you have like pro level football, you have college level football, and then you have like kids playing football tournament, right? Oh, you could do the same with baseball, right? Yeah, the MLB. And then you have the minor leagues, you have Collegiate Baseball, go shot clears. And then you also have kids coming to your destination to play in these tournaments. Right? So it's similar in eSports, you have the pros, you have the colleges, you have the high school kids in younger. So how do we tap into that, and the destinations like Panama City, and Myrtle Beach is really important, because we don't get a lot of business travel, right, like a like a New York does. So we have to find ways to build a base of demand. And then we can kind of yield our rates up for leisure, transient consumers. So with us has traditionally been sports, a little bit of meetings, but primarily, sports has been how we drive our base. But now with eSports, we think there's an opportunity to bring college tournaments and other stuff here in the facilities don't need to be that, that robust in terms of you don't need big arenas, it you need, you know, you could because you have scaled events in multiple hotels at the time, you can repurpose your convention center, you just need good bandwidth and some of the other equipment. And so you can have events that are like 2030 teams, you can have hundreds of teams just like with baseball, and football and cheerleading and all the other sporting events. The great thing is because a lot of the people making decisions at the DMO level tend to be older generations. They're not getting they're not they don't understand the potential is coming. So they're just ignoring it. Like they're putting their head in the sand. And so it's a massive opportunity for the folks that really understand the value. This crazy stats out there. The the the number of people that are playing video games is insane. All the way down to people playing like Candy Crush on their phone. Right, right. But it's crossed genders is crossed age, you know, I'm a 40 something year old guy. I still play video games. I went through a phase where I didn't when my kids were younger. But then they got older and started playing I started playing with them right so there's there's a it's not just kids playing video games, it's it's all the way up. So it's it's a massive opportunity for folks that want to get in on it. I don't know other destinations do get on it.

Alex Husner:

As I'm thinking about it, like I don't want to be giving away these secrets.

Annie Holcombe:

CVV me? Yeah.

Stuart Butler:

We want to build the sport up, right we want big so I think other destinations are gonna have to get on it. But MonaVie is going to be a leader pioneer in this area for sure.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, and I it's not a we can't look at it as a secret because if we want the industry to grow there have to be other places that do that too. Otherwise it won't get grow to scale. So and I think that's that's one thing our destination has been very good at over the years is seeing those these types of emerging trends and really jumping on it and we can be the first ones but we want others to also you know benefit from it because we know that that comes back around us too because guests don't always travel to the same destination so habitually, but it's true.

Stuart Butler:

Unfortunately, they should just get back between Myrtle Beach and Panama City

Alex Husner:

got a commuter rail.

Stuart Butler:

Here the other thing about eSports there's there's a flip side to this is because video games are so mainstream stream now. And it's not just playing games, but it's consuming watching people play games, things like that, you know, crazy and like, you know, and Amazon owns twitch. They spent millions of dollars on it like five years ago because they saw this thing coming but there's an advertising opportunity in because it's you know what often happens when there's a new market of advertising opportunity. There's this thing that Gary Vaynerchuk calls arbitrage that happens where it tends to be cheaper. You know, when Google Ads came out, it was cheaper than it is now Facebook ads, it was cheaper. Video game ads are really really cheap right now and you can get in game exposure in like event it exposure for pennies on the dollar compared to traditional sports. And so I think marketers should be looking at really experimenting a little bit with that budget, I'm always a believer in having, you know, the core of your budget is on the core things that you know, work like 980 90%, your budgets should always be on the things you know, worked and continue to optimize. But 10 to 20% of your budget should be this explore. So that's what Tim Peter calls core and explore. Focus on the core, but exploring and I think eSports is somewhere people should be dabbling a little bit, we're getting ready to sponsor an e nas college tournament, because it signals to the industry that hey, we're invested in you guys. And it's so inexpensive relative to if we wanted to go to NASCAR or any other sport. So it's, it's, it's something to look at, for sure.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. Very interesting. Little bit of a shift in the topic, just because I want to make sure we get to ask you this, because we've talked to Amy high note a bit about it. And also Jennifer Barbie on her episode, both are speaking in the destination marketing realm for this question, but one thing that we're seeing a lot in vacation rentals right now is that acquisitions are having a major effect on destinations. And for demos that rely on membership, and you know, different advertising programs from these vacation rental companies. If a Bokassa comes in, for example, or another big box chain buys out a local company, and they now do not support them being part of DMOS. It's it's setting the table for a bad situation for a lot of these organizations. And what is your perspective on that? And how can how can chamber CVBS prevent themselves from a disaster? Yeah,

Stuart Butler:

