Some people embark on a career without looking back. They come out of college with a degree in their chosen field and moving through life in a sequence of positions that build one upon the other. I, on the other hand, took a much more meandering route that began a long time ago and has continued for a lifetime. Now, all the positions, experiences, efforts, and education add up to a portfolio career culminating in a comprehensive knowledge of experience design, delivery and marketing, and a clear understanding of the importance experience holds in people’s lives. I believe that the many facets of my career deliver a more comprehensive perspective on experience design, how experiences can impact others, and a core, inherent grasp and command of the field and what it entails, than I would have if I had followed a different path.
When I came out of college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, which meant all my work was concentrated in the creative arts with no minor, and a Master’s in Art and Architectural History, without really knowing what I wanted to do, since my first Ph.D. application had been turned down, I landed a job in an architectural office, where my first task was to balance the books. I have carried this experience searching for cost control with me through time.
Springboarding from that first firm, where I was involved in developing a historical driving tour through Duluth, MN and re-routing of Interstate 35 to save several very beautiful historic buildings from being torn down, in work at other architectural firms in Nashville and Washington, DC, I continued experience development in hotels, distinctive accommodations, trails, attractions, restaurants, events, exhibits, residential and commercial environments.
At Duke Ziebert’s, an iconic restaurant in Washington, DC, I began to placate an owner who had been kicked out of a two story building that was standing in the way of an office tower on a premier corner of downtown, the design involved everything from walls crusted with architectural detailing, offset with gracious lighting, to tableware and menus designed to carry out the impeccable experience that created lines out the door for months after opening. I learned that even the biggest egos can be pleased with great experience design.
There are times when messages that are received with some skepticism are most effectively delivered with visual design and humor. When technology began emerging in the workplace, few understood the scope and scale to which buildings would have to accommodate the new tools and the wiring, cabling, and electrical requirements that went along with it. The Facilities Futures Lab in Houston emerged as a visual spoof about the burgeoning technologies in office design that would have to be incorporated in new spaces being leased, very effectively conveying the message that a whole new approach to office design would be required. I learned from that project that one can have fun and still get a very effective message across. Using that Lab as the starting place with prospective tenants, the building leased in half the time the owners had anticipated.
My work in built environment design culminated with an assignment at The World Bank where I managed the development of a 2,000 square foot facility furnished with state of the art computer, furniture, lighting, wiring and other options that staff could choose from to furnish an office environment that would support the Bank’s new business strategy. We managed to get 50% of the Bank staff to tour the facility and vote on what they liked which ultimately determined what was chosen to be installed.
Because I was housed in the Facilities Management Department at the Bank, and credentialed as a Professional Facility Manager, I was tapped to write the Facility Management Certification Coursework for Building Owners and Managers Association International. The result was five 300 page volumes, a total of 1,500 pages, complete with study materials and tests that served as the certification coursework for a decade. As a result, I became a Certified Facility Manager the hard way, by developing the information that facility managers needed to know.
One of the small restaurant projects I worked on turned into what became one of America’s most famous gourmet carry out chains. In commercial environment design, I learned that even an office environment can be an experience if the physical environment is thought through in significant detail. Ceiling changes, glass walls, bringing greenery inside and other architectural enhancements can make an ordinary space into an intriguing, interesting place to work.
What we referred to as “programming” at the time encompassed the design of the user experience in a space focusing on how the customer would experience the space and how the space would function. I carry the experience with the design of the physical spaces to every experience design I work on today.
Yet, much of my real education in experience design came from circling the globe to experience the culture in 28 countries and every state in the United States. Sitting in a tiny restaurant in the Barossa Valley in southern Australia, surrounded by what appears to be the Aussie’s form of Tuscany, we realized that we had turned up on a day when the Dowagers of the wineries were celebrating the year’s harvest. Their robust celebration tasting and saluting each other’s wines made a simple lunch into an afternoon’s worth of cultural entertainment, accompanied with incredible food.
Being blown away by the light show at Luxor in Egypt and experiencing a sense of a presence on the Mount of the Beatitudes in Israel illustrates the power of both what can be created and what can happen authentically. Hiking above the tree line in Switzerland, complemented by a stroll down a historic street in Lucerne, with light snowflakes floating down, showed two very different sides of the country in one small space in time.
All my design work and most of the jaunts around the world, happened before I took a 180 degree career turn into the experience industry full time, so that I could spend more time at home with my children adopted from China and Vietnam.
My first official position in experience design was as Director of Experience Development at Traveling America.com, one of the first online travel startups. That fancy title required that I develop the experiences that the company sold online from scratch throughout the United States without traveling anywhere and write stories about each experience that would be inspiring and intriguing! With no existing product, Google, which was just getting going at the time, became my best friend while researching the entire US for the most inspiring and appealing experiences. That intense digging for information is a skill that I have never lost.
Unlike other companies at the time that posted cryptic descriptions of their trips online, expecting that customers would buy on lowest price, we took the unprecedented step of telling stories; intriguing, inspiring stories. The stories wrapped around a collection of components in each experience that included destination distinctive accommodations, geographically and thematically appropriate restaurants, and attractions that revealed the story of the trip all combined to deliver a complete experience to customers.
