How tourism brands are adapting as COVID restrictions loosen

Spring break is back.     

From the beaches of South Florida to the ski slopes of Colorado, Americans are traveling again this spring—a majority of them, in fact. Fifty-six percent of Americans are planning a trip this season, including 75% of millennials, according to a survey from vacation rental company Vacasa. The Denver Post reported that most travel will happen specifically during Spring break, marking a welcome return to normal in hot spots such as Breckenridge, Colorado, a skiing mecca where reservations are running 70% ahead of 2021 levels.     

Consider this a down payment on what the travel industry hopes is a yearlong rebound as COVID restrictions fall away. The World Travel & Tourism Council forecasts that U.S. travel and tourism could reach pre-pandemic levels in 2022, and for tourism-dependent regions that have suffered through a decline during the pandemic, that's both a welcome prospect and an invitation to roll out the red carpet.

For marketers, this trend is good news. After a brutal 2020 (and, all things considered, a lackluster 2021 for some), destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are trying to bounce back by attracting with cohesive tourism campaigns that attract visitors to their destinations as we move into post-pandemic life.    

Brands must take a strategic approach

In traditional Spring Break hot spots like Miami, Vail, and Panama City Beach, capitalizing on that comeback may be as simple as announcing that their towns are open once again for business. However, other regions must work harder to ensure that they're on travelers' radar. For example, in Florida's Brevard County, the Space Coast Office of Tourism is spending $1.1 million this spring to lure travelersnearly double the amount of last year's effort. The Space Coast is home to the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, and 72 miles of coastline., part of its pitch focuses on getting visitors to nearby Orlando to fit in a trip to Florida's east coast.    

Regional tourism campaigns such as the one in Brevard County can play a key role in attracting travelers, and those campaigns function differently than the marketing efforts of individual attractions within the region. For one thing, region-wide campaigns often have a broader reach than campaigns built around a specific attraction or business. They also can highlight elements that travelers find compelling but otherwise might not get much marketing spend—think public beaches, state parks, or a town's restaurant and arts districts.         


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By pulling together various nearby attractions and positioning them as components of a single vacation, regional tourism campaigns can help travelers envision a whole trip's worth of adventures, including elements that appeal to different tastes and each family member.     

Take the San Diego Tourism Authority's new $8 million "Happy and You Know It" campaign, which launched in January with a 30-second video ad. The spot depicts fun on the beachfront and boardwalk from various perspectives—families and twenty-somethings, surfers and skateboarders, plus a welcoming nod to the #vanlife crowd—and shows off the city's famous Balboa Park. A companion website also spotlights the region's artistic bent by showcasing the original (and local) music used in the spot and offers the song as a free download.     

Other current campaigns are focused more broadly, such as the new #TrueToNature campaign from State of Washington Tourism. There's a statewide element to the campaign that focuses on the Pacific Northwest's natural beauty and outdoor activities ranging from mountain biking to open-air dining. But then the campaign zeroes in, both in its geographic and narrative focus. 

A video showcasing Washington's San Juan Islands, for example, tells the story of a woman and her adult son who visit the area for a getaway after the woman is diagnosed with cancer. Yes, the islands look stunning and inviting, but the story also clarifies that their natural beauty and quaint villages are ideal for a peaceful, restorative retreat and a perfect backdrop for the renewal of meaningful connections. 

How the pitch to tourists looks different        

Travel may be back this year, but the pitch to tourists looks different in 2022 for a few reasons. For one thing, in the wake of the pandemic, marketers are seizing on different images—specifically wide open spaces such as empty beaches, rather than a packed Spring Break beach party. Second, rising inflation and surging energy prices mean that some travelers may look to plan their adventures closer to home.         

Yet that's not to say that travelers want to compromise on quality—indeed, that's the third distinctive feature of the current tourism landscape. An Expedia survey shows that travelers in 2022 aren't just traveling again but aiming to make up for the lost time by splurging on especially epic adventures. That's good news for the tourism industry but also means there's pressure for regional marketers to show that their areas can deliver the goods on a grand scale.         

A polished TV spot isn't essential to convey that message, however. For example, in Tampa, Florida—a region that led the nation in hotel occupancy rate last year—the key initiative for 2022 is a new Riverwalk Pass that encourages visitors to check out multiple cultural destinations by bundling the admission prices into a single pass.     

What marketers can do to best connect with these travel-ready consumers

This year, Americans are embracing Spring travel, which means an opportunity for regional tourism agencies. Delivering the right messaging to the right person at the right time could lead to an unforgettable vacation experience—and provide an economic jolt for those communities after a difficult couple of years.  

And while tourism brands might think they know their most high-value, in-market visitors, the truth is in the first-party data. Using first-party data, tourism brands can discover who their best customers actually are and then build modeled audiences off of that data to truly reach their best prospects.

For instance, Tennessee-based destination marketing organization Visit Franklin needed to attract high-yielding visitors to spend locally to boost the town’s economy while proving impact to the town board. When they partnered with Epsilon, our 200M+ consumer profiles combined with their rich first-party customer data enabled us to work together to identify tourists most likely to visit the area. To these tourists, we served relevant , enticing display, mobile and video ads—reaching guests across all their many devices. This particular campaign netted out at a $197:1 total return on ad spend (yes, you read that right). 

Visit Franklin was not only able to bring in new tourists, but also understand their purchase activity across all spend categories in their destination, including retail, dining and more. This understanding was achieved through Epsilon’s Net Economic Impact (NEI) Solution, which goes beyond analyzing hotel bookings alone, and provides a full understanding of how many visitors digital marketing influences, the top feeder markets, and how much they spend across key categories. This enables tourism brands to report the true impact of their marketing dollars on their community to their local stakeholders. 

Are you a DMO looking to better understand how much business you’re driving for your destination? Check out our tourism marketing ROI calculator to see the true net economic impact of your efforts.