Hashtag sandwich ingredients combine online and offline communications at MeltKraft Artisanal Grilled Cheese in Reading Market, Philadelphia PA (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Hashtag sandwich ingredients combine online and offline communications at MeltKraft Artisanal Grilled Cheese in Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Although “trends” write-ups are a dime a dozen this time of year, they might not make sense for what you do as a tourism or hospitality pro.

Here is how we see the current destination marketing landscape…. it’s our attempt to be your personal scouts, and boil down what matters in today’s tourism marketing trends.

As you roll into the new year, keep these five developments in mind:

Responsive:  website, blog, AND your organization

Visitors and guests expect a responsive, mobile-friendly website and blog on their (increasingly common among even, yes, older travelers) mobile devices. If your website is hard to navigate on a smartphone or tablet, your destination or hotel is cooked because people will click away to something else.

If you personally are not responsive to online conversations, you’re toast. When visitors or guests tag you, link to you and ask questions of you online, that’s the social media telephone ringing. Answer it, just like you answer questions and converse with people in your Visitor Center.

—-> Steps to take now – Budget for a mobile-friendly website if you haven’t already. Learn to listen and respond online, not just broadcast stuff.

Tip: Twitter can be an exceptional CVB, DMO, or hotel customer service channel, but you have to pay attention and devote resources to it.

Search engines:  be find-able or you’re lost

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is an ongoing effort, not some keywords you threw onto your website a couple of years ago. Social media activity is now a factor in search as well.

Visitors and guests are popping open a browser on their phone and typing in search strings like, “best breakfast OR brunch in .” Are they finding what you want them to find? Have your partners claimed their Google Places listing so that they’re more visible in search?

One thing that Leslie says she’s learned in her work with Visit San Jacinto Valley in California: you need a presence on Google+. The fact is that content there ranks highly in Google searches. Frankly, it’s more of an SEO play to post there than it is another community to manage, so it doesn’t take much extra effort or time, at least right now.

That said, how much longer before this particular one-trick SEO pony doesn’t work any more?

Reminder: there is more to search than Google. Other platforms have their own internal search; for example, look for people and activity in your location by searching Instagram hashtags.

—-> Steps to take now: Make sure that you and your partners claim and fill out your Google+ and Google Places business profiles. Start with sharing your blog posts and photos on your Google+ business Page, making sure you tag those who are featured (you tag in Google+ by putting a “+” in front of whoever you want to tag.)

Go for niche over mass, and always “think local”

Organizations are starting to realize that it’s better to connect with a small number of rabid, talkative, word-of-mouth-spreading niche fans than to spend effort and money on reaching masses of people who don’t care.

Social media is a powerful and budget-friendly way to reach your perfect visitor or guest. For example, we’re seeing more CVBs connecting with birders, quilters, and craft beer brewers.

Tied in with niche is the appeal of local experiences that visitors and guests can’t get anywhere else. Small towns are reveling in their unique offerings. Big cities are highlighting their distinct neighborhoods (which are very much like small towns.)

Drilling down to your local level and connecting with your visitors by offering true community/neighborhood/local insights and flavors is a big winner in 2014 and beyond.

—-> Steps to take now: Review your editorial calendar for the next few months. How well are you highlighting niche options in your content? Think through how you can use social networking to find and connect with prospective visitors and guests in those niches.

Tip: Twitter chats are one way to do this. For example, do you have amazing public gardens in your town? Participate in #Gardenchat on Twitter every Monday at 9 p.m. EST

Be picky and smart about your time, effort, and resources

In the face of steep drop-offs in Facebook Page organic reach (unless you pay to play) many DMOs and hotels are starting to reassess their previous willingness to spend so much effort on Mark Zuckerberg’s website.

We’re not saying to dump Facebook entirely – it’s still a key outpost in any hub/spoke destination marketing strategy – but it’s been a wakeup call for those who have neglected their own website, blog, email list, and SMS list (all of which they control) to kill themselves trying to get Likes, Shares, Comments, etc. on Facebook.

