Readers Go Places

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― St. Augustine

The majority of Americans (76%) would like to travel, but unfortunately, they either can’t afford to or they feel ill-equipped to venture out. In 2017, due to finances or an inability to take time off, 43% of Americans took no summer vacation. Some Americans (10%) have never even ventured outside the state where they were born.

These astounding statistics from a 2018 study conducted by OnePoll deeply sadden me. For more than 15 years, I’ve enjoyed a successful career working alongside amazing destinations to promote them. When we track our results and learn that thousands of new travelers visited these places (thanks in part to our marketing efforts), I feel a strong sense of accomplishment and pride.

Now I find out that we’re marketing to a minority, and that’s not good enough. Three of four people who see these destination promotions, and thus aspire to travel there, will not be able to do so. I mourn for the personal experiences they’re missing—not just for the activities and attractions that represent a vacation but mostly for the memories, the moments, and especially the well-being that comes from getting away and seeing something different.

When we encounter something, or someone, different from what we know, we develop understanding and we grow as human beings. In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain’s 1869 book about his travels through the European Holy Land, he wrote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” 

Unfortunately, I can’t put money in people’s pockets or set aside time in their busy schedules to make travel accessible to them, but what I can do is help put a book in their hands. For those who cannot afford to travel, reading a book can be an escape. Reading gives you a strong sense of place—and getting lost in the pages of a great tale in a far-away place can be nearly as good as going there.

It is my strong belief that Destination Marketing Organizations and others in the travel industry have a responsibility to improve the social foundations of not only their communities but also those of tomorrow’s traveler. One way they can do this is by supporting literacy and partnering with organizations like Coaching for Literacy (whose Fight For Literacy Games encourage children to read through the influence of sports coaches and players) or brands like Pizza Hut (whose Literacy Project works with FirstBook to ensure children in need have books to read) both of which I’m proud to represent.

But, first, we must read.

Readers Go Further

Another of my favorite authors, Dr. Seuss, said, “The more that you read, the more things that you’ll know. The more things that you know, the more places you’ll go.” For 32 million illiterate adults in the U.S, there’s little escape. And there’s even less for their children, since most children of illiterate adults have no books at home to access.

“Reading at grade-level by the end of 3rd grade is one of the largest factors contributing to success in a person’s life,” says Norma Nelson, executive director of Readers 2 Leaders in Dallas, Texas. Unfortunately, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that 64% of American 4th graders are not reading at grade level, and kids who can’t read are in danger of their world becoming quite small. As small as a prison cell for some, since 85% of youth who cycle through the juvenile court system cannot read.

As illiterate children become illiterate adults, they are likely to continue on this downward trend—graduating not from college, but to violent crime offenders and living in poverty. Only 4% of literate adults live in poverty, while 43% of illiterate adults live in poverty. You might think the effects of illiteracy are limited to the ghettos, but we all pay for it. Illiteracy costs business and tax payers more than $225 billion per year, and it adds more than $230 billion to the nation’s healthcare costs.

We can change these alarming statistics.


Put a book in a child’s hands at a young age, and they’ll develop a love of reading. When they read well, they’ll write well; they’ll perform better in school; they’ll become better employees and perhaps even employers; they’ll contribute more significantly to society which makes the world a better place.

Research has proven that reading increases vocabulary, improves memory and concentration, and boosts brain power. Likewise, it improves your writing and ability to communicate effectively. It enhances your imagination, and Albert Einstein argued, “Imagination is more important that knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” Reading makes you more empathetic and reduces prejudice and bigotry. It even helps you sleep, reduces stress, and contributes to longevity. Aren’t these also many of the same benefits to traveling?

Readers Go Beyond

Reading can create an urgent desire to visit the places from a story—an opportunity to walk in the shoes of a character. Furthermore, reading about a place where you’ve already been can reaffirm your emotional connection to that place and create a desire to revisit.

But according to Pew Research Center, 26% of American admit to not having read any book in the past year. So, let’s get back to reading books (find out how what happened when this woman committed to reading one book per week for a month)... and, let’s get to traveling.

The Allure of a Song for Creating a Sense of Place

Ever wake up at two in the morning with a song running through your head? Or, maybe you’re humming the same tune all the livelong day. Earworms (also known as “musical imagery repetition,” “involuntary musical imagery,” or simply “stuck song syndrome”) take over your brain, and they’re confirmation of the emotional and mnemonic power a catchy song can have.

