Exploring Shifting Digital KPIs from Volume to Value

In this roundtable participants discussed how DMO strategies have shifted significantly over the past five years.

In this roundtable participants discussed how DMO strategies have shifted significantly over the past five years, with a recognition that not all tourism is good tourism. As Destinations turn their focus to sustainability and purpose the question of what the implications for Marketing Teams and how can we reflect this different objectives in our digital strategies and tactics were answered.

In this roundtable participants discussed how DMO strategies have shifted significantly over the past five years, with a recognition that not all tourism is good tourism. As Destinations turn their focus to sustainability and purpose the question of what the implications for Marketing Teams and how can we reflect this different objectives in our digital strategies and tactics were answered.

In this roundtable participants discussed how DMO strategies have shifted significantly over the past five years, with a recognition that not all tourism is good tourism. As Destinations turn their focus to sustainability and purpose the question of what the implications for Marketing Teams and how can we reflect this different objectives in our digital strategies and tactics were answered.

Here's a recap of the ideas and insights shared:

Contradiction in strategies and approach

Nick highlighted how destination strategies focus heavily on sustainability and attracting the right kind of visitor, while on the other hand, volume and reach are the primary metrics for monitoring their marketing campaigns.

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism shared how design and UX are expensive, while social channels are cheaper and have universal adoption. It's seen as easier to encourage sustainable behaviours through social channels than through something more unique and creative. With government budgets devoured by inflation, costs strongly influence the types of activities that DMOs can conduct.

Fáilte Ireland underwent a four-year digital transformation process, with design thinking as a central element. However, such a process is expensive given the need to ensure sustainability and accessibility (e.g. the need to consider the grade of colour on a page). The DMO has invested a lot in website development over the last three and a half years. However, it's not cheap to keep them running. In the past, website development would have been considered as a single initiative, but now maintenance and performance optimisations have become more strategically important despite being costly. Everything is visitor-first to provide the specific information visitors are looking for, rather than broad categories of content.

Visit Norway shared how they changed their website to focus on creating a dialogue with visitors through storytelling and increasing their engagement and dwell times on the website. The shift towards being traveller-first means changing mindsets away from a sales-focused approach to ensure content is perceived as being useful and answers visitors' questions. 92% of traffic is organic because there is so much content, significantly reducing the need for paid ads to bring people towards the website.

Fáilte Ireland, Visit Greenland and Cape Town Tourism shared similar views about the importance of content for generating high percentages of organic users.

SkyeConnect explained that the DMO lost control of their marketing between  2014 and 2015 because, with nearly one million visitors, the DMO struggles to own the narrative as people share Instagrammable shots. The DMO has pivoted towards visitor management and developed an app that uses real-time sensors to show how busy attractions are, giving visitors more options that can be reached through public transport and highlighting sustainable travel options. However, there is a need for continuous improvements and the DMO has applied for £100,000 of extra funding from the UK government. The potential for improving visitor management through digital tools is huge, however, budgetary constraints mean that such initiatives can only reach a certain level and are not fully maximising the benefits that technology can bring.

Only a handful of roundtable participants have UX skills in their teams.

The Aruba Tourism Authority explained that attracting people with UX skills to the tourism sector is challenging as these skills are highly demanded by multiple industries, with people going for the highest-paid jobs. Despite a desire to increase digital teams, it's hard for DMOs to compete in the labour market.

Visit Norway increased their digital development teams because their headless CMS makes it easy to do front-end development quickly. Nevertheless, the DMO still works with partners if they don't have resources available internally as the content is available and can be sent to partners through API connections.

Nick highlighted the need for long-term investment in developing the right technology and platforms. Projects finish when funding runs out, making it hard to have consistency.

TUI mentioned that a couple of years ago they were in touch with a subsidiary of Airbus about incorporating sustainability features (e.g. air quality in a city) into an app that would have provided information about what day is best to visit. There is a lot that can be done as an industry to utilise data and technology to drive sustainable decision-making and improve visitor experiences. However, high costs are a significant barrier.

Nick summarised that regarding sustainability, there is a lot of data that DMOs want to include in messaging, with the Nordics a great example through their sustainability labels. However, implementing transparency into digital experiences requires considerable investment to show the societal impact. Destination management strategic priorities are moving in one direction and marketing could be a catalyst, but currently is trailing this overarching ambition.

Smålands Turism emphasised that even after developing apps, challenges remain in terms of getting people to use them. Promoting these apps to visitors also entails significant costs to explain how they benefit the visitor. The DMO suggests that the industry should encourage Google to incorporate more sustainability data within its platform, going beyond just highlighting congestion and busy periods.

