Tourism marketing – whose job is it?
A tourist board, of course, is there to promote its local destination and attract as many visitors as possible. But what about the actual marketing?
It is tempting for tourist boards to leave the marketing work almost completely up to tour operators, and many times, this is what happens. The tourist board and/or hotels sign contracts with one or more operators, who then have the job of bringing in the visitors. But it is easy to see that this is a risky strategy.
For a start, tour operators have no real loyalty to any particular destination, and will devote the most marketing effort to wherever is more profitable for them. If that’s not you, too bad. And what happens when countries like Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia come back online and start offering their product for next to nothing? The tour operators will just take all their clients there and forget about you.
If, as a tourist board, you want to drive direct bookings to your holiday destination, then you need to own the customer relationship.
No, you don’t need to do all the marketing yourself. No, you don’t need a huge budget. But yes, you need to take charge and lead local businesses in a coordinated marketing effort.
Marketing up close and personal
Before we talk about 8 ways to take charge of your destination marketing, here’s an important idea to keep in mind. Social media marketing is not really about big budget ads and huge campaigns trying to go viral. It’s about the many little personal interactions that go on every day between your visitors and their friends.
Everyone talks about big data, but it’s actually about small data – breaking things right down to the basic and most genuine relationships. Let’s say someone comes out the water from a scuba dive, puts a beer in front of him and uses the available free WiFi to upload a photo and tag the dive centre on Facebook. All the people back at the office, where it is pouring with rain, will be so jealous and will want to know where he’s staying. They will be much more interested in the destination than if they saw a simple ad. A post by a friend is seen as much more genuine and persuasive than anything you or a business could produce.
And that’s it in a nutshell: if your tourist board could educate and help enough local businesses to join in and encourage interactions like this, that’s your marketing strategy right there!
Rather than rely on tour operators and their glossy campaigns, you need to form the relationship directly with prospective visitors, so that they are asking for your destination specifically, and not just any place in the sun!
Reach out person by person, at a grassroots level. It’s a more effective and long-lasting strategy.
Here are 8 ways to get started:
1) Shift your budget to support those who produce great content about your destination
As a tourist board, you don’t need to focus your energy on producing great content because there are probably already local people or businesses doing an excellent job at that. Find out who they are and support them. Identify those who could do much better with a little help and offer your guidance. Facilitate the production of content and help share and spread it around. Become a powerful networker.
Devote some of your budget to funding the art of producing engaging content. Ten years ago, a destination needed to go abroad and have offices in important markets. Now, with social media and digital solutions you don’t need that. Instead, reduce the number exhibitions you attend and use the money you save to reach out to people more directly, through the businesses they and their friends visit.
2) Reward and encourage businesses that promote your destination
Think of your tourist board as the trendsetter in digital marketing. Your job is to encourage businesses to see the value of promoting themselves and your destination in the social media.
Create a ‘Webby Awards’ scheme to reward those companies that are embracing great content that promotes your local destination. Give credibility and status to these awards by having a properly organised event with attractive prizes. This will not only create awareness but will also motivate other businesses to get involved.
One of the biggest problems with social media marketing is keeping up to date in an ever-changing environment. You can’t expect each and every little business to be constantly reading about the latest digital marketing techniques and best practices, and that is why many of them do a half-hearted job and eventually give up.
However, as a tourist board, you are in the right position to take a leading role and have a system in place for passing on the latest tips and ideas to your local businesses. Of course, you don’t have to do the research yourself either. That’s the job of your social media consultants.
4) Form a Great Content Society to promote best practices in all kinds of online content
Great content comes in several forms. Naturally, you should encourage the production of quality blogs, videos, photography and so on. However, it is just as important to educate businesses on the best way to respond and interact on forums, on other blogs, and, of course, on TripAdvisor.
Those interactions count as content too. They remain online indefinitely and show up in Google searches, reflecting well (or badly!) on your destination and local businesses.
Organise willing businesses to form a Great Content Society, where they help each other and learn from sharing their experiences. Give this group your support and encouragement to be creative and challenge the status quo.
5) Provide resources to help businesses create quality photos and video
Many local businesses, especially smaller ones, simply do not have the money or resources they need to make the most of their online marketing by creating top quality visual content. One way you could help is by building a collection of stock photography and video related to your destination and making this available to local advertisers.
Build a photo studio and use it as a creative hub where participating businesses can get their creative juices flowing and take advantage of the professional equipment available.
Another idea could be to buy a car that is kitted out for professional photography and filming, provide a driver and police support if necessary, and allow high profile photo or video shoots to have access to this car for free. You can also do something similar with drones, probably much more cost-effectively.
6) Build the personal brands of key local personalities
An important part of shifting the marketing focus towards personal interactions is to build up the personal brand image of those involved in the tourist industry. Key figures on the tourist board, as well as those who lead local tourist businesses, should maintain active profiles on the important social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
This should be encouraged as part of the local marketing strategy.
7) Get businesses to recognise the importance of Google Maps
With the rise of the mobile internet, tourists are using Google Maps more and more to discover interesting places and activities nearby.
The local tourist board needs to educate businesses about this development and encourage them to make sure their business marker is correctly placed on Google Maps. It’s useless to show up when your marker is inaccurate by up to a kilometre, as we’ve seen happen in practice time and again.
At the same time, businesses need to make sure that their Google Plus business pages are up to date and project a proper professional image, because that is what people will most likely see after searching on Google Maps.
8) Foster better online connectivity in your locality
Put political pressure on internet providers to make high-speed internet available throughout your destination. Soon, holidaymakers will be taking the available bandwidth into consideration when choosing a destination, whether they need to stay in touch with work, or just watch their favourite shows on Netflix.
Take those 8 ideas and start putting them into practice right away.
As you can see, your tourist board does not have to spend huge amounts of money to stay on top of the digital marketing revolution. Instead, it is a question of using the available resources wisely, to lead and encourage local businesses and get them to join in the collective effort of marketing your destination.
And always keep the overarching principle in mind: the mammoth task of bringing in the tourists needs to be broken down into a series of personal interactions by businesses and their customers – interactions that reach the audience directly and resonate with them.
Written by Andrew De Gabriele & John Beckley