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Telling Stories: A Roundup of Destination Travel Guide Design Projects

Having been a graphic designer for more years than I can count — and the owner of my own design studio for more than 15 of them — I can tell you one thing: When you find your niche; your ideal clients; your ideal projects…work ends up fulfilling you in more ways than you previously thought possible.

For me, that niche is travel and tourism. Those ideal clients are destination marketers and the business owners that make those destinations unique. The ideal projects center around the branding and marketing collateral that keep those destinations top of mind amongst visitors and consumers.

I’m excited to be sharing a few of those projects with you today in my first client/project roundup on the blog. This roundup edition is focused on just a few of the destination travel guides I worked with clients on throughout the first quarter of 2017.

A few notes before we dive in:

1. These are each printed guides, with circulations in the tens of thousands. While digital and social are undoubtedly important in today’s world, print is far from dead in the travel industry.

In fact, when done well, printed travel guides are more appreciated than ever before. Throughout my most recent visitor guide projects, we’ve aimed to blend the online and physical worlds by including user-generated content (i.e. submitted stories; case studies; Instagram posts), social proof (first-hand reviews, candid photographs, testimonials, Tweets), and more.

2. Developing and designing a destination’s travel guide is a long-term process that requires a deep dive into the people, history, culture, and stories that make each and every destination unique. It’s actually what I love most about doing visitor guides: Becoming deeply integrated into cities and counties by venturing out on photo shoots, chatting with locals and tourists alike, and often visiting places I likely wouldn’t get a chance to otherwise experience.

3. At approximately 50 pages each, the pieces I’m sharing here are content rich, from both a visual and written standpoint. Each one is worthy of a coffee table, and nothing makes me happier than hearing that people both collect and cherish these guides.

Without further ado, here are a select few of the client projects I’ve been blessed to work on for the last few months:

1. Seneca County, NY visitors guide fingerlakesgateway.com

Seneca County, New York visitors guide

Appropriately titled Faces & Stories, the Seneca County visitors guide is based heavily on the locals who make it home, and welcome visitors on the regular.

What I enjoyed most about this project was the collaboration it took to achieve it. Seneca County’s staff conducted video interviews, while a colleague of mine took photos, and I provided art direction. Each person interviewed contributes to the local economy and tourist industry in some way — from wine and craft beverages to agriculture to accommodations and everything in between. Being on site of each of these interviews gave me an intimate look at the people and the passion they have for what they do, bringing me closer to the community so I could create a piece that’s truly reflective of who they are.

What makes this guide even more unique is that we ran it horizontal, instead of portrait — a characteristic that firmly sets it apart from other guides on the shelf.

Fun fact: This year’s work on Seneca County’s Faces & Stories was an update of the original piece we created last year, which took home the Excellence in Tourism Marketing Award at the New York State Tourism Industry Association annual awards.

Get the guide here!

2. Livingston County, NY visitors guide fingerlakeswest.com

Livingston County, New York visitors guide

Taking a historical approach, the 2017 Livingston County visitors guide is a time-traveling adventure.

What I enjoyed most about this project was the deep dive into the history of the region and the memories that came with it. Pictures and stories compare then to now, and respected traditions are shared while also celebrating just how far businesses and attractions have come in the County.

Fun fact: The iconic train bridge over Letchworth Park was originally a wooden bridge that was destroyed by fire in 1875. It was rebuilt from iron and steel, and today, thousands of travelers visit it in all seasons.

Get the guide here!

Telling stories

I have two challenges for you: First, next time you’re in an airport or rest stop, pick up a guide or two and dive into the stories. Second, don’t hesitate to share yours — it’s the stories of locals and visitors that create a destination’s true brand.

As an avid traveler myself, I love that through my artwork and design, I’m able to help promote amazing places for people all over the world to explore. Getting to partner with destination marketers to visually tell the story of their travel brands and connecting visitors to their ideal destinations lights me up and gives my work even more purpose.

P.S. When your destination is a brand in and of itself, you can make it peak season all year round.

Designing an Experience

designing an experience

When you walk into a floral shop, it’s easy to find yourself attracted to certain bouquets. Maybe it’s the Calla Lilies sprinkled with the Bells of Ireland and dotted with Lily of the Valley. Or the way the tulips are balanced by hydrangeas. You see, florists are experts in pairing just the right flowers to make you want them staring at you from your kitchen table every morning.

They do something that many people can’t: they see what works together, so they package it. Then, they sell it. And it works — because suddenly we see what we might not have seen before. And when it works really well? It resonates with us.

The magic of packaging

The same could be said of your brand. Your brand starts with a single element — maybe it’s your logo. It could just as easily be a texture that speaks to you. Or a color that represents you. The talent of a good graphic designer comes in being able to take disparate design elements that work on their own — a logo, certain graphics, a color palette, various patterns — and package them together so that they work even better. In their unique packaging, they form an identity for you and your organization — one that resonates with your ideal client.

Packaging items helps people understand, appreciate, and connect with the experience, whether it’s flower buying, interacting with your brand, or embarking upon new travel destinations.

Packaging travel

Consider the organization AAA: as a travel agency, AAA packages vacations to present them to potential buyers as a one-stop shop: your airfare, lodging, meals, transportation, and excursions organized over 7; 10; 21 days for maximum enjoyment. They can do it because they know the product. Where you might look at a trip to Ireland and be overwhelmed with options, they can present to you an all-inclusive trip with an itinerary delivered to your inbox.

