We've shared how experiential travel is on the rise, with travellers increasingly wanting to experience a country, city or particular place by connecting to its history, people and culture. To keep up, destination marketing organisations need to adapt their strategy and double down on experience-driven marketing.
The core elements of success? Recognising your strongest local experiences, having a unified vision of what your destination offers, and not attempting to market everything you offer.
Travellers are increasingly heading to TripAdvisor rather than DMO websites for the research phase
The turn to review sites, not official sites, for travel information
Digital innovation has led to increased connectivity and ease of sharing travel inspiration in recent years, and this has changed how and where travellers research, plan, and book a trip online.
Justin Reid, former head of digital and social media at Visit Britain and, since 2014, head of DMO sales for Europe, Middle East and Africa at TripAdvisor said to WTM,
"People are going less to official websites like Visit Britain for travel information, and more and more to review sites. [...] People trust reviews. There is a strong social leaning. It is a gradual progression, reflecting a lot on the general decline in traffic to DMO websites.”
Justin Reid, Head of DMO Sales at TripAdvisor
However, it's important to recognise that travellers don't tend to go to TripAdvisor for inspiration. It's a better tool for the planning process, for when a traveller has finished dreaming about where they want to go and is ready to weigh up what local suppliers have to offer.
Here's our guide to how a DMO can power up their experience-driven marketing and provide a unified vision of their destination throughout the travel customer journey, be it on their own website, on TripAdvisor, or on other online and offline platforms.
1. DMOs need to have information where people are
DMOs must understand where their audience is and reach them there, even if it means taking their efforts away from their own website.
It's also worth adjusting your marketing to each stage of the travel customer journey, or what Google describes as the "micro moments" of travel. We recommend that you identify where your customers are for the following stages:
I-want-to-get-away moments (dreaming moments)
- This might be looking at user-generated content (UGC), such as posts and photos on Facebook or Instagram.
Time-to-make-a-plan moments (planning moments)
- Are users heading to TripAdvisor for honest reviews? For an attraction, restaurant, or hotel to reach the #1 spot, they need to have quality, recency and quantity of reviews.
Let's-book-it moments (booking moments)
- Make sure that local suppliers accept online bookings, ideally using a standardized booking system. You could even become a marketplace for your destination.
Can't-wait-to-explore moments (experiencing moments)
- How are users sharing their experience? Their user-generated content could be a brilliant marketing tool to help other travellers kick-start their own dreaming moments.
Remember to promote what people are looking for, not what you want them to like.
Are your customers on Twitter? If so, you need to be there too.
2. DMOs need to market experiences
Do you recognise this photo? It's likely that you do! Trolltunga in Norway has become one of the world's most photographed tourism spots, despite being visited by less than 500 visitors per year before 2010. The Norwegian town, Hardanger, was in quick decline in 2009, but the local DMO's strategy to ignite their destination marketing was nothing less than extraordinary.
You can read more about the magic of Trolltunga in our trend report whitepaper, but one of the main reasons for its success was that Hardanger recognised their natural advantage. They also knew that Trolltunga was an experience that travellers would dream about visiting.
When marketing experiences in your destination, aim to:
- Understand what customers are dreaming about
- Recognise your natural advantage (e.g. Barcelona is great for food, Dublin is known for its history, Switzerland wants you to "get natural").
- Identify which suppliers contribute to the unified vision you wish to convey
- Avoid listing or promoting every operator on your website: pick those that contribute to your unified vision and will inspire travellers
- Think about the feelings and aspirations that travellers are looking for from each experience and your destination as a whole, and then use these in your marketing
Video marketing, extremely well thought-out content, and a continually evolving understanding of the modern tourist can be powerful tools for any DMO. It's also essential that local suppliers are accepting online bookings and ideally using a standardized system.
3. DMOs need to focus on the traveller
For successful experience-driven marketing, you should: be where the user is online, use powerful visuals to market unique and authentic local experiences, and appeal to their lifelong aspirations with a unified vision of your destination.
This explains the success of Travel Alberta's Remember to Breathe campaign, as mentioned in The Rise of Experiential Travel Report by Skift + Peak. Where other destinations focus on the ‘what there is to do’ message, Alberta focuses on the ‘how will it make me feel’ message.
As Royce Chwin, chief marketing officer at Travel Alberta, explains in the Skift + Peak report, "We don’t want to bombard the traveler with a laundry list of things to do. For us, less is more.”
This approach is right at the heart of the experiential travel trend, and it conjures an authenticity that leads to a compelling modern marketing strategy.
4. DMOs need to know what experiences the user is looking for
It's a wasted effort for a DMO to market what they think visitors should like. Yes, there are some attractions that are a key part of a destination's identity (such as Stonehenge in England's South West), but you need concrete data of what the user is looking for.
Monitor social media discussions, track online search trends, and keep on top of the visitor stats for your local experiences. You can also aim to foresee trends, as Hardanger did with Trolltunga. Ask yourself: which experiences fit the unified vision of your destination, have positive feedback from visitors, yet are still undermarketed?
5. DMOs need to change how they work with travel bloggers
In July 2016, Matt Kepnes of popular travel blog Nomadic Matt said to Tnooz how "brands and DMOs have to offer more than just a free trip if you are looking to bring in top-tier bloggers".
Money is infinite and time is finite for travel bloggers, and instead of saying “we want you to come visit our destination”, DMOs need to facilitate more integrated cross-promotion and factor in the bloggers’ other ventures, added Kepnes.
This means that a DMO should not only share some of the blogger's articles through their own networks, but also promote the blogger's other projects and products. DMOs should also find ways to offer value to the blogger's readers, for instance with deals and discounts.
To be considered by the elite of travel blogging, DMOs need to think in terms of cross-promotion instead of freebies and shout-outs.
6. The DMO that thrives is using data
It's more important than ever for a DMO to keep up with consumer data. By better identifying what people are searching for, DMOs can adjust their marketing and drive resources into promoting the local experiences that inspire and sell. As the Skift + Peak report says, data is what the DMO that thrives will be getting right:
"By tracking social media, website analytics, location data, blog comments, search metrics, traveler reviews, etc., the travel brand who thrives in tomorrow’s travel economy is the one most aware and aligned with their customers’ purchase behaviors and travel values."
- The Rise of Experiential Travel Report, Skift + Peak
Get data-driven insights, best practice case studies, and action points in our latest research report, Making Experiences the Cornerstone of Destination Marketing
Published by Lucy Fuggle
Lucy is Head of Content Marketing at TrekkSoft. She tries to read a book a week, travel solo every month, and share ideas on lucyfuggle.com. You can usually find her in Switzerland's Berner Oberland.