Marketing your tourist destination is a unique challenge. After all, what you’re really selling is an experience—one that most folks save up months, if not years, to buy. Further, unlike a product or even a service in some cases, it’s simply not returnable. For these reasons, most people tend to be especially selective when deciding where to travel. The good news? With a smart, strategic marketing plan in place, you can ensure your tourist destination stands out amongst the competition.
There’s plenty of pros and cons to marketing as a tourist destination. Let’s start with the pros. Wherever your business is situated, the surrounding area is typically rife with cafes, bars, shopping, and services. This provides visitors with plenty to see and do with little effort on their behalf to seek these things out. Safety is another concern for a lot of travelers, especially families. Tourist destinations connote a sense of safety simply because they are popular and crowded.
Unfortunately, seasonality is always an issue for tourist destinations. However, by employing clever marketing maneuvers like those below, even seasonality can be overcome. (Quick tip: extend your season with discounts and consider cultivating a niche offseason market with a festival or convention.)
In this piece, ePromos offers some of our best advice for successfully marketing your tourist destination, whether you’re a boutique hotel, quaint bed & breakfast, grand resort, or a public official looking to bring crowds to your dreamy location.
Start with a Strategy
The Internet has made the world wonderfully small in many ways, allowing people access to places they otherwise would never have heard of, let alone considered visiting. What does this mean for you? You’ve got to work even harder to stand out. Developing a clear marketing plan is imperative to making sure your location doesn’t get lost in the overwhelming pile of Google search results.
Before you do anything else, you’ve got to come up with a strategy. This will lead every decision you make going forward. We know, it sounds like a big deal. It is. A clearly defined marketing strategy is the only way to stay on track for the long haul—ensuring each move is targeted at meeting your KPIs and overall business goals. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get side-tracked and veer off course. Not only is this an internal nightmare, you risk confusing, or worse, losing, your customers.
Define Your KPI’s
Your strategy should include how to plan to engage in the best marketing channels for your business. There is a wide range of available channels, from search engine optimization, to email campaigns, to influencer marketing, to traditional print—just to name a few. How do you pick the important ones?
The answer will depend on your specific audience and KPIs.
What advice can we offer? Don’t try to dominate every channel. Instead, set to task mastering a few. As you get comfortable with those, then consider testing out additional efforts. Marketing channels aren’t a one-size-fits-all. Some will even flat out fail you. For this reason, it’s also key to have a short- and long-term strategies with accompanying goals.
The short-term should be made up of tactics you’re fairly confident will work—AKA bring in profit so that you can continue operating. Of course, if you only focus on the short-term, you’ll be shooting your business in the foot by lacking a viable plan for growth over the long-term. Mapping out both versions, which should complement one another, create a roadmap for immediate and future growth.
Creative Ideas for Marketing Your Tourist Destination
Once you have a strategy in place, it’s time to have some fun and get creative. Below, we discuss some key creative marketing ideas to get the word out about your tourist destination. With your strategies and goals mapped out, it should be easy to cherry-pick which ideas work for your business!
1. User-generated Content: Word of mouth is still an old favorite when it comes to getting social buy-in. Why? For most folks, there’s something inherently trustworthy about a real-life review, even if from a total stranger. The motivation to “sell” isn’t there the same way it can feel like it is in other marketing tools. Use this to your advantage. Folks are leaving usable content all over the place—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, travel sites… all you have to do is find their content and ask to share it on your own channels. Also, hello! It’s essentially FREE CONTENT for you!
Another great idea for UGC is to partner with influencers who can spread the glory of your destination in enviable Instagram posts and the like. You’re essentially borrowing their fanbase to promote your destination in exchange for a free trip, service or experience. Both local and non-local influencers can be a serious boon to your biz.
2. Cultivate a Tribe: A great place to get user-generated content? Your very own tribe. These are the folks who know why your destination can’t be beat—and they’re happy to wax poetic about it to anyone that will listen. You want these people. Hell, you need them. And they’re out there, even if you don’t realize it yet.
