The current state of tourism marketing – digital and social media

Screenshot Leslie and Sheila from Tourism Currents on Zoom
Opinions on today's digital destination marketing? You know we have some!

Can you believe we’re almost halfway through 2023? We can’t believe it, either.

Whew.

After doing some recent conference presentations about trends and the current state of tourism marketing, we thought we’d share our quick mid-year insights with you about what we think is changing, and what is not.

Here is what Leslie thinks about today’s digital destination marketing landscape . . .


Leslie McLellan Tourism Currents at Ned LeDoux concert in Montana thinking about the current state of tourism marketing.
Leslie thinking about the joys of music tourism at a Ned LeDoux concert in Montana.

“I’ve worked in destination marketing for over 30 years. There is one thing that has never changed, and that is that you have to TALK with your visitors. Talk with them before they decide to come, talk with them while they are there, and follow up with them after their visit. If you miss one of those discussions with your visitors, you are not making the most of their time with you.

This is basic Destination Marketing 101.

Marketing got much easier – especially for ‘the little guy’ – once we all started making use of the internet. Suddenly the playing field became more level and affordable. In the beginning of online marketing, people succeeded because they were having conversations online. Once the pay-to-play mentality took over, though, it was right back to traditional, old school, advertising with pushing things out to people and throwing conversations aside.

The people who are successful organically online today are the ones who spent time building a great online community.

There is no substitute for the personal touch.

Groups, Messenger, and various forms of DMs rule the world today as far as having a conversation goes, but I’ll be the first to admit that it is difficult to be a real-time ‘concierge’ for those visitors who want to talk to someone right away. This is something you must do though. Full stop.

You have to admit that it’s easier to answer questions online than having to answer office phone calls at a desk, like we had to do in the 90’s and 2000’s. ☎

I think Facebook is still the go-to for destinations. It’s so big that you can’t ignore it.

Twitter could be making a comeback, but it sure looks like more people are simply reading destination tweets (as noted by the new view counter on each tweet) and not interacting with them as they did in 2008 through 2015 or so.

Sounds like Twitter might be working on bringing back Vine and Periscope perhaps to compete with TikTok? Of course TikTok is a whole other animal – as we always say, if your audience is there, then you should be there too. Otherwise, lurk and learn after you claim your brand name so someone else can’t get it.

Related – results of our recent survey about TikTok restrictions for tourism marketing

People do still look at pictures on Instagram, including good photo carousels. Engagement lately seems to be more Likes than comments. Reels might hold some value for destinations but I haven’t found any difference in engagement between Reels and good photos.

Stories don’t seem to make much difference in ‘stopping the scroll’ either, as far as destination marketing goes. On Instagram it seems that visitors/tourists scroll quickly and hit Like as they travel through their feed.

Often overlooked, Pinterest is a great place for destinations to park their info! Pinterest is treated more like a search engine, and it’s encouraging seeing Pins from years ago be resurrected and saved by potential visitors.

Related – Pinterest marketing for tourism, with insights from Visit Muskegon, Michigan

It seems like over the course of 3 decades of destination marketing we have come full circle. There are no ‘magic beans’ . . . you must connect and engage with your visitors.

If you don’t acknowledge their messages, their Likes on your posts, and answer their questions in a timely manner, your online presence will be toast. Everyone wants information online immediately and it’s up to you to provide it to them, realizing that on your end it is going to take extra TIME.

Time is a whole other subject (we understand all the things that a marketing person must deal with on a daily basis) but you are in the tourism realm because you love travel, love customer service, and love hospitality, so it’s up to you to organize your schedule and make the time to quickly and efficiently take care of your guests, via online info and coversations.”

Related – our social media time management on-demand webinar

Here is what Sheila thinks about what’s up and what’s down in digital destination marketing . . .


Sheila Scarborough from Tourism Currents at Visit Seguin TX event National Travel and Tourism Week 2023
Big thanks from Sheila to Visit Seguin TX for bringing her in to be their National Travel and Tourism Week 2023 event speaker. Seguin is a cool town near San Antonio, with lots going on.

“In this snapshot in time, here is my take on the current state of tourism marketing, particularly digital and social media.

**  Marketers are getting tired of being jerked around by algorithms and owner’s whims on various platforms. They are starting to focus more on what they alone can control – their website, blog, and email list.

It isn’t sexy or a pretty shiny object, but it WORKS when you devote time and attention to ‘owned media’ and email.

**  Short videos, especially (but not always) vertical videos.

You have everything you need to shoot perfectly fine videos right from your phone, but they need to be interesting and SHORT. 30 to 60 seconds, usually.

Have captions if there is any conversation or voiceover.

Where possible, shoot two versions – horizontal for LinkedIn, Facebook Pages, and regular YouTube plus blog post embeds, and a vertical version for Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and YouTube Shorts.

** In the social media ‘horse race’ . . .

  • Pay attention to LinkedIn. Get your personal profiles updated, get active with your brand LinkedIn Page. I’m seeing a lot more activity and engagement on there lately. Don’t miss out. Related – 20 ideas for posts for your LinkedIn Page
  • Have a social ads budget, especially for Facebook and Instagram ads and sponsored posts. Organic reach is really tough on the major platforms these days. You’re going to need to pay to get in front of even your own followers, but you can do a lot even with a small budget of US$50-100.
  • Twitter has always been my personal favorite social platform, but it’s kind of a hot mess right now, especially in moderation and customer support. If you’re already active, don’t give up yet, but don’t prioritize it, and I wouldn’t spend any money there. Still waiting to see if a real alternative will take off – we’re on Mastodon, lurking and learning.
  • As Leslie said above, you only need to be on TikTok if YOUR audience is there. TikTok restrictions are popping up everywhere; our recent short TikTok survey is a good pulse check for how tourism folks are dealing with the situation. An influencer campaign may be a workaround for you.
  • Keywords and SEO matter on social media. Take it into account in the wording of your account bio, content titles, descriptions, captions, and hashtags. Did you know that Gen Z uses social media as a search engine?

Finally, do some digging into AI (Artificial Intelligence) like ChatGPT. Try some experiments to see how you might use it to draft marketing content, do SEO keyword research, optimize emails including subject lines, etc.

Check services that you already use, to see if they’ve incorporated AI tools. For example, Canva now has Magic Design, Magic Edit, and Magic Eraser features.

If you have never seen ChatGPT in action, below is a video screen-recorded on my phone of OpenAI’s free (less sophisticated) version of ChatGPT answering a standard ‘things to do in _____’ travel question, in this case, about Rhode Island.”

(Direct link to our Instagram Reel demonstrating ChatGPT)

 


That’s our broad look at the current state of tourism marketing. Remember that your first priority is always the digital assets that you control – website, blog, email list.

Also remember that it’s better to do a good job on one or two social media platforms where your audiences spend their time, than to spread yourself all over without any plan and do a bad job in a bunch of places.

Did we miss anything? Do you have questions? Tell us about it down below in a comment.

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