Destination Marketing: 5 Organizations Leading The Way

July 2, 2019 Julia Manoukian

Destination Marketing: 5 Organizations Leading The Way

When you're about to book a trip, where do you start? 

You might call your travel agent. Maybe you flip through a magazine. Or, if you're like most people, you'll go online.

As we know, digital and social have changed the way people interact with brands. And in turn, almost every industry has shifted the way they go-to-market—including travel and tourism. 

  • 60 percent of leisure travel plans and 41 percent of business travel plans are made online, according to research from Smart Insights.
  • Almost half (55 percent) of 18-65 year-olds book trips purely based on images they see on Instagram, reports The Telegraph
  • Travelers spend an average of 53 days visiting 28 different websites, with more than 50% of travelers checking social media for travel tips, according to Nielsen research.

As fascinating as these trends are, they've also brought on a new set of challenges, especially for destination marketers.

How are other destination marketing organizations (DMOs) responding to these issues? And, more importantly, what tactics can you learn from them to anticipate, react to and overcome these pains? 

We've singled out 5 forward-thinking DMOs who are doing an exceptional job and highlighted them below (full disclosure: 3/5 are CrowdRiff customers).  

1 | How Visit Holland Combats Overtourism 

The Netherlands is so much more than just tulips and windmills. Visit Holland, part of the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC), uses user-generated content (UGC) so visitors can discover fresh new destinations that they won't always find in travel brochures.

On Visit Holland's main page, there's a UGC gallery with curated content from Instagram featuring authentic travel experiences from real people, not actors or models. Anyone can have their photos and videos appear on the page. They just need to tag their content with #thisisholland. Once you get the rights to use the content, you can feature their photo.

“It is our goal that everyone in Holland, from the northern parts to the southwestern parts, can enjoy the wealth that tourism brings,” says Jasper Broekhuis, the Social Media Marketing Manager for the NBTC.

With UGC, DMOs can promote locations that few tourists visit and "lighten the load" on the major cities. Case in point: Amsterdam. Experts predicted that more than 20 million people would visit the city by the end of 2018, despite the capital's 1 million population.

Why this strategy is inspiring:

  • It demonstrates leadership. Visit Holland recognized a need for change and took the steps to divert crowds from Amsterdam. 
  • The team at Visit Holland upholds their responsibility to promote the entire country, not just what's popular.
  • It's ingenuous and authentic. The team used a simple solution (UGC galleries) that aligned with their existing marketing strategy and message.

2 | How Visit Iceland Tackles Crowds

Thanks in part to television shows like "Game of Thrones," Iceland has received an influx of tourists in the past few years. This once-forgotten island is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, and some cities are struggling with the crowds.

Visit Iceland, the country's destination marketing organization, came up with a solution. They used something called sentiment analysis as an indicator of overtourism. Travel research company Skift used the latest digital tools to measure press sentiment toward crowded tourist resorts in the country.

How Visit Iceland Tackles Crowds

"Our theory is that struggles with overtourism will show up in the form of negative stories reported in media outlets," notes Seth Borko of Skift. "By measuring the level of negative tourism stories reported in the local press, we aim to create an index that can indicate overtourism. Higher results on the index indicate that communities are struggling with the negative impact of overtourism."

Why this strategy is inspiring:

  • It asks the tough questions, challenging what tourism success really means. 
  • A data-driven approach provides certainty around trends the team has seen anecdotally. 
  • It recognizes that prevention is easier than recovery, so the team can be proactive going forward. 

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3 | How Visit Savannah Attracts New Audiences with the Help of Locals

During a quarterly brainstorming session, Lauren Cleland, the Director of Digital Marketing, and her team at Visit Savannah decided to try something new to boost engagement. They took to Instagram to create the perfect travel itinerary for visitors. 

Using the Instagram polls feature, they were able to gauge the most popular tourist-friendly locations in the city. Then, the DMO created an audience-directed video with all the chosen attractions. 

The result? 64,000 people have watched the video, and 10,000 people have viewed it on Instagram alone.