I mean, there's there's no doubt as a train wreck coming. Right. And so how are you preparing for this a lot of consolidation? It's not just in the vacation rental space. It's also in the sale space, right? Yeah, general accommodations, especially, you know, post pandemic where a lot of destinations, especially beach destinations fared way better than in a city destinations. A lot of the people that have a lot of properties are looking to consolidate and diversify into other types of destinations. So I that's not going to slow down anytime soon, we see investors looking around Myrtle Beach all the time. So I think it comes back to what we were talking about at the very beginning, where DMOS have constructed these these complicated funding mechanisms that's driven by tax revenue, but also by membership, revenue and contribution from the accommodations in and I think that the smart DMOS out there have to keep one eye on the on the present and look at what they're doing today. But they have to be planning for a future where that that money isn't there. So what what we're doing is in actually seeing some of this, that it's, it's going to be painful, and it's going to take a couple of years to kind of do deconstruct and reconstruct our funding mechanisms. But we're going out in forming brand partnerships, we're forming partnerships with big national brands, to help generate revenue in Co Op opportunities, and other just just cooperative events that takes our alliance away from the members. So you know, the members aren't gonna have to be spending nearly as much money with the DMO to keep us operational, they'll still be involved from because we need to promote the destination. But if we can bring in folks like Coca Cola and Jeep and work together collaboratively with them in that be a mechanism to generate unrestricted revenue. That's the kind of thing we're doing now. We've started this year. And we'll probably double our revenue on that initiative next year, and then it'll continue to grow. So I think within three years, we'll be completely off of the drug of having to go back to our members and ask for more money. But But I think I think we have two or three years before we have to have that in place. So I think we're on on the right timeline. But But DMOS are preparing for this right now. They're gonna be in a world of hurt. And what you're going to see as a destination, if you're in a non progressive DMO destination is these organizations that just going to have to shrink, they're not going to be able to have the stuff or the ability to operate in the way they have previously. So that's a problem, right? Because it doesn't matter how much tax revenue you're generating, to promote if you don't have skilled people deciding how that money spent. Or if that money is spent just to feed the machine to generate the unrestricted money then then you're not doing your job, which is driving incremental new business in a ineffective way.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, it's been incredible to watch the progression of that over the years as, as a board member being directly involved in starting, as I think probably 2012 13 or so that's when we had a very robust paperclip model within our CVB that that was the funding source for all of our efforts there and it produced growth. Right, I mean, we could directly see a ton of revenue being booked from the traffic that was being sent from the CVB site to us as individual members. But that wasn't it wasn't sustainable. I mean, the cost per clicks were just were outrageous. So we had to really rework that model. And we've reworked it a couple different times. And this is kind of like the third generation since I've been involved in it, seeing where this is going with the brand partnerships. But it's, you know, it's just, we've got to iterate and continue to be flexible and be collaborative. I think, if that's one piece of advice that, you know, we can see. And what we've seen here in Myrtle Beach is that you've just you've really got to be creative, flexible, collaborative, to be able to keep these models going. Because I also don't think that, you know, the regular average business has any idea how much of an impact the chamber CVB makes in a destination? It's unbelievable. And I know, Stuart, when you first started in your role eight months ago, I mean, you you had been a board member prior to that, so and you were chair, the Marketing Committee, so you knew a lot about what our organization does. But I remember one of the first things you said after a month on the job, you're like, I had no idea how much we were going through and how much the staff does. It's just incredible. And kudos to the staff that you work with is just unbelievable team. But there's a lot of stuff y'all do. And that's not that's a village for sure.

Stuart Butler:

It really does. It's it is a lot. And I think, you know, we historically have probably not done the best job of telling that story and showing the value we drive because to your point we've been fixated on how do we how do we feed the beast of the revenue model? Right. So how do we drive clicks to the members? Like to me if your DMO is one that is so focused on how do I get direct business to do combinations? They're doing their job wrong? Because because it changes were your focus, right? We all we're all marketers, so we understand what a funnel is. And we know that if you can debate what the phases of the funnel ah, doesn't matter. But you know, it goes from a broad base of people that are less, have lower affinity with your brand to a small group who have a high affinity and unlikely and a high propensity to book right. So if a DMO is only focused on generating clicks and revenue to these combinations, it operates in that bottom section of the funnel, and is always trying to harvest intent that already exists. The DMOS job though, is to generate interest. So a DMO should be spending the majority of its money on top of funnel initiatives to generate that interest to help create the gravity that attracts people, right. And so I think many DMOS, that sales included have probably been too focused historically on the bottom of funnel, not focus not on the top of funnel. And this is your

