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Home Marketing Moves Social Media Marketing in Hospitality and Tourism: Ft. Gabe Wasylko (Destination Cleveland)

Social Media Marketing in Hospitality and Tourism: Ft. Gabe Wasylko (Destination Cleveland)

April 2nd, 2024

Ashtyn Morris - 00:33

Welcome to another episode of Marketing Moves. I am your host, Ashton Morris. Today's topic is all about the power of social media marketing in the tourism and hospitality industry. Today's guest, Gabe Wiselco, is Cleveland's social media manager. Along with managing and strategizing all their social media channels through organic and paid mediums, Gabe somehow finds time to get behind the lens and capture some of the most iconic Cleveland cityscape photos, posting to his personal account every day, which boasts almost 15,000 followers. With this resume, it's no surprise that he was named one of Cleveland magazine's most interesting people of 2023. Gabe's journey to leading the social strategy for Cleveland's only private, nonprofit destination marketing and management organization has been anything but conventional.

Ashtyn Morris - 01:25

We're excited to have him on today to learn more about how he leverages social media to position Cleveland as a premier travel or event destination for individuals and organizations alike. Gabe, welcome to marketing moves.

Gabe Wasylko - 01:37
Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here. You really hyped me up

with that intro.

Ashtyn Morris - 01:41

I know. I was really excited to have you on because the first time I met you and just learning more about what you do, I knew you'd be a perfect podcast guest. So we're really excited that you took the time out of your busy schedule to come and meet with us today. So before we dive into some deep marketing questions, let's start a little bit with your background on your story. Are you originally from Cleveland?

Gabe Wasylko - 02:02

Yeah. Born and raised in the Cleveland area. I grew up in Brunswick, Ohio, and really just spent my entire life, my college career, my high school career, now my working career in northeast Ohio, taking stops at the College of Worcester for undergrad and then working for seven years with the Akron rubber ducks in Akron. So bleed Cleveland. Always going to be a Cleveland guy. So I love it. Yeah.

Ashtyn Morris - 02:23

Oh, my gosh. Have you always had a passion for photography and social media?

Gabe Wasylko - 02:27

You know, I've always had a passion, and I think it goes back to my parents where they were. My dad had a career in creative working at a bunch of different news stations, Ernst and Young, a couple different stops doing pr for our local school, Brunswick city schools, and then my mom is an entrepreneur. She owns basket school art gifts. I had to give her a plug here, but she owns basket school art gifts, and she started that when I was three years old in our house. And she's grown into a company that has its own building, and does a bunch of different gifts. So I've always been around the creative itch, the creative side of things. But growing up, I really didn't know if it could be a successful career. It couldn't be something that I could.

Gabe Wasylko - 03:09

Could focus in on, build a career, build a lifestyle around, and really thought the only way to make it in this world was to be a doctor, a lawyer, something in stem. So always was around that. And kind of loved creative work, loved thinking, storytelling, different creative mediums, but also wanted to kind of look into something. So that led to me majoring in math and political science at Worcester.

Ashtyn Morris - 03:32 Oh, wow.

Gabe Wasylko - 03:33

On track to be a lawyer. I loved baseball, so I really wanted to be a sports agent for the Cleveland Guardians. That was, like, number one working with them. And when the pandemic hit, kind of took a pause. Was working with the Akron rubber ducks at the time in the creative field, but was really just using that as just a medium to learn more about baseball and learn more about front offices, not necessarily the creative side of things. And during the pandemic, that was kind of when I picked up a camera for the first time and said, hey, I've always lived in Cleveland. I've always seen this city, but I didn't know really what Cleveland was or where things were in Cleveland or what made Cleveland tick as a city.

Gabe Wasylko - 04:08

And photography ended up being that medium that allowed me to explore and learn more about what was in my own backyard rather than just going to Cavs, Browns Guardians games. Growing up, really picking up the camera was that gateway into me, like, having another moment where I fell in love with the city and really embracing it as a whole. And that's kind of in 2020, picking up a camera changed my life in that sense.

Ashtyn Morris - 04:31

Wow, what a story. I do think 2020 and really, the COVID pandemic was a turning point for a lot of people, but it's crazy how just picking up a camera changed, really, the trajectory of your life and also your career.

Gabe Wasylko - 04:44

Yeah, it's insane to think about, and really, it's a testament to what Cleveland is, the community that Cleveland has, because, really, the city is passionate about Cleveland. There's nobody that will talk more about Cleveland than a Cleveland art. And to be able to meet those people and connect with those people through a medium that I didn't really know much about. When I picked up a camera, photography was something I really didn't focus on when I was going through growing up. It was a lot of videos, a lot of audio was a lot of production side. It was never really photography. So being able to focus in on photography and then connect with so many amazing Clevelanders that love Cleveland and.

Gabe Wasylko - 05:20

And those photos, being able to post photos and capture the beauty that is around us every single day is more of a testament to our community and the hard work and the passion and the grit, determination. You hear it all the time, but really, Clevelanders are a different breed of people, and to be able to capture their love for the city and their passion for each other every day is truly a dream come true.