This is a great example of destination marketing because it contains an interactive element and is part of a multi-platform approach. Visit Savannah shared their video across multiple platforms—Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc.

Consider using social media and UGC to create your own audience-directed videos that showcase local landmarks and experiences. Instagram stories, in particular, are really hot right now: 500 million people use them every day. 

Why this strategy is inspiring:

  • A focus on crowdsourcing lets locals get involved in tourism planning. 
  • Visit Savannah amplifies that focus through social media to attract new audiences. 
  • The video helped demonstrate the diversity of a place that people often thought of as highly homogenous, with the help and input of hundreds of people. 

4 | How Black & Abroad Boosts the Number of Black Travelers to Africa

In a stroke of destination marketing genius, Black & Abroad turned the pejorative phrase, "Go back to Africa" into a positive one and used it as the basis of their campaign to encourage more black travelers to visit Africa.

The phrase features in Black & Abroad's marketing videos, which showcase the continent's most breathtaking urban and natural locations. Travelers can share these videos on their social profiles.

But there's more.

"Paid posts on Twitter, YouTube, and digital OOH play off the hashtag '#GoBackToAfrica' and throw to a campaign website, which features social images of African Americans traveling to each one of the countries," says Justin Dallaire for Strategy Magazine.

Research shows that black Americans spend $48 billion on travel every year, while 68 percent of black Americans want to learn more about their culture and history through travel.

Why this strategy is inspiring:

  • The research highlights a key marketing opportunity within a targeted audience segment.
  • By reclaiming the phrase "Go back to Africa," it recognizes the role history and culture play in travel, especially for this audience.
  • The campaign and video communicate the importance social media has on a traveler's journey (note the Tweets at the start of the video) and uses a hashtag to amplify and track performance. 

5 | How Visit Indy Maximizes ROI with A/B Testing

Destination marketing organization Visit Indy encourages more people to travel to Indiana by testing visual content on different platforms. This helps the organization repurpose visual content that best resonates with prospective travelers.

Through A/B testing, Visit Indy found that shorter videos (5-7 seconds, on average) work best on Instagram, while slightly longer videos (15 seconds) work best on Facebook. Video formats are important, too. Portrait videos are more successful on Instagram, while people prefer the 16x9 aspect ratio on Facebook.

How Visit Indy Maximizes ROI With A/B Testing

Going all digital with their ad campaigns allowed them to identify a few different target audiences. 

“We’ve always been a great family destination, but the persona targeting has helped us really flesh out our culinary tourism and our sports tourism,” says Christine Zetzl, Visit Indy’s Digital Marketing Manager.

Visit Indy’s social ad buy, which is now entirely comprised of UGC videos, is currently generating a 1.33% click-through rate, according to Zetzl, which represents 53% of total paid media clicks in the DMO’s 2018 campaign. 

“We’re always looking to do more of what’s working, and right now UGC is working,” says Zetzl.

Why this strategy is inspiring:

  • It shows a clear understanding of audience: Visit Indy has nine different personas and knows how to personalize messaging to each.
  • The strategy has a clear ROI. By testing different visuals and using data, Visit Indy knows what's bringing them the most value and can double down on those activities.  
  • The approach values continual feedback, innovation, and experimentation. 

How Can You Better Promote Your Destination?

While every destination is unique, it's clear that an increasing number of destination marketing organizations are finding creative solutions to challenges caused by the digital age. 

Using technology to put a spotlight on less-known attractions, leveraging data, and testing different visuals in your marketing—these are just some of the ways other destination marketers are building, restoring and enhancing the public image of their destinations. 

What issues are you currently facing at your destination? How can you apply the above strategies to improve your own marketing?

[Editor's Note: This is a running list. Think we missed a DMO you admire? Shoot us an email at]

Download-Guide UGC-Travel and Tourism Brands

About the author

Julia Manoukian

Julia Manoukian is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at CrowdRiff. A former journalist, she has helped several Toronto startups raise their thought leadership profiles and scale their content efforts to influence revenue. She's passionate about storytelling, traveling, and tech.

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