How is Explore Charleston able to effectively market the Holy City to a worldwide audience? How can brands partner with them to further their message and impact? Catherine Dority, Explore Charleston’s director of marketing, gave insight into these questions and more for Charleston travel marketing professionals at the most recent gathering of Charleston Travel and Hospitality Marketing Professionals at The Planters Inn.

Charleston shines bright as a top destination in the South. Dority, who has been in her position since 2013, works tirelessly to extend the city’s stellar reputation and the reach of the economy that thrives on the more than 4 million annual visitors. As a public-private partnership, they rely on a strong membership, state funding and grants to promote tourism to the area. The city is consistently awarded top honors by media experts, such as Top U.S. City by the leading national travel magazines including Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure.

Print Partnerships

Even though it can be difficult to capture the charm and beauty of the city in a single-page ad, Explore Charleston partners with print media such as AAA, Architectural Digest, Town and Country, Southern Living, Travel + Leisure, Garden & Gun and more. Print ads are designed in-house and often feature local member businesses. Ads are catered to the specific demographic of each publication and for seasonal audiences, making the message more effective and clearer.

The ultimate goal, Dority says, is to convert advertising dollars to booked room nights at area hotels. Her team thinks about compression in the big hotels in Charleston. If the larger hotels, like Belmond Charleston Place, Francis Marion Hotel or the Dewberry, are full, then that will push visitors to the other, smaller hotel brands across the city.

Charleston travel marketing

Digitally Speaking

By driving traffic to their website, ExploreCharleston.com, Dority and her team are able to cater the message and impact of their marketing. This platform also gives members the opportunity to be featured to a willing and eager audience ready to visit and invest in local businesses. This relationship of local travel brand and Explore Charleston is symbiotic, providing promotion for the business while expressing a broader impression of Charleston as the ultimate destination.

In addition to ExploreCharelston.com, the company also maintains and promotes audience-specific sites that also drive visitors to the area and promote members. These sites include Meet Charleston, Charleston Area Beaches, African American Charleston and Charleston Area Wedding Guide. As with print media that is specific to each audience, these websites are able to promote an aspect of Charleston travel in greater focus.

Travel agents are also invited to partner with Explore Charleston by becoming Certified Charleston Travel Specialists. By establishing a relationship with agents and giving them incredible resources, Dority strives to welcome future visitors and give them unmatched exposure to the Holy City.

Social media outlets, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more, also provide an opportunity for partnership between Charleston travel marketing professionals and Explore Charleston. With optional buy-ins, members are able to reach potential visitors. Vendors who participate receive additional analytics and information about their reach after their promotions to ensure a successful campaign. Explore Charleston also relies on a clipping service that connects members with their mentions in print media across the globe.

Dority encourages members partnering with Explore Charleston who might be featured in national and regional print publications to invest in high-quality photography. Digital and print platforms are primarily visual, and quality photographs and high-end video work to attract affluent visitors better than poor quality images.

Charleston travel marketing

Local is Best

In addition to partnering with local vendors, Dority has worked to establish relationships between Explore Charleston and renowned media, like Garden & Gun. By creating videos like the “Local Guides” series that can appear as advertorial in the magazine and as video online through social media, the personality of Charleston can shine through in an organic and natural way—through the faces of people who live and work here. Featured locals include Chef Bob Waggoner, musician Quiana Parler, hotelier Linn Lesesne, designer and jeweler Mini Hay and more.

Travel + Leisure also features several videos on their website and social media that were created with Explore Charleston. In these videos, local restaurants, boutiques attractions and hotels are featured as must-visit spots throughout the city, giving local brands the opportunity to shine to eager audiences.

Partnerships grow organically at Explore Charleston, and their symbiotic nature is essential to furthering the message, encouraging visitors and supporting businesses in the area. Catherine Dority and her team are focused on maintaining the area’s stellar reputation among travelers. By working with members, Charleston travel marketing professionals and the media, the city is consistently recognized as a must-visit destination in the U.S., and that is everyone’s ultimate goal.

For information about the Charleston Travel and Hospitality Marketing Professionals Meetup, contact Galileo COO Erin Miller erin.miller@galileotechmedia.com. Galileo is dedicated to organizing travel marketing networking and learning opportunities for the Charleston area.