Ashtyn Morris - 05:41
Wow. Well, it sounds like your passion for the city means you ended up

at the right job.

Gabe Wasylko - 05:46 Oh, my gosh.

Ashtyn Morris - 05:47 Cleveland.

Gabe Wasylko - 05:48
Yeah. That was fun to see, kind of how serendipitous life is, being able

to start working at destination Cleveland.

Ashtyn Morris - 05:54

Absolutely. So a key theme we'd like to cover in this episode is the role that social media plays in the hospitality and tourism industry. We're particularly interested in how you leverage social media in shaping the Cleveland narrative. But before we dive into that, for our listeners who may not know much about hospitality and tourism marketing, can you tell us a little bit about what makes it different from marketing and other industries, such as retail?

Gabe Wasylko - 06:19

Yeah, I think there's a bunch of different ways that it makes it different. At the end of the day, I don't like the term selling, because we're really just wanting people to experience and come to Cleveland. And we're not selling Cleveland, but we're showcasing it in different ways. And the one word that we always like to come back to a destination Cleveland is how do we authentically share Cleveland's narrative? Because, truly, there is no city like Cleveland. But instead of selling it, you need to experience it. We find that in destination Cleveland, we're really trying to showcase Cleveland's narrative story. The people, the art, the music, the history, all of our assets that we have in our community as authentically as possible. So being able to get people to experience that is our number one goal. And obviously, we have locals that live here.

Gabe Wasylko - 07:05

We have visitors that come in, rather, if they're coming on a weekend trip, driving up from a Pittsburgh, a Columbus, a Cincinnati, and experiencing Cleveland, maybe it's a volleyball tournament that one of their sons or daughters are in and they're driving to Cleveland to have that at the Huntington convention Center or be able to kind of experience that city that way, or they're actually planning a trip to come visit here, visit the Rock and Roll hall of Fame, come in for a Cavs Browns Guardians game. So we have those visitors that are just the weekend drivers, and then we have people that are here for conventions and meetings and different businesses that people have in our city. Those are the pieces, those three little areas, locals, short term visitors from our drivable markets.

Gabe Wasylko - 07:44

And then the long term visitors are really what we like to kind of focus on when we're trying to tell Cleveland's authentic story and really reach them from where they're at. Because our message and the way that we utilize our assets and our social media mediums and our website and messaging and connections, that all changes per who we're talking to and who our audience is. So those are the biggest things that make it different. When you're in retail, you're kind of. You might be selling to a person that likes your clothes or likes the brand or the style of that cloth. Or if they're going into fine jeans, they're only looking at jeans or pants. We want to be able to have people experience that process of coming to a city.

Gabe Wasylko - 08:26

And obviously, the end goal is we really would love them to continue to come back, to stay and eventually live and work in Cleveland. But obviously, we can't control that narrative, but we can be able to showcase our city authentically in different ways. And that's what we really like to focus on.

Ashtyn Morris - 08:41 Wow. That was a great answer.

Gabe Wasylko - 08:43 Oh, my gosh. Oh, thanks.

Ashtyn Morris - 08:44

You know, just trying, as someone who can, who has seen your content, I definitely think you guys do portray Cleveland. I mean, I'm a clevelander. Love Cleveland. I've been in Cleveland for a few years now, and seeing what you guys do with your content is really a testament to shaping that narrative to people who live here, but also attracting those different audiences. So social media, as you know, the landscape is always changing. And trying to keep up with those micro and macro trends can be really difficult. Even as a marketing agency, sometimes we're like, oh, my gosh, this new trend has appeared. How does your team stay on top of trending content? But how do you make that trending content work for your audience?

Gabe Wasylko - 09:23

Yeah, that's a great question. And I think it's a question that every single social media executive person who's in the craft, the space is always paying attention to, because one, it can get very overwhelming and very noisy. You see something pop off on a certain platform and you think that you need to do something exactly like that. But really, I think a lot of that prep and that start is, one, having a collaborative environment that you're in, but two, really understanding your brand and what makes your company and organization ticket with us. I really love to take, one, a collaborative approach. We have a digital team at Destination Cleveland that's about 13 people strong, and that's even in our broader marketing division, which has about ten more people.

Gabe Wasylko - 10:05

So we have a group of marketing that's about 20 to 25 people strong that all come with different perspectives. They're coming from the pr side of things, they're coming from the b, two b meetings and convention space. They're coming from different management, they're coming from local and leisure, traveling and. And marketing in that sense. And then we have our digital media facets that we like to manage. So being able to have this collaborative work environment where we're able to talk with different people and share ideas and bounce ideas off, I really believe in no idea is a stupid idea or a dumb idea, but it's really maximizing that idea that's the biggest differentiator between a success and a fail.

Gabe Wasylko - 10:44

So being able to focus on that, invite ideas, invite different perspectives, is really effective, but really comes down to understanding your brand and what your goals are, what you're looking to accomplish, and what trends or what ideas best fit that. And once you understand what you're trying to market or sell per se, then you can start to fit these trends and ideas and different perspectives into maybe a trending topic or a trending idea.

