Marco Frank has devoted more than 15 years of his life to the travel industry, working various positions. Currently, he works for VISITFLANDERS as the Trade Manager. An experienced marketing and development leader, Marco Frank knows how to establish a brand and works tirelessly to help show Flanders in the limelight. From marketing to sales, to coding and graphic design, Marco wears many different hats when it comes to responsibility, and his natural love of travel has pushed him forward to succeed in the field. Marco Frank is passionate about Flanders, and after talking with him just a bit you will be too. Read on to find out more about Marco Frank, and VISITFLANDERS.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Before your current position with VISITFLANDERS, you held the title of Director of Marketing for Scenic Cruises, where you were instrumental in establishing Scenic’s presence in the U.S market. Was there anything you learned from that position that you carried with you to VISITFLANDERS?
Marco Frank (MF): There is a difference of working for a commercial business versus a government entity. But you can transfer your professional experience gained in the private sector to a general destination marketing organization. I have an understanding of business requirements to set-up and work out new tours, answers to demands of the sector, link travel advisors and tour operators to local partners, etc. Sometimes you will have to deviate from some of the common Marketing and Sales approaches and think outside the box, be creative, be innovative. The reality is, we all have to work with the parameters that are given to us. In this case, we are a neutral partner and not a commercial competitor. We are providing a complimentary advisory service to the sector and my past professional experience helps me to provide answers even before the questions are asked.
TRO: You are highly established as a business and marketing development leader, with over 15 years of experience in the travel industry. Was there anything particular that drew you to the travel sector?
MF: All of my previous jobs required a heavy travel schedule. I have always been a road warrior and a people person with a natural love of travel and exploration. Although we talk every day how much modern inventions and tools are changing the way we work and live, I have yet to see a dramatic shift in the way we conduct business overall. I remember a time when there were serious discussions that the Internet would eliminate most needs for travel. But Travel is and remains very much a business that depends on the human connection. When it was time for a step in the right direction, I had no hesitation of making a move to the travel sector. And Flanders is a great natural fit. I have spent have of my life in Europe and half of my life in North America. I hold a Canadian university degree and a degree from a Flemish university. So working for Flanders combines the best of both worlds.
TRO: What do your day-to-day operations look like? Do they vary each day? Are you frequently traveling? Give us some insight into what a day in your shoes at VISITFLANDERS would look like.
MF: Every day is different. I am wearing many hats in the organization. Most of the times, I am a “one man” show. I am Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, Business Development, Graphic Design, Programming/Coding, etc. all in one. However, we are a great team in the New York North America office of VISITFLANDERS and when help is needed, my colleagues, all with their own responsibilities, have no hesitation to help out and assist me. Just when called upon, I help them out.
I typically start my day with a scan of my inbox. Working for a European tourist office means that my colleagues in Brussels are six hours ahead. So, any urgent issues need to be addressed first and then the workday can take me into any direction. I could work on a new newsletter or an ad campaign, be on a conference call with a tour operator to plan a new tour to Flanders or follow up with an agency and get them copies of our latest brochures. Or I could be on the way to the airport and travel to a conference. And since we are a government agency, there are sometimes cross-departmental tasks that require us to work with other Flemish or Belgian government institutions.
TRO: Is there anything you’ve done, whether it is establishing a media campaign or planning and promoting an event, with VISITFLANDERS that you feel is so far your biggest accomplishment? What is it and why?
MF: I don’t think there is a single event that stands out as the “biggest” accomplishment. I truly believe that most campaigns and events we have done are fairly successful. But there is one thing that stands out for me, a year that really shows that our efforts are paying off. And the year is 2017.
As everybody knows, 2016 was a challenging year for several destinations. But we made a great team effort and didn’t allow anyone to tarnish our destination. We worked hard on promoting Flanders, we had campaigns, sales calls, meetings and participated in many conferences to show our presence and resilience in the North American market. And in 2017 people have come back to see the many treasures of Flanders for themselves. They want to experience the great gastronomy, the world class Art & Heritage, our Cycling and Fashion.
TRO: Throughout your career you have learned many tricks and tips, as well as advice, pertaining to the travel industry. Is there any valuable advice you can give for anyone looking to dive into this sector of marketing? Any words of wisdom?
MF: Understand that there is not only one way to success and understand your market, goals and targets. Sometimes people stubbornly pursue the same activities over and over again and don’t see when the campaign wears out and doesn’t work anymore. Try a different approach, try a different avenue. There is not just one way of success, there are probably a few other ones and they can also be successful. But with sometimes overwhelming potential avenues forward, it can become difficult to choose among the correct ones. That’s where a solid understanding of your market, goals, targets comes in. Once you understand these three, the viable avenues to success should become clear. Hopefully, this answer does not sound too academic!
TRO: Working in travel often times means getting to travel, and for some quite frequently! Do you have a favorite place you have visited and continue to visit? Where is it? Why?
MF: That’s not a difficult question given the fact that I work for Flanders-Belgium, and I got the great opportunity to visit that wonderful destination both professionally and privately. It is a great place with many attractions that not only appeal to the sophisticated traveler but also very much to myself. It is a destination to dive into many mouth watering epicurean experience and enjoy the world’s best beers, chocolates and many more delights. I am also very fond of the eclectic mix of old and new architecture. There is something to be said how a building that’s several hundred years old can still carry function and meaning. I am also a passionate cyclist and enjoy a good ride in the countryside. There are always new unexplored treasures to be discovered and it really offers the opportunity to broaden your horizon, see new landscapes, cultures, people and taste new foods and get a better understanding for the heart of Europe and its rich culture and heritage.
TRO: Of the many different things you do and responsibilities you have, do you have a favorite part of your job? What is it?
MF: My favorite part is to connect with people and tell the Flanders story. I was not born to be an accountant and keep for myself in a dark corner office to go through books and numbers. Although I aced all my Accounting classes and enjoy a few hours of deep diving into some analytical numbers, I’d much rather be in front of people, be it at a conference or during a FAM trip and tell the story why Flanders is such a great destination. Talking about FAM trips, I have to admit they are an important part of my job and maybe my favorite activity. Because it is the time, when the rubber hits the road, and all the talking and presenting about Flanders has to translate into a lasting positive memorable experience for the travel agents and tour operators that get to go on the FAM. There is no more beating around the bush or sugar coating, not that we would do that, but that is the real thing, the real experience and it is my task to ensure everything goes smooth from the time they arrive in Flanders to the time they depart. And of course, proper follow up is also important, so that they experience our travel industry guests have can be the catalyst for more sales to our destination.
TRO: What can we expect to see from VISITFLANDERS this year? Any exciting news you can tell us?
MF: We will continue to expand the support of our travel agency and tour operator partners to ensure they have all the tools to market, promote and sell Flanders. We will continue to think outside the box and highlight different experiences that travelers can have in our destination regardless if they are staying 7 days or just 1 day. There will be a new campaign around traditional painters, like Rubens, Van Eyck and Bruegel. Theses painters, also known as the Flemish Masters, were real experts and pioneers in Art several centuries ago. But they laid the foundation of what Flanders has become today. The “traditional” Flemish Masters are the foundation of a three year long campaign from 2018 to 2020. The campaign will highlight the accomplishments of these traditional masters and they will set the framework for showcasing today’s Flanders with its modern Flemish Master, our award winning beer brewers, chocolatiers and Michelin star chefs, our cutting edge Fashion Designers, Cycling Champions and Modern Artists. Stay tuned for more updates, it promises to be an exciting campaign.