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Bringing the World to New England
On May 9, 2022, New Hampshire native Michele Cota becomes the newly appointed executive director of Discover New England (DNE), a regional destination marketing organization representing the six New England states. Since 2019, Michele has worked for New Hampshire’s U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, handling policy projects in business and economic development and other areas. We spoke to Michele about her new role at Discover New England.
Congratulations on your new position Michele. Tell us about your career and how you got into the tourism field.
Thank you. I am very excited! This will actually be my return to the tourism industry. I’ve worked for the New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism for 13 years in a number of capacities. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work closely with many industry members throughout New Hampshire but also New England. Some of the neatest projects that I’ve been involved with were in my role as International Trade Relations Manager, where I managed New Hampshire’s partnership with Discover New England and coordinated New England collaborations for domestic trade efforts as well.
Thanks to DNE’s marketing outreach over the past 30 years, New England has become a leading visitor brand among international travelers. How do we keep the New England brand vital and revitalized in a post-pandemic timeframe?
Yes, the Discover New England brand and New England as a destination is well-established in certain international markets and we benefit from long-standing and healthy relationships with key partners around the world.
The industry has experienced fundamental changes and some circumstantial changes throughout the pandemic. It will be key to re-evaluate the relevance of certain markets to our New England tourism industry and the effectiveness of our strategies. There is plenty of pent-up demand in markets such as in the EU and UK right now, with the USA ranking at the top of their bucket lists for travel. We will need to work to get ahead of their planning to determine which markets are the smartest investments for the region. Right now, there is a strong domestic travel market that is taking up a lot of supplier capacity, and this may evolve as travelers feel more comfortable traveling abroad again.
Since the success of tourism is often measured by its economic impact on localities, what measurements do you consider when developing tourism marketing strategies?
This is absolutely and definitely top of my mind and among the first tasks I will take on. As I mentioned earlier, we need to fully understand the “new reality” and what barriers, costs and opportunities now exist in each market. There is a good amount of origin market data available and it makes sense to partner with BrandUSA wherever possible. I’m used to speaking in terms of tax revenues, employment, direct spend and visitation for the industry as a whole, but it is important to look at each campaign and each market individually.
Each NE state has its own distinct flair, but what are the core visitor assets that unite stakeholders from across the region and lead to healthy partnerships?
New England offers diverse experiences within close proximity and those experiences are rich in culture and natural beauty. We also celebrate four distinct seasons. Each state has its own story to tell but we come together in our messaging of natural beauty; heritage that essentially authored the book called the United States; adventure from the ocean to the mountains and everything in between; our vibrant creative economy; cuisine you can only find here; cities that spill over with events and activity; and our quintessential villages that leave the warmest impression on visitors who come here for the first time.
I think I need to work on simplifying and narrowing down my elevator pitch, but I’m very passionate about the region if you haven’t yet noticed! We are the full package and no matter how many times you come here, or even if you live here, there is always more to discover. I do think there is a place for Discover New England to aid in capacity-building efforts, so we can help our tourism suppliers prepare for the markets DNE is committing to and work on collaborative product development.
Since 2020, government officials have gained a renewed appreciation for the value of tourism. How can we harness that enthusiasm to ensure well-funded marketing budgets and necessary capital improvements in the future?
Tourism supports nearly half a million jobs in New England and $5+ billion in tax revenue, so it is economically vital to our region. Tourism has a direct measurable impact and an intrinsic value that needs to be a part of the conversation as well.
Engagement with policy makers and elects is so important; I’ve seen groups that excel at this through my work on business policy for Senator Shaheen. We need to continuously inform and celebrate our successes so that we are at the forefront of their minds. There are a lot of federal dollars out there right now and we may be seeing a once-in-a-lifetime investment in infrastructure that will affect tourism and travel for decades to come. Plus, there is still a good amount of economic grant funding out there for which DNE may qualify. I am looking forward to bringing my relationships with federal district offices to this new role at Discover New England to see how we can best work together.
Thank you, Michele!
For more information, visit DiscoverNewEngland.org.