First Time Marketing Strategies for Destination Marketing Organizations

 Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur

This post is a reprint of a post I wrote after returning from my first overseas trip in 2010 to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, where I conducted a series of social media workshops. If you want to read the entire series (this is the third and final post) I’ve included links to view the original posts over at my personal blog – Positive Disruption.

Today I thought we’d complete the discussion of First Time marketing. If you missed part I and part II, you can catch up by clicking those links. For the rest of you, let’s get tactical and talk about how a hospitality brand could program my first time experience to maximize the value for both me and them. Again, I’m thinking this applies to all kinds of brands but I’m extremely interested in how this plays out for hospitality brands because there are so many first time travel experiences given our penchant for taking vacations to places we’ve not been before vs returning to the same location every year for vacation.

You can break down the first time travel experience into the following mini-experiences:

  • Pre-departure
  • Departure/Travel
  • Arrival at airport
  • Transport to hotel
  • Arrival at hotel
  • Preparing to “be local”
  • Actual destination experience(s)
  • Returning
  • The day after

Let’s take these one at a time and see if we can’t map out a top level approach to First Time marketing.

Pre-departure
There is a lot of pre-planning you can do to make travel and international travel a heck of a lot easier and more fun. But people are busy today and thus, they just don’t have the time to do the deep research that will improve the enjoyment of their trip. But as a hospitality brand (airline/destination/hotel/attraction) why not take this opportunity to do it for them and in the process create a relationship before they ever leave?

In it’s simplest form, this could be a series of eBooks that cover FAQ’s around travel (airports, baggage, customs, transit times to/from airport), the destination itself (hotel, main attractions, off the beat and path attractions, family stuff, nightlife, etc) and Nuts and Bolts kind of information (taxi phone number, emergency phone numbers for police, fire, medical). I’m sure there are lots of really good eBook options I’m missing here… can you think of a few?

Departure/Travel
When does a travel experience begin and end? For may destinations that answer would likely be when the consumer reaches their market. But I’d argue it begins when I leave my house. As we discussed in the first post in this series, you could provide me with airport information for each of the airports I’ll travel to/through. You might even make it easier by pointing me to apps like Gate Guru.

Arrival at Airport/Transport to Hotel
You might also provide information on baggage retrieval and ground transport at my final destination airport. Again, anything that would make it easier on me and make this newbie an expert will improve the experience and hopefully ensure I arrive at your destination in the right mindset and already loving you as a brand. You might even suggest or arrange for car service. In many markets, this isn’t all that much more expensive than a traditional taxi. However, the transport experience is usually far better and let’s face it, there is something incredibly comforting about seeing your name on a sign and knowing that you’ll be taken care of from there. Again, this takes away the trepidation factor.

Arrival at Hotel
How about you? How do you feel when you’re traveling to a new city or country and you arrive at your hotel. For me there is a sense of relief… like the “hard stuff” is over. I mean check in is check in right? It is at this point that I find most brands (especially hotel brands) start the marketing machine. Take the time to really plan this experience as it is a real opportunity. For instance, lets say the travel to your destination was a nightmare. As we’ve discussed, not a ton you can do outside of trying to help the consumer plan for the experience and providing them information that may make it a better experience.

But arrival at the hotel is different. As Suzanne Vera pointed out in her comments on yesterday’s post we should ourselves go through our experience. I think that is a great idea don’t you? See your experience through your customer’s eyes or better yet, invite your neighbor to do it. It won’t cost you much but it will likely provide you with a few key insights to improve the entire arrival experience. But most of all, think about that arrival experience though “comfort” eyes. Deconstruct it and ask yourself, is this input contributing to a feeling of comfort? Is this input making the consumer feel more or less “in control” of the situation? I can honestly say, I’ve worked with a number of hospitality brands in my career and I don’t know that I’ve ever sat in a brainstorming session to do that. How about you? Have you ever sat in that brainstorm session? If so, what was it like and what kinds of ideas did you come up with and implement?