Using mnemonic devices like lyrics that provoke imagery, sounds that suggest a certain style, and tones that set the mood, songs have the capacity to idealize the essence of a place, which can create an emotional desire to experience that place firsthand—an effective marketing vehicle for travel destinations.

 Additionally, songs have the power to instantly access implicit memories. Unlike explicit memories (which are actively recalled), implicit memories exist outside the conscious, making them more durable and emotionally driven. That’s why hearing a certain song can effectively transport a listener to a time and place relative to the song and immediately evoke emotions associated with that memory. For a destination, this means recalling memorable vacations, getaways and locations which likewise motivates a desire to return there.

Verse 1

Licensing a song to represent your brand is marketing 101, so why don’t more destinations do it? Limited funds can be an issue, but if you know how to create meaningful, symbiotic alliances, money becomes moot, or make that mute.

 In fact, for the inspirational soundtrack of their “Top of the World in Tucson” destination marketing video, Visit Tucson managed to license the song “Top of the World” from chart-topping country music artist Randy Houser for a small fraction of what it would normally have cost. How? During my tenure leading the marketing team, we had spent two years building a mutually supportive partnership with Houser while he shot two music videos, “Like a Cowboy” and “We Went” in and around Tucson. So, when it came time to make a deal that benefited both parties, the arrangement was already fine-tuned. Learn more.

In this case, the song was the inspiration for the destination, but what about when the destination is the inspiration for the song?

Verse 2

 Jingles, or mini-songs, written specifically about a product is perhaps marketing 102, but why not amp it up by having a song written about your destination?

 That’s exactly what Visit Tucson did when we commissioned musical duo Shockley & Fields to write a ditty about Tucson. Again, we accomplished this by leveraging our connections—this time with William Shockley (actor, writer, director, producer, and singer/songwriter) who was involved with the Houser projects. Tommy Fields, the other half of Shockley & Fields, brought years of experience not only as a songwriter and performer but also as a feature film composer to broaden the song’s horizon beyond basic commercial advertising, which it did (see You’re Gonna Miss Me below).

 The result of this creative collaboration, aptly titled “Tucson,” is an up-tempo, country rock tune about a wandering troubadour who lands in Tucson, a mountain desert town where he finds the magic he needs to free himself from his restless life and settle down. Its lyrics are relatable, its rhyme and rhythm memorable, and it conveys Tucson’s hip vibe with a shot of the old west—a rugged, magical, wide-open place where you can feel free to live your life.

 Available to stream or download on multiple music platforms, “Tucson” was used in television advertising conservatively generating more than 49 million impressions in New York City alone which resulted in a 370% positive lift in travel consideration and 713% lift in recall of brand message. The song is also included in the soundtrack and promotional trailers for the 2017 feature film You’re Gonna Miss Me (filmed in Tucson and southern Arizona).

 The Chorus

 Like Visit Tucson, other destinations are singing from the same songbook.

 It rings true that Austin, the live music capital of the world, should lead the group. In 2014, they created their own theme song, and you can bet that music continues to be at the core of their visitor marketing. More recently, Brand USA, the marketing organization that promotes travel to the U.S., jumped on the bandwagon—giving the lyrics from one song to five different artists with distinctly different musical styles to embody five iconic American destinations (Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Portland, and San Juan, Puerto Rico) for their “Hear the Music, Experience the USA” campaign. Arkansas Tourism engages multiple artists from their state to create original music for their videos. And, Visit Myrtle Beach professionally commissioned two theme songs to evoke stronger emotional connections among travelers to its brand. They also capitalized on the serendipitous mention of Myrtle Beach in the Dan + Shay hit song “19 You + Me” by ensuring the duo filmed their music video in Myrtle Beach and sponsoring free ticket/trip giveaways when Dan + Shay toured nationally with Blake Shelton.

Need further proof that songs are an excellent vehicle to get deep into the heads of potential travelers? Listen to Sinatra sing about a city that never sleeps, a place where he’s “a number one, top of the list, head of the heap, king of the hill…” then consider how its melody and it lyrics permeate your brain, how it makes you feel, and especially, how it brings this place to life in your mind not just for the rest of the day, but when you think about it, forever.