As we begin 2017, it is a time for new beginnings and new thinking. Nothing is more disparaging for marketers than to maintain the status quo and continue to market destinations in the same way as the previous year. Each new year brings new challenges and new opportunities for growth. And with that sparks new ideas on how to market destinations.
Now, not all destination marketing organizations (DMO) are set up the same way, have the same size marketing budgets and same size staff. But we all have one key responsibility, and that is to market the destination to help spur and grow economic development.
As I look back on 2016, and look forward to 2017, here are ten trends that I believe all destination marketers should be tracking.
#1 Video should be your top priority. | Video is the one medium that is able to pull at the heartstrings of viewers, and make a true connection between a brand and its product or service. There is a reason that TV has been around as long as it has, and there’s a reason that reality TV shows continue to see success, despite the horrible storylines. Video will consume 74% of all internet traffic in 2017. As a destination marketer, you need to figure out your video strategy for the year and get to work. Start planning and researching what 360-degree, virtual reality, augmented reality or live video options would work for your destination. And while a video strategy can take time depending on your resources, the low hanging fruit is to at least start getting b-roll footage of your destination. You can always edit videos, but shooting b-roll footage is seasonal – plan accordingly.
#2 Be transparent. | Every year, destination marketing organizations are tasked with showing their relevance and value to tourism industry partners, city leaders and the local community. And every year, we see uneducated community leaders attempting to take away funding of DMOs. Whether you are a member based or a non-member based DMO, your relationships in the community should go far beyond the attractions, bars, hotels and restaurants. Those relationships need to extend to news journalists, small business owners, locals colleges and universities and just about anyone else you meet. Always be willing to share your destination story and know what your organization is doing to advance tourism in your destination. Be willing to share marketing plans, media partnerships and other organizational tactics. A rising tide lifts all boats.
#3 Find your influencers. | Connected to transparency, if you choose to start working with influencers for your destination, don’t try and hide it. Announcing who your influencers are brings credibility to the content they produce for you. But you have to be careful not to just bring in influencers who have high follower counts, because some of them are just buying followers. Make sure you vet them properly, by asking for their web traffic numbers, sample writing pieces and past destination/influencer relationships. Look through their social accounts to measure their engagement to see if they are a good fit for you, as the best influencers don’t always have the highest number of followers. And sometimes, the best influencers don’t even know they are influencers, so pay attention to your locals who love your destination. In terms of paying influencers, if you’ve got the money do it. If you don’t have the money, think of other ways to compensate influencers through photo and social media credits, access to attractions, bars, restaurants and other events, as well as including their personal websites as part of your digital marketing campaigns to help drive them some web traffic.
#4 Mobile is the future. | By now, you should all have mobile-responsive websites, and if you don’t then that should be your first order of business. In 2017 some forecasters believe that mobile will replace desktop as the lead device for travel planning. Some reports show that more than 50 percent of millennials are completely comfortable using their mobile device to plan and book their next vacation. We now have more than 2.5 billion smartphones in use around the world, and more than 50 percent of all video views will occur on a mobile device. In planning for your marketing efforts, think mobile first and how your tactics will play out on a mobile device. Geofencing, beacons and mobile ID targeting are just a few tactics you should be researching.
#5 Quit trying to be on every social media platform. | We all know we need to be on social media, that’s a given. But 2017 is the year destination marketers need to figure out which platforms are most effective for their respective destinations, and do them well. Every conference you attend, you see a new campaign or tactic on a platform that you think would work for you, but the only problem is, you don’t have those resources. Rather than complaining about what you don’t have, focus on what you can do. I’ve never heard a potential visitor say they aren’t going to visit a destination because they are not on Snapchat or some other platform. And if they do, then they are not the right visitor for you anyway. You can inspire travel from anywhere, just pick the right platform.
#6 Blend your leisure message with your business message. | If you aren’t already blending the worlds of leisure travel with business travel (commonly referred to as bleisure) in your marketing efforts, you’re missing the boat. Meetings are no longer about dates, rates and space. Sure planners need to know your specs, but nowadays they can look that up themselves or consult with other planners before they call you. What planners want now is help from the destination to make their meeting a success. Once that meeting is booked, everyone, including the meeting planner is now a leisure visitor. The meeting attendee is not going to base their decision on attending by how many square feet of contiguous meeting space you have. They need to know about the attractions, bars, restaurants and things to do while they are there for the meeting. According to a BridgeStreet Global Hospitality report, 60 percent of travelers reported having taken bleisure trips, with 30 percent adding at least two additional days to their trip. Stop marketing your meeting spaces, and start marketing the destination.
#7 Can I get some service? | What are you doing to service the after-hours visitor? Administrative offices and visitors center hours close around 5pm or 6pm local time. If a visitor needs help at 8pm, where do they find it? How easy is it for a meeting planner to plan an event in your destination? These questions can only be answered by you, but here are two thoughts: (1) explore the use of chat bots with messenger apps, and (2) think about hiring an event planner as a new role in your organization. Here’s another thought, how about embedding Facebook messenger into your website? I recently purchased a product from a vendor, and all of my correspondence from the final purchase to shipping was done through Facebook messenger. People spend more time on Facebook than in their email on a daily basis, so it’s worth a shot.
#8 Take your product to the people. | The travel industry has long been referred to as the “invisible industry”, but in 2017 you need to be more visible by hosting in-market events in your competitive cities. Bring a sample of your destination to another city, so people can try you on for size to see if they want to take you home. The key is to make sure you tell the story of your destination or organization by bringing along as many brand ambassadors (chefs, mixologists, musicians, artists, etc.) as you can. No one buys a song off iTunes until they hear the sample first, that same rule of thinking applies to selecting a vacation.
#9 Embrace the blurred lines. | It’s time that we admit we have some blurred lines going on within destination marketing organizations, because most are continuing to face budget and resource constraints. Your title may be marketing, but you find yourself also doing public relations, social media and email newsletters. The successful DMOs are the ones who not only embrace the cross-functional roles of everyone in the organization, but the ones who plan for it. All departments should be working together in some way, shape or form, putting together sales and marketing plans around the same table. And all of our roles should involve other facets of the organization, and not be siloed to a single job function. Embracing cross-functional roles allows everyone to contribute to the organization’s success, and builds up the overall strength of the organization.
#10 Watch out for fake news. | During the election process, we saw a lot of fake news articles and sites pop up. And fake news is one that can affect all industries. In tourism, fake news sites have been popping up for years in terms of travel websites and travel social media pages that are run by third-party organizations not affiliated with the destinations. As destination marketing organizations, it is imperative that you saturate your destination content in order to drown out these third-party organizations who just want web traffic. You might not be able to outspend them in terms of marketing dollars, but you can “out-content” them. Be the authority.