THE EVOLUTION OF DESTINATION MARKETING:
BRANDS, EXPERIENCES AND RELATIONSHIPS
WE INSPIRE PEOPLE TO GO PLACES.
INTRODUCTION There’s a battle going on as we speak. A battle among travel suppliers, travel intermediaries, and travel destinations, all vying for the attention of prospective visitors. According to Expedia, the average leisure traveler these days visits 38 websites prior to booking a vacation. And, our own 2015 MMGY Global Portrait of American Travelers® study reveals that 38% of Millennials say they’re relying on more sources of information than ever before when making travel planning decisions. Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) used to be the go-to source for information about specific travel destinations. But, with so many other options out there these days, what can destination marketers do to better meet the needs of these visitors in the future? Let’s back up for a minute. For a little context, DMOs are generally considered to be official torchbearers for the travel and tourism industry in the locales they represent. They are often private, non-profit organizations that are entrusted with the promotion of tourism, meetings, and conventions in cities, countries, and municipalities around the world. They typically have trade names such as Destination Cleveland, Visit Anaheim, or The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. And, most are funded by area bed taxes collected by member hotels, motels, and resorts. DMOs represent local tourism stakeholders, and have traditionally been go-to sources for listings information about local hotels, restaurants, and attractions. Their role includes defining a destination brand image, advertising the area to prospective visitors, driving convention and large meetings business, and managing its overall marketing properties such as web presence, reputation management, CRM and social media initiatives. Today, though, much of the information they provide is readily available online through numerous other sources. So, the key question is, “What expanded role should DMOs play in the future?”
“38% of Millennials say they’re relying on more sources of
A VISION FOR THE DMO OF THE FUTURE
information than ever before when making travel planning decisions.”
As I think about this question, I envision a very different role for DMOs than the one they play today. I see one that adds significant value, from the early phases of trip planning, to the experience visitors or conference attendees have in the destination, to the ongoing relationship maintained long after they leave. Dream with me for a minute…
THE DESTINATION BRAND There’s nothing more predictable and soulless than destination advertising that proclaims, “We have something for everyone!” DMOs who espouse this tired cliché in their marketing haven’t figured out exactly what their destination offers that is unique and special. The state of Ohio recently spent two million American dollars to develop a new tourism brand around the positioning line, “Ohio: Find it here.” Is this unique place-making? Aren’t there any number of destinations in the world that could credibly use this same tagline? As a traveler, I don’t have any desire to visit a place that promises something for everyone. I want a truly unique experience that meets my truly unique needs. DMOs must play the role of chief storyteller for the destinations they serve. Destinations like Las Vegas, Nashville, and New Orleans have crafted their brand stories to ensure both travelers and conference planners have a clear, visceral sense of what each offers and what makes each unique. In other words, not something for everyone. But, it doesn’t stop with a defined brand identity. DMOs must manage their brands with incredible discipline, much the same way a company like Apple manages its brand. Apple realizes that every time a consumer interacts with its company or products in any way, it’s an opportunity to either build or damage the Apple brand. Yet, in the age of social media, it’s also important to remember that neither companies nor destinations own their brands anymore…instead, they share them. One way brands are shared is through development and management of relevant, engaging content. DMOs should own, curate, and deploy the absolute best content available to promote their destinations. This could be video content, audio tours, interactive maps, celebrity travel reviews, or any other type of content valued by those visiting or meeting in a destination. As brand stewards for their destinations, DMOs must invest in and deploy content in line with the quality of the promised experience to effectively and authentically tell their stories. If third-party sources provide better content, audiences will favor third-party sites.
