Why Bringing Your Visitor Guide In-House Could Be a Game Changer

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<span>Why Bringing Your Visitor Guide In-House Could Be a Game Changer</span>
Bottom Line:

While bringing your visitor guide in-house may not be for everyone, have you considered it for your destination? Discover the insights from one of our staff members who played a pivotal role in transitioning a visitor guide to in-house production, enhancing authenticity and building community engagement and trust.

Have you ever wondered if bringing your destination guide in-house is the right strategy for your team? Whether your organization is large or small, in-house production offers significant benefits, such as telling authentic stories, enhancing community ties and becoming a trusted resource. However, this approach may not be suitable for everyone. Drawing from my six years at VisitNorfolk, I am proud to have been a pivotal member of the team that produced our first-ever in-house visitor guide and subsequently worked on three editions of the guide. I recently transitioned to a new role at Destinations International in November, and I am excited to share the insights I wish I had before we started this journey. Below are six key considerations to consider before getting started:

1. Making the Decision

Deciding to bring your guide in-house is no small feat. Start by asking yourself why you would like to bring it in-house and list the pros and cons. What is your budget? Will ads cover printing costs? Can you save money? What goals are you aiming for? Consider what you can do internally that outsourcing can't. Do you have the team capacity for design, content, ads, and research? It is a lot, but it is worth it when you are in control, organized and ready to take on a new challenge.

2. Seek Inspiration

Are you feeling unsure? Don't worry; others have been there. I recommend reaching out to industry peers who have done it. I love our industry for this reason: our community loves sharing successes and challenges and learning from others. Connect with peers on the DI Online Community. Here are a few destinations that I know decided to bring their visitor guide in-house: VisitNorfolk, Discover Halifax, Visit Lake Charles, Discover Lancaster, Visit Corpus Christi, Visit Stockton and Visit Erie. Of course, many more did it, too, and there is inspiration all around! Seeing how others have done it is helpful; they will provide insights, inspiration and invaluable advice.

3. Determine Your Budget & Choosing Your Printer

Before choosing your printer, I recommend taking a moment to plan your finances wisely. Begin by gathering quotes from different printers to understand the costs involved fully.

Consider your budget – if you opt for in-house production, determine if you can cover all expenses or if financing through ads is necessary. If you choose to collect ads, there is more to consider: determine ad size and pricing, conduct outreach to partners, handle the collection of funds, and potentially design ads, which might affect your timeline. Calculate the potential savings from in-house production, but also be prepared for unexpected costs, such as fluctuating paper prices.

Next, check how the printer manages logistics – are storage and distribution their responsibility, or is it on your plate? Please do not overlook the importance of requesting samples of their work and understanding their turnaround time. Make a comprehensive list of the pros and cons of each option to make an informed decision. 

I also recommend that once you have selected your printer, you ask for a hard deadline on when they will need your final files. It may take more time than you think, as the “pre-flight” process sometimes requires changes (for example, image too dark, image not extended to bleed line, image too low res, etc.), which may delay your print deadline.

Lastly, acknowledge that this is both a big and valuable undertaking. Ensure your budget aligns with covering all the printing costs, emphasizing the significant value this project holds for your destination. 

4. A Team Effort

Some of the main tasks that you will need to achieve may include designing layouts and potentially ads, finding images or requesting User Generated Content (UGC), launching a social media contest, research and writing content, outreach to partners for ads and collecting money, reviewing, and approving each layout for design errors, verifying photo credit, spelling mistakes and typos.

Below is an idea of structure that worked for us in my previous role at VisitNorfolk:  

  • VP Marketing & Communications: Assign deadlines for writing content and review all layouts & copy, set ad pricing & collaborate with printer
  • Creative Brand Manager/Graphic Designer: Design all layouts, select, request, and edit UGC and images. Create social media graphics and work with Social Media Specialist to launch a social photo contest to collect UGC. Work with the printer on the final steps.
  • Marketing Coordinator: Write content, reach out to partners for ad placements, collect payments & work with the printer
  • Digital Marketing Manager: Write content & review all copies (consider using the website's best-performing pages & blogs).
  • PR Manager: Write content, reach out to partners to discover exciting things happening, closures etc.
  • Social Media Specialist: Write content, grab and request images from partners or UGC, and push photo contests on social media.
  • All staff: Review the final copy/layout for final edits before printing.
  • Agency of Record: Collaborate with agency for additional help as needed 

I recommend adapting based on your team's strengths. Some teams may do it differently, but there is no “perfect” way, as perfect is defined differently by everyone. Set regular check-ins and utilize an organization tool like Trello, Basecamp, or another project management platform to remain organized and keep everyone on track with deadlines. 

5. Why Bringing it In-House May NOT Work  

Having explored some of my suggestions above, you might already know if it may work for you. It is important to note that I am sharing these insights based on my prior role at VisitNorfolk before joining Destinations International, hoping to share valuable feedback. I take pride in being part of the team that launched the first-ever fully in-house visitor guide for VisitNorfolk (with an under $5M budget). Our marketing team, which consisted of six members, worked hard on this project and completed it within six months. Over three years, each iteration brought new lessons that we applied to the next. While bringing this project in-house is incredible, it is a significant undertaking. I would ensure you have enough budget, time and capacity to tackle it effectively.

If bringing it in-house is not feasible for you now, do not worry. There are still ways to engage with your community, such as creating seasonal or digital guides. You can also explore the option of working with an external marketing agency of your choice, which will provide flexibility and alternatives to suit your current resources and needs. 

6. Being Ready for Change

Expect the unexpected. Layout changes, last-minute ads or page additions, and unresponsive partners can throw a curveball. If you work with a marketing agency, they might also be your lifesaver for last-minute tweaks. When unexpected things happen, your team has a chance to overcome challenges, which will make you stronger and more successful in the end for years to come.

Bringing your guide in-house is not just a task but a way to highlight your value as a destination organization. Bringing your visitor's guide in-house could be a smart move if you want to show your worth to partners and your community. It can help you stay updated with what is happening in your community, create excitement, and allow you to engage with your residents through User-Generated Content. Plus, it will enable your community to see your destination through a local lens. It is an adventure worth considering—a journey that could demonstrate your commitment and strengthen your relationship with your residents, city, and partners. 

About the Author

Ophélie Le Livec

Content Marketing Manager
Destinations International

Ophélie, also known as Ofé, is a passionate marketing storyteller with 11+ years of international experience in the travel and tourism industry. With a strong background across various departments of DMOs, her expertise shines in delivering innovative solutions and crafting captivating marketing plans that drive visitation and revenue growth. As a DI 30U30 class of 2022 emerging leader, she deeply understands diverse markets and effortlessly adapts to different audiences.

Ophélie spent over six years at VisitNorfolk before joining Destinations International in November 2023. During her time there, she made history by crafting VisitNorfolk's first in-house City Guide, a remarkable accomplishment that continued to thrive year after year. She also oversaw all in-house design, including presentations, flyers, brochures, and more, while actively collaborating with every department to maintain a strong and consistent brand cohesion and awareness.

Passionate about travel and storytelling, Ofé's purpose is to help partners and members and offer unique ideas that leave a lasting impact and hope to make meaningful connections and friends worldwide. 

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