Gabe Wasylko - 11:14

And obviously, I'm always on social media looking at the trend, seeing what's doing well, what's doing not well, but really it comes down to understanding where your brand will fit in the whole space and doing that as well as you can, rather than trying to fit like a square peg into a round hole and realizing that, yeah, I'm going to do this, but it's not going to perform well, or it might actually backfire and not perform as well or lead to consequences per se. I think it's a very fluid situation when it comes to trends, micro and macro, but always being in the know and having that collaborative discussion with people is. There's never a bad thing with that.

Ashtyn Morris - 11:55

Do you ever feel the pressure of, let's just say something is trending on TikTok, Instagram, whatever it may be, and it's very timely content and you have all of your content planned out for the month. Do you ever feel like we need to pivot, we need to hop on this and then try to figure out a strategy from there. How do you guys approach that?

Gabe Wasylko - 12:11

Oh, yeah, we're pivoting all the time. I mean, I think last Thursday there was a project I can't talk too much about, but we pivoted so much, it was. We had a surprise in the morning, and had to go back to the drawing board, and that's where communication, collaboration, and really understanding your broad calendar and being in tune with everything that's going on is very important. Another piece that I am a big fan of is building those connections with content. We were talking about it earlier, but our website is really the. I like to look at it as the nucleus, the motherboard of everything that we like to put out. Everything can connect to the website. This is in different ways. Whether it's.

Gabe Wasylko - 12:53

We're having people go there to learn more about meetings and conventions or sending people there to learn about major attractions, our event calendar, our different pieces, imagery, media, help all these different things connect to the website. And when we're able to connect it in that way, that helps strengthen those perceptions and allows us to pivot and kind of understand those pieces a little bit better. So I think there's always the pressure of trying to, you know, stay on top of things and try different things. But when it's all connected and all flowing in the same direction and working in tandem, it helps take the pressure off of trying to hit that one main moment and being strategic with it.

Ashtyn Morris - 13:33

Yeah, it all comes down to your audience, and you know that. So that's definitely key. Part of destination. Cleveland's mission is to facilitate more consumer tourism in Cleveland, along with landing those big name events in the city. How do you adjust your content and social strategy to attract and appeal to a b, two c, and a b, two b audience? I know we've kind of been touching on it, but I feel like that's definitely a challenge because those are two distinct audience segments.

Gabe Wasylko - 13:59

Yeah, and you teed it up perfectly. When we're looking at knowing our audience, that's really one of the keys in our digital marketing space and really in our business, because we're not just trying to go up to somebody and say, oh, go, come visit Cleveland, or you should totally come here and not have anything to back it up. When people ask questions, when people are looking to experience Cleveland, it starts with us. It starts with the person that's sending out that post on X, I had to catch myself there.

Ashtyn Morris - 14:27 We have to catch ourselves.

Gabe Wasylko - 14:27

I had to catch myself there. Or that Instagram reel or someone on our sales team going to meet with a meeting planner. It starts, the relationship with Cleveland starts with us on our team. That's the first touch point that a lot of people get. But also, social media is the first touch point a lot of people get, too. So being in tune with what people are looking for on different platforms and what they're looking to get out of social media, whether it's just seeing beauty, like a beautiful photo and saying, oh, wow, that looks awesome, or if they're looking to get information about their next meeting, or looking at Cleveland as an option, or trying to meet with somebody on our sales team to learn more, they're looking for resources for that weekend trip, and they're looking for places that take their family.

Gabe Wasylko - 15:09

Being able to understand our consumer facing channels, which are a lot of them. The general Facebook, X, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and then our b two B channels, which some of those platforms we share. B two b messaging on. But really, it starts with LinkedIn and a lot of the communities and the conversations that are happening there. That's a lot. It's b two b. So really understanding those two separate strategies, and we have different strategies and different posts and ways, what we're engaging in talking and voices and tones that work in tandem but are different and segmented to really hit those two audiences, we really tried to know those audiences on the platforms and tailor our work. What we're sharing the different pieces of our strategy there on those platforms to make sure that when we're touching people, we're touching them effectively.

Ashtyn Morris - 15:58 Wow, that was a perfect answer.

Gabe Wasylko - 16:01

Oh, you know, it's fun. And it's one of those things that's always growing and changing. And we touched on it earlier, but it's, you know, it's. We're always learning new things. And our strategies on LinkedIn have changed over the three years that I've been at destination Cleveland, and our strategies on Facebook and X now. I mean, it's a new platform with new, different algorithms and stuff that people are, you know, prioritizing, and the algorithm is really pushing. So trying to be in tune with that, but also, like, understanding that at the end of the day, we have our goals as an organization, and how do we fit those goals into those streams of medium media? That's really important.

