Trends in tourism: a 2015 mid-year update

Trends in tourism mid-year update - Namaste Y'all sign at an Austin yoga studio near SXSWi (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Keeping it personable and fun – a Namaste Y’all sign at a downtown Austin yoga studio near SXSWi (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

What’s trending in tourism so far in 2015?

This is a scouting report from two conferences: SXSWi (South by Southwest Interactive) and NMX (New Media Expo,) and how some of what we found there can apply to tourism and hospitality.

Earlier this year, in our first 2015 tourism trends report, we emphasized….

1)   Making sense of what all that “Big Data” means to you, and getting started with website Google Analytics if you haven’t already done so,

2)   The importance of mobile – of your visitors and guests carrying their friends, family, and social networks, plus all the information in the world from Google, in their purses and pockets, and

3)   How great visuals can help you break through the online noise.

So far this year, all of the above continues to matter for destination marketers.

For this mid-year update, we want to look through a much bigger lens than the standard “what is hot and new?” Here are some recurring themes we saw at SXSWi and NMX, and the first one should please small towns, unique hotels, and under-the-radar attractions….

Authenticity Can Still Trump
Big Money & Slick Presentation

The people who are your visitors, guests, and customers are looking for the “real deal.”

They are looking for experiences that they cannot find anywhere else but at your place. They want insider information; that’s why there is an explosion of sites and apps like “Spotted By Locals, ” “Like a Local City Guides,” “The Local Tourist,” “Hometown Tourist,” and Localeur.

This is a tailor-made opportunity for the tourism pros who can meet these visitor desires, but it has to be on their terms, not yours. Really listen to your visitors and guests. Take surveys, and take them often.

“Your customers will tell you everything if you have the courage to ask them, ” said Madison Reed CEO Amy Errett at SXSWi.

Marketing strategist Brian Solis said at SXSWi, “In a machine world, humanity is the killer app,” and at NMX, Ekaterina Walter emphasized that “One-off campaigns are fine, but the real power is in building tribes and inspiring movements.”

Bring your humanity and personality online, where they will live forever and be found through search and word-of-mouth referrals like mentions, links, and being tagged on social media. Visitors have always expected excellent customer service and personalized experiences that delight, but now they expect it online, too.

In order to compete successfully with bigger and better-funded brands, the helpful, can-do attitude that you’ve always had at your Visitor Center or hotel front desk MUST translate to online helpfulness and responsiveness. It is your ticket to winning the attention and referral game even if you don’t have a big budget. It makes us crazy when destinations, attractions, and hotels don’t respond to mentions and tags on social media (and why Lesson One of our online course is How to Listen & Respond.)

Are you small, with a limited budget? That is an advantage. You can move fast and your voice is yours, not a big-money agency voice that was hired to sound like you. Guess what? It’s your authentic voice that visitors want, anyway.

Worry less about what you CAN’T do – big ad buys, hosting giant press trips, fancy print collateral – than all the great things you CAN do for visitors and guests.

The Middleman is Dead.
Stick a Fork in Him.

To see how social media is evolving, one of the best industries to watch is the one that made Instagram such a huge deal – the fashion industry.

A packed SXSWi session featured top model Karlie Kloss (2.3 million Instagram followers) whose thoughts about how social has changed fashion are directly applicable to tourism and the challenges of branding and “controlling the message” for a destination or hotel.

“Social media democratizes what is popular and who has authority. People are the new publishers.”

“Fashion is not filtered through editors getting first access any more. It’s now a global conversation. Bloggers have worked their way up to the front row….they bring so many more eyeballs to a runway show. If you put their social follower numbers together, it exceeds the circulation numbers of many major magazines.”

“I’m learning to code right now,” said Kloss. “Why not? It’s the way the world is written.”

In the right circumstances, every visitor or guest is an “influencer.” They are all publishing to the web through their phones, telling their networks about you.

By acknowledging and interacting with visitors online, you are showing them that you are paying attention and that you care about their experiences. By using social media as a digital concierge – answering questions and making suggestions – you become one of the trusted voices for your destination.

No one is going to hand you their attention. You must earn it with your online actions and by publishing helpful, findable content that meets their needs.

Having a title like CVB or Chamber of Commerce or Tourist Board is not enough to get people to listen to you. Do what it takes to structure your organization to meet this challenge.

If it’s ‘too hard’ to change your business model, you’re done,” said Amy Errett at SXSWi.

Earned, Owned, and Paid Media

Most of our clients did not bounce out of bed one morning a couple of years ago and decide to become online publishers and bloggers; it’s been thrust upon them by the inherent demands of digital destination marketing. To be successful, it means reorganizing work flow and mindset.

One tourism trend is better content marketing - Part of the Image Think visual notes about content from a SXSWi 2015 session (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Part of the Image Think visual notes about content from a SXSWi 2015 session (photo by Sheila Scarborough)


One way to look at the possibilities is what Marcy Massura at NMX called the Lasagne Model of Earned, Owned, and Paid Media. They should work together to increase each other’s impact and reach.