The Spanish Tourist Office highlighted that cruise destinations already use sustainability data to control the number of people visiting landmarks, with mobile apps used to monitor visitor numbers.

Nick shared how there will be a convergence between DMO objectives, sustainability, data and marketing, with user needs and experiences being the focal point. Classical thinking around marketing needs challenging and it's important to deliver what the user wants and not just jump straight into marketing.

Promoting sustainable travel

Fáilte Ireland mentioned that monitoring sustainability data is new for everyone. The DMO has a sustainability campaign going live, but doesn't have a specific sustainability brand. DMOs and visitors are both trying to understand sustainability and how it can be incorporated into travel behaviour. Fáilte Ireland has a new climate action team focused on sustainability whose priority is understanding the nuances and complications surrounding sustainability.

Visit Flanders shared how the DMO's new strategy incorporates new indicators to measure residents' acceptance of tourism. Marketing by nature is about promotion. Despite research findings of low satisfaction among residents, such data and insights don't stop people from marketing destinations.

Nick emphasised the need for DMOs to consider the connection between their strategy and research with marketing objectives.

This is Athens noted that despite not being promoted by the DMO, the branding of the Acropolis is intertwined with people's perceptions of the city. DMOs can promote more authentic ways to explore destinations, but people still want to experience the main attractions. Bloggers and influencers often talk about things DMOs don't want to promote. The new approach to marketing focuses on attracting repeat visitors who are more receptive to learning about hidden gems. DMOs shouldn't consider sustainability as being just about tourism and should try different things to ensure that destinations are experienced as a common space for locals and tourists. DMOs need to understand the needs of the visitors and better understand their behaviour.

SkyeConnect referred to the high volume of day-trippers to the destination and how these visitors are more inclined to go to a different attraction to minimise the length of time spent queuing to enable them maximise their experience.

The Aruba Tourism Authority highlighted the importance of User Generated Content (UGC) and how it can be counter-productive to DMO marketing efforts. While the DMO can't produce content about certain locations, visitors still share content about those locations. The vastness of content means that UGC has a larger reach than the DMO's own content. DMOs only have a limited influence and don't want to control who produces content.

Nick highlighted the importance of CRM and loyalty skills and how research shows such skills are currently lacking in many DMOs, with the need to build better relationships with visitors.

Visit Norway reiterated that the role of DMOs is to provide information to visitors and inform them of the best times to visit attractions. The DMO has developed a climate calculator for Norwegian DMOs which will be launched soon to understand the environmental footprint of visitors and take into account the extent of value generation of different markets. The carbon calculator will act as a measurement and reporting tool as part of the national sustainable tourism label, which involves almost half of the DMOs in the country. While the national tourism strategy highlights the importance of sustainability, some parts of the industry don't understand the need for changing approaches as required to cut climate emissions by 50% by 2030. However, it is more widely recognised that there is a need to measure sustainable tourism and take action, moving away from just talking about the challenge.

This is Athens mentioned that the DMO tried to launch a green destinations tool for businesses, but faced a high level of resistance.

Visit Norway highlights the importance of the national sustainable tourism label involving local governments, which helps to focus on the whole destination, not just businesses.

Nick highlights that to meet climate targets, the tourism industry needs to make sustainability a stronger commitment and take action. Sustainability should be considered from two perspectives; the sustainability of the destination's tourism products and also in terms of visitor behaviour and the source markets targeted. Sustainability narratives are incorporated into messages, such as discovering local neighbourhoods, but such commitments to taking action about sustainability is rarely reflected in marketing. An example of the latter is the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions' strong focus on nearby source markets with strong train connections.

This is Athens questioned if visitors will still arrive, even if DMOs are no longer actively targeting specific markets.

Smålands Turism explained that changes in source market breakdowns won't be seen immediately, but will be observable in the long-term.

Visit Norway shared how they still run some marketing activities in the US and Asia, but only allocate a small budget to these activities. The DMO's focus is on European markets to align with the ambition of the national tourism strategy.

Nick highlighted how building a good brand is a long-term process and it takes regular exposure to content to create the inspiration to travel to a specific destination. Marketers seem to lack the skills to understand when their brand developed.

Data used for marketing

Nick shared how DMOs still tend to rely on routine research and traditional data sources, such as visitor statistics and off-the-shelf digital insights. However, while flight capacity, telecoms and credit card data have been tested through one-off projects, they are not yet integrated meaningfully into digital marketing strategies.