In retrospect, with a tag line of “Delivering Experiences that Truly Tell the Story of the Places You Visit,” we were way ahead of our time. The real time booking system that we designed at that company was state of the art, but we didn’t know it then, and put it aside when the company was sold. That first foray into technology development was scary, but doable, and accomplished by laying out a complete plan for how the transactions that the customer was to be involved in completely diagrammed in advance before programming began.
In addition to a unique product, I was instrumental in developing trip documentation that we referred to as “the invisible tour guide” a comprehensive Personal Travel Portfolio printed in full color and assembled in a three ring binder, complete with detailed information about each location included in the trip and detailed door to door driving directions – documentation which received rave reviews from travelers. That work ultimately led me to develop experiences for 294 different destinations throughout the United States, including many National Scenic Byways and other famous trails.
As the Managing Director of American Driving Vacations, the company that acquired the assets of Traveling America and took the Personal Travel Portfolio concept overseas, I served as the liaison between the organization and a collection of large overseas tour operators. The role required working with each tour operator to determine new and unique experiences they could offer to customers who wanted to see America which, at the same time, could deliver a strategic advantage in a greatly tightened market. As many as 20 experiences in collections unique to each organization were written in original inspiring text, coupled with a Personal Travel Portfolio that provided all the details. One tour operator in UK called their experience collection “legendary,” which we took as the highest compliment.
To deliver an entirely different level of customer experience, American Driving Vacations made live American staff available 24/7, should the unexpected happen. This was a totally unique approach when most companies in America were sending their 24/7 support to India. Instead of just listening to customer’s problems without being able to do anything about them, we at American Driving Vacations were able to resolve customer problems on the spot, a response that was very important to the overall customer experience.
Occasionally one learns through trial by fire. Several years ago, when American Association of Museums held six Regional Cultural Tourism Forums across the United States, the organization I worked for was tapped to provide event planning and management. The first Forum, held in the Mid-Atlantic went beautifully. Heading to the second Forum in the South, expecting the same experience as in the Mid-Atlantic, we arrived the day before it was to take place and realized that the local person who had volunteered to take care of some of the arrangements had not, as promised, arranged for the food and beverage for breaks or any lunches.
With a bit of last minute hustling and negotiation, everyone had lunch and goodies for their breaks the next day and no one knew the difference. The other four Forums had record attendance, enabling us ultimately to interact with more than 900 participants from 46 states and two American territories, sending them home with their first actions steps to create Cultural Tourism programs. Now, 20 years later, all that seems old hat, with cultural and heritage tourism, enjoyed by 75% of American travelers, now the fastest growing market in the US.
Once in a lifetime, one gets to be a part of an effort that can truly make a difference in the lives of the people involved. The Little Bighorn Living History Museum was such a project. Realizing the story of Little Bighorn had never been told from the multiple perspectives that actually existed there, rather than just the story of Custer’s Last Stand, Warner Brothers Music commissioned a comprehensive experience plan to lay out the experience and story where detailed archaeological research revealed it actually took place. I took the lead in producing the experience plan, along with a marketing plan and 25-year financial projections to build on the 400,000 visitors, who at the time, toured the battlefield each year. Even though the project was never constructed, the effort still brought benefit to the Native American tribes involved through greater recognition and a number of other auxiliary projects that were completed.
For the past several years, I have been helping organizations change their marketing strategies to respond to the face paced changes in the consumer market, now powered by the latest technology, greatly heightened expectations, and increased demands for seamless customer service. Even though the work started with a focus on marketing, the realization soon occurred that without changing how an organization perceives itself, how the work is organized and the tasks that are accomplished, even if there is an effective vision in place, it is not possible to become truly customer-focused and get the new required work tasks completed.
Further, in order to do the most effective job, crafting any experience strategy begins with a comprehensive inventory of the resources and assets that are available to combine into experiences. The inventory immediately illustrates the number and themes of the experiences that can be developed and the completed experiences reveal the markets that will be most efficiently attracted to the end products. The result of this work was six experiences created for each of 24 destinations in Pennsylvania, six totally different marketing strategies and approaches, one completely new destination identification, a three year strategic plan, eight greatly expanded social media approaches, and a significant number of new visitors attracted.
Recently, I decided that in addition to consulting with a myriad of destinations and attractions throughout the United States, on the ground experience would be beneficial and landed a position as the Tourism Director of a small, historic town that required starting a tourism effort from scratch.
Beginning from nothing can be challenging. On the positive side, the town was surrounded by a massive number of tourism assets and resources, over 300 locations in a 20 mile radius, which were combined into 15 unique themed trails. One of the trails tells a story that can only be told by this particular historic town, delivering a competitive advantage that no other destination can copy. On the challenging side, starting up required development of everything from the initial unique selling proposition and strategy, to a new logo, a comprehensive website which had to be easy to update, plus easy to navigate and illustrate the highlights of the town at first glance. A massive social media program made up for lack of marketing budget, only one of many other challenges that had to be overcome before moving forward.
