By Anthony Rawlins, managing director of Digital Visitor
If a destination is perceived negatively by holidaymakers, then marketing it to new visitors will always be an uphill struggle. So, it follows that by positively altering the reputation of a city, region or country, it becomes exponentially easier to attract new bookings to that place.
In our latest whitepaper for destination marketing organisations (DMOs) we set out an in-depth seven step blueprint for improving the perception of any destination among holidaymakers. An act of future-proofing, this in-depth guide will ensure the ongoing success of the tourism industry in your area.
1: Place branding
Clearly, if you want to give your destination an identity in the minds of those you want to visit, then it’s important for any DMO to first have a clear grasp of what that identity is.
This is called ‘place branding’, but it goes far deeper than the logos and slogans usually associated with the practice.
Instead, identify what makes your destination unique and shape all marketing activity and policy around this focal point. This is the approach Amsterdam took with its hugely successful IAMsterdam campaign, all those years ago.
2: Engage communities
Once you’ve developed a strong, communicable place brand focused around what makes your destination unique, it’s time to ‘place make’. That is, to create a foundation from which you can grow the reputation of your place.
Essential to this process is the identification and engagement of local communities: foodies, artists, naturalists, musicians, to add a natural and authentic layer of online content – social media – on top of your traditional marketing efforts. This engagement of communities should happen as early in the process as possible.
3: Employ strategic social media
As a critical channel for place brand communication, it’s important for all DMOs to come on board with strong social media strategy. This concentrated approach will enable you to create content that will best resonate with potential visitors.
Earned media, as opposed to paid media, also represents a significant benefit of social media with organic content far more trusted by travel decision makers than paid advertising.
To take full advantage of this, your destination website should be ‘socially enabled’, delivering a commercially connected end-point for social media content and campaigns.
4: Develop content with substance
Aligned with your newly developed social media strategy should be an editorial calendar to guide your content for the next three months. If built around a strong place brand, the content that arises from this calendar will drive perception change.
Your content should be crafted to tell stories about your destination and capture the imaginations of prospective holidaymakers by bringing experiences and personalities to life.
Social media campaigns can then be built around this content to build marketing databases and engage those interested in your destination in the long term.
5: Build visitor engagement
It’s vital to build engagement on social media and other platforms around themed events and activities aligned with your place brand strategy.
This includes engaging proud locals who will form a foundation for user generated content and content distribution. Don’t forget that locals will likely have connections outside of your destination.
Reputation, being a key driver of perception change, should always be managed wherever possible. And while destinations are unlikely to face any significant customer service challenges, it’s important to be aware of the role social media plays. For instance, you receive a complaint about a local business, do not brush it off.
6: Support local stakeholders
Stakeholders – local accommodation providers, attractions and other local businesses – are a vital aspect of the business objectives of any DMO.
Not only are they the main sources of commercial returns for your area, stakeholders are potentially valuable proponents of your place brand.
You should, therefore, consider developing a social media training programme for stakeholders. This, somewhat unorthodox, approach will help align local businesses with the strategic objectives of your organisation, and accelerate perception change on a wider scale.
Don’t underestimate the value of vision. Encouraging all parties to share your vision is vital to future-proofing the marketing output of your destination is essential. This full plan may be ambitious, but it is deliverable and it will be effective.
As above, the whitepaper, which can be downloaded in full here, is presented in seven distinct, but intertwined steps, to form a blueprint leading to the ultimate point of positive perception change for any destination.