Two College Towns Take on Community Alignment

By: Emilie Harris, Bandwango

Community Alignment looks different for each destination marketing organization, but it can be an especially nebulous concept for DMOs that are home to major universities. In those cases, community alignment ebbs and flows to include new students each year. Those students turn into ambassadors, which gives greater weight to how destinations welcome these short-term residents into the community fold.

In this blog, two DMOs give feedback about what community alignment looks like for them, in destinations that share proximity to one of the largest universities in Texas. Destination Bryan and Visit College Station weigh in on what student advocacy and ambassadors have brought to the table.

“​​We have to be very aware of stewarding the relationship between the community and students,” John Friebele, Executive Director for Destination Bryan said. “It’s easy to fall into the idea of becoming what the students are looking for, but we can build a more meaningful relationship with students when we’re true to who we are.”

Indeed, the students on campus have their own expectations for what the community will mean to them, which provides an endless source of new ideas, Jeremiah Cook, Tourism Manager for Visit College Station said.

“Not only do students bring new ideas to the table, but they are also potential community ambassadors. We want them to engage with College Station while they are here and serve as our ambassadors when they leave. A memorable experience in school creates raving fans for life. The students are essential to the Visit College Station brand.”

Texas A&M has been a helpful partner in making this kind of collaboration go more smoothly. Recently, the university created the Department of Academic and Strategic Partnerships, which has opened the door for conversations involving students within the destination on a larger scale.

“Most of these conversations happen at a departmental level,” Friebele said. “For example, we work with Fish Camp to get in front of ~6,000 freshmen each summer, building awareness from the moment they get involved.”

A recent student-focused initiative put community alignment at the forefront of Destination Bryan’s strategic plans. The project was called “The Howdy Challenge”. This was a free passport, launched on the Bandwango platform, that featured 19 of the top things to do, events, and businesses in Bryan.

The pass was available from August 15th – October 15th, 2022 and was geared toward introducing, or reacquainting, students to Bryan at the beginning of the academic school year. Passholders were challenged to check in to at least 12 locations on the passport for a chance to win 1 of 12 $500 prepaid gift cards.

“Our city has asked us to run an event for students downtown, but we’ve had mixed results in the past for a one-day event,” Friebele said, when asked about what prompted the creation of the Howdy Challenge. “Instead, we wanted to capture their attention early in the fall semester and spread them throughout the destination. We figured we would let them explore Bryan at their pace and find one thing that interests them and motivates them to engage.”

For the inaugural year, Destination Bryan’s Howdy Challenge boasted 815 pass sign ups and 1,027 total check-ins.

“We’ve received a number of positive comments regarding people being introduced to new experiences in Bryan and looking forward to a second version of the passport,” Friebele said.

Additionally, Visit College Station has received positive feedback from students who are engaging with the community.

Cook shared a story about a student he met after he first moved to College Station. She was new to the area as well, and working on a Master’s degree. She shared that when she first moved to the area, she followed the DMO on social media and thanked Cook for all the work Visit College Station puts into their events calendar and social presence, crediting those two resources with helping her meet new people and feel like a part of the community.

While students on campus are a focus for both organizations, the connections they make go beyond the 2-4 years they may spend at Texas A&M.

“From a meetings and conventions perspective, we target meeting planners who want to bring meetings back to the Heart of Aggieland,” Cook said. “There is a pride that comes from being an Aggie, and we want them to be able to show off to their attendees all that Texas A&M, and by extension, College Station, has to offer.”

Community alignment may include unique audience segments, and engaging with higher education partners is just one more way DMOs can make room for initiatives that engage local ambassadors.

Both Visit College Station and Destination Bryan are proud Bandwango partners. Learn more about what Bandwango has to offer to destinations big and small by visiting bandwango.com.

About the Author

Emilie HarrisDirector of Marketing Operations, Bandwango

About the Author

Emilie Harris started her career in destination marketing. Working with destinations around the Houston MSA to drive visitation, she developed a passion for what makes small and large cities unique and exciting places to visit. As the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Bandwango, Emilie brings this same passion to Bandwango's destination partners and prospects. Leveraging experience in marketing, sales management and Bandwango's inventive technology, Emilie is able to provide high-level advice and lead new initiatives for the company. Her favorite part of the role is working with organizations determined to drive real people through the doors of local businesses in their area. 

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