Key Digital Strategies for Destination Marketing

Often when we’re talking about marketing with most of our hospitality clients, our scope is typically zoomed in around our client’s hotel or casino. We’ll run paid media ads around their unique offerings to turn over hotel rooms, sell show tickets, or raise awareness about their spa. It’s usually only when we get into the world of SEO and organic content strategy that the scope typically widens, and we start changing perspective to the “why” of their entire location as a vacation hotspot. It can be an uncomfortable next step and not always second nature to stop talking about your own brand for a second, but when a company can do this honestly, seamlessly, and selflessly, it becomes the catalyst that upgrades their marketing strategy into true destination marketing. 

At REQ, we love to champion a brand to make this evolution. We happily serve as their marketing shepherds to guide them on how to do this genuinely. Of course, for certain organizations, destination marketing is their main play. Convention and Visitor Authorities, cruise lines and airlines; and airports are all in the business of marketing cities, geographical areas, or entire countries. Taking a page out of their book can help a brand of any size contribute to that effort of growing interest in the greater whole. 

What Is Destination Marketing? 

Destination marketing is the cornerstone of tourism. Raising awareness about a city, island, or region is beneficial to explain the destination’s value proposition. What’s in it for the guest to come to your location, instead of some other location that’s similar in weather, activities, accessibility, and culture? Start telling the stories about what makes the ground you stand on unique. 

Regional properties especially should take note of these strategies, because if your fighting to get the biggest slice of visitation pie from your competitors, but that number is limited or even dwindling, it’s time to start thinking outside the box on how to make a bigger pie. 

Destination Marketing & Its Place in the Marketing Funnel

This strategy sits right at the top! We’re looking to drive awareness about the attractions that people are curious about, and show them how easy it is to get there (whether by plane, car, or train). Capture the interest people have about the specific things your area is known for, or bring something lesser-known to the forefront. 

For example, VisitDallas created The Margarita Mile to harken back to the invention of the frozen margarita machine being invented in Dallas in 1971. (We tip our cowboy hat to their awesome interactive map of restaurants offering great frozen margs).

Destination Marketing & Non-Brand Strategies

When we talk about non-brand efforts to up your destination marketing game, it can actually start to be fun for your marketing and executive teams to ideate the best ways to go about this. Destination marketing and non-brand go hand-in-hand because potential guests are doing research into a particular vacation spot with no brand affinity just yet. For example, they’re searching for “vacations in the Bahamas” and not yet “Sandals Resort Bahamas,” so any Bahamian resort is in the running during that first non-branded search. It’s anyone’s game, and those results that pop up for generalized Bahamas-related terms can all sway a user with a topical tropical landing page (couldn’t help myself there), a beautiful website, and alluring photos. Special promotion right there? Even more compelling! 

Non-brand paid search campaigns on Google AdWords and Bing play a part in this, as does your blog’s content strategy to capture organic search results about a destination. A lot of our clients have seen great success in curating blogs around specific road trips to a particular destination from a key feeder market. Think along the lines of “How to Spend 48 Hours in Reno” and promoting it to San Francisco and other Northern California markets. 

Give potential guests ideas for when they select your city (and your hotel!) for their vacation, even down to the photo ops! You’re a local in that area, and that wealth of knowledge should be put to good use. What’s the untold story of your region’s history, and which restaurants have been there with long lines for years? Your gut reaction will be to exclude any competitor’s venues, and that’s okay just as long as you have some real recommendations to replace them with that aren’t only under your roof. 

Destination Marketing: Places Less Traveled

Obviously, not everyone is looking to market a Bahamian resort, draw even more visitors to Las Vegas, or has the dramatic landscapes of Sweden to push the country’s singular Airbnb listing. What about Sacramento, CA or Lake Charles, LA? How does Black Hawk, CO draw visitors away from nearby Denver? How does a racetrack in Columbus, OH pull in gamblers instead of their competitors? 

The key to controlling that awareness research (and mobile Google search volume) lies in all the strategies mentioned above, with a big dose of consistency. Don’t write only two blogs about Bettendorf and the Quad Cities region in Illinois/Iowa and expect the search results to remember that one update to your website domain forever. Become the content hub for all things Quad Cities-related and your website authority will continue to grow. It will teach Google and your future searchers/guests that you’ve got your thumb on the pulse of your destination and your thumb has never lifted. You can even reach out and partner with your local Convention & Visitors Authority to collaborate and cross-promote each others’ content, to the benefit of all. 

Awesome Campaign Examples:

  • Draw inspiration from the state of Michigan, whose Pure Michigan campaign has been going strong for more than a decade. There are constant updates and “What’s New” categories that are never abandoned. 

  • We love this “surprise & delight” campaign by Visit Oslo, which ultimately made a full video campaign from social listening, rescuing one agreeable couple from their vacation in Paris and footing the bill for a grand experience.  

  • Nebraska came flat out and said it in their new 2019 tagline: Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone. But they make compelling cases for some fun things to do in the state most often at the bottom of the US travel list. And it’s working! Their website visits went up 43% after launching the campaign.

  • Vrin, Switzerland (population 166) was able to set up a livestream video call into the train station to draw visitors into their charming village. 

  • Visit Oregon took it a weird step further, and made 360 videos with a robot fish, only to later do a campaign called Only Slightly Exaggerated with gorgeous animation that looks straight out of Studio Ghibli. 

  • Finally, perhaps taking it further than all the rest, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, gave their campaign a dash of X-rated spice. “Nobody knows where it is, but when you find it - it’s amazing. The G-spot of Europe.” While the marketing campaign didn’t go over well for conservative viewers, or even their former mayor, you can’t argue with results. Overall visitation went up 12.5% that year and top feeder markets of Germany and the UK went up 37.8% and 20.5%