Earned media is not only the print magazine article or TV news coverage of old; it’s also a blog post about one of your restaurants, it’s a beautiful Instagram photo of sunset at one of your parks, it’s a Pinterest Board made by someone who loves what you offer. This is content you don’t have to create, and it’s doing your marketing for you. The best thing to do with it is….share it! Leave a comment, say Thank You, and share the heck out of it with your networks.

Owned media is what you own and create yourself. Today’s online publishing tools have affordable, worldwide, 24/7 visibility, but too many in tourism don’t yet realize the power that they hold. Your blog posts and other content can help visitors and guests find you, so always keep SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and keywords in mind when you publish. SEO matters for your photos and video, too, so title, describe, and tag them.

Have a plan and at least a simple editorial calendar. “Rise above the impulse to just grind out slabs of print,” said Donna Freedman at NMX.

Remember, you only own your website, self-hosted blog, and email/SMS lists. As Marcy Massura said at NMX about Facebook Pages, too many brands woke up this past year and realized that they’d “decorated a room in someone else’s hotel.”

You may need to put some money behind your owned media for people to find it, so what starts out as owned may become….

Paid media. This is not just banner advertising – it may include a boost for Facebook Page or LinkedIn Company Page updates, sponsored posts on a food or travel blog, or an Instagram account “takeover” by a prominent Instagrammer. It may be Google ad buys for one of your own blog posts, because getting that top spot organically can be pretty tough.

First Mover Advantage

The world is moving fast. Those who stay up to speed on digital communications, who are not caught by surprise by every new platform, who take the time to test out new products or services that make sense for their niches and markets….they are going to leave the foot-draggers in the dust.

It was never more true that “the early bird gets the worm.”

You do not have to be first on the block to do everything, but you do need to devote some time to staying on top of new developments (this newsletter is a first step – we’re your personal scouts!) and accept that attending a couple of social media breakout sessions at your annual state tourism conference is not going to cut it any longer.

Being a first mover and early adopter does not mean having the latest gadget or app. It means finding ways to keep up with what’s new, then thinking about how such developments might apply to YOUR town or hotel.

If you don’t even know what’s coming onto the market, you can’t go through the thought process of deciding whether to devote resources to it. Meanwhile, your competitor has learned about Item X, done some analysis, and made a move.

Things that early adopters in tourism are thinking about right now:

**  Although livestreaming to the web from your phone isn’t new, the Periscope and Meerkat apps have made it simpler to share such streams to your Twitter followers. At SXSWi we heard Visit Florida’s Stephen Kubiak muse out loud about using such apps to broadcast “A Moment of Zen” every day at noon Eastern, live from a Florida beach.

**  Interesting ways to use drones to create content, including bird’s-eye-view videos of destinations and a unique take on hotel interior video footage.

A destination marketing trend - Drone on display at the NAB Show, colocated with NMX 2015 (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Drone on display at the NAB Show, co-located with NMX 2015 (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

**  Understanding the linkages between the creative arts, tech-based startups, co-working, and downtown revitalization.

**  The rise in popularity of podcasts, which have always been featured at NMX but were particularly prominent this year. Did you know that more people have downloaded the Serial podcast than have watched Mad Men, Girls, or Louie? Too often, audio content is an afterthought, but not to Visit Philadelphia, which creates Spotify music playlists like the Sound of Philly (update – no longer available, unfortunately. It was a great idea!)

For more stats on podcasting and audio, see The Infinite Dial 2015 report by Edison Research.

**  Changes in what visitors demand from your town’s transportation options, including services that are efficient and simple like Uber, Lyft, and even 30 minute bicycle rentals from B-Cycle.

B-cycle bike station in San Antonio (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

B-cycle bike station in San Antonio near the Mission Reach (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Moving Seamlessly Between Offline & Online

A SXSWi session on digital placemaking posed the question, “How can we use technology interactively to revitalize cultural institutions?”

During the small-group portion of the session, we came up with a basic plan framework which we’ll share in a future blog post (update – here it is – how to get found online and offline) but the key to it was how your community or hotel presents itself both offline and online. You must be easily findable in both places. You must deliver on your promised experience both offline and online.

It is so important to have an outlook and a mindset that easily crosses this increasingly invisible barrier, as we carry the web in our hand all day through our phone or tablet. At one event this year, we found that the idea of putting a conference hashtag on the event’s print brochure was a very new idea to some, but that’s the kind of seamless communications that today’s world requires.

Whew, we’ve covered a lot of territory – thanks for listening! Here are a few more recap posts if you’re interested:

**  Most tweetable takeaways from New Media Expo speakers, by HARO’s Stacey Miller

**  Trends at South by Southwest Interactive 2015, on the SXSW website

**  Marcy McDonald’s What you can learn from New Media Expo 2015

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