Planning is the most critical thing that we can do for our organizations if we want to continue to grow and be successful. Our process for travel and tourism marketing strategy planning has 7 steps: Research & Discovery, Situational Analysis, Goals & Objectives, Audience & Strategy, Tactical Plan, Measurement and Action Plan.
1. Research & Discovery
“Research is creating new knowledge.” – Neil Armstrong
Review research from your own organization (if it is available), local, regional and state tourism offices, and relevant industry associations. Here are links to research organizations we reference regularly:
- Destination Analysts
- Family Travel Association
- Longwoods International
- MMGY Global
- NYS Tourism Economics Reports
- U.S. Travel Association
When you approach research, collect everything you find into a folder and then as you comb through it, look for common themes or high-level findings that relate to the goals you are trying to achieve with your marketing plans. Approach this as a learning experience and see what floats to the top.
2. Situational Analysis
In order to plan for the future, you need to recognize where you are today. Take a step back from thinking about next year and focus on the insights you already know.
What are the key attributes of your brand? What types of visitors do you attract? Who is your competition? What is the brand experience of your destination? What trends are you seeing in the travel and tourism industry? Use your data and research as much you can as you explore the answers to these questions.
When summarizing your findings and writing your situational analysis, answer these questions: What is the one truth that can elevate my brand? What makes our brand relevant and differentiating?
3. Setting Goals & Objectives
“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” – Tony Robbins
Start your travel and tourism marketing strategy plan by answering this question: What are the top 3-5 goals that you want to accomplish in the new year? Try using the SMART goal format – make your goals specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.
- S: Increasing visitation from 400,000 to 450,000 annually is an example of a specific goal.
- M: Goals should be measurable – increasing brand awareness is not measurable. Adding a qualifier such as increasing intent to visit of our target audience by 25%, can be measured before and after a campaign.
- A: They should be attainable; having a lofty stretch goal is good and motivating but in your one-year plan focus on what is practical and attainable. Be sure to consider the additional resources you have available to positively impact your goal.
- R: Your goal needs to be relevant – make sure your goals relate to current industry trends and what is happening economically.
- T: Finally, goals should be time-based – they need a timeline associated with them.
4. Target Audience & Strategy
It is important to know who your audience is when formulating your plans. You may have several audiences or target markets and understanding each one is a must for creating a successful tourism marketing plan. The more specific you are with understanding your audience, the easier it will be to craft your tactical plans and key messages to reach your target.
I explored this topic in-depth with Susan Baier on episode 96 of my podcast, Destination on the Left. In that episode, Susan talked about getting beyond the who, what and where of your audience and getting into the why. She sees the “why” as the most important piece of understanding your customer. It provides the insight needed to tailor communications to speak to them. Take time to think about the audiences you want to reach without thinking about their demographics. Think instead about what they are looking for and what they might find appealing about your brand and why.
Write down your target audiences and then ask yourself, are these targets too general? If you take away the demographics, how would you describe these audiences? Do any ideas come to mind on how you might reach each of them differently?
“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well, the product or service fits them and sells itself.” – Peter Drucker
We teamed up with Susan Baier and her team, Audience Audit, to research and statistically find out what makes collaborations successful and how important they will be in helping the recovery of tourism. Download a free copy of our Executive Summary to find out the results.
It is important to remember that one message does not fit all. For each audience think about what is most relevant to them. What messages will pique their interest or motivate them to interact with your brand? Does the targeted audience care about what you have to say? Will they be better off for having the knowledge that you are sharing? How will this knowledge help meet your marketing objectives?
In the simplest way, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Think through how they might perceive your message. You want to make sure there is something in it for them.
Next, consider if your message is timely. Consider where your target customer is in the buying journey and what they need to know at that time. For a travel destination, if the buyer is in the dreaming phase, they are most interested in inspirational messages that appeal to their emotions. If they are in the planning phase, they need more specific information like where to stay, eat and things to do. You can craft the best message for the audience but if it is delivered at the wrong time, it will fall on deaf ears. Thinking through the timing and hitting the timing right makes the difference between marketing success and failure.
Write down key messages for each of your target audiences. To help get you started, think about where they are in the buyer’s journey. Is there a problem you can help them solve? Are there questions you can help answer?
“Effective, stand-out content is both business-centric and customer-aware.” – Nick Westergaard, author, Brand Now
5. Tactical Plan
A tactical plan is your actionable marketing plan. These are the tasks; the detailed action plan that includes timing and details of all major steps. Tactics could include collateral, digital marketing, social media, websites, public relations, and trade shows. They can also include conferences, email marketing, word of mouth, direct sales, and lead generation. These are all the things that you will do in order to accomplish your objectives. This section includes a tactical implementation strategy, timeline and budget.
Start your tactical plan as a bulleted list of tactics that will support each marketing objective and reach the identified target audience. Next identify the resources needed to execute each tactic (time and money). With your bulleted list, you can dive deeper into each tactic by expanding on how you will effectively execute on it. This could be a full-blown PR plan with its own set of objectives, strategies, tactics and timelines. It could be a social media calendar identifying key messages, posting times and channels, or it could be a content marketing plan detailing out how you will produce and distribute content across multiple channels. The important thing to focus on in this section is identifying the tactics that will get you to those goals and then following through with a detailed plan of how you will implement each tactic.
This section needs to include your marketing budget with a detailed budget for each tactic. Be realistic with the amount of tactics and your timeline. A solid travel and tourism marketing strategy plan is one that clearly identifies the objectives, strategies and tactics and includes the resources to get it done!
After building your tactical plan, include how you will measure the effectiveness of the tactic. By pulling together key numbers monthly, our team and and clients have the ability to accurately inform stakeholders on current statistics, identify trends, provide a benchmark for success & growth as well as inform campaign adjustments and course-corrections as needed.
Examples of metrics that you might use include:
- Website traffic
- Followers and follower growth rate
- Email opens and click rates
- Social media reactions, comments and shares
- Media placements
- Actions taken such as sales conversions, downloads and newsletter sign-ups.
7. Action Plan
Plan out the full year, month by month, detailing which tactics will take place when. Some tactics might be ongoing and happen every month such as social media or email marketing. Other tactics might occur only during certain times of year based on the seasonality of your brand or timing of a trade show. The more detail you can put into your timeline the more likely you will be to stay on track with your plan.
Remember this is a living and breathing document, it’s not written in stone and it can easily be changed and adapted as you move through the year. Just having the plan is a huge step in helping you to achieve your goals in the new year.
“Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
Want more guidance on creating your own travel and tourism marketing strategy? Download our 7 Step Strategic Planning Guide in the sidebar, or access it from our resource library.