“DMOs must invest in and deploy content in line with the quality of the promised experience to effectively and authentically tell their stories.” 6
EXPERIENCE CURATION Many DMOs spend 90% of their time and budgets trying to attract leisure travelers, meetings/conventions, and sports groups to their destinations, but tend to be less directly involved in ensuring these same visitors have an amazing time when they’re in town. Obviously, if visitors and conference attendees have a great experience in the destination, these same people will shout it out to trusted friends and family members from the social media mountaintop. The strongest DMOs are changing this paradigm by making design and implementation of unique visitor experiences a top priority. In the future, successful DMOs will win by developing programs with community stakeholders that tackle tax subsidies, feasibility studies, infrastructure support, and visitor experience design. It’s that old axiom: it all starts with the product. Destination Cleveland employs brand ambassadors throughout the city to answer questions, direct visitors, and generally make people feel welcome in their city. The city of Anaheim recently approved new economic subsidies to developers to stimulate new upscale hotel projects to better meet the expectations and requirements of both leisure and convention visitors. And, many DMOs currently offer hospitality service training for their industry partners to ensure they treat visitors well. These are terrific examples of how DMOs are already helping to manage the visitor experience. But, there is so much more that can be done. Mobile apps are one way to further the engagement with visitors while in market. For the most part, DMOs have opted not to develop official mobile apps for visitors, reasoning that their mobile website is sufficient, and that travelers already have third-party options for all the information they need. After all, people will always use Google Maps to get around, Yelp or Open Table for restaurant reviews, and StubHub for concert tickets, so why reinvent the wheel? (Hint: who manages the brand?) I would be reticent to outsource my destination brand to third-party providers like Google and Yelp. Instead, I might, for example, integrate the various elements of the destination experience into a multifaceted mobile app to ensure visitors have the best possible experience.
“The strongest DMOs are changing this paradigm by making design and implementation of unique visitor experiences a top priority.”
In most major markets, entrepreneurial resident “experts” have created businesses around hosting visitors for guided tours and unique experiences. Unfortunately, they are rarely accredited through local DMOs and, as one might expect, the quality of the tours varies widely. Instead of making visitors wade through fragmented local tour offerings online, DMOs should build and cultivate a network of approved tour guides offering a variety of signature tours and experiences in their destination and make these tours available to book through a centralized portal on their site. This would provide visitors with a valuable service from a trusted provider, and would create a new source of revenue for DMOs, assuming a reasonable commission structure. Best of all, it would result in valuable new content for DMO online channels to better engage visitors and build relationships. How else might DMO websites evolve in the future to better meet the needs of their visitors? Our 2015 MMGY Global Portrait of American Travelers® study indicates travelers are increasingly demanding a more personalized travel experience. Outside of travel, a great example of content personalization is the Flipboard app, a content aggregator that allows users to toggle on/off a multitude of specific topics to build a better user experience. The result is a highly relevant, highly personalized online magazine curated uniquely for each individual reader. The DMO website of the future will do the same for travelers and meeting attendees. Imagine a scenario where a DMO retrieves, with permission, visitors’ profiles compiled from online socialgraphs to craft customized user experiences on its site. Information accessed through Facebook could influence content priority and page design. Spotify playlists could trigger mobile alerts about upcoming artists coming to town. And, Instagram libraries could reveal a visitor’s interest in cycling and dynamically prioritize active outdoors imagery on the homepage. All of this together would create a much more dynamic, personalized site experience to immediately connect prospective visitors with the destination. It’s not your father’s itinerary planner. It’s rich, engaging, and customized content to meet the unique needs of unique visitors to unique destinations. And, it’s coming.
LOYALTY & RELATIONSHIPS Most DMOs measure success by evaluating important metrics such as growth in visitor volume and related expenditures in market. The primary indicators of choice are bed-tax collections, visitor volume, visitor spend, unique website visitation, and guidebook requests (printed and online versions). However, measuring repeat visitation, visitor engagement, visitor likelihood-to-recommend, and long-term loyalty are other great ways to assess the effectiveness of tourism marketing efforts. And, doing so is the first step to shifting the priority mindset from attraction marketing to retention marketing.