Some businesses identify and grow their tribe a membership or loyalty program. People love perks, no matter how big or small. It feels good to be notice and appreciated—use that to your advantage. A loyal following is worth its weight in gold.
As your tribe grows, encourage word-of-mouth referrals. Like user-generated content, your tribe’s reviews will come off as more trustworthy than a whole arsenal of other marketing tools.
When getting referrals, don’t forget: love is a two-way street. Remind your tribe how much you appreciate them by thanking them publicly or even gifting them promo items. The gift might depend on your destination. For a seaside escape? Branded beach towels, sunglasses, and flip flops are all necessities. Nestled in a winter wonderland? Accessories like scarves, gloves and mittens, and luggage locks are little giveaways that can go a long way in building goodwill and loyalty.
You can gift these items in a number of different ways. Did someone tag you in a raving Instagram post? Thank ‘em and privately message them for their address send out a little promo gift. These random acts of love are guaranteed to floor your tribe. You can also create a clear system with rewards for referrals. For example, one referral or online review gets 10% off the next visit, five gets a thank you gift basket, 10 gets a discount on a one-night stay, gift card, or other more generous repayment.
3. Collaborate: Looking to make a real splash? Strike a partnership with someone with megawatt appeal. Celebrity appearances are a surefire way to get noticed. And ‘celebrity’ doesn’t have to be an actor: it could be a sports hero, someone local from a popular news story, or recognized professional within an industry that complements your own.
If Hollywood isn’t your vibe, you might also consider teaming up with a charity, nonprofit organization, or even a local bar or restaurant for a good cause. The amplified dual-marketing will get you in front of folks you likely wouldn’t capture yourself.
4. Be Where Your Customer Is: And yes, we do mean physically! You’ll want to market your brand wherever your customer considers “home”, as well as at their “home away from home”.
Consider tourists and locals, if both are your customer. For tourists, how can you help them learn more about you while they’re researching their trip at home? On the flight over? Making plans in their hotel room? Don’t just “pray and spray”! So long as you have data on your customers, you likely have a good idea where they call home, and how they learned about your business. And if you don’t have any data, you might want to start there before shelling out for marketing strategies!
For locals, your marketing tactics may be more traditional, but think back to cultivating your tribe—a community from your home base. For example, if your main demographic is older, are those people hanging around local malls and shops? Exercise classes? Activity centers? Consider setting up a table at a local event, printing and promoting traditional coupons, or posting flyers with discounts and information on their daily boards. If your demographic is teenagers and 20-somethings, your best bet for reaching them may be online (check out our Marketing to Millennials piece for some staggering stats). For that age group, you’ll need to be sure you’ve got a killer social media game.
Take it up a notch by having ePromos create a customized logo and other artwork that can be used for a cohesive strategy on social media, like Snapchat filters. Another idea: engage your audience by hosting Twitter chats about travel, or something else that your destination is known for (surfing, eco-tourism, etc.—what makes you stand out?)
5. Become Known for Something Locally: Stand out from the pack by becoming known for something wonderfully unique. It’ll create a buzz that, eventually, will carry itself with little effort from you. A fantastic example is a Philadelphia restaurant, Barclay Prime, which became known for being the home of the $100 cheesesteak. Is it a tad gimmicky? Sure. Did it land them on Letterman, countless news sites, and all over social media? You bet. And guess what? Almost 15 years later it’s still a thing—their thing. It stuck.
Discover what you can or do do well—better than anyone else around—and foster it, promote it, love it like no other. Set a record, or invite customers to attempt to set one at your place. Be the company who did or does that thing. Folks will notice. Then, they’ll get curious. Then, you’ve got them where you want them. Make their trip worth the visit, and they’ll come back with friends.
Marketing your tourist destination can have huge financial benefits, not just for your business, but the local economy. With a comprehensive, creative marketing plan using the tips above, you can guide your way to a successful, well-loved destination for folks across the globe.