Alex Husner:

application process, I think to four members that, you know, there used to back in the day that they can directly see what that revenue is from site to partner. But it's really important to you. I mean, I know we're in such a digital age and data is so important. But there are some things that you can't track and your brand is essentially always going to be one of those, what the DMOS role is to grow is to grow the brand of the destination. And that is an early brain

Stuart Butler:

in the health of the destination, right? So we should be measured on how many total total people are coming, how much they're spending while they're here and ultimately how much tax revenue we generate the municipalities now, you you individually should be focused on how do you harvest that intent that the DMO is creating, how do you take your more than your fair share of that pie. And you can work with the DMO on that because a lot of DMOS have initiatives to help you get extra exposure and it might cost a little bit more money but but it's absolutely worth it because you can stretch your dollars by doing Co Op programs and things like that with the DMO. The focus more on that bottom of funnel stuff, but it's your right Alex, it's it's and that's going to be a job over the next couple of years is making sure everyone understands you, you may individually see less direct correlation between the business I send you but your business as a whole is going to be healthier because of it because we have a bigger pie to slice up between the members. That that's that's that's where I think most CMOS have gotten wonky because they're addicted to this drug of last click analytics and seeing who gets the credit for that booking. And that's it's a, it's farcical because it just takes your eye off what's important, you know, which is driving incremental value business to the destination.

Annie Holcombe:

At the end of the day, it's really I was looking at it's about growing the calendar to because if you're in a beach destination, everybody knows that summer is going to get it again as long as you're not sure then have a hurricane or an oil spill. But you know, you have to you have to do that. But it takes the collaborative network of people who are mission ready and focused, you know, and all working together. I think it would be really great to have you back Stewart, just to talk about all these things. And I think just maybe offer up tips for specific vacation rentals like some of your secret sauce that vacation rental managers can can utilize in their business. But we're nearly running out of time talking about these great topics. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions. One of them just a frivolous Star Wars question because you're a Star Wars for

Alex Husner:

anybody that's not religious listening. If you're watching, you'll notice behind Annie is a Star Wars helmet. And Annie is also a major Star Wars fan, apparently.

Annie Holcombe:

Well, my husband is. Yeah, so it's more my husband, I'm just by marriage, but so I had your dog's name, and my dog. So I just, there are so many questions, and I have a feeling you know, the answer to every single one of them. But this was one that I just didn't actually know the answer to was how many languages to see through po speak.

Stuart Butler:

Oh, man, isn't it over? 13 million forms of communication, something like that. 6

Annie Holcombe:

million. Okay. Wow, that's just insane. So we have a whole lot of languages to learn here. Yeah, it's a lot. But, but but for a more poignant question to our audience that that'd be more interested in? What is one of your greatest accomplishments that you've done through your career? I think you probably have a million of them. But what is something that stands out to you that you're most proud of?

Stuart Butler:

Yeah, well, you know, I'm a, I'm a cathedral thinker. I like to build big things that that grow on beyond me. And I like to think that the biggest legacy things haven't been created yet that we're especially here at the DMO with buildings and things that are going to last but I've got to point back to the podcast that we did at Fuel is probably the thing I'm most proud of, because we literally started out with a $80 Yeti microphone, and an idea that we wanted to change the hotel industry. And we wanted to educate people on the things that were frustrating us about, you know, the mistakes people were making. And we were having these really interesting, deep conversations at lunchtime. Just a bunch of friends sitting around, they happen to work work together. And so we said, let's, let's put this out as a podcast. And this is really, before podcasting became main mainstream is right around the time that Serial took off, and people started jumping on the bandwagon. And so we're like, let's do this. We don't know how to do it, let's and always being someone that's just, let's figure it out. Let's just be scrappy, and, you know, you can learn anything on the internet. So we went and figured out how to record edit, published a podcast, and you know, the first few were a little rough, but they were fine. And we, we knew when we started, we wanted it to be authentic to ourselves, we wanted it to be something people would enjoy listening to, until you go back and listen to some of the episodes. They're really ridiculous at times, but,

Alex Husner:

but hilarious.

Stuart Butler:

I mean, I felt so you know, like, if we could make ourselves laugh, we would make other people laugh. So, you know, but but we never lost sight of a couple of things. One, we wanted to be authentic to ourselves. But two, we wanted to be valuable in a way that was tangible and actionable. So every episode was constructed around some thought, you know, or some some specific tactic. We did get strategic at times, but a lot of it was like more tangible than that. So we started, you know, with a couple of, you know, dozen listeners, and then it got to a couple 100 And then a couple of 1000. And it just kept growing and growing until, you know, four or five years later, we were the number one hotel podcast out there. Like if you search for hotel marketing podcasts, it was the fuel hotel Marketing Podcast is now that the travel boom, hotel Marketing podcast. It was it was immense to see in it. You know, you guys are already reaping these rewards. Because what happened was, it put us on the map in a way that we didn't expect that people started, you know, seeing us as an authority. We started getting invited to speak at conferences, we got a lot of business. I mean, by the time I left Fuel 95% of our leads that came in would reference the podcast. And the great thing was, as soon as you started having a conversation, you realized they already knew and trusted you. They were ready to do business because they they've been listening to you for the last three or four years. So no one was a stranger. And it was it was it was really cool. It's something that just built to be become bigger than any one of us individually. And Pete, Pete and team are doing a great job continuing that legacy now. So $80 and, and we built an empire. You know, it was a lot of fun along the way.

