Vermont Tourism
20 years of change

Fortunately, the more things change, the more some things stay the same

By Paul Kaza, Paul Kaza Associates


It was a famous year, way before the ball dropped in Times Square and the New Year's first seconds ticked off the clock.

George Orwell had a lot to do with the unprecedented anticipation of the year 1984. As a prognosticator, however, Orwell turned out to be pretty far off the mark. Big Brother looming as an evil governmental intrusion into the private lives of the U.S. citizenry? Hardly.

The United States was in the midst of an economic boom. President Ronald Reagan was re-elected in a landslide. The average age of a baby boomer was 29. Their impact was beginning to be felt as it had been in so many other new societal patterns within the burgeoning travel industry.

Vermont had been lagging behind in its efforts to capitalize on the mobile baby boomer market. According to the Vermont Travel Division's 1984 Promotional Plan, Vermont's share of U.S. domestic travel expenditures had fallen from 0.0071 percent in 1977 to 0.0061 percent in 1982, just five years later. The recession of the late '70s was a factor, but so was intense competition from neighboring states. The period was dominated by the emergence of the "I Love New York" campaign, but Vermont fought back.

Recognizing that Vermont was rated first in the entire country for the importance of tourism-generated tax revenues to the overall state economy, yet ranked 32nd in its advertising budget for travel, private and public sector forces brought tourism into focus as an economic engine for Vermont.

Funding for tourism has continued to grow steadily, and fiscal year '04 (which ended June 30) delivered the most significant media exposure for Vermont ever. More than $2 million worth of media was placed, dwarfing the barely-into-six-figures budgets from the early '80s.

Money for marketing, however, tells only a small part of the story when one compares 1984 to 2004. Consider:

• In 1984, use of fax machines was just beginning. If you lived in Burlington, you might remember Dial-a-Copy, a storefront where you could use the latest communication miracle in a storefront setting.

• In 1984, the Internet did not exist, and information queries came in almost exclusively over the telephone. Believe it or not, a goodly number were delivered from the good old U.S. Postal Service.

• Today, over 70 percent of Vermont's travel questions come via the Internet. This represents a sea change for smaller properties such as bed-and-breakfast operations, which can now enjoy worldwide exposure with very small marketing budgets.

• In 1984, Vermont's largest airport was served by People Express, United, US Air, Brockway, Bar Harbor, Empire, PBA, and Ransome Airlines. Today, newly minted Independence Air and JetBlue have helped to put us on the map.

• In 1984, health and fitness centers were just beginning to become a driving force and an expected amenity for tourism properties. Today, spas and spa services are the rage.

• In 1984, rooms and meals taxes delivered $16.7 million to Vermont's state coffers. By 2004, that figure had risen almost fivefold to $83.1 million.

• In 1984, repeat visitors were the norm people traveling to Vermont often came year after year to the same destination. Today, just 30 percent return.

• In 1984, 70 million people resided within a day's drive of Vermont. Today, that figure has just topped 100 million.

Looking back, the last point may well be the most significant of all and it has nothing to do with advances in technology or transportation.

Although interest in Vermont is hardly restricted to New England and the mid-Atlantic region states such as California and Texas continue to climb in our visitor counts the booming populations in our key drive markets still offer the state its most vibrant opportunity.

As the marketing agency of record for the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing for the last 11 years, we have concentrated media dollars primarily on targets close to home. But it's important to point out that it's not just who you are talking to it's how.

Six years ago, extensive branding research was carried out by the Department of Tourism & Marketing. After thousands of interviews and numerous focus groups, it was abundantly clear why people prized Vermont. Two words used to describe the state were exceptionally dominant: "beautiful" and "peaceful." More important, the essence of responses to the request to summarize their Vermont visiting experience was distilled down to this: When people come to Vermont, they go away with a "profound sense of well-being."

Can you think of a more compelling message to present to a world beset by physical and emotional stress, and beleaguered by the gradual disappearance of natural beauty all around them? Vermont's future as a travel destination is bright, indeed. Because, while much has changed in 20 years, the enduring beauty and values of Vermont have not. •

Paul Kaza is president and creative director of Paul Kaza Associates, a strategic marketing communications firm in South Burlington.

Originally published in August 2004 Business People-Vermont