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Rose Hapanowich

Episode 30: Turning Stopover Destinations into the Main Attraction, with Rose Hapanowich

In this episode, you will learn about generating return visits from customers at stopover destination from Rose Hapanowich, director of travel and tourism for Destiny USA.

Rose has an extensive background in retail as a result of working in a department store, specialty shop and outlet shopping venues prior to joining the management team of Carousel Center, initially as Assistant Marketing Director and later as Director of Marketing, where she successfully assisted in the transformation of the property into Destiny USA. She initiated tourism outreach efforts to expand Destiny USA’s presence internationally, resulting in her promotion to Director of Travel and Tourism for Destiny USA. Rose continually attends travel trade and consumer-focused shows all over the world resulting in high visibility for Destiny USA as a tourist destination. The property has received a great response from both the group and FIT markets as a result of her efforts.

She holds a degree in Economics from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Her professional affiliations include: member of the I Love New York International Marketing Committee, member of the Shop America Alliance Advisory Board, a member of SKAL, and a member of WITTI (Women in Tourism and Travel International). Well-versed in both tourism and retail, she has spoken at a number of shopping tourism conferences, shows, and functions.

Thank you for joining me, Rose.

My pleasure, Nicole.

I am so excited to have you on the show today. I know our listeners are going to learn a lot from you. But before we get started, I know your bio, and I think it’s kind of interesting always to hear your own bio read to you, but it only tells a part of the story. Could you just expand a little bit about how you’ve gotten to where you are today?

Nicole, I always felt tourism to be an integral part of the shopping center business. Shopping is very important as an activity for tourists, and I knew the key to being successful as Destiny USA would be for us to focus on driving visitation from out of our market area. We know that tourists spend more, and they love to travel, and to get them here to enjoy our product is important.

Yeah, that’s a really good point. I like that you’re focused on the out of market and bringing those folks in. I was actually just speaking at a function recently. We’re talking about — these are people who are not tourism professionals — and explaining how when visitors come into an area, they spend more the longer they stay, and so that’s why tourism is so important, and I know Destiny USA is really important to the market area that you’re located in.

Can you also just talk a little bit about Destiny USA for our listeners so they understand because this is not your average shopping experience.

Absolutely. Destiny USA is the largest shopping destination in New York State and the sixth largest in the United States. We’re a whole lot more than shopping. We combine four types of shopping: traditional retail, luxury outlets, factory stores, and discounters with entertainment venues and food options. Everything is under one roof in a very convenient location, so we function as a great add-on to an itinerary.

That’s great. You just mentioned an add-on to an itinerary, and when you’re talking about itineraries, you mean for someone who might be planning a trip either as an individual traveler or on motorcoach, correct?

Absolutely.

Yeah. That’s great. I’m really excited to get started with these questions, Rose. I know you’re going to have really good and fresh perspective for our listeners. With that, we’ll dive right in. The first topic that we always like to cover on this show is creativity. The tourism and hospitality industry is very competitive. Visitors have so many choices of places that they can go and just spend not only their money but also their time. What have you done to stand out from the crowd?

Well, I’m a firm believer in selling the destination, not just my product. I’ve utilized our location and surroundings as key selling points to induce visitation. The fact that Destiny USA is located in an area so rich in tourism-friendly experiences and so accessible due to its proximity to I-90 and I-81 makes us an easy, initial add-on to an itinerary.

Concert at Melting Pot at Destiny USA

Source: Destiny
USA

“Sell the destination, not just the product.” – Rose Hapanowich #WhyCollaborate #Podcast Click To Tweet

Once I can get a family or an operator to try us as a stopover, and the operator gets great client feedback or the family has such a great time, I can work on frequency, more time on-site, and that would be addition of our Embassy Suites hotel opening this fall, even an overnight or multiple night hub-and-spoke base.

