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Things To Consider When Creating A Destination Marketing Strategy

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

Destination marketing is the term used to describe the concerted effort to promote a destination, either for tourism purposes, or for meetings and conventions. The process of developing a strategic plan to attract more people requires quite a bit of research. Unlike other industries, destinations are brands that are built over time and often require large investments and synergy with local governments. This is the reason that having a plan backed by a deep market analysis and the use of data will garner more success than blindly following what other destinations are doing, or what has been done in the past.

Our consumer markets are ever-evolving. Consider this, before the pandemic Hawaii’s domestic travelers accounted for a certain amount of total tourists, and once the state opened but other countries didn’t, this caused a shift in our visitor markets. For the first time in decades, we had minimal travel from any Asian country. Although we feel this is consequential to what was happening at the time, this now needs to be taken into account when re-building and planning for the future. A truly sustainable plan consists of research, planning, flexibility, partnerships and a way to measure your efforts.

When developing a marketing plan for destinations these are some of the key strategic points that I take into consideration:

Who is the audience that we are trying to engage? Understanding their demographic makeup and the values they hold are two of the most important things to consider. How do these people interact with similar offerings, what are the motivations behind their actions, how often do they enact certain behaviors such as traveling. For example, Hawaii’s tourism visitor segments include people who come frequently to Hawaii from the west coast. Some visitors are here for their family, some are required to travel for work, some just come to vacation. Although they are visitors from the West Coast, each of these segments holds very different values. Understanding this is crucial to uncovering opportunities within each segment. If you know that a specific segment travels consistently to your destination, then what partnerships are you forming with transportation, airlines, hotels, and local businesses, etc, in order to cater to a repeat visitor.

Do the current market trends align with what you are trying to promote? Once you have an understanding of your demographic, you can go a step further and understand the current market trends. Although an analysis is meant to be custom to your destination, some of the basic things you’ll need to consider are: current events, politics (think of how the market reacts during presidential elections), transportation (flights, rentals, local), large investments within the market, perception and tone used with similar destinations, historical growth rates and predictions, local government initiatives, etc. Let’s say that there is a big move towards eco-friendly options, cheaper modes of traveling, and that due to the pandemic, people are choosing domestic travel rather than international. This might prompt an internal conversation about what parts of your offerings align with those trends. Is your location accessible? By what means of transportation? What does your local government do to keep the green spaces, or which portion of the businesses are “green”? What does the hospitality market look like, how do they compare in price to a similar location? You may find that there are adjustments you can make to capitalize on your brand message.

What is the essence of your destination? Having a concrete tone, consistent branding and nice assets are all things every destination needs, however, before you embark on creating your assets, have you thought about what your brand really means? What does your destination represent to people? If you were to personify the destination, who would it be? What qualities would they have? Answering questions such as how do I want people to feel when they leave this place, or how do I want to make them feel welcomed when they arrive, will help in uncovering the essence of who you are and what you should focus on through your offerings. If you’re not sure how to uncover this, look at your local market, the region, and do some social listening to understand what reviews people leave, how they felt while they were there, what words they used to describe their experiences. Whenever I have this conversation, I always ask “Who Are You?” and this often results in a lot of very ambiguous responses. The goal is to narrow down who you are, what you offer, how you speak about that offering, and where you speak about it. Being able to define your brand will help you form partnerships, it will keep all internal stakeholders on the same page and will help unify the message that your partners disseminate about you.

What offerings are available now? Doing an inventory of things that your destination can offer today is a must in being able to create a sustainable destination marketing plan. The goal of this is to be able to uncover new opportunities for cross promotion, services or partnerships with the resources that you already have. As always, using and re-purposing what you have is a more cost-effective alternative and will be easier to implement. Oftentimes, I find that my clients want to adapt a whole product that is costly and is completely new instead of taking internal inventory of human capital, resources, market trends, and the structure of a system. This particular process is an ongoing one. Taking into account the many things your destination is set up to offer can change overtime, especially as new people are hired, new technology is available, or other external and internal factors.

Which channels are best to reach my audience? Selecting media outlets that can target your audience efficiently will help you achieve your results with a minimal investment on your part. Along with partnerships, being able to reach segments where they’re already engaging will increase your marketing ROI. When you’re thinking about the effectiveness of each channel it is important to state what the goal of each channel is and how you’ll evaluate it. Each segment may use different channels, for example, an older generation may use different social media platforms, watch local TV channels, read the news on a tablet, while a younger segment may not. Same can be said for different types of segments, for example, if your destination is known for its great sports and outdoor activities, you should be talking to the sports doers and the event organizers differently and through different channels. One may be through a partnership with sports agencies, while the other may be through social media to increase brand awareness.

What partnerships or collaborations are most meaningful? Recognizing partnerships and gaining collaboration with others will help to magnify your efforts. Destination marketing is about working with others to create a profitable environment for everyone. The goal is to leverage strengths, turn weaknesses into opportunities and use others to amplify your voice. If your destination is known for catering to the LGBTQ+ community and you know that there is a large amount of those segments within your flight paths, then this may be an opportunity to work with airlines to bring those segments in. This may also present opportunities with tourism operators or other local government initiatives. Wanting to go after The Pink Dollar is a simple example, but there’s many more partnerships and collaborations you can plan for.

The goal of creating a sustainable destination marketing strategy is to help create a road map that has objective measurable results. In order to achieve this, you must truly understand the market and have deep insight into your offerings. You must also be able to evaluate your efforts with specific goals in mind, so that you can make smarter decisions. Destination marketing is interesting because so many external factors contribute to the success of your business. Flexibility is a must, but all decisions must be made with data at hand and a clear understanding of what it is you’re changing and why.

Success isn’t always linear, and you might uncover different revenue streams or underserved segments in the process of fine-tuning your strategy. Always remember to ask yourself these basic questions and you’ll have a solid foundation to build on.

Hawaii Think Tank has over 37 years of experience in destination marketing and can help you uncover new opportunities. Contact Us for more information.


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