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Destination marketing measurement: The future of digital advertising attribution

Tourism is back on firm-footing. The most 'normal' travel year since 2019, this year represents a return to prior levels of travel not seen since the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, European tourism demand has shown that almost one third of reporting destinations have surpassed 2019 levels of tourist arrivals, while one fourth are just 10% below.

All but very few regional pandemic era restrictions have been lifted: testing is rarely required, most Covid-19 vouchers have been completed or voided, and traditional peak and shoulder booking patterns have materialized again. Tourism conferences are back in full swing to the returning tunes of sustainable tourism. Rather than focusing on the simpler strategic objective of 'how do we get people back' that has dominated the past two years, stakeholders alike are asking 'how do we get people back in a sustainable way.'  

From a tourism marketing perspective, the challenge of driving traveler numbers whilst allowing the destination and its inhabitants to experience no negative effects has always been a delicate balancing act. The ability to communicate growth, while obtaining positive sentiment internally, has now returned to the top of many marketers’ to-do lists.

Fortunately, developments in the measurement space during the last 2-3 years are making this task easier to fulfill. Travel marketers are now able to prove visitation and media returns—a capability that is allowing the industry to do away with older, ineffective success metrics. And with the industry's most comprehensive data, Epsilon will help you know more about every traveler, so you can connect with each of them on a personal level.  

Out with the old, in with the new  

Most 21st century tourism boards realize their role is beyond that of providing awareness of a destination. Thus, previous “soft” metrics such as click through rates, video completion rates, brochure downloads or email list signups are not considered primary metrics of success any longer. Put simply, once the travel industry got comfortable with aggregating and sharing search and transactional data, those metrics moved into the background.  

What exactly accounted for this change? Around a decade ago the travel industry woke up to the fact that making aggregated search and booking data more widely available—either directly to a destination or via an aggregator or data co-op—was a wise strategic move. In doing so, destination marketers could measure real ROI through airline bookings, hotel bookings or a mixture of both—a previously perennial challenge of promoting a product yet not transacting directly with the consumer.    

Quantitative impact from marketing investment was now visible and measurable to an extent, making it easier for marketers to justify (and ask for increased) levels of spend from local or national government.  

A sudden shift    

Then Covid hit. Global revenue of the travel and tourism industry dropped by 40%. Suddenly, booking data was not proving as useful as it once was: for one, there wasn’t very much of it and two, what data was available was falling short in accounting for all bookings generated from a media campaign, creating a gap in attribution.

People’s travel habits changed: booking windows narrowed, more people were choosing not to fly to destinations, and accommodation with friends and family or in vacation rentals soared. With the passing of GDPR, brands became increasingly reluctant to share data outside of their own platforms; many travel companies going as far as closing off all data sharing arrangements with third parties for marketing purposes.  

Taking the mystery out of destination attribution    

Made evident by the pandemic, Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) have now turned their attention to other forms of measurement to help plug these attribution gaps. For instance, footfall and location measurement has steadily been increasing as a means to directly correlate the connection between a potential traveler seeing an ad, and the users then being visible in the destination.

Full closed-loop attribution generated in this way, like Epsilon's location measurement, is not only more accurate (not counting no-shows, cancellations, or halo bookings), but it also reduces the volume of data sources that tourist boards and DMOs have to aggregate to get reliable information. Epsilon's solution enables accurate, privacy first device-based attribution. Epsilon's identity resolution layer, COREID, is the only identity resolution solution that requires a complete name and address validated by transactions, ensuring marketers reach the right person with maximum precision and efficiency.

Traveler's unique purchasing journeys are complex, a facet that Epsilon, tourist boards and DMOs alike recognize. Just as with any physical destination, there are multiple paths and touchpoints travelers make that lead them to their final stop. We know there's a gap in the ability to prove visitation and media returns and believe a mix-and-match attribution approach to marketing attribution will beat a one-size-fits all solution every time. That's why we help your brand track visitors, not vanity media metrics.  

Insights to inform destination-specific strategies

Deploying this kind of measurement solves for more than the need for confirmed travel attribution. Accurate location measurement also allows DMOs to understand which areas of their destination are attracting the most foot traffic and where any potential pressure points might be. Building destination “heat maps” can allow DMOs to work effectively with their residents on initiatives to drive responsible and sustainable tourism in their region.  

For instance, with the help of Epsilon, a South American country focused advertising efforts on the high value and high-volume visitor market in the US. In addition to seeing not only the influenced visitation to their destination, Epsilon provided insights to identify those regions and areas that benefited the most from those advertising efforts and ultimately inform a more strategic creative strategy.  

Tourism marketing budgets are limited—and you have to make every dollar count. Epsilon will work with you to develop a unique program that efficiently reaches all your goals. Then we’ll help you execute it with Epsilon Digital solutions for tourism and prove it drove real community impact. The ability to demonstrate to your stakeholders how your marketing programs boosted the local economy, but also worked collaboratively with its residents is not only invaluable, but also something that every destination marketer should be able to harness and understand.  

Talk to our team of experts