Another novelty that I added to our property that sets us apart is our private motorcoach lounge. It’s been a big hit with drivers and can influence the choice for a charter stopover. Amenities include free refreshments, cable television, Internet access, leather recliners, and a soundproof environment.

Wow. That’s really cool because I think that the whole idea of having a motorcoach lounge or a lounge for the drivers seems like a pretty simple one, but that it can be really impactful by just offering that extra amenity for the provider, not necessarily for the visitors, so I really love how you thought about everything, not just for the visitor experiences but also then, what is the experience of that motorcoach operator that’s coming to Destiny USA.

It’s very rewarding to go to a tradeshow and have an operator tell me how thankful their drivers are to be able to utilize the lounge.

Yeah. That’s really cool. I’ve seen that lounge. It’s really nice. It’s very nice and relaxing.

Correct.

Yeah. I also like how you mentioned getting people whether it be a motorcoach or a family or an individual traveler to use your property as a stopover because of its proximity to travel routes, and then from there, working on getting that frequency and more time on site, working on maybe more of a second tier ask, if you will, or influencing their travel in that way. Can you talk a little bit more about how you do that?

Well, I had drivers come here as a stopover just because they found out about us from another operator or maybe I’ve talked at a tradeshow and encouraged them to come, and there’s nothing more exciting than getting a phone call from an operator stating that their clients didn’t want to leave the property. The stopover wasn’t long enough. So there’s your segue into planning either next time to make Destiny the destination or working that half day or full day into the itinerary.

Yeah, that’s fabulous, especially when you can get them to reach out to you because it’s a lot easier to have them reach out to you rather than for you to reach out to them in a cold call.

You know, we also find that with individual travelers, when they have a great experience here, they’re our best ambassadors because they go home all excited about what they’ve experienced, and we have other people from their home bases coming here telling us how their neighbors came and loved it and suggested that they come.

“Individual travelers can be your greatest ambassadors.” – Rose Hapanowich #WhyCollaborate #Podcast Click To Tweet

That’s really awesome. You also mentioned how you sell the destination and all the assets around you, not just the accessibility to the travel routes but also the other attractions and sites that there are around to see around you. Can you speak a little bit more about how you do that?

When I go to tradeshows, I always bring a map that shows where other things are located and the distance. So for instance, if you’re already coming to the Finger Lakes, or you may be going to the Turning Stone Casino or del Lago, maybe you’re going to ski resorts, you’re going to Thousand Islands, any of those established attractions, when you see how close they are to my property, the wheels start turning. Stopping at a property like mine is value added, and as I said earlier, if I can get someone to at least make a stop that may have not done it without realizing how close we are to places they’re already going, chances are, down the road, they’re going to come for longer and more often.

That’s great. I like how you’re very focused on what your first step is with a visitor, to get them, to sell your property, and it’s a staged approach, and it sounds like it’s very strategic as well, so I think that that’s really enabled you to be successful in this area, being that focused on what it takes to sell your property.

Oh, exactly. One of the things that I’ve learned is that as we have gotten larger, it is imperative that we are driving traffic from further and further away. If you’re just depending upon local traffic, you’re not going to make anywhere near the sales volume you would make by bringing in people from farther away.

Right. That’s really awesome. Well, Rose, I’d like to turn to maybe a challenge that you have faced. I do like to learn because I personally, and I know everyone does learn, when you have to face something that’s challenging and creativity really starts to present itself as you’re trying to make your way through or trying to problem-solve. Can you talk about an experience that you may have had and kind of what your response to it was and what you learned from it and share that with our listeners?

Sure, Nicole. Even though research indicates that shopping is one of the top activities for travelers, many operators will tell me that their clients aren’t looking for a mall stop on an itinerary unless it is a specified shopping trip. They’re looking for experiences, so I had to redesign my approach as to how I sold the property. As Carousel Center, we were a large regional shopping center. As Destiny USA, we’re a brand-new animal. We are something totally different.