With so many social media companies going public and needing to make a profit, the days of (completely) free social marketing are ending. You still can’t beat social for affordable marketing that you can actually measure, but if you don’t already budget for social media advertising on platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, you need to consider it.

Further, many bloggers and other online publishers are becoming more reluctant to act like brand ambassadors for you unless they are paid to do so.

In light of this, be even more selective about how you spend money and time. Strive for “discipline with personal [and organizational] bandwidth.”

Do not spend money or time on things that don’t work in today’s world. Do spend money and time on things that might be new to your budget, but that matter in today’s destination marketing landscape. Educate your Board, too.

—-> Steps to take now: You can’t be everywhere doing everything. Focus resources first on things that you own and control. Devote time and money to what works and can be measured, not what you’ve “always done.” Connect first with people who already love you and talk about you….that includes your locals. Make sure your website, blog, email and SMS lists are working as hard as possible for you. THEN worry about leaping on other bandwagons.

Tactical level stuff:  platforms on the rise

a) LinkedIn. What is old is new again, or maybe DMOs like a less-noisy, business-focused social network with nearly 300 million users worldwide.

Mostly, we think there’s more discussion about LinkedIn because the DMO and hotel Sales/Services people are waking up to the power of social media to connect with meeting and event planners. LinkedIn’s not the only place to do that, but it’s a logical start.

b) “Sharing Economy” services. Airbnb, HomeAway, Uber ride-sharing, etc. are growing in popularity, but too many DMOs are ignoring this trend rather than trying to figure out how to work with them or share information about them with visitors. This was a VERY lively topic of discussion at 2013’s eTourism Summit conference.

Clearly, the lodging tax issue must be figured out, for one thing, but some places have already done that. For example, the Austin, Texas CVB website features “Vacation Home Rental” listings that meet city requirements.

c) Audio and podcasting. Another “oldie but goodie;” podcast audience attention and loyalty is under-appreciated. We saw a big resurgence in interest and activity during this month’s 2014 New Media Expo, which has always featured podcasters. Audio is also a very effective way to connect with those niche visitors and guests.

Tip: create your own audio content and use SoundCloud to feature it on your blog and other sites.

d) Combining online and offline. Social photography with mobile devices is driving a lot of this. For example, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival and Tourism Montreal gave out paper frames complete with local hashtags, so people could hold them up and “frame” their Instagram and other photos with them, then share online.

What do YOU think about today’s destination marketing situation? Let us know down in the comments – thanks!


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Commenting area

  1. Love the social media telephone ringing analogy. I’m planning a visit to Oxford, MS and I’ve tried tweeting, e-mailing, calling them on the telephone & even sent a letter of intro via snail mail without any response (except for the polite young lady who answered the phone saying that I have to start with the state tourism board.)

    I also agree with your Google+ suggestions. It is easy for DMO’s to set up a page simply to have a presence. I have “Tourism Bureaus” in my circle. Feel free to add me +NancyBrown to your circles as I love working with CVBs.

    Good tips Sheila.

  2. Thanks, Nancy!

    Sorry to hear about Oxford – the state tourism folks are usually pretty responsive, and one of our earliest clients is in Meridian, MS (plus Tunica hosted the 2nd Symposium on Social Media in Tourism) so we have a soft spot for Mississippi tourism.

    Appreciate the offer re: Google+, too.

    • Steve Martin May 20, 2014 at 2:13 pm · ·

      Hi Sheila,

      Just came across this. Thank you for the Meridian mention.



  3. Great post Sheila. I’ve given it a mention in my weekly email. Hope it sends a few visitors this way, sensible, no fluff advice, just how I like it! 😉

  4. Your website has been hacked by spammers, it seems!

    • Thanks for the heads up; we haven’t seen any problems since a pharma hack issue a month or so ago, but running an extra scan right now.

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