The Croatian National Tourist Board mentioned that a bespoke visitor registration system has been in use since 2017. There is potential to strengthen the system by asking visitors to voluntarily share their data, enabling the DMO to better track where they visit. The DMO collaborated with Mastercard and Visa on free projects, but the data and insights weren't seen as useful for the DMO's marketing strategy. The Ministry of Tourism has changed tourism laws to incorporate sustainability and improve the tools and metrics for local DMOs. Some hotels are very invested in sustainable business models and promote themselves well, but 70% of accommodation is private. Some models have been developed for infrastructure grants and co-financing loans to change the priorities, with some talk of limiting private accommodation. With tourism representing 20% of Croatia's GDP, visitor numbers have become a political issue. Journalists ask about performance trends because the data is readily available, while overnight taxes contribute to the funding of development projects. This public scrutiny of visitor numbers creates pressure to have a short-term focus.

This is Athens highlighted the need to frequently explain their strategies to politicians to explain the overall benefit for the destinations and the context and reasoning of each initiative being undertaken.

Smålands Turism shared that they are working with Mid-Sweden University to build an interface collecting all tourism-related data, except credit card data which was too expensive to obtain. The insights will be presented through a dashboard that is currently under development. By undertaking the process, it became clear just how much data is available nationally that people don't think about and thereby don't collect, even though most of the data is available for free.

This is Athens shared that national banks monitor transactions in the country and can be a valuable data source for obtaining visitor spending data without becoming reliant on credit card providers. However, different banks have varying levels of openness regarding the extent of data shared to ensure data remains anonymised.

TUI highlighted the need to understand the value that visitors bring to a destination. Destinations are a place where people live and the impact on communities needs to be prioritised when monitoring the importance of tourism.

The Austrian National Tourist Office is running multiple pilot projects with the nine federal states. The DMO has a data science team that uses data analytics to generate insights that support businesses and local communities. For example, the DMO helped to optimise public transport and negotiated additional busses and a revised timetable by using telecommunications data that showed the percentage of overnight visitors was higher than originally believed. Nevertheless, there are varying levels of openness for discussions from political authorities and the DMO created a catalogue of questions that can be answered by the data at the DMO's disposal. It was highlighted that Visit Denmark is following a similar path and that they have created dashboards, enabling the optimisation of opening hours, tactical marketing approaches and the identification of product development opportunities. Access to such extensive data helps to shift mindsets, for example, it had been assumed that value creation was higher among tourists staying at four-star hotels, instead, those staying in private accommodation actually added more value due to their expenditure on groceries and gastronomy experiences. It is not a question of technology, but a political challenge. It was questioned whether marketers meaningfully measure their actions and adapt their strategies accordingly, requiring a shift in mindset and data skills that many DMOs don't currently have. Despite excitement about the outcomes of the pilot studies, there remains a reluctance to change and implement the improvements identified through research.

Measuring performance

Nick mentioned segmentation tools and highlighted the data-rich Dutch approach using 18 different tourist personas to understand the behaviour of target audiences. With the assistance of AI, it becomes possible to have one-to-one targeting and value creation with visitors.

Marketing Greece shared that they use analytics to monitor the performance of their website's pages, with a high average dwell time observed. Such a finding hints that goals are achieved by encouraging consumers to view niche content. The DMO uses pages with strong SEO for mainstream tourism content and adds hooks to distribute visitors to pages about lesser-known hidden gems, which can be tracked through monitoring analytics.

Nick shared that 60% of DMOs only use off-the-shelf tools (such as Google Analytics), but some are using other more advanced tools.

Atout France identified the challenge of analysing vast quantities of data in a fragmented marketing landscape. The DMO aims to avoid outputs becoming extremely technical to ensure insights are relevant for people with marketing and travel backgrounds who understand the DMO's strategy. Their marketing analytics relies on social media activity, website analytics and OTA data to understand the return on investment. With approximately 200 marketing data results annually, Atout France is changing their data management approach to utilise big query processes to store and aggregate all the data from different providers in one location and connect users through Google Analytics. The DMO is moving away from individual platforms as it is hard to obtain a global perspective. They are using Looker Studio to merge everything together as it is an easy-to-use tool and enables sharing data with partners. Data science is used to democratise data and improve efficiency within the organisation. However, the shift to invest in such a process takes time and involves testing and trialling different approaches. Atout France started the transformative process three years ago, starting with testing the amalgamation of data for a few specific markets before expanding to obtaining a global perspective.  

The Estonian Tourist Board has researched different data management platforms and their data cleaning rules, which will help the DMO share first-party data and establish partnerships with industry partners to maximise retargeting opportunities.

