Best Practice Destination Marketing Principles for DMOs

Marketing our Destinations into the Future: Principles for responsible DMOs

By Paige Rowett
Published on May 19, 2022
Best Practice Destination Marketing Principles

Important conversations are happening globally around the need for Destination Marketing Organisations to focus as much on social, cultural and environmental stewardship as much as economic indicators to uncover true visitor economy success to ensure there will indeed be beautiful and authentic destinations to market and visit into the future.

To market a destination, there must be strong alignment between the destination’s brand promise, its visitor experiences, and both of which must appeal to the destination’s best visitors – those who deliver the best social, economic, and environmental outcomes for the local communities (as they see it) within the destination.

But all of this needs to be done with good governance from community and industry custodians in a continuous feedback loop to ensure any marketing is executed responsibly and respectfully.

So in this article, I've outlined what we see as the core principles for destination marketing moving forward, based on a deep understanding and lived experience as a lifelong resident of small regional communities (I live in the Clare Valley in South Australia on a farm) along with an understanding of the increasing importance of obtaining social license from the people and places we market across all facets of planning and implementation.

To ensure this article remains helpful for destinations, we would love to hear about what is happening in your part of Australia, and whether your strategies align to the principles, and add further practical resources, or case studies, to the article if you have any suggestions!

Planning Principles

Understanding your Destination’s DNA

Marketing a location as a tourism destination successfully comes down to aligning the DNA of a destination (the people and the place), as closely as possible with potential travellers who value and connect with destination’s DNA (your high-value visitor personas: see below).

Uncovering your destination’s DNA is an ongoing, iterative process. Reason being is that over time, the makeup of your destination evolves particularly as generations change.

The process of understanding your place DNA is a matter of gathering insights from those who shape the DNA, including the people, and custodians of place, and the way to do this is through deep and ongoing consultation.

From a marketing perspective, this consultation process will provide significant insights in developing your destination’s promise (which is underpinned by what your community is comfortable promising), and is also an important mechanism to validate positioning and storytelling messaging for use across marketing activations.

Case Studies and Further Reading

 

Understanding your Destination’s High Value Visitors

Understanding the travel motivations and behaviours of the people who are most likely to have the greatest affinity toward a destination is key to growing a sustainable visitor economy for a destination.

There’s a reason for this, and that is because destinations operate their visitor economies using finite, precious resources (be it economic, social, cultural or environmental) and there are capacity limits for which a destination must protect to ensure the balance between the resources is not stretched.

Therefore, there must be seamless alignment between a person’s travel motivation and needs and the value proposition that a destination offers (which also reflects its overarching goals to developing a sustainable community).

Mapping the destination’s high value Visitor Personas assists to better understand and articulate this alignment between the destination and its best visitor. The process uncovers the values match, and the brand messaging that connects the two together, and identifies the touch points to activate along the visitors travel purchase journey.

This process of developing your visitor persona again needs to be led by your community custodians, by simply asking the question "what does it mean to be a good visitor to destination X"? You will glean insights that can inform the type of visitor locals are wanting to see in their destination.

This process is iterative and ever-changing just like society itself, therefore investing time to re-evaluate and re-articulate a destination’s high value visitor Personas (along with the Destination’s DNA, as noted above) through ongoing community engagement is essential to ensure continual alignment and the attraction of the right travellers.

Case Studies and Further Reading

 

Execution Principles

Responsible Marketing

Stimulating demand for a destination needs to be a sensitive balance between driving growth of the local economy, with the needs of the industry and local community, and the impact on the environment.

Protecting our Landscapes

With nature-based tourism experiences a key motivator for travel, we are seeing and hearing of many landscapes and natural assets being exposed to a greater degree of damage, thanks to the insensitive over-promotion of insta-worthy locations.

Whilst we are seeing an increasing number of people travelling consciously, managing the sheer volume of visitors with demands for beach camping, off road gallivanting and selfie fulfilment in physically and environmentally compromising spaces is an ongoing agenda item at many Local Government meetings across Australia.

Supporting Industry to Recover

The supply side of the visitor economy is also still currently working under duress with copious demand, particularly as it relates to workforce and skills shortages in the wake of the pandemic.

What this means is that the visitor experience is compromised, as owners and staff are tired, overworked, and unable to find the talent required to deliver their experiences. This can lead to compromised reputation for those experiences, and the destination as a whole.

So whilst State and Regional tourism organisations are busy designing epic demand driving campaigns, it's important they consider their activities in relation to the industry's ability to meet the expectations that they are setting.

Feeding the Social Beast

Over-exposing our destination for the sake of constant visibility across multiple social networking platforms is also a disaster waiting to happen for destinations.

