Many destination marketing organizations (DMOs) in the United States have a big reason to celebrate the start of 2022. Even as the pandemic continues to cause uncertainty for travel, the U.S. Department of Commerce recently awarded $510 million worth of American Rescue Plan funds to states.
All 59 states and territories have been awarded grants ranging from $2.7 million to nearly $46 million. The funding is meant to help states “quickly invest in marketing, infrastructure, workforce and other projects to rejuvenate safe leisure, business and international travel,” according to information on the department’s website.
To clarify, the grants are allocated to states, not DMOs. But through the application process, states had to outline tourism marketing efforts, projects or other initiatives that the money would help pay for, and DMOs will likely be directly connected or close to many of the programs tied to grants.
Although the travel industry is poised to make a spectacular comeback in 2022, destination marketers have taken time during the past two years to consider long-term ways to grow their impact. Many also continue to work with other community organizations to rebuild local economies so that tourists have attractions, hotels, and restaurants to visit.
“The State Tourism grants give states and territories the flexible opportunity to boost their local tourism industry and ensure that jobs are restored and tourists return safely” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, in a statement about the grants.
The keyword here is “flexible,” as states can use their grants in a variety of ways.
Grants Go Beyond Traditional Destination Marketing
Although several states plan to use their grants to develop and launch marketing campaigns, others are putting them towards key infrastructure investments that will enable better visitor experiences in the long-term.
These are only a few examples of how some states plan to use their grants:
Oklahoma will make improvements to one of its most visited parks, Robbers Cave State Park.
Minnesota will utilize some of its funds for infrastructure improvements at public water access.
Louisiana will add educational resources to highlight and preserve two historical state parks.
Puerto Rico will integrate tourism into distressed urban areas with activities that focus on local artists, cultural influences, and community involvement.
Pennsylvania plans to create a diversity, equity, and inclusion leadership and workforce training program for its tourism industry.
West Virginia will conduct an assessment of industry needs to inform the creation of training and development programs for hospitality workers.
If your state plans to use part or all of its grant for marketing efforts, and your DMO is set to receive some funding, it’s important to remember that much of your audience has likely changed their lifestyles since they last visited your destination. Many have changed jobs, moved homes, or developed new hobbies during the pandemic, and perhaps their reasons for traveling have also changed.
Ensuring that you’re continuously challenging assumptions about who your audience is, what they’re interested in and what motivates them to travel is a key strategy every DMO can use to navigate this exciting comeback.
Here are some other tips to consider for maximizing the potential of this new funding to create campaigns that will have travelers eager to book trips, and in turn benefit your partners and local residents:
1. Keep Marketing Grounded in Reality
Tourism organization websites have always played a role in trip planning, and many travelers have turned to them during the past year hoping to find updated or real-time information on vaccine and entry requirements and what it’s like on the ground.
“Starting in the spring of , website activity on DMO sites was higher than in 2019 in every single month and every single week,” Adam Saks, CEO of Tourism Economics, told Skift.
Of course, travelers also increasingly turn to social media with questions like ‘what’s open in a destination’, ‘are events still happening’ and ‘what kind of socially distant and outdoor activities and attractions are available’? Your content needs to come across as authentic and empathetic. If mask mandates are in effect, sharing posts of unmasked visitors at attractions could mislead people.
Mask photos have been a pandemic trend with many travelers happily sharing photos of themselves masked up enjoying their vacations (this is where user-generated content can help!). This is just one example that shows travelers your storytelling is authentic and that you take their health and safety seriously.
2. Cater Marketing to Last-Minute Vacations and Getaways
Because so much uncertainty persists around travel restrictions, flight cancellations, and people’s health, booking last-minute will continue to be popular in 2022. Destination marketers should promote content that quickly gives visitors ideas for what to do that helps them feel comfortable with their decision.
Inspiring last minute travel could be as easy as a blog post highlighting “Five Events You Can’t Miss in X Destination Next Week” or sharing an Instagram post that creatively teases the weather forecast for the weekend for snowbirds looking to head south.
3. Explore and Invest in New Social Channels
Try out platforms like TikTok that you previously may not have had the time or resources to invest in. TikTok users spend more than an hour on average per day on the app, which is 50% higher than time spent on Facebook or Instagram.
Revisiting old campaigns that were successful may also make sense as travel picks up. This is a way to spotlight local creatives and businesses like what Visit Austin did in 2021. And while you’re trying out new platforms like TikTok, you can run these campaigns in new places to see how new audiences engage with your content.
4. Celebrate Reunions
Reuniting with friends and family will continue to be a major theme of travel in 2022. Keeping all types of families in mind when marketing reminds travelers that they’ll have a warm welcome and be accommodated despite how their situations may have changed. Travelers may have decided to start a family or adopt pets and will be traveling with kids or animals, so it’s worth highlighting what’s kid and pet friendly.
Multigenerational families, groups of close friends and groups with various ability levels (which attractions or hotels are best suited for wheelchairs, for example) are examples of groups to target while marketing experiences that can accommodate all ages and interests.
Connecting With Communities Matters This Year
Boosting tourism’s impact on local communities has long been the core mission of destination marketers. After two years of hardship for tourism businesses, that focus will be even sharper in 2022.
According to Destination International and MMGY NextFactor’s DestinationNEXT 2021 Futures Study, which surveyed more than 700 industry and community leaders in 50 countries, including the U.S., many organizations’ strategic priorities are in-line with how grant money can be used.
Among respondents’ top 25 strategies are “build the destination brand around the community’s goals, values, and creative energy, be more involved in economic development initiatives, connect visitor experience with the quality of life of residents in my community, acquire competencies and skill sets to effectively compete in a disruptive economy, and enhance engagement with the local community to manage future considerations for the visitor economy.”
Tapping into travelers’ new motivations for travel and creating campaigns around those will go hand-in-hand with the impact you drive for local businesses. Travelers want to feel inspired to travel again and when they feel welcomed and equipped with helpful information, everyone wins.
To find out how you can efficiently drive impactful campaigns, check out our article on the 6 Ways DMOs can Save Time with CrowdRiff here.