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Tourism: Speaker says region’s beauty sells itself

Folks who market Southern Oregon were told Monday they have easiest job in the world.

“Nature has done half of the job for us,” Lou Radja, founder of EduCongo in Beaverton, told the 22nd annual Travel Southern Oregon Symposium at Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites. “We get to represent Southern Oregon, all the beauty this place has to offer, and the people that make it happen. To me that’s a pretty sweet deal.”

Radja was born in Boston before his parents returned to the Congo after completing their studies. As a teenager, he moved to Southern Oregon a quarter-century ago, where he attended Ashland High School.

He said marketing Southern Oregon to tourists involves gratitude, understanding why, embracing change, collaboration and going the extra mile.

“Sometime we take our very nature for granted. Sometimes we take our neighbors for granted. Sometimes we take our rivers for granted. Sometimes we take our mountains for granted. Imagine if you had to be in charge of Travel South Sudan?”

Appreciating one’s own surroundings helps leverage the ultimate marketing strategy, referrals, he said, telling audience members to celebrate what they already have, and then move forward.

“You can complain about your shoes, until you meet someone with no feet,” Radja said. “All of the sudden your shoes are amazing.”

Access is good, but feeling welcome is better, he said. “We have to be the best ambassadors for our region.”

Radja suggested people promoting the region need to look to the future and embrace change. Where will the region be in 2025, and how are we preparing for it?

“The people who are consuming Southern Oregon are changing, so we have to be in front of change, rather than be reactive,” he said. “Those who anticipate change win; they leverage it. Those who react to it lose.”

The logic of “don’t fix something if it’s not broken” imperils performance, he said.

“If it ain’t broke, break it and build something better,” Radja said.

In going the extra mile, he said, three things can happen: Meeting expectations, failing to meet them or wowing visitors.

“When you give something unexpected, people remember it, talk about and become raving fans.”

Following Radja, Travel Oregon CEO Todd Davidson promoted his agency’s latest animated campaign.

“We wanted to recognized the fact that you’re taking pictures of these beautiful natural places and then look at the image on your phone and you’re are like, ‘It’s better than that.’ ”

The delivery teases one’s imagination in wooing them to visit Oregon, Davidson said.

“Every place you see in these animated spots, is a real place in Oregon,” he said. “It’s Crater Lake, it’s the Oregon Coast, it’s the tulip fields in the Willamette Valley, and the Wallowa Mountains. We just brought a little whimsy, a little fantastical feel to it, and hopefully encourage visitors to reconnect to that childhood sense of wonder.”

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.