Podcast: Capital Region USA goes beyond borders with international destination marketing

Attracting foreign visitors to the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area

Imagine you’re responsible for marketing an international tourism hotspot of America: Washington, DC, Maryland, AND Virginia all in one. For Stacey Sheetz, she doesn’t have to imagine — she does it! Stacey is the Digital Marketing Manager for Capital Region USA (CRUSA), a non-profit tourism coalition that seeks to attract visitors from select international markets and bring them to the tri-state area.

In this episode of the Zesty Marketing Podcast.Stacey discusses the challenges of international marketing, such as language barriers, social media differences, and cultural sensitivities. She also reveals how she leverages partnerships with travel organizations both overseas. Here at home to offer the most diverse and incredible itineraries to foreign visitors.

Benefits of overseas travelers

Right off the bat, Stacey confirms: International visitors spend more and stay longer. An average international traveler will spend $4,000 and stay for 9-10 nights.International tourism in the capital region amounts to nearly $5.2 billion spent on hotels, meals, shopping, and attractions. So in other words, they break out the Big Bucks.

With overseas travelers spending more time and money. One of the benefits of catering to them as a tourism agency is that the itineraries can be bigger, bulkier, more extravagant than a weekend trip targeted at domestic visitors. You can focus on the 10-day traveler as opposed to the 3-day traveler. Its really encourage them to see it all and do it all.

Part of Stacey’s enthusiasm for her work comes from the diversity of the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area . All it has to offer: beaches, amusement parks, big cities, small towns, historical landmarks, museums and theaters, national parks, camping and hiking trails. There’s certainly no shortage of marketable areas in the capital region!

Challenges of international marketing

Of course, with big benefits come big challenges. Language presents the first obstacle to overcome, especially for CRUSA, which targets visitors from China, Germany. France as well as the United Kingdom. According to Stacey, “Not all translators are created equal,” . She frequently finds herself checking Google Translate to make sure their marketing messages are saying the right things to the right people. Sometimes you can’t be as snazzy or zesty with your marketing language if you don’t speak the language it will be received in.

Language is only the beginning, though when it comes to foreign prospects . A slew of cultural differences present unique . Sometimes unexpected challenges for every country and market you choose to target. For instance, one of the ad campaigns Stacey worked on promoted Christmastime in Middleburg, Va, which is known for its fox hunting. The ad included this gorgeous image of hunters in red jackets parading down the street on horseback on a snowy winter day.


Unfortunately, this ad received some unexpected backlash from its targeted audience in the U.K. Since fox hunting had just been outlawed in the nation. Stacey emphasizes that thorough research on your target markets is the key to success when engaging with international audiences!

Social media differences

Reaching and engaging with foreign audiences can be challenging when it comes to using social media. China, for instance, has its own network of social media platforms because of government censorship, so no one over there is reading your Tweets or looking you up on Google. Learning the ins-and-outs of unfamiliar social platforms that are likely written and designed for people who don’t speak your language is a beast to take on. You deserve a gold star (or at the very least an honorable mention) if you go for it.

Image result for social media

Stacey says that people interact with social media differently in other countries as well. We here in the U.S. typically measure the success of our social media marketing with the level of engagement: people liking, commenting on, and resharing our content that then drives our sales. In some countries, like Germany, social media engagement is not as common. Each culture and target market requires some research and creative strategizing to optimize your marketing efforts.

The importance of partnerships

One of CRUSA’s funding partners, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, manages the Washington Dulles Airport. The airport now runs direct flights from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Washington, DC, which means more visitors from CRUSA’s targeted U.K. audience are able to fly directly to the capital region. Stacey says forming strong relationships and partnerships like these is essential to achieve success when marketing abroad.

Collaborating with local DMOs and CVBs to market an entire region can be an extremely effective way to tell a cohesive destination brand story and bring more tourists to the area. Hear how David West of Herschend Entertainment (aka the owners of Dollywood theme park) forms co-op relationships with local DMOs in his episode of the podcast.

Additionally, Brand USA is Stacey’s #1 go-to recommendation for any DMO, CVB, or tourism agency looking to market their destination internationally. Brand USA plays a crucial role in bringing foreign travelers to the U.S. They offer programs that you can buy into to pump up your international marketing strategy.

About the guest: Stacey Sheetz is the Digital Marketing Manager for Capital Region USA (CRUSA), a non-profit tourism coalition comprised of, and funded by, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, Destination DC, the Maryland Office of Tourism Development, and Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Stacey has worked with CRUSA for four years now. She worked previously as the Marketing Communications Manager for Visit Loudoun County, Virginia.

Want more destination and attraction marketing insights? Find our most recent chats on the Zesty Marketing Podcast.

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