A NEW APPROACH TO THE DMO MISSION As we all know, it’s much less expensive to keep an existing customer than it is to attract a new one. So, DMOs should not consider their jobs done when a visitor books a vacation. Instead, they should pay great attention to building, cultivating, and maintaining relationships with travelers thereafter. Here are 3 quick ideas for how DMOs could reframe their mission and focus first on relationships:
1. CONSIDER A MOBILE APP Because travel to a specific destination is typically not a high-frequency purchase, some feel a destination app is an expensive and unnecessary investment. Yet, according to Forbes magazine, 86% of the time consumers spend using mobile devices is spent using apps. Only 13% is spent surfing the mobile web. Apps provide a more controlled, often higher-quality, user experience. By refreshing content frequently, and designing ways for visitors and conventioneers to personalize their user experience, destination apps could become an important tether to these folks and a way to cultivate valuable relationships instead of simply hoping visitors return to the destination in the future.
2. BUILD A COLLECTION OF DESTINATION PERSONALITIES Past visitors need compelling reasons to maintain relationships with destinations after they return home. So, give them one… or, several. The Bahamas could sponsor “Daily Catch” tweets from boat captains throughout the islands. New Orleans could share interviews and seasonal recipes from its world-renowned chefs. Nashville could post weekly video clips of artist performances at Bluebird Café. If past visitors see current value in the content the destination shares, they will have an incentive to stay connected, even after they return home.
3. RECOGNIZE AND REWARD RELATIONSHIPS Similar to Foursquare, DMOs could design fun challenges, tasks, and contests within its app and reward visitors who engage. For example, to promote a new exhibit at one of its museums, DMOs could reward visitors who download an audio tour with loyalty points redeemable for branded destination apparel or merchandise. Partner sponsor fees could help offset the cost of these programs on a campaign basis. Not only would it be a great way to motivate visitors to explore the destination, these same visitors would continue to wear their logo shirts and hats, thereby promoting the destination for months and years to come. Maintaining point balances would be another incentive to keep an app on their phones. Third-party apps like VisitMobile (www.visitmobile.com) already do things like this.
CONCLUSION The DMO of the future will be nothing like the DMO of today. In order to ensure long-term relevance and viability, DMOs must evolve in several key ways. First, they must build a truly unique and ownable brand and advertising position. And, they should take a lead role in designing and managing the visitor experience in a more proactive and collaborative way. Second, DMOs must be the go-to source for the absolute best content available about the destination. Increasingly, people want to virtually experience destinations long before they arrive for a vacation or business meeting. And, finally, the DMO of the future must expand its focus from visitor acquisition to increasingly prioritize visitor engagement and loyalty. The original utility of DMO websites was that they were a one-stop shop, listing service for local hotels, restaurants and attractions. Now, it’s a lot more complicated. In the future, DMOs will have to be brand managers, experience curators, and relationship marketers. Now, all we need is three more hours in every day. I wish there was an app for that. For further information and more research from MMGY Global’s Portrait of American Travelers®, please visit mmmgyglobal.com/ research.
ABOUT MMGY GLOBAL MMGY Global is the world’s largest and most integrated global marketing firm with more than 35 years of experience in the travel, hospitality and entertainment industries. The award-winning agency maintains a global communications practice in all marketing channels, serving many of the world’s premier travel and tourism brands. MMGY Global is author of acclaimed industry research (including the Portrait of American Travelers®) that identifies the habits and preferences of travelers – insights that serve as the foundation for its marketing strategy. For more information, visit www.mmgyglobal.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR CHRIS DAVIDSON
Executive Vice President of Global Strategy at MMGY Global Chris Davidson, Executive Vice President of Global Strategy at MMGY Global, leads the implementation of all client strategies, as well as the support of client service needs. He has worked with travel brands such as Mexico Tourism and Delaware North Parks & Resorts, in strategic planning, brand strategy and marketing communications. Prior to joining MMGY, he was an executive with Harrah’s Entertainment at both the corporate and property management levels, and he has since managed a diverse and challenging portfolio of travel marketing programs. Connect with Chris via email at [email protected]