Concurrently I served, and will continue to serve as Professor of Destination Management and Marketing at Temple University as a part of their new Masters of Travel and Tourism Program. I learned there that nothing is easy. Because there was no current textbook at the time, before teaching the first class, I had to research and write the material. Videos that told the story of how the tourism effort for the small historic town evolved were very helpful for the students to understand the concepts in real time with real examples. During an earlier effort, I worked with a group of Master’s Level hospitality students at the Fox School of Business of Temple University, in a capstone course that involved consulting and strategy development. The project was so successful it led to the client hiring staff to take advantage of the opportunity that was revealed.
Knowing that no one ever has time to do everything that is needed and how important intensive social media programs have become in today’s marketing efforts, I headed up research to determine which social media platforms were being used effectively to promote leisure locations that could be implemented by locations of all sizes. The result was identification of 12 different platforms, which, without an effective system to post to all several times a week would require an immense amount of time. To solve that issue, I devised a procedure, using readily available technology tools, during which posts to all 12 could be quickly designed and pre-scheduled, requiring only a few hours a week to accomplish the entire task.
Over the years, I have been involved in the development of a dozen different websites, bringing the customer’s point of view to these efforts to make sure that the information was clearly displayed, navigation was uncomplicated, landing pages were clear, and calls to action readily apparent.
Along with experience development, I have gained a comprehensive understanding of the most lucrative target market segments for experiences, and the best strategies and tactics to market and promote them. Over the years, to answer that question for a myriad of organizations, I have lead market studies for organizations, among others, ranging from the World Wildlife Fund, the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum to Days Inns Hotels, Barnett Banks (for the international currency market), Union Carbide Hospitality Product Division, Johnson Controls/Pan Am World Services and the Academic Travel Abroad Smithsonian Travel Program.
All of the collective knowledge I have gained over the years has been combined into Experiences Matter, to benefit everyone who seeks to develop the best experiences to precisely suit their customers. Let’s get ready to design experiences that engage, inspire and transform your customers, lighten your customer’s stress load and most importantly, get them out of the house to participate while getting the real relaxation they so desperately need. They’ll thank you, tell their friends and be back for more.
- A Resource Guide to Marketing in the New Millennium: Hospitality, Travel, Tourism Published by Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, Washington, DC
- Creating Customers: Marketing to Today’s Transforming Travelers Published by Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, Washington, DC
- Destination Marketing Journal, DMO 2.0, monthly publication of National Travel Center
- Thought Leadership Website, 25 critical knowledge areas for today’s destination management and marketing
- Tapping into the Billion Dollar Packaging Market, Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International Marketing Review
- Tourism Destination Marketing: Strategies to Create a Sustainable Customer Base, The George Washington University, Washington, DC
- Creating Today’s Market Driven Experiences, World Travel and Tourism Review, UK: CAB International
- The US Mature Market for Travel, Travel and Tourism Analyst, Economist Magazine
- Travel Executive Professional Development Program, New Brunswick, CAN
- Destination Next: The Future of Destination Marketing, PATT
- Painting with Words, American Association of Museums Expo, Philadelphia, PA
- Heritage and Culture is Economic Development, Ohio Travel Association
- Transforming Your Region into a Heritage Tourism Destination, North Carolina Heritage Tourism
- Generating Sustainable Revenue Streams, Alliance of National Heritage Areas
- Taking to the Road, Texas Plains Travel Association
- Database Marketing, Travel Weekly Conference on Travel Technology
- Capturing Your Area’s Best Attributes in Packaging, Maryland DMO Association
- Delivering Experiences that Truly Tell the Stories of the Places Your Visit, AAA, Carolinas Region
- Tourism Director, Historic Boyertown Tourism Initiative
- Destination Management and Marketing Professor, Temple University
- 2014-Present: Managing Director/Chief Strategist, National Travel Center
- 2014: Adjunct Professor, Temple University, Fox School of Business, School of Hospitality and Tourism, Masters Capstone Course: Strategic Planning and Consulting, 2014
- 2005-2013: American Driving Vacations, Inbound International Tour Operator, Bethlehem, PA, Managing Director
- 1998-2004: Traveling America, (one of the first online travel companies) Charlottesville, VA, Director of Experience Development
- 1987-1997: Travel Information Resources, Charlottesville, VA Principal, Senior Marketing Consultant
- 1983-1987: The World Bank, Washington, DC, Long Term Internal Consultant
- Prior to 1983: Work with architectural and design firms in Washington, DC and Nashville, TN as a professional business designer and interior architect
- Digital Marketing Certificate, University of Illinois – Champaign
- Online Teaching Certificate, Temple University, Fox School of Business
- Professional Member, Institute of Business Designers
- Associate Member, American Institute of Architects
- Professional Member, International Facility Management Association
- Certified Facility Professional, Buildings Owners and Managers Association International
- Bachelor of Fine Arts, University of Wisconsin—Superior
- Master of Arts, Emphasis on Art and Architectural History, University of Wisconsin— Superior
- Doctor of Philosophy, The Union, Environmental Planning
- MBA, Taft University, W. Edwards Deming School of Business, in progress