It would probably be fair to say that tourist offices and destinations have not generally been in the vanguard of digital marketing.
But there are signs that this is changing with an increasing number of innovative campaigns that seek to harness new technology, trends and platforms.
Part of the problem with many traditional tourist offices is that they are often simply extensions of their governments and these close links with the public sector and state bureaucracy have often acted as an impediment to innovative digital marketing.
Nick Hall, CEO of the Digital Tourism Think Tank, tells tnooz:
“I think we always play down the destinations. When I’m at conferences with the tourism industry I always hear them say that “we’re a little behind” on digital marketing and that they feel they’re slow and not one of the industries that is out in front.
“But I kind of disagree with that rhetoric. Even though there are some destinations that are still 100% government-funded and affected by political and public sector influence, there is also a group of destinations which are repeatedly ahead of everybody.”
Hall says that the Nordic destinations in particular – Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland – have been among the forerunners with their digital marketing in the last few years and continue to push the boundaries with their campaigns that have been both “innovative and provocative”, as well as projecting their nation’s personality through “a strong tone of voice”.
“Finland is a destination that really stands out and is one of the first to create quite personalised content.
“They had a content strategy before everybody else and have been building a strong identity. Finland has managed to create a personality through its digital marketing – it’s a very Finnish and quirky identity through the way they use text and images.”
An example of Finnish quirkiness is the current campaign to create a piece of music through the use of DNA samples from several high-profile Finns plus a group of schoolchildren.
This DNA data is being used to compose what Visit Finland is calling ‘A Symphony of Extremes’ which is due to be released before the end of 2017. The tourist office says the campaign “unites tourism with science and art in an intriguing way”.
Another piece of Finnish ingenuity has seen Chinese actor and “influencer” Ryan Zhu staying at Helsinki airport for 30 days during the past few weeks (October 10-November 12).
Zhu has been living in a cabin inside the airport and taking part in a range of daily challenges designed to give an insight into the Finnish way of life – all of these activities have, of course, been featured on social media under the tongue-in-cheek hastag, #LIFEINHEL
The use of influencers is becoming more prevalent within digital marketing and Nick Hall says this is part of the strategy by destinations to “focus on being millennial”.
Tourism Australia is currently running a campaign with online news site Buzzfeed, which has seen the recruitment of eight young (under 30) bloggers or “visual storytellers” from the UK, Italy, France and Germany who are being sent on three-month roads trips around the country with their adventures captured on a range of social media channels under the tagline BuzzFeed Mates.
Kim Moore, public affairs manager at Tourism Australia, explains: “The BuzzFeed ‘Mateship’ programme is for the next generation of writers, producers and content creators eager to master the tools and techniques of social storytelling across multiple social platforms.
“The eight winners were selected through an application and adjudication process, which included creating a humorous, irreverent, Aussie-style news bulletin to sell Australia to the world, along with examples of their social media content.
“We were looking for people interested in travelling Australia, and pursuing a career in social media, publishing or creative services. People fascinated by travel, food, culture, music and generally experiencing off-the-beaten track adventures and also confident content creators who love sharing their experiences on social media.”
But influencers don’t necessarily have to be millennials as Ontario Tourism is currently using UK TV personality Fred Sirieix, who is Maitre D from the First Dates programme.
Sirieix, 45, features in a series of videos travelling around the Canadian province, which are available on YouTube and other platforms.
Gabriele Kotz, Europe marketing and trade consultant for Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation, says:
“We think Fred is a great influencer for the UK market as he very well known there. We are also taking the same approach in other markets – France and Germany – with other influencers.
“It’s the second year we’ve done this. We had John Quilter, the Food Busker, last year and we had really good pick-up. It’s really about enriching the story of our destination.”
Nick Hall says that going down this “influencer” path can mean that destinations “may not be in control of how they implement their strategy”. He adds:
“Technology is evolving so quickly, and influencers are using media and digital channels that can be out of the control of the destinations. This is only going to keep changing.”
Another major issue is how should destinations measure the success of their digital marketing? Traditionally this has been based on the amount of traffic driven to the destination’s website but there are signs that this approach may be changing. Hall says:
“There has been a bit of a departure from just looking at website numbers, although they can still be hard to resist, particularly if you’re getting huge numbers.
“We are seeing the building of more story and brand frameworks, and some destinations are having a much more regular process of evolving their KPIs (key performance indicators).
“The metrics they are looking for are now much more dependent on the specific goal of their activities – destinations understand what they want to see if they really want to engage a specific interest group.”
No matter how many digital visits, views, clicks and likes a destination gets, the most compelling evidence of successful digital marketing has to eventually be seen within the real tourism economy.
Tourism Australia’s Kim Moore says of the BuzzFeed Mates programme: “Ultimately, the success of the campaign will be measured on the number of and spending of youth arrivals in Australia, including those coming here on a Working Holiday Maker visa.
“How consumers respond to the campaign in-market will be monitored through campaign evaluation research using indicators, including impact on consumer awareness, consumer preferences and intention to visit Australia.
“Quantitative measures will also be used to track visitation numbers and destinations visited. Tourism Australia’s ability to attract and work with industry partners on the campaign will also be measured.”
Partnerships, often with companies outside travel, is another area of digital marketing that is becoming more common – Visit Denmark has been working with upmarket Danish electronics firm Bang & Olufsen, for example.
John Boesche, vice president, international tourism, at Visit Seattle, explains:
“Markets like Australia, China and the UK are key overseas tourism markets for our destination and Clipper presents an incredibly unique way to present our destination and brand. You’ll see us most visible at those locations.
“We saw Clipper as the perfect avenue for global brand exposure. We also saw an opportunity to engage international media in key overseas markets.”
The majority of destination marketing may not yet be at the cutting edge of digital trends.
But there are a few tourist offices that have really embraced the ongoing technological revolution by thinking more innovatively.
Other destinations with a more traditional marketing approach may have to start being more creative if they want to attract the attention of the much-prised millennial traveller.