Ashtyn Morris - 16:42

I definitely think it's a challenge that sometimes as marketers, we have to step back and really think about, okay, just because our content works on this platform, it might not work on the other platform because it's a completely different platform, as you said, but also different algorithm, different audience. So being able to adapt and learn and adjust your strategy is definitely key.

Gabe Wasylko - 17:02 Yeah.

Ashtyn Morris - 17:02

So does your team utilize and lean into paid media tactics to complement your organic social strategy?

Gabe Wasylko - 17:09

We do. We utilize paid in a lot of our main seasonal campaigns. The way that we organize our yearly basis is it's a bunch of layers, and when we're planning every single year. So when we are in 2023, planning for 2024, we have these different layers of campaigns or activations or events that we have going on. We really try to make them because really it's not. We found that it isn't. You start one campaign and that's the only thing you're working on for three months, and then you go on to the next campaign. You go on to the next. There's layers, one, and they overlap and they get kind of messy. So paid media is a part of a lot of our seasonal campaigns that funnel into big events, too, that we're doing.

Gabe Wasylko - 17:49

Like in 2024, we have women's final mc, women's final four, the solar eclipse, ASA, the Rock hall inductions in October, tons of different events. So they all have paid components. And our seasonal campaigns, which we focus on five big ones, which are winter, spring, summer, fall, and the holidays, they also have paid components. So we really focus on who we are trying to touch and segment and kind of get to. What messages, what markets are we trying to kind of talk to. I mentioned those drivable markets that we really like to focus on, like Columbus, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cincinnati. Those that it's two to 3 hours away. To get to Cleveland, we really try to be intentional with how we're reaching those people. Age, demographics, events, interest. We really try to get into what is bringing people to Cleveland.

Gabe Wasylko - 18:40

What interests are bringing people to Cleveland. Obviously, events are a big part of that, but there's also a lot of smaller scale events that, you know, people travel to Cleveland for. I mean, I mentioned earlier that I didn't know until last year, but high school volleyball is huge, and Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, are doing a fantastic job marketing our convention center, marketing our different assets in the area to welcome these groups of families and kids and adults to Cleveland. So we really want to, while they're here, look into those interests and look into what they find interesting or engaging and really market to them.

Gabe Wasylko - 19:17

So paying allows us to really get down into the weeds of how we can reach those people and how we can reach them where they're at, because we don't want people to be searching for our content and having to go through multiple pages and multiple websites. We don't want fatigue when we're trying to kind of share content with them about Cleveland. So being able to target them with strategic messaging, with simple messaging that really encapsulates our brand. That's something that's important when we're looking at paid and we try to get really strategic with the way we're doing it, supporting those different seasons and events.

Ashtyn Morris - 19:53
I'm assuming you guys perform well on meta.

Gabe Wasylko - 19:56

Yeah, yeah. That's really our, when we're looking at Facebook and Instagram, that's where a lot of our paid dollars are. And then TikTok, too. We've really dove into TikTok the past year, seen amazing growth on the platform, and then looking at paid and getting strategic. We have discussions every single week about how we can better optimize that platform as well. So x is something that keeps me up at night. It's something that, it's something that we're still continually trying to hack and get into and really understand what makes it tick. And we have some interesting findings that we look at, but it's just always looking at what's performing well and what's not performing well. If it's not performing well, don't do it.

Ashtyn Morris - 20:36 Absolutely. I think that's great advice.

Gabe Wasylko - 20:38
Yeah. It's so simple, but it really is like just looking in the mirror and

really being mindful of where you're putting efforts and things like that.

Ashtyn Morris - 20:46

Absolutely. So do you guys lean into influencer marketing at all, or what are your thoughts on the power of influencer marketing?

Gabe Wasylko - 20:54

Yeah, influencer marketing is something that, it's very interesting. It's a conversation again, I was in a meeting before I came here, and we were talking about influencers. It's something that is so important to a brand, but in Cleveland, it's so different and unique. You know, it's, I look back at, you know, influencer marketing over the past. What we're in 20, 10:04 years, it's changed so much. Before in like 2016, 2017, people were just messaging our accounts. I've heard, I wasn't around, but I've heard through the grapevine, people would just message accounts saying, hey, like, I'm coming to Cleveland. Will you just share my content? And we would be like, yeah, that's awesome. And now it's become a career. Like you talk to a kindergarten kid and they're like, hey, I want to be a youtuber. I want to be an influencer.

Gabe Wasylko - 21:42

Like, those are actual viable careers now. And people's content. It's a great space where we're able to work with people that are authentic voices and creatives and people that truly love to explore different communities and niches and incorporate them into Cleveland's narrative as well. So it's an extremely powerful medium that we look at. And we also, obviously, be intentional about what we like to focus on. We understand that Cleveland is best told through people that live here, are passionate about it, who are experiencing Cleveland every single day. And a big part of our strategy moving forward and really starting back after the pandemic is how do we showcase Cleveland as a place to live and work? And influencers are a big part of that message that we always like to put out.

