Tourism consultant John Kelsh of Great Destination Strategies discusses community branding at a Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)

Tourism consultant John Kelsh discusses community branding at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)

Sitka can’t boost tourism by waiting for consensus.

That’s the message from marketing consultant John Kelsh, who addressed the Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Kelsh was hired to help the community find a brand – a way to promote itself by highlighting what’s unique.

He says Sitka can learn from other cities’ marketing mistakes.

“There are a number of things that people say in ads that are very generic. Discover, we have it all, best-kept secret, outdoor recreation, historic downtown, explore, something for everyone, center of it all,” he says. “If you are using any of these, you’re wasting your copy space because it can apply to just about everybody.”

Kelsh runs Great Destination Strategies, based in Seattle. He’s worked in tourism promotion in Alaska, California and other states.

He’s in Sitka this week to meet with a committee of business, tourism and other leaders about the branding effort. It will target mostly independent visitors, not those on cruise ships.

He says the effort will include lots of opportunities for public input. But not everyone will be happy with the result.

“You can’t do brand by public consent. Because you’ll never get everyone to agree until you’ve watered it down to something generic. And then where are you? You’ve lost your edge,” he says.

So, what should Sitka’s brand be? That’s yet to be determined.

But whatever it is, Kelsh says it needs to be specific. And it needs to be part of every business and government marketing effort, and in all media.

That’s another area that needs to change.

Kelsh says TV, magazine and newspaper ads are no longer the way to go. Instead, marketing has to be online. One of the most important goals is to get good reviews on review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor.

“You look at the number of stars they have. You read the reviews. You find out what’s in it for me. Was it convenient? Was it inconvenient? Was it consistent? Did people show up for something and it didn’t happen?” he says.

He says that only works when information is easy to find and travel is convenient.

Otherwise, the town will lose customers to somewhere else that does it right.

“We really want to put Sitka on the map as one of America’s best destinations. Not just one of Alaska’s best destinations, but America’s,” he says.

Kelsh’s consulting firm is also working on an improved system of signs that help visitors find their way around town.