July 25th wrapped up the annual Destinations International convention in St. Louis, MO and Destination ENV was happy to attend this year. For those of you who couldn’t make it, we wanted to provide a few takeaways that left a lasting impression on us.
While this year’s event covered a wide range of topics and challenges facing destination marketers, we walked away with one overarching theme: A DMO’s investment in cultural understanding and taking a compassionate approach to marketing shouldn’t be viewed as an aspirational goal, but a necessity for making your destination not only attractive, but responsive to the changing mindsets of travelers. This includes investment in cultural understanding and developing consistent messaging that can stand the test of time.
To provide some structure for this post, I’ve organized our takeaways by specific pain points or overall challenges we feel are top of mind for destination marketers today.
Creating better measurement & attribution
How DMOs work with partners within their destination is vitally important, not only from a relationship standpoint, but also to gain invaluable insights and data on the impact of an organization’s marketing efforts. While engagement with a DMO’s online properties and intent-based metrics can be useful, creating a systematic approach for measuring end-to-end performance will allow DMOs to truly understand where they’re receiving the most ROI from their efforts, whether digital, traditional, or grassroots initiatives. From our perspective, this is one of the single greatest challenges facing travel organizations today and a key area of focus for Destination ENV. In the meantime, we highly recommend working with your marketing and analytics partners to create better attribution models based on the data you already have. These efforts can start small and evolve into more robust business intelligence frameworks.
Elevating a DMO’s branding & positioning
Whether it was straightforward advice on using authentic imagery versus standard stock photography, leveraging user generated content, or the importance of cause marketing—panelists during the Differentiate your Destination presentation provided unique and useful perspectives to fellow marketers on how to position their destinations for broader appeal. In particular, the idea that just stating you’re an inclusive destination isn’t really enough. There’s a real opportunity for DMOs to specifically state the causes they’re rallying behind as this not only promotes empathy on behalf of an organization, but also provides the chance for DMOs to really sell through the causes and communities that make their destination one of a kind.
These efforts can start small by including actual residents associated with these causes in your online and offline marketing materials for authenticity, to full-scale promotional efforts.
The rise of “localhood” vs. overtourism
The idea of promoting a destination’s local culture and livelihood to create tourism with a purpose was the central theme of Signe Jungersted’s presentation. The organization coined the term “localhood” which involves exposing new areas of your destination that could use attention and a financial boost. As a result, communities can gain exposure and travelers can take part in once-in-a-lifetime experiences that may not always be obvious during the planning stages of their trip.
Destination innovation and product development
One of the hotter trends in tourism, experiential travel, is no doubt a result of the “information age” we find ourselves in. With data and reviews of hotels, restaurants, and other attractions at our fingertips, it has never been easier to curate a trip from the comfort of your home. But what makes the tourist talk about their trip on social media? What causes them to run to the mountaintops to scream about the incredible time they had on their recent family vacation? And perhaps most importantly, what causes them to come back? It’s all in the experience.
As Joe Veneto of The Veneto Collaboratory put it: Experiences are the currency of today’s savvy traveler. In order to compete with other destinations cities and states must innovate by leveraging assets to create compelling visitor experiences. A great example is what the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau has done. By collaborating with their local business partners, the GMCVB crafted engaging experiences that go beyond the normal cultural attraction. It’s one thing to get a drink from a renowned mixologist, but how about going through a fun “Bitters Boot Camp”? For example, Madison has a Mustard Museum. Now visitors can go one step further and take part in a tasting.
It’s all about taking existing destinations and finding ways to further enhance, and as a result, monetize the actual experience.
While there’s a breadth of topics we could touch on from this year’s convention in St. Louis, we hope this wrap up provides you with some key insights and focus areas as you approach, manage, and refine your own marketing strategies.