Gabe Wasylko - 22:33

So a lot of our influencer marketing is around local influencers showcasing what it is to live here, what it is to work here, the different communities, the drivability of the city, the assets that we have here being Lake Erie, the metro parks, the arts districts and University circle, Playhouse Square, the three major sports teams, the bikes, the ability to walk into a neighborhood in Ohio city and then three minutes later be in Tremont. Like, it's the accessibility that we really love to focus on when working with influencers. So to wrap all that into a bow, it's like really our influencer strategy now. We found that the most bang for a buck and being able to see the best ROI is working with locals who authentically tell Cleveland stories. And that could change next year. That could change next month.

Ashtyn Morris - 23:23 It's always changing.

Gabe Wasylko - 23:24

It's always changing. But that's kind of the day to day operation of our influencers. And who we like to work with right now is people that are currently in Cleveland. But with our events coming up in April and later in this year, influencers are always a part of every single campaign that we do. And with people coming into town, people driving in, flying in, never being to Cleveland, big fans of Cleveland that just don't live here, we always look at every opportunity and say, how can we really not only get the best return in sharing our story, but also how can we support creators? Because at the end of the day, we want to make sure that we're really highlighting Cleveland and the creator through their kind of lens, what Cleveland means to them. So that's something that we really are intentional about.

Ashtyn Morris - 24:10

I love that. I love that you guys are trying to uplift those Cleveland voices because you want to make this a better place for everyone. And creators really have changed the space of marketing. I mean, here at Vividfront, we fully believe in influencer marketing. We lean into that for our clients. We've seen the benefits of it. And it's great to hear that you guys are doing that as well, especially because there's such a local creator economy within Cleveland.

Gabe Wasylko - 24:34

It's so incredible to see. I'm thankful to see it both through my photography, but also working at Destination Cleveland, it's Cleveland offers this sense that, you know, you can do what you want, you can be
a creator, you can grow a creative business, you can be an entrepreneur. There is a very supportive, a very encouraging space in Cleveland that gives you a lot of the resources. I mean, if you're going to LA or New York, it's. You're living in a small apartment, trying to make it. And more times than not, even if you're like the best artist ever, you just luck comes into it or your connections or something needs to happen for you to really make it, because there's so many people in these areas, Cleveland, in the community, and the people, you know, everybody knows everybody, and everybody's here to support everybody.

Gabe Wasylko - 25:18

And that's the cool thing about this area and being able to lean into that first, personally through photography and the relationships I build there. But also at destination Cleveland, being able to support those creators that I know and know the people that they are, and they're so supportive and so kind, and they love our area. Being able to support them in both entities is a really cool experience.

Ashtyn Morris - 25:40

I love that. So you've touched on a little bit that 2024 is going to be a big year for Cleveland. And Cleveland has received a lot of great press heading into the year. And like I said, 2024 is going to be a huge year for the city. I mean, a lot of the press has been around. Cleveland's very affordable compared to other cities. There's a lot of job opportunities available, and there's a lot of groundwork being done to the city for long term success and growth. With all eyes on Cleveland, how is destination Cleveland capitalizing on all of this good press with your social media presence?

Gabe Wasylko - 26:14

Well, I think it first starts out with really understanding what 2024 is to the city. And really, if you look back at the past ten years of the city, really, there was 2016, which was a magical year for many reasons, obviously, we won the NBA championship, we won the Calder cup for the Monsters, the Indians the Guardians now made it to the World Series, obviously losing. But there was so much excitement around the city for six, seven, eight months, and it was really exciting to see. And that did so much. Especially, too, we're looking at those events. On top of that, we had the republican national Convention in Cleveland, which was really. I love to look at that as Cleveland's kind of, like, big ticket to the big stage. Like, we hosted all eyes on Cleveland. And I was so mad.

Gabe Wasylko - 26:59

I wasn't part of the organization at the time, but doing my research and talking to people, that was the moment where everybody in the organization, but also the city, was like, we got this. We can do this. We can swing with the big boys and be able to really host these large scale events. And not only just host them and get by, we overshot. We were able to really embrace those. Those moments on the big stage, and that led to so many other successful moments in 2017, 1819, obviously in 2020. The pandemic really hurt the industry as a whole, as well as a lot of different industries in Cleveland. And 2024 is really this awesome gift that we have of a year that we're able to really embrace Cleveland and what we have going on here.

Gabe Wasylko - 27:44

Starting out with, you know, in April with the total solar eclipse and women's final four, which are two back to back events like that weekend's going to be insane. From the fifth through the 9th, there's going to be so many people visiting Cleveland, experiencing Cleveland from different markets. I mean, we have families here for the eclipse, and then we have the college basketball world. Women's final four has been such a big event over the past few years, and it's only growing. So to be able to have it in Cleveland at this really important time is a gift.

Gabe Wasylko - 28:13

And then in August, while it's not flashy, we have this ASA meetings and conventions planners meeting, which is this awesome event where meeting planners from all over the world are coming to Cleveland to learn about hosting meetings in different cities, but they're actually going to be able to sample and try Cleveland first on hands on. And that not only sets up us in the short term, but really for the next five to ten years as a place to really showcase Cleveland to these meetings and conventions, these decision makers that are looking to host their meetings here, Cleveland is going to be able to be on that radar, being able to be front and center for them to experience and see, so that events huge.

