In January, before the world turned upside down, North Dakota started using the tagline “Follow your curiosity, not the crowds.” Now that advice has taken on tremendous power as those who are choosing to travel are seeking out places where they can be relatively far apart from their fellow travelers.
That was the silver lining. On the other hand, a significant portion of the state’s visitor arrivals were from Canada — and that source has been cut off with the closing of that border.
In an effort to both capitalize on North Dakota’s appeal as an uncrowded destination and to compensate for the lost Canada business, the state worked with Nativo, a native advertising specialist, to come up with a campaign that had to accommodate a very limited budget.
According to tourism officials, destination management organizations (DMOs) account for only 6.4% of website visits among people looking to book vacations.
With international travel on hold for most people, DMOs like North Dakota Tourism are gearing up for a surge in local travel by revamping their content marketing/distribution strategies. Here’s what tourism officials did:
Sara Otte Coleman, director, tourism & marketing, at the North Dakota Dept. of Commerce, said the state has always had to make smart decisions because of its limited budget. Outreach has long been regional -- to markets like Chicago and Minneapolis -- and there had been strong growth before the pandemic hit..
Coleman said the state has worked with Nativo before to target potential visitors and for help with measurement. Since people don’t know the state very well, she said, longer format messages like those Nativo deploys work better.
At the beginning of the pandemic, North Dakota shifted some money to “inspirational” messaging -- just trying to keep the state on people’s minds without any kind of sell. As things opened a bit, the target markets were North Dakotans, and then gradually broadened to a regional audience.
Josh Duhamel, the actor and proud North Dakotan, has been involved in the state’s campaigns for a number of years and contributed voiceovers and videos. “We wanted to do things in a way that didn’t dismiss the (pandemic) situation,” said Coleman, “but to call out the fact that maybe there was a way to travel responsibly.”
In fact, new customers have been traveling, replacing traditional one. One example was fishing -- extremely popular with Canadians and now seeing strong numbers from American travelers. Hotel occupancies are inching up and more places are opening. In the end, said Coleman, “You have to go by consumer confidence -- and we’re encouraged by the results we’re seeing.”
Nimble marketing has been a goal of many for a long time, but, as North Dakota tourism officials know, these times leave little choice.