How to make your Destination #1 - Tell your Friends!
Holidays have always had a familiar pattern. The blessed week away starts with check-in on a Saturday and ends with cases packed and loaded back into the car 7 days later. But the excitement and process of preparing for that holiday starts way earlier. As a child I can remember the timeline well. As soon as the Christmas adverts on TV ended, on came the Summer holiday ads. Scenes of golden beaches, smiling families and frolics poolside were everywhere. It was the trigger to punctuate a shopping trip into town with a visit to the travel agent. There, mum would dreamily pick up the travel company and destination brochures to pore over when she got home. For some reason we always collected the exotic holidays one too, despite the chances of us enjoying three weeks in Barbados being unlikely. Nowadays that process has changed, and it makes the role of destination marketing agencies more complex than ever before. The tourism boards of my youth owned all the information. With some great photography, an eye catching offer and the brochures being available everywhere, marketing a destination became predictable. The offer was made and it was for the holidaymaker to scramble to book early and secure the dates and hotels they wanted. All done by April, sit back and wait for the Summer!
Today, holiday firms don't really bother with brochures and destination guides are more targeted at visitors in-destination. The marketing mix which was heavily weighted towards paid media - adverts and brochures - had started to be overtaken by earned media - editorial reporting. It wasn't long before the recommendation of Judith Chalmers' Holiday show on TV or the Sunday paper's review of a sun kissed apartment in the old town of whatever city was this years go-to-destination became the key influencer on where Mum wanted to decamp for the Summer. But sure enough, people 'wised-up' to the fact Judith Chalmers was only visiting places she was paid to go to and reporters were writing favourable reviews because they'd been on paid junkets called 'Media Familiarisation Trips'. Those of us who had been persuaded to visit the 'destination' often realised it sometimes didn't quite live up to the promise. As technology advanced, and continues to do so, we no longer needed the endorsement of a celebrity to plan our vacations. We can turn to the people who we trust most to inform our decisions. People just like us. We asked our friends, neighbours and family how their holiday went. We look enviously at their Facebook feed and Instagram updates as they tucked into regional dishes in secluded beach-side tavernas, and we listen intently to the stories of what they did, what they liked and what they hated when they got back. 'Word of Mouth', as it is with many consumer actions, is now top of the influencer charts for planning our holidays.
This leaves Destination Marketing Organisations with a set of fresh challenges. How do we get involved in that conversation? How do we learn what people are saying? How do we promote what they say they love and how can we work with our partners and others to address the issues which irritate them? In the last decade all destinations have embraced 'owned media' - with every town, beach resort, hotel or wedding venue having its own websites and social media channels. These help us start, track and analyse conversations and engagements we are having with visitors and prospective guests, but we really want to listen in to the conversations they are having with their friends - what we would call an influencer network. Working with destinations and venues, we are using content to unlock that conundrum. Our world is a very visual one now. Heck, we choose our 'phones based on the quality of the camera! And we also know that the intangible moment - the experience - is the real currency of a great vacation. So providing video and photo opportunities, asking for and promoting the social content of our visitors through our channels and sharing the holy grail of destination marketing - positive consumer generated content - "me having a great time" - allows us introduction and access. With my clients we are using the techniques established in our work with consumer goods companies to develop Net Promoter Scores to give destinations benchmarks against which they can plan their marketing, advertising, media and social campaigns with greater impact and outcome. There are some agencies doing a good job of collecting and providing that data analysis for us - capturing sentiment and trends - which we can then harness to work with DMOs to set KPIs and develop and deliver campaigns. The process for choosing that week in the sun, is now a 52 week operation. DMOs are no longer simply marketing the availability of accommodation and entertainment to potential tourists, we are Destination Managers - shaping every conversation about our place, and promoting positive experiences. Contact us at martin@98RepublicPR.com to learn more.