Gabe Wasylko - 28:54

And then we have the rock and roll inductions in October, which is, again, another huge national event that will be happening in Cleveland, as well as the Pan American Gauge, which is the largest international event in Cleveland's history. So, I mean, I can go on and on about why this year is so important, but it's awesome to see the community, obviously locally, but nationally, really looking at Cleveland as a way to. As really the center of a lot of these different events and a lot of these different activities that we're lucky to be able to put on. But it really goes back to that 2016 year, the old city, our organization.

Gabe Wasylko - 29:32

We are so confident that visitors, everybody who comes to Cleveland, whether they're meeting planners or visitors, will be able to experience Cleveland in the best light possible and authentically and really be wowed by the city. And we look at it as a huge opportunity. Obviously, the press leading up to the event is huge, but we're getting ready for when people are trying the product and really engaging with Cleveland firsthand. And we're excited to kind of give them that best experience. So obviously, we're trying to do it on social as best as we can leading into those events, but we're ready for. For really supporting those initiatives when they actually happen. So, Fiona.

Ashtyn Morris - 30:08

Wow. I mean, you touched on all the things in terms of, you know, me, I'm a huge sports fan. So really excited about the women's NCAA Final Four and then with the solar eclipse happening on the Guardians home opener. It's huge.

Gabe Wasylko - 30:20 Yeah.

Ashtyn Morris - 30:20

Out of all days. But can you give us a little bit of a sneak peek in general for any of those things you touched on? Maybe what destination Cleveland has planned?

Gabe Wasylko - 30:29

You know, it's really working with these entities. I mean, we've been in. I'm on a call every single week with the NCAA and really trying to figure out how we can best support them because obviously the fans are first or the visitors first. Like both organizations, the NCAA, I mean, with NASA and the Greater Cleveland Science center and all these different entities, we really put the visitor and the fan and whoever's experiencing these events first. That's the goal when we're looking at these events. But being able to work with these companies and these meeting planners and these entities that are hosting their events here, we really want to make sure that their goals and initiatives are coming first, too. So working with them changes everything.

Gabe Wasylko - 31:16

I mean, it's for NCAA, we have so many events that are going to be taking place downtown at Rock and Morgan Fieldhouse, around Public Square. These different things as they're released, there are going to be opportunities. Every ticket for the actual event is sold out. Sold out are very hard to get at this point, but we really wanted to make sure that people are having touch points and engagement. Fans of all ages to experience Cleveland during that weekend. It's really cool. And we saw it during the NBA all star game and the NFL draft. Those events were so special because we were able to really activate the city and allow people who maybe couldn't afford an NBA all star ticket.

Ashtyn Morris - 31:52 Understood?

Gabe Wasylko - 31:53

Yeah, understandably so. A great experience of the city. Like, we don't want it to be like, oh, you have to be at this event to experience Cleveland. And you see it and you're like, oh, this is awesome. But you have to pay, like, thousands of dollars to experience it. We want to be able to provide accessibility, fan touch points during all these large scale events. And so really, there's not anything that I can share that's super cemented, but really just kind of. We want to make sure that all of our neighborhoods, all of our, or downtown specifically, is activated in a way that's accessible, whether it's Tower City, whether it's public square, some of these other areas.

Gabe Wasylko - 32:30

We really want to make sure that the fans of all ages are able to come down and experience the thrill of a big event happening in Cleveland, but also be able to do that safely, effectively, and affordably, too.

Ashtyn Morris - 32:42

I think whenever there's any event, regardless of what sporting event, something arts related, this city really does come alive with a different type of energy, and it's so fun to be a part of. It's definitely different from you growing up. I mean, small town, coming to Cleveland, it's so much fun, and everyone's talking about it. So it's great what you guys do and the focus you guys have, because you never know in terms of if someone's coming to town for the solar eclipse or if they're coming town for the final four. If they have a great experience in Cleveland one day, they might move here. And if they're one of the major college players, if they settle here, there's a ripple effect that all the thought that goes into it really does set Cleveland up for long term success.

Ashtyn Morris - 33:25
So what you guys do is truly noticed and appreciated.

Gabe Wasylko - 33:28

And we didn't even touch on the businesses downtown that are affected when we're able to host these events. And we have so many amazing partners and businesses in Cleveland that embrace these large moments, too. And those touch points. If someone goes out to dinner and is watching the game at a local bar, they're able to experience that bar and the food and the hospitality there. It's an extension of us and what we're trying to do. So we're always trying to support our communities, our businesses, because really, they're just as important in bringing this whole entire experience full circle for a visitor or a fan. So it all is inner work. And I think that's the piece that I could talk hours and hours about, how it all comes together and it's so exciting to see.

