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How Destination Marketing Organizations Can Sell Greatly By Improving A Traveler’s First Time Experience

Today, let’s get tactical and talk about how a destination brand could Sell Greatly by programming or at least influencing a first time visitor’s destination experience to maximize the value for both the visitor and the destination marketing organization. I think this is important because there are so many first time travel experiences given consumers’ penchant for taking vacations to places they’ve not visited before vs returning to the same location every year.

Turning Conversations Into Future Customers

Before we get to the tactics, let’s not forget one very important strategic point here.

Today’s visitor returns home tomorrow, and if a destination has done its job properly, tells their story to many potential future visitors.

It is these conversations, and the content of these conversations paired with authentic enthusiasm on the part of today’s visitor, that will drive future travelers (their friends and colleagues) to your destination.

Defining Direct vs Indirect Marketing Programs

Since it is almost impossible for a destination marketing organization (DMO) to know who is planning a visit to or actually visiting their destination, well without the help of their hotel, airline, restaurant, attraction and rental car partners, successful DMO’s must primarily co-create their visitors’ destination experience.

Let’s start by breaking down the pre, during and post travel experience and defining which aspects are direct vs indirect opportunities for the DMO to affect the final travel experience.

You can break down the first time travel experience into the following mini-experiences:

  • Pre-departure – DIRECT
  • Departure/Travel – INDIRECT
  • Arrival at airport – INDIRECT or DIRECT
  • Transport to hotel – INDIRECT
  • Arrival at hotel – INDIRECT
  • In-Destination experience(s) – INDIRECT or DIRECT
  • Returning Home – INDIRECT
  • The day after – DIRECT

Crafting Effective DMO Direct Marketing Experiences

Pre-departure
Clearly this is where a DMO can really shine and directly effect the travel experience.

There is a lot of pre-planning you can do to make travel and international travel a heck of a lot easier and more fun. But people are busy today and thus, they just don’t have the time to do the deep research that will improve the enjoyment of their trip. But why not take this opportunity to do it for them and in the process create a relationship before they ever leave?

In its simplest form, this could be a series of eBooks that cover FAQ’s around travel (airports, baggage, customs, transit times to/from airport), the destination itself (hotel, main attractions, off the beat and path attractions, family stuff, nightlife, etc) and nuts and bolts kind of information (taxi phone number, emergency phone numbers for police, fire, medical). Or just build the ultimate source of information about your destination available anywhere on the Internet and give prospective travelers a simple way to access, sift for relevancy, file and resurface all of the relevant information via their phone and/or computer.

You could even recruit locals and former visitors to serve as virtual concierge and travel agent, where a prospective traveler could simply input a list of questions, concerns, or hopes for the trip and then your DMO concierges could provide all the answer… maybe in a custom eBook or portal or through a mobile app or just a simple email.

For instance, my friend and former colleague Susan, a well noted foodie here in NOLA, has a standard email that she sends anyone asking for restaurant recommendations here in NOLA. And if memory serves, she even has it as an Instagram comment that she can quickly copy and paste if someone asks the question on Instagram.

Day After Marketing
As the name suggests… we’re talking about what a smart destination marketing organization can do to effect the memories, feelings and conversations a traveler has the day after they return home from your destination.

What happens to you when you take a trip and then go to work the day after you get home? Does anyone ask you anything about your trip?

Do you see the opportunity here? Do you see where I’m going with this day after stuff?

I firmly believe the day after is one of the single most important marketing opps for today’s marketer — especially in the hospitality world. The first day after we do/have anything our friends and co-workers ask us how we like it, was it fun, etc. This is a destination’s last chance to reinforce the good and minimize any negatives. Remember, humans tend to remember the first and last thing they experience… so make that last memory a good one.

But what’s funny is, in the 20 years I’ve been in marketing, I don’t know that I’ve ever sat in this brainstorming session…have you? If so, what did you talk about? What did you come up with? And lastly, did it work?

Crafting Effective DMO Indirect Marketing Experiences

So this is clearly far more difficult that crafting direct experiences for a few reasons.

First, there is a third-party (partner) organization standing between the DMO and the visitor.

Second, that third-party is under no requirement to play nice with the DMO and/or co-create the visitor experience. Further, the third-party may even feel this co-creation process is detrimental to their brand because good hospitality brands are built largely on delivering consistent brand experiences regardless of where in the world a traveler experiences the band.

Third, most DMO’s are not equipped to co-create these experiences much less monitor implementation. Sure there are mega-DMOs out there with tons of staff… but more often than not, the DMO is thinly staffed with many folks wearing many hats and little free time to think much less take on additional workload or ongoing campaign management duties.

But here are a couple of options to consider implementing.

Launch an Escort Service
No, not that kind of escort service. But again, here is where you can lean on a little bit of technology and a lot of caring, knowledgeable locals or repeat visitors. This could be a simple app or website… sort of like Tinder for Travelers.

A visitor selects your destination, and puts in a few filters for likes, dislikes and interests and the app pairs them with volunteers or maybe even fellow solo travelers who are willing to get together to dine or see the sites together. How much richer would that make the experience? What are the odds that the new visitor will have a great experience.

And if your destination has a lot of solo corporate travelers, what better way to entice them to fall in love with your city and decide to bring their friends or family back for a personal vacation.

Own a Feeling
This one is a little harder in some cases and relies on a really solid training program or maybe just some dumb luck.

Many years ago when I was in Southeast Asia, I often remarked at the level of customer service and the number of employees that were always on staff. Whether I was in a restaurant or hotel, it always seemed like someone was standing within 20 feet just waiting to be called on or proactively provide service if I looked as though I needed something.

Was that just a cultural thing or planned? Honestly, I don’t know but man did it make an impression on me and I’m sure plenty of other travelers.

Fast forward to more recent times and one of our Clients, Cleveland, MS. When we first traveled there to see the city and get a feel for how we’d begin positioning it in social media, we were struck by how friendly everyone was to us. Everyone seemed downright happy to have us in their town and went out of their way to be hospitable.

And lest you think that was just because someone had told them “the agency is going to be in town scouting,” you’d be wrong. This fall a friend of mine and his wife went to Cleveland for a volleyball tourney. Afterwards I asked about their trip.

Guess what was the one thing they raved about? Yep, how friendly the people where and how they always felt like everyone was just so happy they were visiting.

Now, I know for a fact there is no training program in Cleveland, MS, it’s just a great town with great people and the South is known for its hospitality. That’s sort of the dumb luck angle.

But it could be a training program. It could be a call to arms by the DMO to the populace or maybe just to the key stakeholders (restaurant, hotel, attraction, etc). And it will make a difference because it creates memorable experiences. And people like to share their memorable experiences.

If DMOs Want to Sell Greatly

Focus your attention on creating those memorable experiences. Sure you’re measured against heads-in-beds or sales or tax revenue creation. But remember, at the end of the day, long-term success is about memories not money.

So if you focus on creating the former, your destination shouldn’t have any problems generating the latter.

Need Help With Your Destination’s Sales & Marketing Strategy?

We’re always looking for exciting new travel and hospitality clients that want to Sell Greatly and position their destination for future success.

Drop us a note and we’ll call you back ASAP.

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About Tom Martin

Tom is 25+ year veteran of the sales & marketing industry with a penchant for stiff drinks, good debates and showing companies how to Sell Greatly, and turn conversations into customers. He is the founder of Converse Digital , author of The Invisible Sale and a contributing writer for Advertising Age. Tom guides clients through the digital sales & marketing maze and helps companies teach their sales force how to Painlessly Prospect their way to more sales. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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