Destination marketing changes “you’re going where?” to “I’ve always wanted to go there!”

“Kids, when I said where do you wanna go on vacation, where did you say? … Rusty?” Clark Griswold prompts his son near the end the movie, National Lampoon’s Vacation.

“Hawaii,” answers Rusty.

It’s funny because that’s not the answer Clark wanted or needed at the moment. The entire movie was an epic family quest to the “Wally World” amusement park, and one disaster after another, not the U.S. island state.

That classic line from movie reveals the power of imagery, marketing and highlights this fact: travelers have virtually unlimited options, but finite resources. While far off destinations like Hawaii are dream getaways for many, it’s not realistic for everyone. That doesn’t mean your destination, even if it’s not Hawaii, can’t be some place people dream about going.

Being known by your audience and its circle of influencers is key. When travelers return from their trip and tell their story to friends and family, they want their response to be “I’ve always wanted to go there!”


From a Map Dot to a Must Stop

Marketing a destination holds unique challenges that don’t apply to other industries or types of marketing – weather or the political climate for example. Likewise, the customer journey can vary widely between destinations and audiences. For example, some might involve a lot of preparation, consideration and months of planning. A European trip could take months or years to plan. To accommodate this and make sure it’s the best experience possible, an organization needs to consider the customer journey from research to shopping to booking to even post travel. A local amusement park, on the other hand, might have a much shorter decision process. Discounts and frequent communications might be what’s required to keep the brand top of mind and drive action. And never forget technology and it’s increasing role that varies by audience, from pre-planning to booking to finding their way around once they’ve arrived.

With all of that said, the core principles of rebranding that we’ve identified apply equally well to destination marketing. These 5 Gates of branding – position, offer, audience, message, and delivery – are key to rebranding success. Here are how several destinations successfully approached rebranding.

But Wait – There’s More!
Stuck in the middle is literally where Baltimore, Maryland finds and found themselves. Surrounded by the bright lights and big draws everywhere, they had to fight for attention at every turn. Washington D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, New York City all had their claims to fame and broad awareness. To top it off, they had the budgets to come in and even pull Maryland residents to their cities. And then they faced the extra challenge of unrest in the city in the spring of 2015. They’ve used their size to their advantage. With the idea of “Bmore” and an impressive list of celebrities including Mike Rowe, and Modern Family’s, Julie Bowen, to tell their stories, they explained how accessible the city was to truly great things, such as museums, sports and ranking second on Zagat’s Top Food Cities of 2015.

Stay and Play
What do families want to do with their time off together? Play of course! With people tightening their belts and staying closer to home, Warren County Convention and Visitors bureau realized they had an opportunity. While the week-long family vacation was fading, long weekend vacations were increasing. And with just a short amount of time, families don’t want to waste it driving to and from their destination. More research revealed that Warren County had more things for families to do than any other part of Ohio. It is a veritable playground – “Ohio’s Largest Playground” in fact, something other communities can’t claim.

Look Who’s Driving Decisions, Not the Car
The conventional wisdom is that mom’s do the bulk of the family travel planning. That might or might not be true, depending on your destination. Great Wolf Lodge recently did a study that found that dads have a definitive voice in travel planning and budgets. How definitive? According to the study, “sixty-one percent of dads surveyed say they handle all or most of the family vacation planning, and one in four say they personally make the final decision on where to go.” And don’t forget that conventional wisdom might only apply to conventional families, not today’s single fathers and blended families. Great Wolf Lodge is taking the time to really understand their audience and market accordingly. For the right age group, a stay at Great Wolf is as good as it gets.

Find Yourself Here
Few if any states have seen the dramatic change that has affected Michigan businesses. For years many Michigan natives vacationed in-state. And why not? There was a lot to do and it helped created a vibrant economy. But when other industries fell on hard times, the residents didn’t spend their extra dollars if they had any on travel. Many left the state altogether. What did Michigan do? It turned to its neighboring states with appealing messages of everything you can do in “Pure Michigan.” From outdoor pursuits of all kinds to craft beers and everything in between, the experience painted was clean, crisp and refreshing. They made residents in neighboring states consider Michigan more than after-thought, but a place they really wanted and needed to visit.

Sharing the Brotherly Love
Everybody knows that word of mouth stories from real people have an undeniable appeal and authenticity that can’t be duplicated or faked. But getting those stories and distributing them to the right audience can be difficult. Or more accurately, used to be difficult. With the rise of social media, anybody can be a publisher and contribute to a destination’s story. What Visit Philly has done with Instagram is a perfect example. By providing a platform where fans can contribute to the city they love, they’ve created a vibrant online community and gathered some stunning visuals along the way that represent the city well. It shows sides of the city that visitors wouldn’t find on their own and does it with an authenticity that only Philadelphians can deliver.

Ready to Go!

With smart and strategic destination marketing that follows the 5 Gates of branding, every community can discover what makes their area great and communicate that message to a receptive audience. The results can move an after-thought of a trip to definitive, no doubt quest  when potential visitors ask the question, “where do you want to go on vacation?” Instead of Hawaii or “Wally World!” they’ll say your destination!

It’s not an easy road to travel alone or without experience. If you’d like the company of professionals that have been there before on your journey, or just want to talk about what to expect, we’d love to ride shotgun.

We Call 'Shotgun'

A Quick Aside: Travel Money Isn’t Pocket Change

The majority of people outside of the industry probably wouldn’t guess that Travel & Tourism makes up 10% of the global GDP. Or that in 2014 it generated $7.6 trillion (US dollars). Or that it’s growing at a faster rate than most of the wider economy – including the financial services and healthcare. That’s the reality, and it’s an opportunity that’s getting attention.

As other industries have disappeared or left the area, think manufacturing in the Midwest, these communities are looking for ways to increase the opportunities and revenue potential for local residents and business. Marketing the area as a destination for travelers and visitors makes perfect sense. Every community is unique in some way. By highlighting  and communicating those characteristics, analyzing strengths and weakness, and identifying opportunities for smart investments they can become a place few considered when making travel plans to must stops for thousands. 

If you would like to talk about how you can turn your destination into a quest for travelers and dollars that flow into the community afterward (we’ve personally witnessed billions), contact us. We’d love to chat.

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