Yeah, so that’s interesting, and I’ve been in some of those meetings where you are talking to an operator and you start to talk shopping. Like you said, if it’s not a shopping trip, they start to kind of disengage.

Correct. They’ll say that this is not a match.

Yeah, and so what are some things that you’ve done to keep them engaged and to gain their interest and then to get that first stopover?

So what I did is I repositioned Destiny USA as a travel destination, not a shopping mall, stressing the variety of experiences a client can have on site without having to leave the property. With 18 entertainment venues and 45 food options, travelers can get fully immersed in enjoyment without setting foot in a store. But if they do choose to shop, the variety of shopping options is incredibility diverse. Where else can you find traditional retail coupled with luxury outlets, factory stores, and even discounters, all in one fully enclosed facility?

Yeah, and that’s a good point too, fully enclosed, because I know a lot of times people are looking for maybe outlet shopping, but a lot of times, those footprints aren’t necessarily enclosed, are they?

Correct. You’ve got the best of both worlds here.

Yeah. That’s fabulous. So I do really like the idea of it being fully enclosed, and the other thing that I hope listeners picked up on is that you talked about how people can be fully immersed in enjoyment, so you’re not saying fully immersed in the experience or fully immersed in shopping or fully immersed in one of the entertainment attractions, it’s really speaking to that emotion and to what the experience is all about, and that is enjoyment. I really loved that. Can you talk a little more about that?

I think it goes to that bragging rights concept. You can get a lot of experiences under your belt by coming to Destiny USA. Our entertainment venues are of the nature. In another tourist area, you would see as standalones. So it’s get in the car, get out, do the experience, get back in the car, do another experience.

Here, you can go bowling, you can listen to live music, you can race cars, you can go to WonderWorks, you can do a ropes course. The little kids can go into an interactive play adventure area. There’s a mirror maze. There’s miniature golf. I mean, I can go on and on. There’s so much to do here, and it’s so much fun, and to be able to go home and tell people you did all of this in one place is amazing.

Yeah, that’s great. It sounds like in the planning of the transition, I know you were involved in the transition from Carousel Center to Destiny USA, that the developers and your team had a really good vision of what this could be. Can you kind of talk a little bit about that, maybe how that vision developed over time and led to what you have today, which is just extraordinary.

Well, I think we recognized the increasing popularity of outlet shopping, whether it’s luxury outlets or factory stores, discounters, people are always looking for a bargain. As internet shopping increases, that thrill of the hunt still exists. People want to go out there and be able to, again, bragging rights, “Look what I found at Destiny USA in T.J. Maxx. Look at this great product I found at Nordstrom Rack.” Just great, great opportunities on top of the great shopping you also see in a Macy’s or a Lord & Taylor.

As far as the entertainment goes, we were astute enough to realize that people want experiences. Everyone knows in tourism that they’re always looking for something fresh, something they can talk about and something they can have fun doing. We’ve tried to add great restaurant experiences, we’ve tried to add both adult and family-focused entertainment with that goal, giving them something to enjoy and talk about.

Yeah, what I really think is so cool about this story is kind of how you saw a trend coming, you talked about the internet, you talked about how shopping in malls in general are changing and we see it all the time even with smaller malls in smaller markets, how they are needing to reinvent themselves, and it seems to me that Destiny USA was really ahead of the curve on this one and that you had extraordinary vision to put this forward and create this experiential shopping experience but that’s so beyond that, and I just think that that’s really cool.

We’re pretty proud of it. I think we took a risk, and it’s paid off.

Yeah, that’s really awesome. Now, Rose, looking into the future, is there a project that you’re really excited about that’s coming out soon that you’d like to share with our listeners?

You know, actually, there is something very exciting that’s about to debut. We’re going to kick it off next week. We’re going into the fourth year of our seasonal Fun Pass program. Our summer version will be on sale between June 5th and Labor Day, giving the buyer their pick of experiences at four venues from a roster of 25 choices. There are food, entertainment, and even product options available at a savings of up to 65% off of the individual pricing.

