Is destination marketing heading in the right direction?

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The US made excellent use of destination marketing following the 9/11 terror attacks.

As we enter the holiday season I thought it would be timely to review how different tourist boards lay out their pitch to get a higher share of the global travel market.

Some years ago when my creative partner, Alan Jarvie, and I were at M&C Saatchi we got to work on what was perhaps the world’s toughest marketing brief: how to get people to get back on a plane to visit the US after 9/11. Alan’s brilliant solution “You’ve seen the movie, now visit the set” leveraged all the imagery that was already in people’s heads about America, thanks to Hollywood. It not only restored visitor levels within the year it also achieved the highest ROI ever seen in the tourism sector anywhere on the planet ($80 increased visitor spend for each $1 of ad spend).

I therefore thought it would be interesting to take a look at how other countries today are dealing with the challenges and opportunities presented to them in 2017.

First Barbados, whose tourism office (BTMI) has undertaken a major promotional campaign in the UK recently as part of a sustained push to deliver increased UK arrivals on their beautiful island.

The UK accounts from more than a third of international arrivals to Barbados and although it is targeting a wider range of visitors in the long-term, they want to make sure that they don’t lose market share in the fiercely competitive market today.

Long stay arrivals to Barbados in 2015 grew by 13.7% to reach 591,892, the highest on record; in that year the island also saw a year-on-year increase from the UK of 14.1%. In 2016 UK visitor arrivals exceed 71,000. The BTMI is particularly delighted to see such strong interest from the UK and Europe because last year was, in itself, a record year.

It’s notoriously difficult to target a tourism ad – most are made to reflect a catch-all of ages, genders and budgets. If ads were made to reflect a whole spectrum of niche audiences then Barbados would be looking at possibly five campaigns each year. So, if it’s just the one pillar campaign there needs to be a big idea that appeals to everybody.

That said, the last ad campaign from BTMI, which dates back to 2013, features the island’s biggest pop export, Rihanna. In my opinion a shaky proposition with the central focus on a pop star and the inevitable risk that you end up with a pop video not a tourism ad. The content and creative execution reflect all of the Rhianna brand values well, some of which she doubtless has in common with the island, for example beautiful and natural. However the ad does little to engage a broad age range let alone the core target audience and apart from the ‘Barbados’ logo at the end there is not a creative idea that binds her to the location.

It’s very easy to fall into cliché when creating a tourism campaign. Even easier with the more mature markets where, thanks to travel shows, colour supplements, and general knowledge, we inevitably equate India with elephants and the Taj Mahal, Barbados with rum and flying fish and Mexico with Mariachi bands and The Day of the Dead (the latter was certainly brought to life, ahem, in the 007 blockbluster Spectre, which shows the opportunity for ‘product placement’ for locations and why countries fight with oodles of film funding to secure them).

When we approach any new briefs, we always bear in mind that Einstein recommended that everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. I am probably one of the few people on the planet that has imagined Albert as an ad man, and if he were then I’m sure he would always have stopped well short of the cliché, the lowest common denominator in creative and strategic thinking.

Many tourism bodies would argue that my perceived clichés are, in fact, important properties, genuine collateral, their unique selling point. But for me a cliché is still a cliché.

Clearly it all depends on the brief. If, for example, if Barbados told me it was in dire need of younger visitors I might be persuaded that Rihanna’s pop video style ad is the way to go. If I were told that the objective was to attract tourists of all ages and budgets (which is the case) then I would advise that they should return to the drawing board as soon as possible.

Most tourist boards don’t have bags of cash to fund a dozen different campaigns that speak to a dozen different audiences via as many platforms. Budgets dictate that whatever else the campaign is, it must have strong a core idea that is flexible enough to be adapted to suit its various needs.

Usually campaigns also need to be stretched across the globe and seen in many different geographies. This brings on board the additional challenge that, whatever the campaign says, it has to be culturally acceptable and relevant to all audiences. (I can’t imagine the Rihianna will be allowed to run in the Middle East, for example.)

Alan’s work for US Tourism had a creative execution based on films. Everyone has seen an American movie or TV show. When we land for the first time in the US, we have all experienced that deja-vu which comes from having seen it all before on a screen. This leads, inevitably, to the magical feeling of walking around in a giant movie set. So 'You’ve seen the movie now see the set…' fitted perfectly, as it tapped into a universal feeling.

So, what makes a good destination campaign?

First of all you need to cut through the clutter and kill the clichés. As I have illustrated, there will be wonderful things about your country that have been reduced to cultural cliché. We all have them and I am painfully aware of London’s Beefeaters, soldiers in funny bearskin hats and the Queen. When Alan and I worked on promoting the UK as a destination for young Asian travelers in the 1990’s this imagery made the UK look old-fashioned. Our solution was to juxtapose historic British landmarks with young models in the style of a fashion shoot and visitor numbers for our target market shot up.

Secondly, you need to do something that is appropriate for and familiar to your audience. It seems to me that a one size fits all brief – like our American campaign – will be the most likely direction of travel to raise what Byron Sharpe would call ‘mental availability’ of your destination. If that is the case, you need to create a campaign that speaks across age groups, class and budget and has a resonance in many geographies regardless of their culture.

Thirdly, once you have your awareness building campaign in broadcast media, you need to leverage digital to harvest it: it’s easier to tailor more specific messages to more targeted, individual segments, and you can drive traffic to the travel companies who can arrange for the audience to actually visit the country. This is one of the biggest challenges because tourist boards are traditionally government-run organisations and moving them to a more nimble, business-like, entrepreneurial model can be difficult.

Tourism is an industry with different levels and budget disparities, so some tourist boards can fall behind. But on the whole, this is not an industry that lags behind in innovation.

So, who is getting it right? There are quite a few good examples.

Visit Sweden has made a bold and innovative move with its Freedom to Roam campaign that launched in May. The campaign states unashamedly that while Sweden may not be able to complete with the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben or the Niagara Falls, “it has something else – the freedom to roam”. This is no mere marketing slogan, but based on a country truth: everyone in Sweden has the right to walk on anyone’s land and pick mushrooms and berries on it as long as they are also careful not to damage it.

To emphasise this proposition, Visit Sweden listed the whole country on Airbnb. If nothing else, the campaign has certainly become a talking point, and so has put the country on the consideration list of potential visitors.

Tourism Australia is always ten steps ahead of the competition. Last year it launched a site dedicated to 360 degree videos of Australia from underwater diving through to walking with kangaroos. The videos can be viewed on multiple devices with or without a VR headset.

Back in Europe, Wonderful Copenhagen, as a city tourist board, is really innovative. They understand the generational trends; they know that the millennial market is very important for them, and they’ve developed campaigns and content to better attract this market. They seem to also understand the need for very well-targeted ad campaigns to raise awareness and to re-target interest. That’s a level of understanding that most tourist destinations don’t have at the moment. And in no small measure supported by the recent Carlsberg campaign that celebrates the brand’s Danishness like no other.

Michael Mozsynski is founder and CEO of London Advertising.

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Michael Moszynski

Michael Moszynski is the founder and CEO of LONDON Advertising.

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