Annie Holcombe:

And then we've listened to it. I know Alex was a huge fan. And it was kind of one of the things that gave us the gumption to get out there and do what we're doing is what you guys did. And so I applaud you for what you set up for the rest of us.

Stuart Butler:

Well, thank you, I definitely I would be remiss not to recognize like the what our team did has inspired a lot like that's probably the thing that gets me but there's two things that really get me one is folks like yourselves that you know Alex has been a guest on our show and others have to but people that would come to us and say you know you inspired us to create something and that means a lot but then the folks that would listen and you you guys will get this as your your show matures and your audience becomes a family. People would come to us that listen in we impacted their business in a meaningful way at the beginning of pandemic we saw A lot of people really struggling and not know what to do. So we said, let's use our platform to help people that are trying to figure it out. So we went from weekly to daily for like a three or four week period, right? Right in March, time, and we literally will get an email saying, You saved our business, we thought we were gonna have to show it. What you told us, say literally saved our businesses, like just gives me chills thinking about that stuff. So that's great. It's helping man just keep helping people do the things that no one else is willing to work hard to do.

Alex Husner:

And remember the episodes that you had about how to deal with disasters and hurricanes and the whole protocol of steps. I mean, that information was so timely and helpful to everybody in at that time, because, you know, Myrtle Beach for a while there, we had a hurricane or water event every fall, it seemed like but before that we hadn't had anything in years. And it was like we were all just scrambling to figure out what the communication needs to be. And you guys really put your heads together as a business strategist, but also knowing how the means we had to communicate and came up with this great plan that we definitely took those that that advice and use within our business. And I know a lot of other ones did, too. But it's quite remarkable.

Stuart Butler:

It's very humbling when you when you realize how robust the scope is that the impact you had, you know, you guys are just starting this journey. You know, five, six years from now. It's gonna be immense.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, yeah.

Annie Holcombe:

Save the world one day at a time. Yeah.

Alex Husner:

Well, Stuart, thank you so much for being here with us today. This means a lot and we truly appreciate the time and your knowledge and vast knowledge of hospitality and destination marketing. And, you know, that's this is one of the pillars of topics that Annie and I set out to really explore is destination marketing, because we've both been actively involved in our local areas and see the impact of it. So it's great to have these conversations and we're going to continue to focus on this topic and you know, just bring connect the dots between how vacation rental companies and hospitality in general can really leverage the power of those organizations because there's a lot of power there that can be used for great good within a destination so very exciting. But if anybody wants to get in touch with you, Stuart, how would they How should they do that?

Stuart Butler:

Yeah, you can you can find me anywhere on social medias is just @Stuart Butler, S T U A RT or you can you can shoot me an email if you're interested Stuart.Butler@VisitMyrtleBeach.com. Awesome.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, LinkedIn same thing. We'll put your contact info in the show notes. If anybody wants to contact Annie and I you can go to AlexandAnniepodcast.com. And be sure to subscribe if you aren't already subscribed. And if you are listening and you're enjoying the podcast, please leave us a review. We would love to hear your thoughts and feedback or any topics that you'd like to hear about on an upcoming show. But until the next time, thank you, everybody for tuning in. We will talk to you soon. Bye

Stuart Butler Profile Photo

Stuart Butler

Chief Marketing Officer Visit Myrtle Beach

After 20 years in the hotel industry, Stuart recently became the Chief Marketing Officer at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB, the official destination marketing organization for the Grand Strand. A native of England, Stuart moved to the United States in 2001 and has spent the past two decades implementing marketing strategies for hundreds of hotels and destinations worldwide. With a degree in Rocket Science from the University of Kent at Canterbury, he leverages cutting-edge technology and takes a scientific and innovative approach to everyday marketing challenges. Stuart was previously the host of the hotel industry's #1 podcast - “The Fuel Hotel Marketing Podcast”, but now spends his time challenging the status quo and redefining destination marketing. In his spare time, you can find him debating the finer intricacies of the Star Wars Universe over a cold craft beer.