Now, we’ve even added a new twist to the program, making a true, regional adventure with tremendous added value. The purchase of this year’s Summer Fun Pass brings the buyer five exciting bonus opportunities as a result of collaboration with partners within Central New York. In addition to the Destiny USA experience, there is now free admission to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, The Museum of Science and Technology, The New York State Fair, a Syracuse Chiefs baseball game, and even one of three football games at Syracuse University. It becomes a true Syracuse adventure, and it sells for just $50 for adults and $40 for children plus tax, and it can even be purchased online at destinyusa.com/summer.

Wow. That’s really cool. I want to break this down because there’s so many components to this program that you just talked about, and you said that it is your fourth season with the Fun Pass. So it’s a deal for your visitors, but you’ve expanded it to really encapture the region, and I just love how this ties back to what you were talking about when we first started, which was how you’re selling the destination, not just your attraction or your product, so I think this is just a really great example.

Can you talk a little bit more about … Let’s first talk a little bit more about the Fun Pass itself and what it means at Destiny USA. So I’m a visitor, and I’m going to buy this pass at $50 as an adult, and then I get to choose, you said, from 25? What are some examples?

Twenty-five options.

Yeah, so what’d be some examples would a typical visitor might experience within Destiny USA using this pass?

Okay, so you could go to 5WITS or Escape the Mystery Room, both of those are interactive adventures where you are solving an issue trying to get out of a room. You could go race car driving at Pole Position Raceway. You could go on the Canyon Climb Adventure, which is a ropes course. You could go inside WonderWorks which offers over 100 interactive experiences that you learn from, yet they’re fun. You could also then maybe go to Dave & Buster’s and play amusements or you could go to TGI Fridays, have something to eat or even Johnny Rockets for a burger. You could go to Carhartt and get a souvenir t-shirt. I mean, the possibilities and combinations are endless.

And is the pass, you would use it in one day or does it encourage repeat visitation? How does that work?

Well, what we’ve done with the regional additions, we’ve realized you can’t do it all in one day, so this year, new to the pass, there is not a time limit on it. You can buy the pass on the first day and utilize it throughout the summer. If you’re from out of town, you can come do a couple of the things and then come back for the fair or come back for the zoo, come back in early September for a football game. It’s good the whole season.

Wow. That’s really cool. The regional piece. So let’s talk about that a little bit more. How did those relationships develop, and how did you end up evolving into this new regional adventures with all of these other choices?

Well, we all talked as a group about the beauty of the CityPASS concept. No one was doing anything like that in Syracuse, so we had the whole idea, why don’t we try to do it ourselves? Last year, we included the fair, and over 47% of the people who bought the pass came back to visit the fair.

Then with the winter pass, we added on a basketball game at Syracuse University and great feedback, positive experience, so we kind of used that concept, what else in this area benefits from tourism, and who else might want to partner with us to get better visibility both on our property, but also to see new visitation.

With a free admission, a guest, say, going to the zoo, is probably more apt to buy souvenirs and a snack there since they didn’t pay anything to get in, so they’re adding additional revenue, and they’re also getting new eyes to experience the zoo.

“Offering that extra amenity for the provider can be really impactful.” – Rose Hapanowich #podcast Click To Tweet

That’s great, and that’s a great point. What I think is so cool about this is that it does encourage that return visitation and it does allow people to not only experience Destiny USA multiple times but also to experience other things in the area. I’ll look forward to seeing that announcement coming out and finding out how it’s received, but I didn’t realize that it was modeled after the CityPASS concept, and I agree with you, that is such a cool concept and such an easy way for visitors to visit different destinations. I think that’s a really great example.

The other beauty of being a partner with us in this is you get the advantage of the marketing dollars we’re going to put into selling this product, so for the individual, Museum of Science and Technology, small budget, a partner with Destiny USA, great advantage to get your name out there.