Should we not be obsessing about keeping a few hidden secrets for the ultimate surprise and delight for those visitors who have an actual interest  to protect our beautiful places, as opposed to feeding the social media beast with fast and fresh content all the time?

Responsible marketing therefore refers to the need to respond to the acute or sustained pressures within the destination, by:

  • managing the narrative around environmental assets so to ensure the finite resource is protected;
  • to not over-stimulate demand when delivery of experiences is compromised; and
  • to continue to consult with host communities to ensure the narrative is still accepted by those delivering the experience to visitors.

Again, ongoing engagement with local industry and community is key to staying abreast of these pressures and managing in a proactive way.

Case Studies and Further Reading

  • The ‘Aussie Travel Code’ is a great example of proactive responsible marketing messaging
  • The Colorado Tourism Office and their partnership program with the 'Leave No Trace Center' for Outdoor Ethics help visitors learn how to care for the outdoors as they explore.

 

Strategic Storytelling

Matching your destination’s DNA and the associated promise with your visitors values are central to the storytelling themes that should be shared to attract your high-value visitors.

As emotions and connection are the currency in which people use to choose destinations, they are hugely influential across each touchpoint in a visitors path to travel. So reflecting the shared values between the destination and visitor is essential to storytelling success.

The stories you tell though, must have the social license from the community to ensure they are comfortable with the narrative, and so through your ongoing engagement with community and industry, storylines can be continually reviewed and realigned on an ongoing basis.

Case Studies and Further Reading

 

Encouraging the ‘Voice of the Visitor’

One of the most undeniable truths of marketing any brand is that people trust what others say about a product or experience, more than what the brand could ever say.

Therefore, destination marketing efforts need to reflect and leverage the voice of the visitors – which is the most trusted and influential source of opinion when it comes to planning and booking travel experiences.

One of the key destination marketing tactics then needs to focus on ways to encourage high value visitors to share their stories of their time in the destination; and the only way to do this is to ensure each visitor has an experience that is worthy of talking about.

And for destinations, this comes down to supporting tourism operators to deliver exceptional experiences through providing guidance and support in experience design to match the needs of the high-value visitor.

Whilst this work isn't typically the remit of marketing organisations, the impact on delivering the promise that is being shared in destination marketing activities could be compromised if there isn't this alignment.

Also, using the voice of the visitor in reflective practice to realign story themes and messages (in conjunction with community, as above in Storytelling) is a great way to ensure the destination promise meets and exceeds expectations for future visitors.

Case Studies and Further Reading

 

Measurement + Realignment Principles

Marketing metrics mean something and make a difference

Understanding what success looks like for destination marketing efforts comes back to the overarching goals for your organisation and what a successful visitor economy looks like for your local community.

Traditionally, marketing strategies narrowly focus on platform metrics which relate to achieving macro sales-based objectives such as brand awareness, engagement, and conversions of visitors which are directly aligned with visitor numbers and nights and average length of stay.

However, looking at a more holistic approach at the impact of marketing investment in creating a sustainable destination, we challenge destinations to think beyond the quantitative metrics, and consider the following measurement indicators:

  • Visitor Sentiment – to understand whether the stories shared in destination marketing activities are connecting with Personas in the way they anticipate and being reflected in visitor advocacy
  • Business Sentiment – to understand whether marketing investment and messaging to drive off-peak demand is working
  • Community Sentiment - to understand the views of the greater community and what they want visitors to know about their home, and re-obtaining social licence to share stories

Case Studies and Further Reading

 

Re-connect, Re-align and Go Again

Essential to destination marketing success is reflection.

Not just reflecting on outcomes from single campaigns, or engagement across a specific platform, but what the net benefit of all destination marketing has on your organisation's objectives.

As I've said earlier, Destination Marketing strategies are iterative and therefore require regular realignment - whether it be responding to global or national shocks; the changing needs, motivations and behaviours of visitors; or the needs of the local community.

Establishing regular local industry and community engagement opportunities is essential to reconnect with and gather insights to understand perspectives on all stakeholders as it relates to developing their visitor economy. As these insights are crucial to validate stories themes and messaging, and re-obtain social licence to share your community's story.

Case Studies and Further Reading

 

 

Paige Rowett

Paige is a tourism marketing specialist and co-director of Tourism eSchool. After growing up on a farm on Eyre Peninsula, and now managing a mixed farming enterprise with her family in the Clare Valley in South Australia, Paige has a genuine love and drive for developing thriving local communities. She is passionate about educating stakeholders in the value of the Visitor Economy and supporting tourism businesses to build sustainable businesses they love.