Breaking the mold: Why destination marketing requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach, by Sojern’s Chris Gregory-Pasha

Given the decline in overall travel marketing budgets, DMOs must rework existing strategies and redefine success metrics in a digital world, writes Chris Gregory-Pasha, Sales Director in MEA at Sojern.

Destination marketing organisations (DMOs) have long been a staple of the travel industry. These entities partner with local hotels, attractions, and more to drive tourism to their specific location. While DMOs can be incredibly effective, the Covid-19 pandemic forced many to adapt and change to regional and national lockdown measures and new traveller preferences. DMOs across UAE, Qatar, KSA, and other parts of the GCC are working tirelessly to drive traffic to destinations and facilitate recovery, but many of these entities have similar target markets, which can often lead to homogenised marketing strategies and campaigns.

These one-size-fits-all campaigns risk oversaturating target markets, which may hinder future bookings. Now more than ever, DMOs must woo travellers with unique campaigns. Here are ways DMOs can diversify campaigns to drive bookings and recovery.

Get personal

According to a recent report, 56 per cent of respondents agree that travel is ripe for direct response campaigns. Travellers turn to direct bookings because they want clear cancellation or refund policies–and many were frustrated by their experiences with Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) during the height of the pandemic. This presents a golden opportunity for DMOs to partner with their Airline and Hotel stakeholders to run joint or co-op marketing campaigns, focussed on driving bookings and that can be measured against traditional performance KPIs such as ROI.  The report found 55 per cent of MEA respondents are dedicating 26-49 per cent of their overall marketing budgets to digital advertising, and 35 per cent plan to increase machine learning and AI tools. Focusing on these digital solutions will enable DMOs to enact, target, and test campaigns that capture bookings.

Take a full-funnel approach

Creating unique campaigns that drive traveller bookings requires a full-funnel, multichannel approach. Travellers are searching and booking on both phones and laptops. From social–yes, even Tik Tok–and digital to video and connected TV, DMOs have an incredible opportunity to advertise to a traveller across devices throughout the buying journey. For example, a traveller may want to do a safari, beach, and ski adventure all in the same week. By creating device-specific messaging and deploying campaigns across the customer journey, DMOs can capture multiple bookings all in the same trip. DMOs can also partner with national airline carriers to drive tourists to the destination while lowering cost-per-action (CPA).

Rediscover unique attributes

While it’s easy to focus on traditional attractions, such as a beautiful resort pool or beach, DMOs must remember that every destination has various elements that can attract different target markets. By rediscovering the unique attributes of a destination, DMOs can leverage local artists or celebrities to create campaigns that are tailored to specific people. For example, Ras Al Khaimah’s current campaign focuses on both ecotourism and outdoor adventures. Dubai highlighted Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan and Indian tennis star Sania Mirza, as well as American film stars Jessica Alba and Zac Efron, when touting its Golden Visa program. Moreover, Qatar has pivoted its World Cup strategy to focus on regional tourism. Regardless, DMOs must analyse current trend data and with innovative messaging to capitalise on new opportunities.

Rethink success metrics

Given the decline in overall travel marketing budgets, DMOs must rework existing strategies and redefine success metrics in a digital world. Travellers remain hesitant to book, which means branding campaigns will be key to long-term success. Data, including optimisation and testing, will play a critical role, and collaborations will be key to destination tourism recovery. The best way to capture relevant data is through a strong partner network, and DMOs can leverage partner expertise by creating a strong digital ecosystem. This data will ultimately enable successful multichannel campaigns that understand the traveller journey. DMOs that adapt marketing strategies will win customer confidence and future bookings.

Go cookieless

Google announced plans to stop supporting third-party cookies on the Chrome browser starting in 2023. This will upend a number of current strategies, which means DMOs must lay the groundwork now. Third-party cookies make it possible to track website visitors, collect customer data, retarget, and more. Without these cookies, DMOs will need to leverage new means of tracking to enable effective targeting. Hashed emails use an algorithm to convert an email into a unique, unrecognisable jumble of characters in order to identify and target travellers online, and first-party cookies are collected by DMOs and shared with external partners to match hashed email IDs. When hashed emails and first-party cookies are combined with on and offline historical booking data, DMOs can stitch together a complete online view of potential travellers.