The last few years have seen a revolution in destination marketing. A shift towards highlighting inspirational activities has leveraged social media use in providing opportunities to elevate the value of personal brands amongst family, friends and connections.
More than ever, marketing needs to attract and engage people across existing and new platforms with a dynamic and cohesive message which puts the customer at the heart of the campaign. Digital is no longer a channel, but a way of life and successful brands are leveraging technology to create rich, immersive experiences to engage and inspire audiences.
This article is based on a survey of 300 destination marketing professionals and will look at the current landscape of destination marketing including the effectiveness of existing and new types of advertising.
The State of Destination Marketing
The research we have carried out shows an overall trend that Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) are continuing to shift their advertising expenditure toward digital. While they are generally confident in their ability to quantify the effectiveness of their digital ad spending, a reasonable percentage of DMOs are generally satisfied with the rate of return on their content marketing investments, including Instagram and influencer campaigns.
Unsurprisingly, video was on the rise, and richer formats such as 360 and virtual reality (VR) are now becoming more sophisticated in their execution and measurability, as people now come to expect more immersive content from brands in this sector. The trend of people sharing great experiences on social media continues to benefit marketers and puts the customer front and centre. Seeing the results of others who have already been is a powerful persuader so utilising user generated content is a prudent move.
It’s no secret that most travellers rely on multiple sources of information during their buying journey, from the moment they begin considering a destination right up to when they book travel and accommodation. These sources include peer review sites such as TripAdvisor; travel news and media, including travel videos; and, increasingly, mobile apps. We no longer live in a two dimensional ‘brochure-like’ world. Destinations must adapt and embrace new media and technology and take a brandlike approach.
TripAdvisor and Reviews
Vacationers are keen reviewers with half of them stating that they have posted a review of a company or service in the last month, as well as almost 40% using review sites when researching a trip (Global Web Index 2018). TripAdvisor is the number one destination site for travellers looking for 5-star experiences, and so leveraging this user generated (and therefore highly trusted) data is essential. Integrating this data on owned platforms should prevent the need for visitors to double check activities and destinations on the main TripAdvisor site and keep them on your site.
Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are constantly innovating their content formats, most recently by introducing 3D photography on Facebook, to keep users engaged. While Facebook mixes native content from users and traditional banner ads from brands, Instagram is still able to offer a strong organic opportunity for DMOs and drive discoverability of content using hashtags. Instagram is the most visual of social channels, and with an emphasis on inspiration and exploration provides a perfect opportunity for DMOs to latch on to.
Bloggers, Vloggers and Social Influencers
Another key way that DMOs promote their brands is through teaming up with influencers, and around 44% report a very high Return on Investment (ROI) working with bloggers, Instagram stars, and others that have a large presence on social media.
However, as with all aspects of marketing, DMOs need to be strategic when it comes to running programs with influencers. Traditionally, DMOs and influencers have often worked together on an ad-hoc basis, in which bloggers or others with large followings request free stays or press trips in return for coverage on their blogs and social media channels. This landscape has also changed over the last year or so, with the emergence of the ‘micro-influencer’ and many brands are now harnessing the value of a smaller, but highly engaged community, as well as reducing the investment entry point for influencer partnerships. DMOs should consider influencers as both an expert content creator for their target audience as well as a powerful media channel.
Ensuring that influencer activity is working and thus contributing to the ROI is essential. This can be achieved through the use of specially constructed landing pages, tailored to the influencer’s audience and with tailored tracking codes which can attribute conversions to influencer activity. Being able to compare performance on a like- for-like basis from day one will provide the intelligence required to adjust and optimise influencer usage.
Video and Virtual Reality
Both video and virtual reality (VR) are instrumental in content marketing across industries. According to a study by Cisco, video traffic will account for 82% of consumer web traffic by 2020 (compared to 70% in 2015), and most content marketing strategists are focusing heavily on the medium.
There is no better way to market your destination than through video and a quarter of the DMOs we surveyed reported having developed such content to promote their destinations. Formats have evolved over the last couple of years and nearly a third are considering using VR in the future.
Video is expected to continue dominating web traffic in the years to come, and savvy DMOs are investing heavily in the medium in order to drive brand awareness. Video also provides one of the highest content marketing ROIs, a trend that will likely continue, especially as social media becomes more visually driven (as illustrated through the success of 360 video and Instagram Stories).
DMOs are constantly looking at new ways of using technology to provide site visitors with an engaging and memorable experience. Personalisation is now expected from brands and I predict widespread adoption in 2019.
Platforms such as Sitecore are packed with powerful personalisation features and automated marketing, which can be the difference-maker in customer engagement, but few organisations are maximising the opportunities this functionality represents. The concept of building separate landing pages for each user group or scenario is now a dated concept. Personalisation techniques allow pages to be created in-real time, based on the knowledge held on the user or audience segment. Which Google search created the referral? Is the user a first-time visitor or repeat visitor? What country are they in? What device are they using to browse? What information are they looking at? Every interaction is collected and stored, ready to help influence the type of content that should be surfaced to them, based on their interests and browsing history.
