If you have a destination business, such as a spa, resort or recreation-based venue, you certainly know the challenge of describing your venue effectively to potential guests interested in booking special events. You probably spend a significant amount of time and money fielding the same questions, scheduling tours which may or may not be for your qualified ideal customer, trying your best to get the word out through the proper online channels and resources.
Nothing can replace an onsite tour, and yet in this day and age, consumers want the instant gratification more than ever of being able to get their questions answered from the convenience of their online device.
Here at Visiting Media, we’re pretty excited because we know TrueTour solves a significant problem for our members. Not only can you answer all of the standard questions about pricing, rates, amenities, with your reliable rate sheets, photos and videos, but TrueTour provides a new and immersive customer experience which brings the virtual brochure into the future – including interactive 360˚ photography, virtual reality, 3D modeling, 360˚ video, aerial photography, Google walking tours and more.
We sat down with longtime Visiting Media member Emily Stoller-Smith, Marketing Coordinator for Timberline Lodge, to ask how TrueTour has become their number one sales tool and has helped them triple their event bookings over the last 5 years.
Here is a recap from our conversation.
Visiting Media: Emily, it’s so great to speak with you. Thank you for taking the time. Can you share with us a little about Timberline Lodge and why it is such a special venue in the pacific northwest?
Emily Stoller-Smith: Sure. Timberline Lodge was built in 1937 and sits on Mount Hood at about 6,000 feet elevation. We get about two million visitors a year and that’s year-round. It’s very special working in a place that has so much history. We’re not just a ski area, actually it’s kind of surprising for some people to hear that we get more traffic in the summer than we do in the winter.
Visiting Media: Wow, yeah, that is a surprise.
Emily Stoller-Smith: Of course we do have the ski area which is open year-round for skiing. We are located on the Pacific Crest Trail, so we also have hiking. It’s a wonderful wedding destination. We can do weddings out in the snow, up on the mountain, around our great fireplace. We have lots of different spaces around the lodge to host weddings, corporate events, family reunions, just about anything you could think of.
Visiting Media: It seems like the company is wonderful to work with, like a family. Is that true?
Emily Stoller-Smith:Yes, definitely. It’s not uncommon for our employees to work here 10, 20 years! My husband is the Executive Chef, and I’ve been here 5 years now. We’re very well taken care of by Jeff Kohnstamm, who owns the concession to operate Timberline Lodge. Timberline Lodge sits on U.S. Forest Service land and it’s actually owned by the U.S. Forest Service, so we enjoy the privilege of operating the business here for the Forest Service.
Visiting Media: Is that fair to say that your primary role as Marketing Coordinator is to let people know about the various special event possibilities available at Timberline Lodge?
Emily Stoller-Smith: Yes. Yes, most definitely. Our marketing team is relatively small, there are three of us. My boss oversees all PR and marketing, and then I have a counterpart who does a lot of the marketing for the ski area side and he’s in charge of our social media. My primary focus is marketing the hotel and the restaurant outlets of which there are seven, plus weddings, group events, etc. I do definitely help with the ski area, as well, and I manage the website and all the internet-related things. Our primary focus is to keep people informed about what’s going on at the lodge, any new or old activities that we have going on and let the public know we may be a historic building, but we’re always innovating and coming up with fresh ways for people to enjoy the historic lodge.
Visiting Media: Before TrueTour, how would you let people know about your space there? What were your marketing challenges, and how did TrueTour alleviate some of those challenges for you?
Emily Stoller-Smith: Since we are located on the top of a mountain, it can be a challenge for people to get up here for site visits. To let people know about the property, we depended a lot on the use of still photos on our website, and finding a way to effectively articulate what makes the place special.
With TrueTour, we have this wonderful interactive tool. People can actually come inside the lodge within TrueTour, where seeing is believing, and it makes it possible for Timberline Lodge to really sells itself. If they can’t get here, then TrueTour is how we share the experience with them.
Visiting Media: When in the current booking process do you introduce your TrueTour to inquiring guests?
Emily Stoller-Smith: We have TrueTour on the website, of course, but our sales and catering department field calls all day long. The TrueTour really works best for them, because they can take people right into the event venues and walk them around virtually so they can visualize what their event experience will be here at Timberline.
Gosh, there’s just so many uses, it’s hard to narrow it down. We keep it as part of our internet signature, so that people can take a tour whenever they get an email for us. That has proven to be very effective for us. We just got our new website launched and TrueTour’s been actually pretty crucial to that because we don’t have the capability to store all of our tens of thousands of photos within our own website, so TrueTour has now turned into our photo and video host, as well.
Visiting Media: We like to say that TrueTour is the next best thing to “being here”.
Emily Stoller-Smith: Exactly. Our sales and catering departments use the easy linking strategy to send a link to the TrueTour to our potential clients. Especially since they can send a link directly from the venue that they’re looking at, or the room that they’re looking at. Reservations can literally take guests into the rooms or the condos to show them what their experience is going to be like.
Visiting Media: We are always impressed with the analytics from Timberline. Your team clearly does an excellent job of taking advantage of the power of TrueTour as a sales tool!
Emily Stoller-Smith: Thank you! Moving forward, we’re excited to add 360˚ videos to our TrueTour. I’m really excited about it, it’s a little mind-blowing.
Visiting Media: I know, 360˚ video is truly the next generation of immersive marketing and makes the viewer feel like they are stepping into your world. Customers love this and it really helps them with their buying or booking decision-making.
Emily Stoller-Smith: It is really neat. It’s like nothing that I’ve ever seen online before, so kudos to you guys.
Visiting Media: Thank you. We are always looking for ways to make TrueTour even more powerful, so we appreciate knowing we are on the right track. Thank you so much for chatting with us today!
Emily Stoller-Smith: Absolutely! Thank you, and we can’t wait to celebrate another great winter season on the mountain!
Here is the one and only Timberline Lodge’s TrueTour.