Local travel bureaus are doing the same. But what’s even more fun to see than the standard packaging of hotels and restaurants is the coming together of partner entities to form a trail you can explore — one with a unique brand to call its own.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

That’s precisely what so many local tourism partners have done. It’s the trails created by others that give us the encouragement, and the understanding, to explore newness without overwhelm. Take for example the Finger Lakes Sweet Treat Trail. Voted #7 on USA Today’s 10Best list for Food Trails, this one’s focused on the good stuff: the cookies, jams, honey, ice cream, and other sugary delights, all made with a focus on locally-sourced ingredients.

On their own, each of the businesses on the trail operates just fine. But together? They’ve joined to create a brand that brings more visitors and fosters a better experience. (And gets featured on USA Today…)

The same could be said of other local trails with which I’ve worked: the Canandaigua Wine Trail, the Cayuga Healthy Choices Trail, and the Let’s Go Hike and Bike trails. Each is made up of seemingly disparate entities — ones that you might think to visit individually, but wouldn’t necessarily know how to approach together as an outsider. As collective entities with distinct brands, they’ve united to offer experiences.

Trails you want to be on

It is incredibly important to create a brand that excites the people you want to reach. Whether it’s perfecting the pairing of flowers in a bouquet, partnering a logo with graphics and textures for a company identity, or packaging the wineries, waterways, and sweet shops into a trail, make your next creation an experience that others want to take part in.

Create a brand that excites. A package that inspires. A trail that invites.

What skills, elements, or ideas will you blend into an experience next?

Destination Branding Can’t Happen in a Day

Destination Branding

In many places in the northern hemisphere, we’re in the midst of what the travel + tourism industry will label as “peak season” — at least, if your prime activities require being outdoors, your destination comes to life when green, and you’re kid-friendly.

Peak season is fun: It’s easy to sell; it’s easy to put a smile on travelers’ faces; and it’s all too easy to kick back and relax while accommodations fill up and activities sell out.

I am all for sunshine, relaxation, and celebration — but let me share a little secret: When your destination is a brand in and of itself, you can make it peak season all year round.

Destination branding: Not just a trend

In 2010, still in the throes of an economic downturn, many destinations in the US turned to re-branding campaigns to revive their image while families and meeting planners worked with limited travel and planning budgets. Yet what one expert referred to as a temporary “branding bug” has stuck around well beyond the downturn — because destinations see the impact a strong brand can have on its image, its influence, and its ability to satisfy.

It’s about learning, not fabrication

The first mistake destinations make in building out their brand is that they begin by thinking it’s something they need to create. But the truth is, unless you’ve just built your city, theme park, ski mountain, etc. from the ground up, your brand already exists. It’s up to you, destination marketer, to dig in and discover it.

Step away from the drawing board and get out and about. Survey past and current visitors, monitor social media — including blogs — to see what’s being said, and get in touch with locals. Research is the name of the game. Ask questions to get to the bottom of what makes your destination unique and what gives it its personality.

Gather a solid idea of what it is that draws people to your destination, what it is that makes them happy there, and what it is that they talk about to others. Pay attention to the words they use, the feelings they express, and the stories they tell. With that pool of research in hand, you’ll be set up to properly package what’s already being emanated, rather than trying to create something from nothing.

Key elements of a destination’s brand

Like any brand, a destination’s brand includes key elements. Here are a few:

Messaging: The taglines, phrases, and stories told. A few great examples: Visit Finger Lakes’ “Taste the Life”, Explore Asheville’s “Discovery, Inside and Out”, or Visit Philly’s “With Love.”

Design: From logos to typefaces and graphics to the style of photography, design plays an incredible role in embodying the feeling of a destination.

The goal of hitting the message and design nail on the head in tourism branding? To evoke a feeling. How do you want visitors to feel upon seeing or interacting with your destination’s marketing — whether in print, on the web, or even on a phone call? (Hint: The feeling you’re encouraging through your marketing needs to match how they’ll feel once they actually arrive!)

What destination branding achieves

Branding a destination doesn’t just equate to sales — though, yes, with the upfront investment and cohesive marketing built around your brand, you’ll be amazed at the potential it holds. Building a strong brand also leads to the following:

Increased pride amongst locals: Giving a destination a brand — so long as it is authentic — gives the people who live and work there a sense of pride to be associated with it. Locals can be your best advocates. Use that to your advantage!

Self-selection: When your brand is true to the experience your destination holds, you’ll find that visitors will naturally be attracted to the places that best suit them, and will therefore be more satisfied with their decisions and experiences.

Destination branding can’t happen in a day

Your destination’s brand will naturally evolve over time. While you can design the messaging and the imagery that will accompany the brand, the personality and characteristics that serve as the foundation already exist. It’s up to you to uncover and amplify them.

Because when your destination embodies a brand — a personality, a feeling, a story — travelers will want to experience it all year round, not just in June, July, and August.

Want to get it a better idea of where your current brand stands? Get my free e-book, What Does Your Brand Say? and sign up for a complimentary Brand Clarity Call today!

Destination marketers: What stories do you tell about your brand?

PS – Research serves as the basis for my design process. Get the behind the scenes here!