As travelers return to the skies and roads, they’re seeking destinations that fulfill the escapist fantasies they’ve spent the last year-plus dreaming about. Yet, many DMOs are relying on their pre-COVID tactics in attracting prospective travelers, who now have heightened expectations and different needs.
By Jeff Ficker
Discover how smart DMOs across the country are giving their destinations a marketing makeover, boosting their outreach with bold messaging, evocative content and focused strategies that break through the usual destination-marketing clutter of brewery and burger photos. Learn how to position your destination as a must-visit getaway by amping up its unique character and offerings.
1. Spotlight the Magic of Your Geography
Ground your destination in its landscape — whether that means shimmering lakes, soaring mountains, lush, rolling fields or natural wonders — and transport your prospective travelers to their dream destination. Take a cue from travel magazines and present your DMO as though it were a glossy publication. What would be on the cover? But avoid geographic shots that don’t evoke a sense of “take me there.”
2. Highlight Marquee Attractions
Skip nondescript streetscapes and government buildings (no one has ever planned a trip around visiting a state capitol building). Instead, focus on the only-here sights that set your destination apart. Shine a big, bright light on the attractions that compel people to visit, and market your classics, from the “greatest hits” to must-try, quintessentially “your destination” experiences.
3. Showcase Local Cuisine
There’s something about a burger and beer photo at a local brewery that sets a destination marketer’s heart aflutter. Unfortunately, nearly every place across the country has a great burger and beer. Instead, spotlight culinary experiences that reflect your destination’s heritage, culture and geography. Think tacos in Tucson or Los Angeles. Barbecue in Austin or St. Louis. Fresh lobster paired with a glass of white wine in Maine or Massachusetts.
4. Elevate Shopping to an Experience
Skip the outlets, chains and generic mall shots. As Europeans have known for generations, travelers enjoy the promenade of shopping — the ability to experience a destination on foot (or bike). Highlight shopping experiences that immerse travelers into your destination.
5. Offer Authentic Cultural Context
Connect travelers to residents in a way that authentically showcases how local cultures have shaped your destination — and continue to do so in fresh way: Native American art in Phoenix, the Blues in Memphis, the world-class culinary scene (and one of the most dynamic Asian food cities in the country) in Las Vegas. Share the stories of the modern-day artists, chefs, musicians — and then offer opportunities to go deeper and experience these contributions firsthand, such as with visits to museums, landmarks or cultural sites.
6. Promote Your Seasonal Wows
Highlight those times of year when your destination is at its peak. Prompt prospective travelers to switch from daydreaming to booking by creating a sense of urgency. Spring wildflowers in California, fall leaf-peeping in the Northeast and, of course, D.C.’s cherry blossoms are wonderful lures and look great on a website, too. And don’t forget Tennessee’s two weeks of synchronous fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains every spring. Entice travelers with these seasonal showstoppers.
7. Celebrate Pop Culture Connections
Pop culture tourism first drew American filmgoers to Los Angeles in the 20th century. Now, the world’s art, music, literature, sci-fi and sports are tempting travelers hoping to experience the homes and haunts of their favorite pastimes and pleasures. You don’t have to have a Dollywood or Graceland to attract travelers, though. The quirky can be a powerful draw. Roswell, N.M., has leaned in to its Area 51 rumors; the “Rocky Steps” leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art encourage movie-lovers of all ages to scale the stairs while touring the City of Brotherly Love.
8. Showcase Unique Accommodations
Partly for social distancing reasons and partly as a response to being trapped at home for over a year, travelers are craving fun, unique, over-the-top accommodations. From Airstream trailers, yurts and dude ranches to lavish resorts, beach or lake houses, and mountainside cabins, the time is now for new and fun accommodations.
9. Create Only-Here Itineraries
Curate audience-specific itineraries that offer a rich, multidimensional snapshot of your destination, from activities and sights to food and accommodations. There are unique characteristics and experiences in every destination, but avoid pushing areas or attractions that may be politically advantageous but do not actually attract travelers (e.g., if you are not known as a great wine country, use your marketing resources where it will make a bigger and better impact.) And target the audiences and geographic areas most likely to visit your destination, understanding which aspects of your location appeal to families, couples, LGBTQ travelers and the like.
10. Leverage the Power of Content
Re-imagine the traditional travel guide as a feature-driven online content hub that allows you to tell evocative and nuanced stories that reflect the unique characteristics of your destination. With a content hub, you can continually push out new content and optimize for organic search; use content to fuel paid campaigns to position your organization as the go-to resource; and encourage conversations across social channels. Visit Maine’s The Maine Thing Quarterly elevates traditional blog content to a rich, in-depth online magazine.
11. Delete and Declutter
Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Edit and curate your messaging, content and imagery so that it tightly reflects your four-to-six “wow touchstones” that you want potential visitors to know about. But watch out for the things that dilute your wow factor, such as too many photos, listings, articles, etc. Make sure you evoke a spark of “I want to be there!” by offering a sense of place with unique, only-here highlights rather than experiences found in most other destinations (e.g., malls, chains, burgers at local breweries). Stick to what makes your place special, and then share that with those who will love being where you are.