This September, we attended the eTourism Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada. We brought the award-winning, 5-star Destination on the Left podcast to the convention and conducted mini-interviews with 14 tourism leaders. Those interviews created a 3-part series for the show with each guest sharing the biggest change in their digital strategy that resulted in big wins and innovations that are happening now in the industry. In this blog, we will take a deep dive into what these industry professionals had to say about their big wins, as well as change and innovations to the digital landscapes. Ten themes emerged from our interviews that point to the future of digital marketing in our industry.
What has been the biggest change in your digital strategy that has resulted in big wins for your organization or destination?
Increased use in user-generated content.
Chris Lukenbill, co-founder of Sherpa, focused heavily on user-generated content when helping different communities connect with their travelers better during times of uncertainty. Chris said “User-generated content is where we’re seeing the big changes, in more people getting into that and excited about that opportunity.”
More investment in social media
In terms of change, CEO of Discover Lancaster, Ed Harris, has invested more into social media in order to drive enthusiasm for his destination. Ed stated “We have seen a huge uptick as we’re continuing to experiment with things like video and uncovering a lot of hidden gems at our destination to make people aware of. We’re getting really strong engagement in comments, likes, and shares.” With Lancaster being so close to Amish communities, the interest throughout social media of that culture helped Ed boost Visit Lancaster’s own awareness.
A full-funnel marketing strategy
Emilie Harris, Director of Marketing at Bandwango, took a look at the full-funnel marketing strategy and decided to flip it on its head. She stated “The big change in strategy for our clients has been instead of focusing on top-of-the-funnel inspiration-focused marketing, we pivoted to tracking conversations at the bottom of the funnel, which has required a lot of creativity in how people are spending their digital media dollars.” In times of change, it’s important to think outside of the box and look at things we have always done in terms of strategy and consider a different perspective.
Using data to inform and prioritize markets
Data is one of the best assets to use, especially in times of change. Victoria Simmons, a Senior Vice President at BVK shared how the use of data has helped their clients during those times of uncertainty. “What we have been focused on as an agency is creating a dashboard that synthesizes all of that data, but more importantly, investing in analysts. They are the ones who understand how to interpret that data and translate it into strategy.” An abundance of data is a great asset, but without the knowledge to translate it, that data will not help to the fullest extent.
Collaborating with locals
Maria Skrzynski at Destination Ann Arbor, gave us some insight into how her destination has been collaborating with locals during COVID. She stated, “when we are collaborating with our residents, we’re able to showcase our destination in a new light, support our local businesses, strengthen our connection with our communities, and help uplift and support our destination.” It was a win-win situation with Ann Arbor by not only steering their marketing in a direction it has not gone before, but also help local businesses during such a hard time.
Marc Garcia, CEO of Visit Mesa, brought the community together to help market the destination during COVID. Marc said “We developed a local steering committee made up of Mesa residents, really bringing them into the marketing process, helping us advance our digital strategies, particularly in social media.”
Leena Riggs, Director of Marketing and Partnership at Visit Rancho Cordova, also collaborated with locals. “Our residents become micro-influencers when we need them to,” she told us.
Mark Romig, CMO for New Orleans and Company, used influencers to bring more families to the area. Mark said, “we delved into utilizing influencers to come in and help tell this story and to work with them through their platforms, through how they speak with their followers, the story of New Orleans as a family destination.”
Looking into the future, what innovations are happening now that you think will impact digital marketing for your organization or destination?
Better use of data to measure ROI
Data and its analysis show up again in our conversation with Jake Brown from Visit South Bend. He is excited about the vendors that are helping better analyze data in terms of ROI. “I think we are getting close to closing that circle of saying okay, we served people this ad, did they come and spend money in the destination? I think as an industry we are getting close […] and that’s going to be a really big moment for all of us.”
Expanded focus on converting visitors to residents
Kyle Johnson, Digital Strategy Manager for Visit Indiana, is excited about using location tracking data to help convert visitors into residents. “We are no longer just trying to attract visitors, but we’re also trying to convert visitors and attract talent to the state. So, the innovation perspective that location tracking data is going to be very important for us.” This type of data can help convert visitors into residents, and deepen the ties between tourism and economic development organizations.
Development of dashboards to help destinations show their value
Jason Holic, Vice President of Business Applications and Insights for Experience Kissimmee, talked to us about a product they created. The Impactulator helps destinations defend their government funding. Jason said “we have colleagues that need to have something in place to help defend their funding. But also those other destinations that have seen record visitation and occupancy tax collections as the economy has recovered, and don’t know what to do with the money. They don’t know what the best use for it is, and this tool helps them navigate that.”
Podcasting becoming more important in the digital marketer’s toolkit
Ralph Thompson, Operating Partner of Traveling Tourism for Street Sense Consulting, is excited to see how podcasting is changing into something the travel and tourism industry can leverage. “It’s important to find a way that’s not forcing communications, but also a little laid-back way to have a conversation and talk more about this. I think that podcasting is going to be great for destinations.” With the constant innovations happening in how we communicate digitally, podcasting can become a beacon of information to visitors of a destination.
To hear more from industry professionals at the eTourism Summit, listen to our 2-part Roadshow series:
More trends for the travel, tourism and hospitality industry: 10 themes from our interviews at the Destinations International annual convention.