Yeah, and can you talk a little bit, Rose, about how you use these Fun Passes with your markets that you work in, because I know work in international and as well as motorcoach markets. How does that help you with that?

Well, we do have another version of the pass called the Group Pass, and that is something that is available to groups of 12 or more, and that is not restricted by season. That is sold all year. It’s also commissionable, so it does give an operator who wants to add that on to a package the ability to make some more money.

That’s a great point because I know a lot of operators, especially in the international market, are looking for different ways that they can add on to it and experience but also help their margins.

Exactly.

Yeah. That’s fabulous. So this is a great example actually of what I like to talk about a lot on this podcast, which is collaboration, and specifically, I like to talk about what I call coopetition where perceived competitors come together and cooperate to create programs that are bigger than themselves.

Is there another example of where Destiny USA has collaborated in this way. Are you able to share another example with us and our listeners today?

Of course. Destiny USA is a member of the Shop America Alliance, which is a collective of the best shopping venues, organizations, and developers in North America. I’m on the board of this organization, and that gives me exposure to the best people in the shopping tourism business, people who are technically competitors yet are able to rise above and work together for the common goal of increasing tourism spend in our centers.

I have actually partnered with the Mall of America at various international tradeshows and worked side by side with them to sell a similar product located in two totally different parts of the country served by different gateway cities. Having the ability to affiliate with a long-time established property known worldwide as the largest facility of its kind in the United States gives my venue a huge edge and increases its credibility as a new tourism destination to those not familiar with Syracuse.

Oh, that’s really cool. I didn’t realize that you had partnered with Mall of America, and I think that that makes a whole lot of sense, especially when you’re in the international market. I mean, we’ve just talked about the Summer Fun Pass, which is more of a regional outreach program, but when you start selling internationally, you really are selling the entire country first and then zoning in on perhaps the Northeast or a part of the US.

Correct.

Can you talk a little bit about how those conversations go when you’re talking at that level with those types of prospective customers?

Well, we’re always looking at gateways. What gateways are you utilizing to get your clients into the States? Destiny is blessed to be able to show that if you’re coming in through New York City, Newark, Boston, Toronto, if you’re planning any type of fly-drive or motorcoach, chances are, you’re going to be driving by Destiny USA because of our proximity to the intersection of I-90 and I-81.

Once you create awareness of your product, it opens people’s eyes because they’re always looking for fresh. They’re looking for different. They’re looking for new.

That’s really interesting. So that’s another interesting way into the minds and thoughts as these tour operators or independent travelers are putting together their itineraries for what they’re going to do. Again, you’re starting at the gateway city, but then again, talking about the travel route and where you’re located right on their way. I think that’s just really cool.

I think one of the things that we’ve learned is the importance of Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls is recognized internationally as a wonder of the world, and so many first timers coming into to the Northeast want to experience Niagara Falls, and I can show them on a map that we are directly on the way to Niagara Falls, or if they’re coming in through Toronto and going down to New York City, same thing. I can show them on the map that they’re going by my property. Why not stop and experience it?

Yeah. That’s really cool. Now, you’ve talked about several different partnerships and relationships that you have through the Shop America Alliance or through the efforts that you’re doing regionally or within Syracuse. Where do you look for partners that have created these win-wins for you? How do you go about finding them?

Well, I think one of the things we’ve learned is that if you don’t ask, you will never know if someone is open to a potential partnership. Almost any collaboration can be mutually beneficial if it is orchestrated strategically with mutually understood goals.

“If you don't ask, you will never know if someone is open to a partnership.” #whycollaborate Click To Tweet

Oh, that’s a great point. Mutually understood goals, and I think getting those out there in the beginning of a relationship is so important, isn’t it?

Absolutely. There’s nothing worse than sitting down at the table and you’re not on the same wavelength. I’ve had so many people come who want to be a partner, but they come and say, “How can you help me?” We’re helping each other. We’re working together. There has to be something in it for me and something in it for you.

That creates that win-win.

