Selling and Marketing Your Destination in a Down Economy

A recently released Travel Industry Association (TIA) report confirms what we already suspected; travel is down and the decline through 2009 is expected to continue with a projected 1.3% drop in leisure travelers and a 2.9% drop in business travelers. PKF Hospitality Research is forecasting a 7.8% drop in U.S. hotel RevPAR for 2009. With the downturn, you have to work harder to attract visitors in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

How can you better sell and market your destination in a down economy? A few strategies to look into are:

1. Build Value: To attract visitors to your destination, you and your partners need to be the one giving them the most bang for their buck. It isn’t just about cutting costs, but stretching the dollars they DO spend to the maximum. Put together packages from multiple partners that target specific audiences like families, sports fans, foodies and couples. For example, if you have a great dining scene, put together dining packages that give visitors access to preferred reservations, valet parking and discount dining.

2. Maximize CRM Solutions: How do you know what kind of promotions to develop? Today’s best-of-breed CRMs provide a variety of functions, but one of the most important is their ability to allow you to mine your comprehensive demographic information. In a down economy, targeting your prospects and customers with laser focus is crucial. By using your CRM to mine data, you can design smart marketing initiatives like e-mail promotions, micro sites and landing pages catering to the specific preferences, lifestyles or business interests of high value prospects.

3. Focus Regionally: Airline ticket prices, surcharges and fuel prices have forced both meetings and conventions and individual travelers to look at options closer to home. Research high value prospects that are within 300-500 miles of your destination. Reach out to these targets and tout not only your destination’s best features, but your close proximity. Pairing a regional focus along with valuable offerings makes for a combination that is hard for many people to resist.

We Can’t Go on Meeting Like This
In destinations across the nation, business meetings, and the number of people attending them, are decreasing. While many big business and association conferences are still taking place, they are often scaled back versions and many companies are restricting their employees’ travel budgets. Smaller businesses and associations that are really feeling the pinch of the economy are canceling their meetings outright. But, there are a number of associations that are still actively seeking meeting venues. Find opportunities in the medical, military, religious and biotechnology industries, which seem to be best weathering this economic storm. In order to attract these businesses:

1. Position and Commit Yourself: In order to be supremely effective, commit yourself to an industry or two that you really want to target. First, determine what are realistic targets. For example, if you have an army base or strong military history, go after military meetings. Jacksonville, Florida and its Visit Jacksonville organization realized its healthcare prowess and launched a medical tourism campaign designed to brand Jacksonville as “America’s Health Center.” Not only did they establish a place on the web and create appropriate marketing materials, they highlighted their destination’s relevant features to high value prospects.

2. Tout Your Relevance: If you are going after, for example, medical meetings, be sure to compile all the reasons why your destination is ideal. Highlight your hospitals, doctors and facilities as well as locations, laboratories, research centers and universities that would appeal other medical industry professionals. Do some research to see if there is anything unique or groundbreaking in the medical field that is happening in your destination.

3. Build Value: Creating value in today’s world is essential. Meeting planners are faced with shrinking budgets and are looking to do more with less. Pair up with partners who are also looking to increase business and create promotions, packages and offerings that help to create value specifically for meeting planners.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Online Advertising Dollar
According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers, online advertising surged 15.8% to become an $11.5 billion market in the U.S. in the first half of 2008. Why? Because of the staggering amount of people online. An estimate from says that usage of the Internet has grown 305% since 2000 and that currently 1.4 billion people are using the Internet worldwide. While you undoubtedly have an online presence, you may be looking to implement or expand online advertising yourself. So how can you be sure that you are getting the most out of your online advertising dollar?

1. Vertical Networking: Today’s market segments are fragmented and can be hard to reach. One way to circumvent this is to join a vertical ad network focused on your industry. These ad networks will take your power of dollar and combine it with others to make a splash where you may not be able to otherwise.

2. Know and Monitor Your Metrics: With online advertising, we get better metrics than any other form of advertising, but what do they mean? There are so many alphabet soups like PPC, CPM, PPL, and PPS that it is hard to account for them all. Is there one metric that you should focus on primarily? Unfortunately not, because it should be aligned to the goals of that specific advertising campaign. In one instance you may be looking to create all new prospect leads, while in others you are seeking return visits from existing customers or driving downloads of a particular ‘passport savings’ promotion. Ensure the metric you choose is aligned with the goal you are setting out to accomplish, and continually gauge the status of your results and tweak the campaign accordingly.

3. Be Ready to Engage and React: If you know your metrics, you will be able to see if a campaign is or isn’t working, and perhaps deduce what is going wrong. Either way, you have to be ready to react to advertising campaigns that aren’t working or that are losing steam. The best way to ensure consistent and effective advertising campaigns the first time around is to make them engaging. An online user who is engaged with your advertisement or promotion is more likely to further research and engage with your destination as a whole.

