Marketing Destinations

Wish you were here?

Let’s assume it’s your job to come up with some new compelling reasons why anyone would want to visit your area. New brochure? Redo the website? Go mobile? Sales mission to China? Well guess what? Virtually every destination in the UK is doing much the same.  And, like you, they’re failing to do much more than provide a record of promotional activity to mollify stakeholders. Using up cash and resources for activity that would not be supported by most private sector managers. The uncomfortable truth is even the best funded, most brand savvy destination destination marketing pales in comparison with that delivered by the major commercial hotel and attraction operators.

Whose job is it to sell your destination?

Marketing a visitor destination remains as chaotic as ever in the UK as the ongoing debate as to whose responsibility it is continues. Currently an uneasy mix of public and private finance is used, spread unevenly around the country. At every level from VisitBritain, the national tourist boards, the fast disappearing regional tourist boards and development agencies, the emerging local enterprise partnerships, new destination marketing and management organisations to the local district councils funding for tourism promotion is in short supply.

Rumblings about the validity of public sector consumer marketing and the profits leveraged by technology companies grow louder. Yet despite the squeeze on budgets too many destinations continue to deliver cookie-cutter campaigns heavy on landscape and overused superlatives but light on compelling reasons why you’d want to visit one location’s package of attractions rather than those of another.

Marketing in 2015 and beyond?

So what does the futurehold for UK destinations? Plans for tourism business levies (more accurately TBIDs*) to provide an alternative source of funding face significant opposition and delay as a suspicious private sector, lacking the confidence its US counterparts have in such schemes, eye the detail set out in current proposals. Yet the income provided by visitors is of critical importance to most local economies and the need to compete to attract tourist trips greater than ever. In the short term, DMOs* are tapping into the government’s regional growth fund to boost domestic visits. Confidence in any long term government commitment to tourism was shaken by the last cabinet reshuffle, which effectively demoted its standing in the list of political priorities. Roll on 2015.

Tourist Board Lite

The cash cow that used to be the destination web site, earning commissions and ad revenues from room sales has almost run dry. Online travel agencies like, Expedia, Laterooms etc, with their greater resources for exploiting digital technology, have built up sufficient consumer confidence to take over this function. Conference and venue hire commissions have long gone, losing out to the power of Google search and members’ own websites. This leaves DMOs with the combined role of brand guardian, cheerleader and chief fundraiser. Their principal functions now lie in design, photography, PR, social media and, most critically, political and  commercial sector  networking. Along with changed responsibilities comes a new acronym: DMMO or destination marketing and management organisation.

Marketing? It’s down to you

Down the stretch it will be destinations (or, more precisely, groupings of tourism businesses) that look beyond public sector dependency, galvanise their local networks, leverage external funding and exploit every opportunity to position themselves aggressively in the marketplace that will prosper. Working out which visitors are the best fit for a given destination, finding out what those visitors want, working with local stakeholders to collectively deliver what they want and adopting professional sales and marketing tactics to attract them is the somewhat obvious solution.

Top ten rules for marketing destinations:

• Get to grips with who your most lucrative visitors are, what they want from your destination, and what needs fixing in order to maximise long term profitability
• Spend your money on attracting those visitors who represent the best long term prospects for delivering both long term profitability and sustainability
• Stop working in silos and agree a shared marketing strategy with your destination’s major retail, inward investment and business sector players
• Produce a flexible yearly marketing plan that details activity, audience targets, timings, costs, KPIs* building in budget for contingencies
• Promote repeatedly 3-4 desirable experiences your destination does consistently better than any other
• Take the lead in developing collaborative marketing campaigns in tandem with your local and national tourism partners
• Start to deliver a trusted and comprehensive online and mobile device showcase for your destination NOW
• Provide compelling content to deliver impact at every stage of the customer research, purchase and visit process
• Make easily available great images, broadcast quality film and great copy for distribution to and by your partners, the travel trade and the media
• Tell every local resident what you’re doing to promote your destination and ask them to help via their own communications to friends and family worldwide

Ten great tips for promoting destinations:

• Hire staff with sales flair to pitch to the travel trade and to maximise conference, membership and advertising revenue
• Reduce the print run and use brochres for up-selling, with maps & offers and to drive traffic to your TIC* and/or mobile devices
• Use QR codes on all printed materials, posters and encourage tourism and travel partners to add to their own materials
• Highlight a selection of 3-4 easily bookable day, short break or holiday packages that best showcase your destination
• Subscribe to a press enquiry feed (such as Travmedia) and set daily targets for responses and press release uploads
• Provide an online media library with free to use print ready images and broadcast-quality video clips
• Put up charismatic, well-briefed spokespersons for all broadcast media interviews and infuse your own Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc accounts with individuality and humour
• Set measurable objectives for trade fair attendance including sales leads achieved
• Kick-start your penetration of emerging overseas markets by targeting local and UK-wide ex-patriate communities
• Ask local hotels and attractions to hand out prize entry postcards to guests to drive data capture and market intelligence


DMO: destination management organisation
KPI: key performance indicator
TBID: tourism business improvement district
TIC: tourist information centre