Tourism marketing strategies to connect with the right customers

Although COVID-19 undeniably disrupted the tourism industry, many U.S.-based destinations brought in a good number of visitors last year. Even in the midst of a pandemic—and likely at least in part due to the pandemic—we saw that people craved a change of scenery in 2020.

As the industry gets back to its pre-pandemic levels of visitors, it’s crucial to ensure you have a solid tourism marketing strategy in place that maximizes ROI and minimizes ad spend waste. Chances are you can improve your strategy to ensure you’re reaching the right people. There are people looking to travel, and if your destination is a good fit for them, you need to ensure they have an opportunity to check it out. The demand your tourism marketing generates can benefit not only your local destination, but also your state as a whole. 

This blog post provides an overview of a successful modern tourism marketing strategy in three steps: improved identity, personalization at scale and the ability to measure the true value you bring to your local economy and community.

Get the guide: From destination marketing to destination management

Step 1: Identify the right people

Many identity resolution methods strongly rely on third-party cookies and device IDs—this means few are able to see individual-level consumer views.

With only cookies and device IDs for measurement (which is what many vendors use—whether you know it or not), there’s no way to get a full view of whom you’re reaching, much less who actually visits your location and what they spend where. This offers a limited view into the net economic impact of your marketing efforts, and with the recent trend of identifier deprecation, it’s only getting more difficult to determine true value.

Thankfully, there’s an alternative. Instead of leaning on soft metrics and bookings, or siloing media from measurement, the best way to structure your tourism marketing is to focus on achieving a holistic understanding of your visitors—across channels, devices and spending habits. A complete view of every customer helps you understand how each person spends across stores, tours, restaurants, entertainment, attractions and more while they’re in your destination—even if they don’t book a hotel room or plane ticket. Knowing all of this, you can understand the true net economic impact of each individual’s trip based on the totality of their spending at your destination. You’ll connect individual online behavior with offline spend, giving you the full picture of your marketing attribution.

Example: To drive the right high-yielding tourists to St. Pete/Clearwater, Epsilon leveraged our 200M+ customer profiles built on first-party data to create lookalike models of high-spending past visitors. Then, we assessed current traveler sentiment and targeted people the most likely to visit the area through mobile-rich display messages.

Step 2: Personalize your tourism marketing communications – at scale

Once you know what each person is looking for, and you’ve flagged past and potential high-impact visitors, you can start to highlight aspects of your destination that will likely appeal to them on an individual level—which differs from person to person.

If we take step 1 first (reaching the right people) and pair that understanding with machine learning, we can understand an individual’s past actions to serve up the next best interaction, to further incentivize them to visit your destination.

For example, through machine learning, you could find that one person responds well to seeing a video ad and then a few display ads as follow-ups before making a decision on booking. That media pattern could be completely different for someone with similar attributes; it all depends on the individual, their past behavior and decisioning to influence their next actions and create demand for your destination.

You don’t need to have these capabilities in-house, nor are you expected to. This is an outsourcing situation, but your marketing partner needs the skills, expertise, tools and proven history to identify individuals and optimize their journey. This is all part of identity resolution in marketing and advertising—it's about not just knowing who you can talk to, but consistently reaffirming who you’re currently talking to. Unfortunately, if you look under the hood, too many partners don’t have quality methods for identity resolution, which leads to over- or under-messaging individuals, inflated ROI that’s not real and wasted ad spend. You need to put impressions in front of people, which is not easily understood in an online context for tourism marketing.

Example: Epsilon was able to leverage our consumer profiles and rich reservoir of transaction-based data to enable Visit Omaha to reach the right visitors online. We modelled high-yielding past visitors and current traveler sentiment, serving potential tourists eye-catching creative display, mobile rich media, and personalized pre-roll video ads.

Step 3: Measure the true impact of your tourism marketing efforts

Many tourism marketers have generally measured soft metrics like views and clicks, and hotel and airline bookings. But if you’re relying on online or booking metrics alone, the bottom line is you’re not measuring the full value of your marketing investment—and therefore not proving the value of every dollar spent.

You should be able to show all of your stakeholders how your tourism marketing program:

  • Boosted your local economy
  • Drove additional tax revenue
  • Positively impacted community/state (generated CARES Act dollars or additional funds)

This approach to better understanding your customers shows the impact each visitor had on your community—as opposed to just the overall number of visitors—and should influence your tourism marketing strategy moving forward.

Example: Epsilon’s Net Economic Impact (NEI) Solution was helpful for Visit Franklin once tourists arrived in their destination. NEI went beyond analyzing hotel bookings alone, and provided a full understanding of how many visitors digital tourism marketing influences, the top feeder markets, and how much they spend across key categories like restaurants, retail, attractions and more, which they were then able to report back to their board of directors.

Take the first step toward a stronger tourism marketing strategy

The road to a stronger tourism marketing strategy begins with assessing where you currently are. Is your identity strategy built around third-party identifiers? Are you able to reach the right past and prospective visitors who will be most engaged in your destination? What are you currently measuring—could you be measuring more to show the full impact of the advertising dollars you’re spending?

Wherever you are, there’s room for growth, just as the tourism industry continues to grow back to pre-pandemic numbers.

Learn more in From destination marketing to destination management, our guide for tourism marketers looking to assume a more impactful role in their destinations.