Exactly.

Yeah. How do you steer a conversation when it starts that way?

Well, I think we try to make the best of every partnership that we have established. It has to be understood from the beginning that flexibility, plus having the ability to tell a story is key because, sometimes, the PR value alone is worth the affiliation with each other.

Yeah, that’s interesting too, telling that story and the PR value. That’s a really good point.

Rose, I want to switch gears just slightly in that, as I did when we were talking earlier to talk about a challenge. We always learn from challenging times, and I’m wondering if there’s a partnership that maybe didn’t go well or just an experience that you learned and grew from that you could share with our listeners.

As I said earlier, I think we’ve always tried to make the best of any partnerships that we have established. We just don’t renew them if we don’t feel we’re getting the value, but again, to reiterate, it’s just so important for someone to come in and put something on the table. Sometimes, people don’t realize that’s some value-add they can put in that cost them, nothing makes a big difference to us.

So for instance, if we’re doing a partnership with someone who has admits, for them to give us tickets to then give away on social media, it’s not costing them anything, but that’s of huge value to us.

Oh, that’s a really good point as well. Actually, I think you just made two really good points. One is, once you’re at the end of a partnership program that you’re working on that how important that evaluation is in order to aid your decision-making and how to move forward, so I think that’s a really great point.

And then the whole idea of thinking about other things that you might need, like those tickets that will help you with your social media channels, it might not be something very specific to bringing a visitor in, so to speak, but it helps you in promotion and helps you engage online in a different way.

Exactly.

Yeah. That’s fabulous. So, managing expectations, it sounds like you’ve kind of got this down, but it’s so critical in a partnership. How do you kind of set the groundwork when you’re getting started for the partnership?

Well, we always want to make sure that the potential partner realizes the value of the visibility they will receive from our on-site audience and also the marketing dollars that we’re spending, and that they understand what we have done in terms of investing both time and money to build our visitations since we expanded and rebranded the property. Both parties need to find value from the partnering arrangement.

Yeah, that’s a good point, and I imagine… I mean, I know you’re a very a large attraction, and you’re probably partnering up with attractions and folks that are maybe smaller than you, have smaller budgets than you, so I imagine finding that common ground can be a little challenging when you’re as large as you are in the area that you’re working in, so I think that’s really great advice.

How would you describe what you would look for in a great partner for a marketing program?

Well, I would tell them to be upfront about what they’re looking to gain from the potential partnership and be truthful about what they’re willing to offer, and then deliver it. They need to understand that both parties need to benefit and find value from the partnership and also understand what value means to one party may be different from what it means to the other. Some value may be immediate, while other value may appear later after the relationship is already well established.

“Be truthful of what you're willing to offer in a partnership, and deliver it.” – Rose Hapanowich #podcast Click To Tweet

That’s a great point too. So being patient, right? And looking at long term and not just short term gain. I think that’s a really, really great point. I also liked that you talked about being upfront and truthful in what you’re looking for and what you can deliver and then following through. I think those are really important points as well. I’m hearing a bit of a theme in our conversation, and that’s one around just really being strategic and thoughtful about what it is that you’re looking for, before you even enter into a partnership or before you start on this path, and it sounds to me like you’d be much more successful if you have had that thought through prior to maybe having the first conversation.

Exactly.

Yeah. That’s great. Well, Rose, you have given us a lot to think about. I think you’ve given us a lot of very valuable input and ideas. Do you have any final things that you would like to share with our audience before we sign off for today?

Just that we’d love to host any and all of you. Please come to Destiny USA and experience for yourself what a great product we have here in Syracuse, New York.

Absolutely, and I can second that because I love to go to Destiny USA, my kids love Destiny USA, and you can never spend enough time there. That is for sure.

So we will make sure that on your show notes page, there will be a link to your website as well as to the Summer Fun Pass details so that folks can go and look that up. I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy day, Rose, and sharing this with us today.

It was my pleasure, Nicole.

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