What Sunset Magazine Teaches Us About Rural Tourism Marketing

by Joanne Steele on May 6, 2010

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Yesterday I picked up the May issue of Sunset Magazine, the most popular regional travel and leisure magazine in the United States. It focuses on travel, garden, food and home, with a large segment devoted to travel in the 13 western United States plus British Columbia, Canada.

I know this magazine well. As tourism director for a rural California county, Sunset Magazine was the gold standard. When we landed an article we felt like we had won the lottery.

People who subscribe to this magazine, 1 million strong, keep them and refer to them for years. When you get a story, you can expect your visitor’s bureau phone to ring off the hook for a whole season.

Enough about Sunset, here’s why I’m delighted with what I read today.

The editors at Sunset understand travel, and know what their customers want.

Their demographic is similar to most rural area’s demographic – that young to early middle-aged woman who plans travel for her family, herself and her friends, herself and a spouse or partner.

In the May issue, travel in rural areas captures most of the ink!

This beautiful presentation of the delights of rural travel starts with the Editor-in-chief, Katie Tamony’s “I-want-to-go-there” list, 7 of 8 were rural destinations or adventures.

Then you scan the content to find 10 favorite existing National Monument plus 14 potentials, waiting to be designated.

You can discover 5 small towns “you never heard of.”

You can read about a backroads trip the writer took on a Vespa including compelling descriptions of the delights of Idaho.

Continuing, you’ll learn about three uncrowded National Parks.

The small town of Silverton, Oregon (pop. 9500) scored big with a delightful article featuring their dog friendliness attractions.

Seattle, Washington scored big as well, but camping and campgrounds got almost as much ink, featuring national and state parks all over the western United States.

Then, you have seven days in rural Maui, and a long weekend in the rural San Juan Islands of Washington State.

What should every rural area take away from this?

We are what people want!

What can you do about it?

Get your online marketing together.

During most of my time as tourism director, we lived and died based on who was willing to tell our story. My time was spent enticing writers to visit and write about us, or getting press releases printed.

Now, you are in charge. There doesn’t need to be an editor deciding who gets published and who doesn’t. You can publish compelling stories about your business and your town on your own website.

Your customers find you online when they search for what you offer, rather than you having to be in places like Sunset Magazine where they MIGHT trip over your info at the exact time they’re looking for vacation information.

It works. I just worked to a client who this year transformed her web presence from an old static website into an integrated marketing machine. Her July bookings are almost full, much earlier than usual and we’re already planning for NEXT spring.

She, like you, is rural. Her business has been featured in the past in Sunset Magazine with great success.

But, the Internet is giving her a more consistent, sustained result than any magazine article ever did.

Here’s a few posts to remind you of the specifics of what you need to do:

Is Your Rural Tourism Business Website a Marketing Asset or Liability?

Why Social Media Marketing is Hard for Rural Tourism Business

Why Blogs are Important on Rural Tourism Business Web Sites

Let us know how your summer (or winter) season is shaping up?

1 Josh Mercaldo May 7, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Great post. Having shared dinner with a Sunset account manager this week in Boise, I can personally tell you how committed Sunset is to the West.

2 Joanne Steele May 9, 2010 at 7:32 am

Thanks Josh, Sunset has done more for promoting the IDEA of rural tourism in the western United States than even the Internet. That magazine has introduced their readers to really small towns and all the delights of rural. And because they are trusted, people have been taking their advice and loving what they find.

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