Gabe Wasylko - 34:10

But really, it takes an army to put on these large scale events, and we're so thankful that we have such a great community that embraces these moments rather than says, you know, I'm good, I'm not going to open on this day or I'm not going to do that because it's tough to have a business and to be an entrepreneur. But they also love Cleveland just as much, and they have a passion to see the city thrive. Absolutely. And we're thankful to have a lot of those partners on our team.

Ashtyn Morris - 34:33

Yeah. The economic impact that the city of Cleveland will experience in 2024, with all of these amazing events going to be exciting.

Gabe Wasylko - 34:42
Oh, yeah, it's definitely going to. Again, 2024 is one of the biggest years

We've seen Cleveland, and we're ready for the challenge.

Ashtyn Morris - 34:49

Well, we are lucky to live here doing this renaissance. I love it. If there is anything that you'd want, or one thing you'd want listeners to take away about social media in the tourism and hospitality industry, what would it be?

Gabe Wasylko - 35:05

You know, I think in this world of, you know, trying to. Everything that we do at destination Cleveland is supported by metrics and supported by really being strategic of what we're doing and what's performing well and what's not performing well. And I feel that social media, really, I mean, ten years ago wasn't a career at a company, and now we have teams of social media people, marketers, digital marketers. There's so many different things, goals, money, everything that circulates around social media. It's one of these things where when we're pumping out content and consistently doing that, it's so important to never forget your why and why you're doing it and what makes your content special, because that's the edge that no one else has.

Gabe Wasylko - 35:55

When you embrace your brand and your message and you have a strong brand and strong message, your why and your kind of content that you're putting out on social media really shines through. It shines through the noise, it shines through everything that's going on. People will engage with it. Quality is something that, you know, there's a saying that, you know, my grandpa always said, and it is. Does have a swear word, so I'll try to, like, clean it up a little bit. But it's like, you can't. B's a BSEr, and if you're a brand that's trying to, b's your way to getting clicks or getting likes or not putting out comment quality content to really embrace your messaging. It might work in the short term, but it's not sustainable.

Gabe Wasylko - 36:38

So really understanding our why and we at destination Cleveland are so we have a great brand. Our CMO and our marketing team have put together this great brand, but it's not just the brand that works. It's our sales team that works and embraces that brand when they're talking to businesses and meeting convention planners and going to trade shows. And then it's our destination management team that's really on the ground level, being able to support the city and support the different facets of what we're doing, and then our Ops team that makes a lot of these things happen and organizes where different activities are going to happen. We have these different pillars of our organization that's all encompassed by this brand, and we all believe in it. And that's the piece that obviously shines through in social media, but shines through in everything we do.

Gabe Wasylko - 37:22

It's how we have our. Why we have what we're trying to do and what we're trying to accomplish. And it's so authentic, and it really pairs well with Cleveland. And it's a message that resonates well with not only Cleveland ers, but people who. Who maybe aren't in Cleveland right now would embrace that. So, you know, if I could leave them with anything, it's just really be intentional with who you are, your brand, your ideas, and really try to map that to content, rather than saying, this is an idea that I saw on TikTok, how, you know, how can I just shove myself brand, or what I'm looking to accomplish into that and trying to make it successful.

Ashtyn Morris - 38:00

Wow. That, again, just great insights. Amazing answer. I think a lot of people, maybe that aren't involved in marketing or in the world of social media can quickly dismiss all of the thought that actually has to go into producing compelling content. And I think that's a great example of everything that goes into it. It's not just creating a video or a post. There's a lot of thought that goes into it. It always ties back to what we are trying to communicate: who is our core audience, what is our brand? How does this all work together?

Gabe Wasylko - 38:28

Yeah, it's coming back to that centralized idea and really believing in the team, whether you're like a one person social media team that's trying to put out content, or you have nine or ten people that are all working on different things that come together as one, it's understanding what you're trying to accomplish that will help each person on that team come together as one at the end, rather than having ten different people in different directions trying to accomplish different things. It's really nice to have that centralized. Why?

Ashtyn Morris - 38:57

Absolutely. Before we conclude today's episode, we always like to end our segments with a round of rapid fire questions. I didn't prepare you for this one, but are you ready?

Gabe Wasylko - 39:08 I guess so.

Ashtyn Morris - 39:09
Okay. Number one tourist spot in Cleveland.

Gabe Wasylko - 39:12

You know, I gotta say Cleveland, because it's. I can't give one tourist attraction any more love. It's, you experience Cleveland. That's the experience. It's going to different spots.

Ashtyn Morris - That is a great answer.

Gabe Wasylko - Boring answer. I know.



Ashtyn Morris - 39:27
I love it. Best sporting event in Cleveland.

Gabe Wasylko - 39:31

Gosh, you know, that's also a tough question because they're all so great. I mean, it's dependent on what you're interested in and what different sports that you're into. And that's the cool thing about Cleveland, is, you know, we have three major sports teams, and this is not rapid fire at all. It's okay. But we have three major sports teams, and not many cities have that. And then they have college athletics and they have Lake Erie. That's great for water sports and the parks that are great for kind of enjoying things, but.