Strong signposting is paramount to providing a valuable experience to the user, whilst also encouraging them through the engagement cycle from passive visitor to active user. Using an aligned content strategy, it is possible to intelligently assess strong indicators of a visitor’s needs and motivations. Dwelling on pages about activities for children probably suggests a family visit. Nightlife perhaps suggests a younger visitor. Checking last-minute flight availability and visa regulations could suggest an imminent visit. In collaboration with content specialists and implementation of these technologies, a DMO can interpret Artificial Intelligence (AI) and content into a driver for meaningful insights and targeted content strategies. Surveys reveal that users are happy to give information on themselves when they see it as a mutual benefit and get something back in return. They are happy if they know the information provided is secure and not going to be used inappropriately. Personalisation is a powerful tool and while the data collected can be overwhelming, we see this as essential for destination marketing in 2019.
Inspirational photography will continue to play a key role in site design in 2019 addressing both those looking for the ‘wow factor’ and those looking for a low-key and authentic experience. Leveraging authentic user generated content is both cost-effective and beneficial in appealing to the social savvy audience.
Embedded video will continue to dominate providing an instant overview of a range of experiences that the destination has to offer, thus appealing to a wide cross-section of audiences. However, with the constraints associated with mobile in mind, graceful degradation of the experience is vital especially in those initial areas.
Mobile first should now be obvious with more than 50% of websites being consumed on mobile devices. Having a fast and easy to navigate site on mobile should be the focus of UX and site builds. That said, traditional desktop sites should not be neglected as ‘work-time’ surfing will still provide an impactful experience on larger screens.
Key Marketing and Data Platforms
There are a number of marketing and data platforms currently available in the travel space, and while travel intelligence platforms typically focus on the hospitality industry, many offer specific tools that can be invaluable for certain DMOs. Such platforms are vital to helping DMOs focus, personalise, automate, and target their campaigns to maximize marketing ROI, freeing up time and staff resources to work on other projects. They can also make high-level data analysis and ad targeting more plausible for smaller DMOs that lack the resources for dedicated research personnel.
The most established providers include ADARA, Arrivalist, nSight, and Sojern, along with non-industry-specific tools such as Google Analytics and Facebook Insights. Each platform offers its own unique strengths and capabilities; for example, ADARA Impact is designed specifically for DMOs with data tools that help them see where their campaigns are most successful, by tracking the buyer’s journey across sites and platforms. Arrivalist offers a product that can measure when a computing device is brought to a location after being used for booking, a capability that will be increasingly important as mobile bookings continue to increase over computer-based bookings in years to come.
Insight: Destination Marketing to the Chinese Market
According to a report by the China Tourism Academy in 2017, 131 million Chinese people travelled abroad and spent over $115 billion with predicted continued high growth in traveller numbers and trip frequency. Chinese tourists now form over one fifth of global tourists’ expenditure overseas – twice as much as the U.S.
Last year, China experienced a growth of 18% in outbound international tourism, according to a report by ITB Berlin. With this dynamic growth, China is turning into a vital source market for many destinations. In parallel, the efforts of more destination countries to simplify visa procedures for Chinese tourists has also played a stimulating role. A survey by Nielsen in 2018 found that Chinese tourists care most about experiences when considering destinations, and are willing to spend more on dining, sightseeing and relaxation. The majority of Chinese tourists use mobile payments when travelling abroad and 76% of those looking to travel hoped to be able to use mobile payments when travelling overseas. It is critical that DMOs integrate Chinese mobile payment functionality to help attract tourists to the area, but more importantly, enable them to spend more. Digital marketing that is tailored and presented in Chinese with precise and relevant content is just the beginning. Due to the regulation of the internet, it is imperative to be active on local search engines, such as; Baidu and Sougou; and the social networks that are used exclusively in China – Weibo, WeChat, Youku. The China Tourism Academy Report 2017 found that 60% of Chinese travellers are influenced by social media.
In general, Chinese tourists are heavily influenced by reputation, experiences shared on social media, and influencer or Key Opinion Leader (KOL) campaigns. For non-Chinese DMOs to have access to this growing market they must have expertise in local culture and spending habits, and the unique challenges associated with having an online marketing presence in China.
Building on the trends of inspiration and individual social brand building, being able to leverage the work already being done by advocates, locals and reviewers will be key to creating effective and engaging destination marketing. Rich and immersive content formats will continue to be key to creating engagement, both off and on site with virtual reality and panoramas gaining more traction as the technology becomes more widespread and more cost-effective to produce. On-site data collection and campaign attribution will continue to be key in keeping DMOs informed. Whether this is achieved through the use of tools built for purpose or a bespoke Google Analytics set-up will be reliant on budget.
Your website needs to act as the destination for all marketing activity, so it needs to be fast, easy to use and flexible enough to utilise content whether created internally or by a community of content providers and influencers. Personalisation adds an extra layer of intelligence to ensure an engaging and tailored experience with the added benefits of providing data about website visitors and their needs.
About The Author
Emma Glazier, Global Head of Social Media at Crowd:
Emma has 14 years of experience across the digital marketing spectrum. Over recent years, Emma has been leading specialist digital teams in different global markets to deliver a world-class product for clients. At Crowd, she leads our global social media offering and works on clients such as China Southern Airlines, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Board and Cinema Napa Valley. Emma also has experience across entertainment, automotive, retail and consumer electronics sectors.