Preparing to be local
This is the chance to really design or influence the customer experience. It’s a chance to go beyond the normal concierge desk or recommendation from the front desk/bell staff. It’s a chance to make that transition from traveler to guest (of a destination) real. Domestically this might be providing a welcome kit with maps, reviews of local attractions and restaurants and such. Or it might go so far as to suggest best times of the day to visit certain attractions and mode of transport to get to/from there. For instance, if your city zoo (which rocks) is located at a busy intersection that gets really backlogged around 4pm in the afternoon because a local school is dismissing students at that time, then you might point that out in your kit. Suggest that zoo trips be done in the am, which will assure your guest doesn’t lose 30 minutes of their valuable vacation time to sitting in traffic. Do you see where i’m going here? Is this making sense to you? Do you think we’re on to something or am I off base?

Actual destination experience
This is where it gets really interesting. At it’s most basic, some kind of unified training or focus by all members of a hospitality industry around a key goal like service can make one heck of a difference. For me, when I was in Asia I often remarked at the level of customer service and the number of employees that were always on staff. Whether I was in a restaurant or hotel, it always seemed like someone was standing within 20 feet just waiting to be called on or proactively provide service if I looked as though I needed something. Is that just a cultural thing or planned? Honestly, I don’t know but man did it make an impression on me and I’m sure plenty of other travelers.

But here again, technology can come into play. With the proliferation of smart phones and some of the really cool new technology like Augmented Reality — why not give the consumer a virtual city guide? Obviously there are tools like Yelp that are a wonderful asset to travelers, but what else could we do for them? What other custom apps could we create to improve their enjoyment of our destination? Or forget technology for a second and just get human.

I recently returned from a 7 day trip to Asia. On 5 of those days and nights I toured the city, ate breakfast and dinner by myself. What if the cities where I stayed had an escort service (no not that kind of escort service) where locals, or professionals hired by the city or maybe even fellow solo travelers (there’s an app for you) could get together to dine or see the sites together? How much richer would that make the experience?

Returning home
If we’ve done our job up until this point, the return home should feel very comfortable for the traveler. They still have all those great tools we provided them on the in-bound trip so this should be the easy part. And while I’m not thinking of anything I’d suggest adding I’m convinced I’m missing something. So I’ll ask you – would you add anything to the mix at this point? Can you think of any trepidation points we can solve?

Day After Marketing
Have you ever taken a trip and then gone to work the day after you got home? Did anyone ask you anything about your trip that day? Do you see the opportunity here? Do you see where I’m going with this day after stuff? I firmly believe the day after is one of the single most important marketing opps for today’s marketer — especially in the hospitality world. The first day after we do/have anything our friends and co-workers ask us how we like it, was it fun, etc. This is a brand’s last chance to reinforce the good and minimize any negatives. Remember, humans tend to remember the first and last thing they experience… so make that last memory a good one.

But what’s funny is, in the 20 years I’ve been in marketing, I don’t know that I’ve ever sat in this brainstorming session…have you? If so, what did you talk about? What did you come up with? And lastly, did it work?

So what do you think? Are we on to something here? Is this worthy of further discussion inside and outside of your company? Let me know. I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

About Tom Martin

Tom is 20+ year veteran of the marketing and advertising industry with a penchant for stiff drinks, good debates and digital gadgets that helps digitally challenged companies create innovative and effective digital marketing strategies. He is the founder of Converse Digital , author of The Invisible Sale and a contributing writer for Advertising Age. Tom guides clients through the digital marketing maze and helps companies teach their sales force how to Painlessly Prospect their way to more sales. Connect with him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Comments

  1. I liked the article and the topics are very familiar. I work for a DMO and we regularly discuss these tactics for our marketing plans. Over the years I have noticed that one can develop, create and invest in electronic communication channels such as ebooks, apps etc. However, a large part of travellers (the mass) does not invest a lot of time in reseraching new technology for their information (it might differ per type of destination). They do research online (read content on travel websites), and book. Upon arrival and during their stay they figure out what they can do. Also to have an effective communication chain such as you mention in your mini experience breakdown requires a strong cooperation between DMO’s, hotels and destination activity suppliers. Which is not always the case. Therefore in theory this is all good, however in practice, it might not alwyas be so easy to implement.

    • Tirso,

      I agree that applying this theory is difficult. But then, the great things — those campaigns or programs that truly change the game — usually are. But don’t let difficulty stop you. While the creation of a perfect system might be many years away, there is no reason ANY DESTINATION can’t make significant strides towards applying the theory TODAY. In fact, if any of them want to try, they should call me and we can make it happen ;-)

      Thanks for stopping in and commenting…don’t be a stranger.

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