Creating a Yearlong Promotional Calendar
When it comes to promotions, one surefire way to guarantee failure is by not properly planning. Creating a yearlong promotional calendar will allow you to not only properly plan promotions and the events that may be associated with them, but also the marketing strategy and materials to drive their success.

1. Dates: Pick out the dates of seasonal, destination specific, holiday and other important events. Does your area have an annual professional golf tournament? Wine festival? Are you known for breathtaking scenery during the change of seasons? Is there a natural time of year when people seek your destination for skiing or poolside vacations? Look first for naturally occurring events in your area and put these events on the calendar. Now, start thinking about the tougher seasons, where visits are down to your area. Can you identify opportunities to offer your area as a destination to travelers with a special promotion? Mark these opportunities on the calendar as well. Finally, what about meeting planners and incentive travel? Balance your leisure travel promotions with ones directed to meeting planners to ensure a healthier mix and determine when that outreach should occur.

2. Overall Budget: After you have all of your events listed in calendar format, assess your budget to determine how much is in your entire promotions pot.

3. Scope of Promotion: With your events and budget in front of you, you can come to the most important step: determining how large and how much effort and money you can and want to focus on each promotion. Strike a balance between promoting your destination’s larger promotions and events while still having some leftover dollars to keep a continuous presence in the market during smaller holidays or shoulder seasons.

4. Timing/Planning: With your dates, scope and budget in mind, now it is time to put down on paper how far ahead you will have to plan your promotion to make it effective. Are you buying advertising? If so, how far out do you need to get them material? If you are implementing a unique online promotion for the first time, be sure to look far ahead so that your online marketing and design company has time to create and design the promotion you want to implement. Of course if you are having an event, there is a host of planning to go into that alone. In the last \ we talked about the value of recycling promotions to make the marketing process easier and build on the momentum. The next time you sit down to create the calendar, you can review what went well last year, and what can be improved upon or altered. Yes, a promotion can be daunting, but if you have everything written down on your calendar (you also have to refer to it!) a year in advance, you will be better able to prepare, plan and execute your promotions. This will lead to more fluid promotions, more publicity opportunities and greater success.

Say What? Jacksonville Is the Talk of the Town with Jax-Libs Promotion
Breaking through the clutter to grab your customers’ attention is increasingly difficult. Not only can truly unique promotions drive and engage people with your website (and destination), but they are a great opportunity for national media attention, awards and overall industry recognition. One recent promotion, Visit Jacksonville’s “Jax-Libs,” promotion achieved all of that and more. Jax-Libs, a form of the popular Mad-Libs game featuring Jacksonville themes like "A Day at the Beach" and "Relaxing by the Ocean," was launched as part of Visit Jacksonville’s “Escape to Jacksonville” tourism initiative. People who played the game were signed up for a monthly Jacksonville vacation prize package. During its four month run, the game’s success was tremendous. It received coverage in numerous local and regional media outlets and most importantly drove 40% of the traffic. That’s right; 40 percent of the entire website traffic came as a result of the Jax-Libs promotion. As each person who played the game needed to sign up with an e-mail address and other information, Visit Jacksonville also exponentially increased their marketing database and specifically their e-mail marketing list. They’ll be reaping the rewards of this promotion for years to come.

Proliferating Preferences--The What, How and Why
In the recent DMAI Futures Study, one of the eight super-trends noted for the industry is “Proliferating Preferences.” The notion is that travel customers will respond most favorably to combinations of travel products and packages that are suited to their individual preferences. With such a variety of prospect interests and influencing factors, how do DMOs capture this vital information and create tailor-made communications? Today’s best-of-breed CRM solutions are one of the foundational pieces to address this challenge. Business intelligence gleaned from capturing, appending and enhancing data, associated with careful ‘cluster’ analysis, enables DMOs to create laser-targeted messages and content. Further developing these promotional concepts and supporting content allows DMOs to effectively capture a prospect’s attention by providing them with enticing and relevant offers. For example, you can start by creating a distribution list that targets leisure travelers interested in golf that make $200,000+/ year, live within 250 miles of your destination, and have the propensity to travel in the Spring or Fall.With such specific filtering capabilities at your fingertips, you can develop cooperative golf packages that bundle higher-end golf and accommodations that target drive markets in the Spring and Fall--ideal offerings which speaks directly to their preferences and individual lifestyles.

Industry Insider Extra:
Simpleview President Rich Reasons in DMNews
, a direct marketing publication, asked simpleview President Rich Reasons to give insight into how DMOs can use CRM applications effectively. Read the Article. View Newsletter