Why your tourism board needs a new approach to media

Let’s pretend for a moment that you just came into a sizable inheritance. You’re not sure how to best invest that money for optimal returns, so you turn to an investment adviser for help. Your adviser puts together a comprehensive, diversified plan that looks and sounds good to you. You’re feeling good about moving forward.

Just before putting ink to paper, you ask how your investment performance will be measured and learn the following:

  1. The adviser will meet with you in a year to evaluate the investment.
  2. They will only look at a couple of the holdings rather than the full impact of the investment.
  3. And their estimate of the holdings’ performance will be based on historical averages.

I’m willing to bet that there is no way you’d sign this agreement. Yet that scenario is no different than how the tourism industry currently plans their media spend. The most common objection I hear to investing in new media opportunities is: “We like this, but we already have our plan for the year.”

In other words, we’ll check on the results at some point in the future, and we’ll try to do better for next year (just like the misguided investment adviser).

This annual approach, with partial insights of loose estimates, doesn’t work any better for tourism boards than it does for investment advisers.

While you’re not directly investing your own dollars into your tourism board’s media budget, you are investing taxpayer dollars, which, in many ways, come with an even greater responsibility to be used appropriately. Those dollars are few and far between, are under intense scrutiny and must be managed efficiently. You need to show a clear return for that taxpayer investment (who wants their tax dollars wasted?).

The traveler data challenge

Historically, annual media buying made sense for the tourism industry, just like it did for other industries. Broadcast media and broadly targeted advertisements were the best we could do. But that’s just not the case anymore. Marketers in other industries have already moved on to a data-rich, agile, testing and learning, results-centric approach.

The challenge in adopting a more agile approach to tourism marketing is the traditional lack of traveler data. It’s difficult to clearly measure and optimize your campaigns when the only data you have to work with is soft metrics like display ad impressions, clicks to your website and brochure downloads. Airline and hotel bookings only bring you a small step further—it’s still difficult to reliably tie bookings to people you’ve messaged in the past. And even if you can do this passably well, it likely only accounts for a portion of the overall impact from each visit.

To top it all off, in digital marketing, these soft metrics and bookings are typically measured at the cookie level—it’s rare to have a view of the consumer on the individual level. But it’s this individual view that ultimately will give you accurate insight into how each person spends across retail, tours, restaurants (and more) while they’re in your destination.

This is the sort of customer data marketers regularly use in retail, CPG and other industries where advertising technology has been table-stakes marketing strategy for years. They use this information to define their value propositions, find their best audiences and personalize their messaging. Best practice is to identify and get a clear view of individual customers and their behavior across channels and devices, then use this information to define and send the most appropriate marketing messages in the channels where each person is most receptive.

This method is completely applicable for tourism bureaus as well, but the tourism industry lags behind  in putting it to use. You can access the same data for relevant travelers or people that have visited your destination in the past.

A better understanding of your visitors for better ROI

With the technologies available to us today, you can go beyond analyzing hotel and airline bookings alone, and instead gain a full understanding of how many visitors your digital marketing influences, the top feeder markets and how much they spend at your destination across key categories such as dining, nightlife, retail, entertainment and more.

With this traveler data in hand, you’re primed to:

  1. Accurately measure your media performance
  2. Understand what people are looking for
  3. Find the right people and offer the right message
  4. Accurately measure your media performance (again)

1. Accurately measure your media performance

Yes, measurement typically comes last. In this case, it comes first, and good measurement starts with a holistic understanding of your customers—across channels, devices and spending habits. You should know how your media spend performed by tying your marketing efforts to actual visitors (real people) and see where and how much they spend while they’re in town.

This analysis provides all the data you need to be more agile and effective in your marketing. With this information in hand, you’re ready to optimize future investment to drive economic impact.

2. Understand what people are looking for

Think about your destination as a product. It’s not any different than selling beauty products or household items. You need a clear value proposition that differentiates what you’re offering from the traveler’s other options. Do you know yours?

Consider Florida. Lots of travelers come in search of a warm location with a beach. There are lots of cities all lined up next to each other that seem pretty similar. Destin, Seaside, Panama City—it’s tough to know where one stops and another begins. How does a traveler choose between them? What does each have to offer that the others don’t?

The right data helps you understand why travelers pick certain options over others so you can see a pattern in their buying behavior over time and make a recommendation that aligns with their past behavior. Destin, for example, could be appealing to a wide array of visitors from those looking for a quiet beach with a playground to those looking for a beach vacation with the best restaurants—it’s just a matter of understanding what is most important to each person you’re speaking to and highlighting that aspect of your destination for them.

3. Find the right people and offer the right message

Once you have an understanding of what each person is looking for, you can start to highlight those aspects of your destination through dynamic creative. When we talk about dynamic creative, we mean the ability to adjust an online ad to each individual traveler’s specific preferences—in real time.

These customer insights also allow you to personalize your messaging and creative to your various audiences. So the ad you’re serving up to Lisa, who is looking for a low-cost spring break getaway for her family of four, will be different from the ad you’re serving to Peter, who is an outdoor enthusiast and enjoys adventure. Lisa will get an ad showing that Destin is budget- and family-friendly while Peter will get an ad showing Destin’s options for snorkeling, parasailing and jet-skiing.

4. Accurately measure your media performance (again)

This is an agile, iterative process. It’s not your set-it-and-forget-it annual plan. Instead, you can show clear performance data for, and learn from, each media purchase, allowing you to constantly improve upon your ROI—maximizing lodging and sales tax revenue and ensuring travelers visit more often.

It’s Time to Adapt

Progressive destinations are already jumping on board—don’t get left in the dust. It’s time for your tourism board to take a more agile approach to marketing to drive real economic impact because you can’t wait until a year from now to know if your marketing is actually working.

Learn how today.