Ashtyn Morris - 39:57
And all the racket sports, your racquet.

Gabe Wasylko - 39:58

Sports, pickleball, tennis, like, everything. Cleveland really has everything for anything. Tennis in the land over the summer is another one. Pickle in the land this winter. Like, there are so many cool events that are happening. There's really something for everything. Now, my personal favorite. I guess that's the way. I mean, you can't get over guardians opening day. Like, that's. Like, that's a holiday for me. But. But it was fun enjoying a little flacco fever with the browns this year, too. That was. That was nice.

Ashtyn Morris - 40:24
So definitely a lot of energy pulsing through Cleveland during that time.

Gabe Wasylko - 40:28 Oh, yeah, for sure.

Ashtyn Morris - 40:29
All right, this one might even be harder for you. But east side versus

west side, which has more scenic spots for photos.

Gabe Wasylko - 40:37
Gosh, that again, you're hitting me with these tough questions.

Ashtyn Morris - 40:40
I'm sorry, Gabe. I'm not going to go easy on you.

Gabe Wasylko - 40:42

I know. No, you're good. I think, you know, on the west side, it's perfect for sunrises. I mean, you have edgewater, you have Lakewood park, you have Huntington beach and Bay village on the far west. West side. That's great for, like, sunrises. And obviously it's because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so the east provides a little bit more of that natural beauty with architecture and university circle and some of the different areas there. Little Italy, norse chagrin reservation out down in, like, Willoughby and that area. So, gosh, I mean, I probably spend more time on the west side just because I live there, but, you know, I can't do anything dirty. Like, I love them both.

Ashtyn Morris - 41:20

So that's fair. That's fair. Maybe it'll be interesting for our listeners to go and look at your instagram and try to figure out which is east side versus west side.

Gabe Wasylko - 41:28
Oh, yeah, definitely find out. I mean, want to hear if you can do it.

Ashtyn Morris - Final two questions.

Gabe Wasylko -




Ashtyn Morris - Crocker park or Pine crest?


Gabe Wasylko - 41:37

Gosh, that's also a tough question, too, because there's different stores at each, like, local, like, gosh, that's. That's crazy. I mean, again, Crocker park has Trader Joe's, but Pinecrest has Rei, so that's. That's tough. Probably Crocker. I spend more time over there.

Ashtyn Morris - 41:55

Yeah, me too. I think Pinecrest is nice, but probably if someone could only go to one, they'd have more selection.

Gabe Wasylko - 42:00

You know, I really like Van Aiken. Van Aiken district is another really nice spot. I mean, they got a rising star. They have a lot of locally owned businesses in there that are great. They have a Mitchell's ice cream, which is solid. So I like Van Aiken, too. I mean, that's on the east side. So just some solid options. It's drivable here, so you can go to both.

Ashtyn Morris - 42:16
All right, I'm going to hit you with the hardest one because I know this

one's going to be especially difficult for you.

Gabe Wasylko - 42:23 Yeah. Yeah.

Ashtyn Morris - 42:24
Best espresso martini in Cleveland. Oh, my gosh.

Gabe Wasylko - 42:27

Best espresso martini. That's a good question, too. I mean, for people that don't know, I am a snob for espresso martinis, and I love them so much. You know, I had a really good one on Thursday at Cordelia downtown. That was. Was really good. So, you know, Cordelia is probably, like, one of my favorite restaurants in Cleveland. If you haven't been there yet. Definitely check it out. But they did a really nice job with the espresso Martini. Speaking of Crocker, you know, blue sushi over there is really good espresso Martini as well. But yeah, no, I'm following along on my instagram. I'm always posting when I'm trying.

Ashtyn Morris - 43:02
Gabe and I are friends, so I had to add that question in and put him on

the spot.

Gabe Wasylko - 43:06
Yeah, you had to throw me on the spot. But no, I appreciate it.

Ashtyn Morris - 43:09

Yes. Well, what an episode. Gabe, thank you so much for joining us today. As a Cleveland resident, I appreciate all that you are doing for the city through destination Cleveland and also on your own platform, where can our listeners find you if they want to connect?

Gabe Wasylko - 43:23

Yeah. So first off with destination Cleveland where. This is is our website. So many great travel blogs, resources there for learning more about Cleveland, where to go, where to eat food and drinks. But really, if you're looking for that instant stuff, follow us on social media. We're the Kleon X where. This is Cleveland on Facebook. This is Cleveland. Or this is Klee on instagram. This is Cleveland on TikTok, YouTube. We're really on everything threads, so it's easy to find there. And personally, my social plugs are all Gabe wissilco, my last name, Gabe Wasylko. But I'm always out and about trying new food, taking photos. So I would love to connect and celebrate Cleveland.

Ashtyn Morris - 44:02
Well, thank you so much, Gabe. We really appreciate the time.

Gabe Wasylko - 44:06
No, thanks for thinking of me. This was a lot of fun.

Speaker 1 - 44:09

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