Right now, a family is planning a vacation and their mindset is radically different from the travelers of three years ago. Their motivations are more sophisticated, their needs are more complex, and their media choices are more fragmented. If you’re marketing a destination, your fundamental strategies must keep pace with how consumers plan trips today. You have to market on their terms, exceed their expectations of a brand, and outsmart your competition rather than outspend them. This vacation business is hard work.
In our years working with a Central American destination, we’ve tried a lot of non-traditional approaches, from using a sloth as a spokesperson to window washers to embracing new digital and social platforms as early as possible. Following are a few things we’ve learned that can help any modern travel brand win:
You can do better than a beach photo. Yes, people want a beach. But lots of destinations have a beach. Tourism advertising isn’t merely cluttered; it’s all the same. So challenge yourself to tell a different brand story. What’s the unique role your destination can play in people’s lives? If you merely invite visitors to see the sights, you could end up competing on price and convenience. You don’t want your audience to daydream; you want to move them to action. Your campaign needs to be more than a postcard.
Know your destination and audience insanely well. Visit the destination, and do it more than once. Not just for the fun of it, but as disciplined research. Put yourself in the shoes of the traveler and be honest with yourself about the experience. Watch the visitors and talk with them. You’ll come away with much better insights about the real reasons people visit. You’ll understand the emotional takeaway a campaign has to convey, and be able to describe it in richer, more nuanced terms. Your campaign will tell more differentiating stories — the stories that will make people want to visit.
Narrow your audience for long-term impact. In tourism, it’s particularly tempting to spread your resources across vast, broad audiences. Instead of targeting an “all-ages segment,” narrowly define your most valuable audience. Choosing a narrow audience clarifies your message and your media choices. It’s not just about media efficiency. This focus will increase your relevance and resonance. Paradoxically, it helps your destination get talked about by more people, not less.
Share authentic stories in real time. Remember a couple of years ago, when people would come home from vacation and upload a thousand photos to Flickr? Today, of course, people post to their social channels the second they’re zip lining or surfing. This organic content becomes a phenomenal ad for the destination, inspiring envy from other potential travelers in real time. People’s authentic love of a destination is something no ad can fake. Supplemented by the rest of your campaign story, your brand’s storylines become layered, more rich and persuasive. Be where your audience is, especially if they’re in your own backyard.
Solve a bigger problem for people. Investigate the reason behind the reason people are traveling. Is it merely to escape or to grow as a person? If you elevate the “why” question a level or two, you’ll find a better reason for them to visit. If you know what they want and why they want it, these insights can become your brand’s purpose and your reason for being — beyond making money. Once your brand has a clear purpose, the stories suddenly get a lot more interesting. It can inspire big brand actions, which in turn becomes compelling content. Every travel brand has something to say. To stand out, find something your brand can do.
The future of tourism is happening now, at least for travelers. To win, travel brands must be more authentic, more real-time and deliver more of a shared conversation than ever before. If you have the guts to disrupt in a welcoming way, your travel brand can become as refreshing as a vacation itself.