The Missouri Division of Tourism is introducing a new "tour guide" it believes will help travelers answer questions as they make vacation plans for the coming year in the Show-Me State.
This spring, the division will introduce Mo, a character and tour guide of sorts, to assist visitors with discovering their "travel M-O," the kinds of activities and attractions they are seeking.
Mo will be featured in magazines, on TV and online, providing information about outdoor adventure, family fun, food and drink, history, art, music and more. She'll also appear on VisitMO.com and social media.
"Mo embodies Missouri and everything we have to offer visitors in our state," said Stephen Foutes, director of the Division of Tourism. "When you're looking for destinations that fit your travel M-O, Mo will be there to help."
Foutes said the feedback they were getting from people as they were putting the campaign together was that they wanted a campaign that was "down to earth."
"They said we didn't need a celebrity with Missouri roots to tell them what the state had to offer," Foutes said. He noted the campaign is aimed at women, 25-54, who are usually the main planners of vacations in many homes.
"There were zero negative reactions to the concept presented to focus groups in four cities and states," Foutes continued. "It was said about the That's My M-O concept, 'It makes Missouri more relatable and interesting. It brings personality to a state that isn't known for boasting about itself and isn't a state people know a lot about.'"
Mo will recommend locations based on travelers' interests, including places to enjoy Missouri's rivers and lakes; explore the past at museums and historic sites; visit theme parks, aquariums, and zoos; and sample award-winning wine and world-famous barbecue.
"Our primary audience will be the eight states that surround the state," Foutes added. "We have been getting more interest from people in Texas as well, and we hope that continues."
Visitors are invited to share their experiences in Missouri with the hashtag #ThatsMyMO or by tagging @VisitMO on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Travelers can learn more about Mo and order a 2021 Official Missouri Travel Guide at VisitMO.com.
Tourism is one of Missouri's largest industries. In fiscal year 2019, tourism officials said, Missouri had 42.9 million visitors. (The state defines visitors as people who travel from out of state or at least 50 miles in-state). Missouri's tourism industry employs more than 300,000 people — one in 12 Missouri residents — and tourists spend approximately $17.7 billion annually.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to severe losses for hotels, attractions and restaurants. State officials estimate Missouri lost $2.16 billion in tourism spending in March 2020 through May 2020, the first three months of the pandemic. Foutes said based on data provided by Tourism Economics, a national firm that works with several states and the U.S. Travel Association, Missouri lost about $6.6 billion in visitor spending during calendar year 2020.
In July, Gov. Mike Parson announced the Destination Marketing Organization Grant Program. Through this program, $15 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds was designated for destination marketing organizations (DMOs), entities that promote Missouri as a place to visit. The tourism division administered the funds to grant eligible DMOs funding for recovery efforts such as payroll relief, reimbursement for necessary safety equipment, and the initiation of marketing campaigns with messaging focused on safe travel.
As COVID-19 cases have decreased, and vaccine distribution has increased, tourism officials are feeling more confident about the industry seeing some positive numbers in 2021.
Foutes said research released Monday by Destination Analysts, which one year ago began fielding a weekly traveler sentiment survey, found:
- This week, 41.5 percent of respondents are firmly confident they can travel safely in the current environment, up nearly 5 percent since the week prior, and 17 percentage points since Jan. 3.
- More than 70 percent of American travelers dreamed of or planned travel in the past week, and these actions look to increasingly be turning into trips. The average number of leisure trips Americans are reporting they will take in 2021 was three. Dates beginning in June and beyond seem to be the months most people are tentatively planning for their trips.
- Other research is supportive of this trend: Longwoods International began a bi-weekly traveler sentiment survey a year ago and advised last week: "Eighty-four percent of American travelers report that they plan to travel within the next six months (up from 65 percent in mid-January, and the third report in a row with that figure at over 80 percent)."
"Along with the That's My M-O campaign, Visit Missouri is sharing activities that can be enjoyed while practicing social distancing and being safe," Foutes added. "Our website has a travel-update page (visitmo.com/travel-updates) where visitors find links to local public health orders and CDC guidance to help ensure safer travel practices."