BVK and West Virginia Inspire Adventure in Mystery Vacation Campaign

January 28, 2020  |  Sarah Schmidt

Travel & Tourism

At BVK, travel is part of our DNA. So, we uniquely understand the important role that travel plays in our lives. It educates, rejuvenates, inspires, breaks down barriers and brings the world closer together.

Last year more than 768 million vacation days went unused. So today, on National Plan for Vacation Day, we’re taking the time to celebrate the importance of vacation and encouraging our staff, clients and the public to put those vacation days to use. Research shows that individuals who plan are more likely to use all of their time off, take more vacation days at once and report greater levels of happiness at work and at home.

As part of the celebration, we’re showcasing some of our favorite travel and tourism work, including the program below that we developed in partnership with West Virginia Tourism Office. We hope it inspires you to plan your own vacation.

Case Study: Adventurous Travelers Sign Up for Mystery Vacation, Get Fall Trip of a Lifetime

This fall, a mysterious tourism campaign took Washington, D.C. by surprise. Colorful pixelated ads popped up around Washington-area bus shelters, on billboards, on banners and online and encouraged adventurers to visit…well, no one knew. It may sound like the premise for a reality TV show, but spontaneous trips and solo travel are gaining popularity traction among younger travelers.

The cryptic campaign targeted open-minded and spontaneous people who were willing to experience a destination they may not have considered before—without even knowing what it is. In just 10 days, nearly 500 people entered to be a part of a weekend trip to a destination they knew nothing about.

The destination behind this one-of-a-kind adventure: West Virginia.

Building the mystery.

In September, advertising, public relations, and social media efforts in the greater Washington, D.C. area encouraged those seeking a fun-filled fall getaway to visit to share a bit about themselves and showcase their sense of adventure. From there, they were entered for a chance to claim their seat on the Destination Unknown bus, leaving from Washington the first weekend in October.

After receiving nearly 10,000 visitors to the site and 500 entries, 33 adventure-seekers were selected to win a seat on a bus going to Destination Unknown. The only things participants knew were that they’d be traveling by bus and, upon arrival, would be treated to a weekend packed with blazing fall colors, stunning vistas and exciting, new experiences.

Experiencing Destination Unknown.

On Saturday, October 5, 33 skeptical passengers showed up at D.C.’s Union Station still wondering if this trip was real but hoping for the best. They boarded the large, branded Destination Unknown bus and after a little over two-hours of playing games and trying to guess where on Earth the bus was headed, passengers were greeted by a postcard-worthy view of the 13-mile Canaan Valley between two of the highest ridges in the Allegheny Mountains just as the area’s renowned fall foliage season kicked off.

Throughout the weekend, the group experienced a taste of the state’s offerings, which included a trip to Blackwater Falls State Park, hiking at Seneca Rocks, climbing with NROCKS Outdoor adventures, horseback riding, visiting the famous Lost River Trading Post and exploring the charm of West Virginia’s small towns like Davis and Thomas.

The two jam-packed days offered just a sample of West Virginia in autumn. Although it took less than three hours to make the journey from Washington, the sweeping mountainsides and country roads give a feeling of being far away in a world that’s truly “Almost Heaven”.

“One of my favorite things about the trip was getting to meet a lot of great locals,” said Destination Unknown participant Albert Ting. “My impressions of West Virginia have certainly changed. There’s so much this state has to offer in terms of food, culture and exploring nature. If there’s anything on your bucket list for vacation, West Virginia will definitely deliver.”

Why keep “Almost Heaven” a secret?

The goal of the campaign was to build intrigue and curiosity that would ultimately reveal West Virginia as a premiere fall destination and help potential visitors see how beautiful, fun, and accessible the destination is, especially for travelers in the D.C. metro area.

“We were looking for a unique way to get people excited about fall in West Virginia,” said Chelsea Ruby, the director of the state’s tourism office. “Our fall foliage is second to none and our mountain towns are marvelous hosts, but a lot of travelers still don’t think of us as a fall destination. This event lets us cut through the noise of everyday advertising and get our message out: Come see West Virginia this fall!”

West Virginia has a lot to offer yet largely remains a hidden gem. Less than a day’s driving distance from major cities like Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Cincinnati, the Mountain State wanted to encourage people to pack up for a weekend adventure this fall.

And, after the destination had been revealed, ads flipped in-market and online to reveal the destination in all its fall-color-soaked glory.

But did the campaign drive results?

In just over a month of pre- and post- event promotion, Destination Unknown achieved astounding results. The campaign earned over 155 unique placements and 156MM public relations impressions with major national outlets including the AP, Washington Post, AdWeek, PRWeek and Fox Business, among others. The state received nearly 850,000 impressions and 9,000 engagements from influencers and participants sharing their in-destination experience. In total, the campaign garnered more than 205,000,000 impressions across paid, social and earned media.

Best of all – the campaign drove action. Site traffic to the West Virginia Tourism website from the DC market was up 44% year over year for October, the month of the reveal; at the same time, requests for travel guides were up 88% and email address confirmations grew by 200%.


is Vice President, Earned Media at BVK

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