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How Technology Is Changing Destination Marketing

Josh Brentan
Josh Brentan
Published: Mar. 23, 2018

We recently welcomed guest speaker Will Seccombe, President of Connect Travel, to our latest Simulmedia Salon. In his previous role as CEO of Visit Florida, Will helped grow Florida tourism by about 30 million annual visitors and $30 billion in increased spending. He drew on his experience to give our audience a master class in destination marketing—where it’s been, what’s happening now, and how technology is helping it evolve toward the future.

On the state of travel & tourism in America: “Americans are prioritizing travel and experiences in our lives over things. Where previously there may have been some debate about whether to buy a big screen TV or a vacation, right now there’s no contest. We're prioritizing vacations and most destinations are seeing incredible growth. More rooms are being sold, occupancies are up, everything is up. Last year 22 billion vacation trips taken in the United States. Total spending in travel and tourism was over a trillion dollars. That's domestic. On top of that, there were 75 million international visitors to the United States—half of whom were from Canada, and Mexico, while the other half comes from every corner of the world.” -- Will Seccombe

Will Seccombe, President of Connect Travel talking about how Americans are prioritizing travel and experiences over other things.

On the role of Online Travel Agencies (OTAs):
“When the internet was first being used to book travel, the OTAs gave people an opportunity to compare destinations and prices themselves, rather than going to a traditional travel agency. That fundamentally shook up the market from a distribution standpoint, but it was money the resorts, the companies happily gave away in order to draw in new customers. Today folks in the tourism business depend on OTAs for much of their revenue, but many of them would prefer not to. That’s why, from a marketing perspective, they're doing everything they can now to get back to the one-on-one customer relationship and get people to book direct.” -- W.S.

Will Seccombe, President of Connect Travel discussing how tourism companies want to go back to a one-on-one customer relationship.

On the role of advertising in destination marketing: “I've always believed that the most successful organizations are the ones that truly add value to the equation. For destination marketers, it's not enough to just say art, culture, shopping, dining, fun for the whole family. Everyone offers that. There's no differentiation. For a while now there has been a big shift of money going into digital to push out as much information as possible about all the things you can do, but I think you're going to see a fundamental shift in destinations focusing on their brand—telling authentic stories about the destinations and experiences people can have. That’s going to be how they add value. In turn, that will lead to a big rise in content creation at the local level. I think you’re going to see a lot less digital and a lot more big, immersive pushes in TV.” -- W.S.

On which destination marketing organization to watch: “What’s happening from a tourism marketing perspective in Puerto Rico is going to be very exciting to watch. They’re coming out of a really challenging time from the Zika virus and the hurricanes, and the other day they announced a new president and CEO of to lead a public/private partnership to promote the island. I think you'll see them start from scratch, with the result being a very new, much more aggressive model. If you were to start a destination marketing organization today, you wouldn't build it the way that 99% of them are currently structured—they’re going to have to be more realtime, more aggressive in the branding, and more proactive in the communication of what it looks like today in San Juan.” -- W.S.

Dave Morgan, Founder and CEO at Simulmedia, discussing how technology is changing destination marketing at Simulmedia Salon.

On the biggest disruptor in travel: “Airbnb has been incredibly disruptive, but I think they can co-exist nicely with the traditional hotels and resorts—the experiences are just so different. But right now I think Google is the biggest disruptor. When you Google “Florida vacation” you no longer get a list of all the Florida vacation choices or websites—they just show you all the things that they think are best or rank the highest, and you can book directly from there. It’s hard for destination marketers to fight their way through all that SEO. That puts big pressure on destination marketers to start telling you really impactful, authentic stories. And who knows what's going to happen when people start being able to book vacations on Alexa….” -- W.S.

On technology and trends to watch: “Historically there haven’t been enough KPI’s in the tourism marketing space. You used to have to wait a year—if not longer—to report how your year-over-year growth was. Then we chased digital and all of a sudden we had something to track, but visiting a website by clicking a banner ad is not necessarily a good indicator for whether or not people ever went to the destination itself. Now there are a handful of companies that can provide meaningful metrics against brand advertising. Arrivalist is one example. They can tell who has been targeted by a specific campaign, and can then see if that person’s cellphone ever shows up in your destination. So if I can know if a person went to a destination, where they stayed, and how much money they spent, that’s going to be the future.” -- W.S.

At Simulmedia, we’ve been thinking about destination marketing a lot recently. Did you know that travel and tourism has been the biggest holiday gift in terms of total spend the last two years? And more interestingly, while Millennials and Gen Z have been the beneficiaries of these gifts, the ones doing the buying are more often the Boomers and Silent Generation. How might that influence the way you target your advertising?

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