Destination Marketing Essentials: How to Inspire Travel in 2019 and Beyond

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In 2018, 73 percent of consumers said their best memories came from travel experiences. Budget airlines, home sharing and remote work have made it easier (and cheaper) than ever to travel. And millennials—a generation with unparalleled purchasing power—were vocal about their preference for experiences over possessions.

Yet last year, more than half of Americans left vacation days on the table.

This makes no sense.

If travel is so beloved and so easy, why are we content swiping through Instagram posts of far-off destinations from the comfort of our cubicles?

We don’t lack the means, the knowledge or the appreciation. What we lack is the inspiration: that burning desire to pack up and go that’s strong enough to overpower our need to constantly appear (and be) busy. This presents an opportunity for destination marketers to elevate their brands, and indeed their destinations, in the eyes of would-be travelers.

To excite travelers about your destination, you’ve got to do more than showcase what makes it unique. You’ve got to inspire travel in the first place, primarily by fostering an undeniable yearning to go.

So how can brands do this effectively?

Lead with purpose

All marketers build upon their brand purpose through what they make, do and say — destination marketers included. However, destination brands can also bring that brand purpose to life by leveraging the knowledge and culture of the people who call that destination home. The most successful destinations tap into this ethos, distilling it into a galvanizing idea that drives excitement and inspires visits. By showing rather than telling consumers that your destination is more than a location — it’s a place where travelers’ unique aspirations come to life — you can inspire action.

One of the greatest examples of this approach came this year from the Pacific island of Palau. The seven-Cannes-Lion-winning execution the “Palau Pledge” connected the brand to the higher-order purpose of protecting and preserving the Earth — and the island — from the forces of human waste. The country’s pledge to the children of Palau to protect the island was turned into a passport stamp given upon entering the island and earned 1.7 billion earned media impressions with a $0 media buy.

At Colle McVoy, we use brand purpose to guide the Jackson Hole Stay Wild campaign. At a time when mountain vacations have become cookie-cutter and commercialized, Jackson Hole holds steadfast to its signature ruggedness. Motivated by passionate locals, we developed the Stay Wild movement — a call to all who visit Jackson Hole and all who seek adventure to find and preserve this unique destination’s sense of wildness.

As travelers seek more unique experiences, they’ll look to your destination’s purpose as a guide for why to visit. Leveraging the locals to tell your brand story lends authenticity to your purpose and proves that it’s far more than marketing.

Make the locals brand evangelists

You can feel confident in your destination’s purpose when the locals pick it up and run with it on their own. There is, perhaps, no better way to inspire travel than by elevating local knowledge and culture to showcase more than the breweries and art museums found in most tourism advertising. If you give travelers the opportunity to see what locals see rather than what the tourists see, you’ll create an authentic expression of what your destination has to offer.

One of the first campaigns to leverage local knowledge in a unique way was the Swedish Number. Anyone in the world could call a phone number and speak directly with a Swede to learn what they love about their home. With more than 9 billion impressions and over 100,000 calls, the Swedish Number not only fostered interest in Sweden, it created a generation of brand ambassadors.

When we set out to differentiate Minnesota, we knew our greatest asset was our citizens’ unparalleled adoration for the state. The #OnlyInMN campaign created a rallying cry, giving Minnesotans the license and platform to brag. With Minnesotans in every corner of our state sharing what they love, we generated the highest return-on-investment numbers the state’s tourism campaign had ever seen.

With a strong purpose and passion, rallying locals to share what makes your destination great is fairly easy. But if you can also effectively rally influencers, then it can drive excitement and inspire trips among key niche audiences too.

Leverage an influencer marketing approach

In 2018, the U.S. informed public became the least trusting of institutions in the world, according to Edelman’s annual trust barometer. With consumers already unlikely to spend their hard-earned vacation days, advertising alone is unlikely to motivate trips. Inviting influencers to share their authentic experiences with adoring fans can and does inspire action.

To capitalize on the power of influencer marketing, Explore Minnesota Tourism launched the Ten-Day Minnesotans program, which invited Instagram influencers to visit regions of Minnesota for 10 days to discover and share the state. The unique perspectives and stories that were generated helped the number of Explore Minnesota Instagram account followers to increase 32 percent during the campaign.

Clearly, there is perhaps no place better to drive excitement and inspire travel than Instagram. With over 350 million uses of #travel on Instagram, users love sharing and seeing what the world has to offer.

Make “Instagrammability” a hallmark of your campaign

More than 40 percent of millennials consider “Instagrammability” when selecting their next travel destination. With Instagram fueling the desire to travel in so many ways, great destination brands understand that creating Instagrammable experiences is an almost surefire way to inspire travel and travelers alike.

When South Dakota wanted to inspire target markets to travel, they had to make use of their best asset. But if your most famous landmark is a 60-foot-tall monument carved into granite cliffs, it’s hard for travelers to appreciate its majesty without being there. Recognizing the ´grammability of Mount Rushmore, South Dakota took it on the road, bringing a smaller version on tour to Chicago’s Millennium Park and inspiring Instagrammers in Chicago to visit the real thing.

When Minnesota hosted Super Bowl 52, Explore Minnesota knew it faced a formidable challenge in convincing guests that the state has more to offer than the blustery conditions they were witnessing. By creating the highly shareable ‘Sota Pop, an interactive pop-up experience showcasing Minnesota’s best destinations and seasonal offerings, we gave visitors a chance to see all the reasons to plan a trip to Minnesota and become ambassadors by offering Instagram-worthy posts at every turn.

These types of experiences will never beat the real thing, but they go a long way in inspiring future trips. In a world that’s become increasingly digital, giving potential visitors a chance to come as close to engaging all five senses as possible is a huge win as well.

Immerse your audience as much as possible

Despite the ability to see and learn about any destination in the world without moving, consumers still crave the one-of-a-kind sensory experience real travel offers. In fact, 72 percent of millennials say they increasingly crave experiences that stimulate their senses. By creating immersive opportunities that give travelers a chance to virtually see and feel the real thing, you can push them one step closer to booking.

European high-speed train operator Thalys invited guests on a sensory exploration of their destinations through the Scents of the City exhibit. A one-of-a-kind installation distilled tantalizing aromas from colored and numbered vials. Visitors could smell the vials, go to screens to learn about the location and book a trip on site.

To promote Jackson Hole’s awe-inspiring natural beauty to Super Bowl travelers in February, we created a first-ever "VRnocular" virtual reality experience. An iconic viewfinder that was tricked out on the inside to immerse visitors in 360-degree views of Jackson Hole’s natural wonders, the VRnocular was prominently displayed at the Minneapolis—St. Paul International Airport for two weeks. More than 2 million users were transported to Jackson Hole.

In 2018, we witnessed a democratization and proliferation of travel in ways previously unimaginable. Yet despite the changes, we still see room for brands to capitalize and inspire travel and travelers. By putting real people and experiences front and center in your executions and bringing your destination to the people before they come to it, destination brands will effectively shape where and why people travel in 2019.