The best way to connect with passionate communities is to meet them where they already gather. Visit Jersey has taken a bold first step toward niche marketing through a partnership with Strava, the social network for athletes.

If you have a friend who won’t stop bragging about their latest split times, they might be one of 36 million athletes who use the Strava app to track their mileage and spur one another on.

Head of Product Meryl Laisney and the team at Visit Jersey imagined a way to connect these long-distance runners with the English Channel island’s most distinctive experiences. The result is a pioneering campaign called the Jersey Runcation Challenge. Visit Jersey is now the world’s first destination marketing organization (DMO) to partner with Strava on a campaign that brings bookable tourism experiences to the network’s passionate running community.  

Here’s how it works. Your Strava friend can sign up through the app and complete the challenge by running at least 26.2 miles (the distance of a marathon) in 26 days. Runners who finish their miles – so far numbering in the thousands – have plenty to gain: kudos from the Strava community, a discounted entry to the Standard Chartered Jersey Marathon, special rates on accommodation and a chance to win a trip for two. All in all, a compelling call to action.

Laisney, an avid cyclist and Strava user herself, tells us about the forward-looking partnership, why the Runcation Challenge has been a risk worth taking, how it will link marketing to tourism revenue and how her DMO remains nimble enough to support innovation.

Ben Vadasz, Partner at Destination Think: What led you to pursue a partnership between Visit Jersey and Strava?

Meryl Laisney, Head of Product at Visit Jersey: We wanted to work with a partner that brings our brand story to life.

Strava has a very positive, motivating influence. It also fits a global trend, which is that everyone wants to be the best version of themselves. That aligns well with our ambition at Visit Jersey. The ideal visitor for Jersey isn’t defined by their age, but by whether they have a zest for life and are seeking out adventure.

When we spoke to Strava, we found that we had common goals and a shared DNA in terms of brand values, which is why it has worked so well. As a brand, Strava are fun, they have great impact, and there’s great product alignment for us because they celebrate the spirit of sport. The brand is very inclusive and it’s all about getting outdoors. There was real authenticity to the partnership and a great product-channel fit.

Meryl Laisney, Head of Product at Visit Jersey

Meryl Laisney, Head of Product at Visit Jersey

What do you think is most appealing about the runcation concept?

Travel is no longer a hobby, but we see it as a badge that defines people. The runcation really ticks that box. We’re moving from this idea of experiential travel, which leaves us with lasting memories, towards the idea of transformative travel. A runcation is good for your health, but it’s far more than that – it’s about goals for the soul and taking on a challenge.

Was this the first time Visit Jersey had sought out a partnership like this?

A couple of years ago, we worked with Secret Escapes on an autumn campaign. Through that partnership, we worked with a third-party clothing brand, Barbour. We’d seen that there was potential.

This is the first time we’ve formally used a third party as a distribution channel and have actively reached out through their community. The campaign works because it’s reaching out to a very specific audience that aligns well with our product.

What makes this kind of innovation possible at Visit Jersey?

We were established four years ago as a DMO. Jersey, up until four years ago, had suffered 20 years of decline against the backdrop of a rise in global international visits. We had a requirement to cut through the noisy competitive landscape and were given permission for the new, positive Visit Jersey to bring fresh thinking and be brave. This new organization uses an insight-driven approach to identify where there is opportunity to revive tourism on the island.

We are a very small team of 13 with three core teams: product, marketing and trade. We’re agile and I work with a very inspired creative team. It gives us the freedom to take advantage of trends but, in particular, we have close relationships across the organization.

What opportunities does this project address?

At present, three-quarters of all holiday visits to Jersey take place between April and September, with temperatures rarely falling below zero in a typical winter. Jersey offers a venue where sporting activity is a great opportunity for us to develop.

At the heart of this, we’re looking to increase the productivity of the island. At times, we reach over 90% occupancy. Our opportunity in terms of increasing productivity is to look at how we fill the island in the shoulder seasons.

By working with Strava to increase brand advocacy, we’re able to inspire visitors to come here, whether it’s for sporting events like the Standard Chartered Jersey Marathon, the Durrell Challenge, or trail marathons such as our C.I. 100k. This project is a catalyst for the island’s tourism development because we’re bringing visitors here and there’s lots for them to see and do in the shoulder seasons. We are taking that product to market.

How do you lead potential visitors toward a decision to visit? 

There are three stages. It’s about using Strava as a channel for inspiration and to challenge perceptions of what Jersey’s about. Then, we take them through to the deliberating stage with the hub page, which showcases all the great things that visitors can enjoy through our outdoor living. Then, booking – it’s a genuinely accessible, bookable experience.

The marathon is one event, but there are over 10 different sporting events that can be enjoyed year-round. It’s starting to challenge some of the previous perceptions of Jersey as a summer-only destination.

What about this project are you most proud of so far?

What I’m most proud of is that we took a risk. We have a research-led approach, but it’s been a pioneering campaign for us. It’s our first real step into targeting a niche community and celebrating our core product. Strava has given us the opportunity to shine a light on the real product-marketing fit.

I’m encouraged by the initial conversions that we’re seeing through the challenge.

Do you have any advice for other destination marketers who are trying to bring new ideas to the table?

Number one, bring data-driven insights and a research-led approach. With any proposal internally, present it as an opportunity for the DMO. For example, it’s going to address our seasonality challenges, there’s brand alignment, there’s a real fit with the target audience. That way, you’re presenting a comprehensive proposal while drawing on success stories.

Strava hadn’t worked with a DMO previously with the concept of a runcation, but by looking at the success rates of other brand partners that they’ve worked with and going in armed with that research-led insight, we presented a strong case.

It’s been so important to have the full support of the wider team to look at how we optimize this, but having that hard case to start with has been integral to our success.

We’re fortunate to have the research resource to ensure we fully evaluate not only marketing outputs, but outcomes. In terms of outcomes: To what extent did the activity a) challenge perceptions of Jersey and b) move people along the booking funnel? Essentially, after being exposed to this marketing activity, what did they do? 

Then, we will be able to attribute real visitor spend to the campaign. Down the line, when it comes time to do another partnership like this, we will have research and insights that show what we can achieve and where we can improve.

Takeaways for destination marketers

Making a change at your DMO is exciting, but it takes dedication and tenacity to succeed. Based on our interview with Meryl Laisney of Visit Jersey, here are six questions to ask yourself as you make the case for a concept that breaks new ground for your organization.

  1. How does my idea address a strategic objective for the destination?
  2. Does the idea align with our place brand?
  3. Does it meet the needs of our target audience? 
  4. Am I presenting my proposal as an opportunity for the success of my colleagues and our DMO?
  5. Can I support this idea with research and data-driven insights?
  6. Does my proposal include success stories from comparable projects?

“I find the Destination Think newsletter to be one of the most informative and impactful emails for the tourism industry!” – Michelle Sears, Digital Marketing Advisor at Tourism Nova Scotia

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Featured image credit: Visit Jersey


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