Nick highlighted the need for DMOs at different governmental levels to collaborate to create better solutions and maximise the efficient use of resources. He emphasised the importance of creating a strong use case before developing data dashboards so that they have a clear purpose and are regularly consulted.

SkyeConnect mentioned that following COVID-19, businesses have become more reliant on OTAs, with these platforms sharing data with the DMO. Scottish DMOs are starting to work more with OTAs out of necessity because their reach has expanded significantly, with some using OTAs as a marketing channel.

Just under half of roundtable participants actively work with OTAs, with larger DMOs more likely to partner with such organisations. Every partner can provide data, but such information needs to be meaningfully connected within DMOs' internal systems and processes.

Visit Greenland shared that Hubspot has started to expand features and can be connected to social media accounts to create dashboards that display which channels are performing the best, while also acting as a CRM platform that gathers data about customers.

The Estonian Tourist Board mentioned that Looker Studio makes good dashboards, while the DMO uses Adobe as it provides better use cases. Other good platforms include Supermetrics, which connects to Google Studio to bring together Meta and Google Analytics data, Hubspot and Salesforce. There are not enough marketing technologists so the full capabilities of each tool are unknown, with teams working in silos.

Nick shared how there are lots of products on the market. DMOs with significant budgets can invest in the tools and human resources to build and design technology to develop the insights that DMOs are missing. However, the majority use off-the-shelf tools, with Google Analytics 4 the most used. Other tools, such as Hubspot, Intercom and Looker Studio help to better understand the profile of visitors. There is an opportunity to professionalise how much DMOs get out of the analytics tools and to make the right decisions about which tool to use.

The Austrian National Tourist Office explained that it took two years to develop its holistic dashboard, which uses Azure and Microsoft Power BI to connect all data, including actual and forecast data. Such an approach required taking a project view and fully understanding how the platform will be used. External stakeholders don't ask about the data available so despite the huge potential of data dashboards it is equally important to make sure people care about the insights they can obtain.

Measuring sustainability impact

Nick shared findings from the research showing that climate change and net zero commitments are higher in Europe (62%), with Canada and the US following suit. Prioritising biodiversity is also highest in Europe (56%), followed by the US and Canada. Circularity was generally considered very low and only gained some traction in Europe.

The Estonian Tourist Board mentioned that they have started to measure the environmental footprint and sustainability of its marketing activities. DMOs need to ensure they make ethical purchases from marketing agencies.

This is Athens emphasised that the Net Zero 2030 ambition includes tourism. The destination was audited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) to monitor the extent to which the destination is sustainable. While the original ambition was to try and showcase the city as a sustainable destination, mindsets shifted when fully understanding what sustainability entails. It's important to reevaluate everything and consider how infrastructure development should take place in destinations, but this also requires political support.

Visit Norway emphasised that the country's national tourism strategy acts as a strategic document to help politicians understand tourism and climate change.

Sojern commented that marketing teams are commercially focused. Sustainability isn't a priority in digital marketing, but might be considered by other departments.

Atout France shared their ambition to redistribute the flow of tourists, with 80% of the volume currently concentrated in 20% of the country. There is a lot of discussion around not focusing on summer and instead highlighting off-peak seasons to change visitor behaviour. This entails shifting the timing of marketing communications, moving from launching marketing campaigns between February and April to starting in mid-December to encourage visits in spring. As DMOs work with stakeholders and are publicly funded, obtaining approval for such shifts in marketing processes takes time to negotiate with partners.

The Spanish Tourist Office mentioned that traditional destinations are not happy about attempts to redistribute the flow of visitors. However, the extent of seasonality is reducing.

TUI shares how DMOs benefit from GSTC sustainability assessments to understand their destinations' sustainability baselines. Sustainability claims in marketing will be affected by the EU's Green Claims Directive, highlighting the importance of having data to support any claims.

Key Takeaways

  • Social media is prioritised as a channel because it is cheap and widely accessible. While marketers want to improve user experiences, as a heavily demanded skill, the tourism sector finds it hard to compete in the labour markets for staff with these technical capabilities. Nevertheless, some DMOs have invested in a headless CMS to enable them to undertake quick front-end developments. However, strong websites require regular investment in maintenance and optimisation to improve accessibility and user-friendliness.
  • On the other hand, user-generated content poses a challenge for DMOs as visitors and bloggers share about the top attractions, creating sustainability pressures. This counteracts the messages shared by DMOs promoting lesser-known locations, which get hidden in the vast quantity of content. Nevertheless, DMOs that focus on visitor needs and provide the information consumers are searching for will benefit from organic visits to their website and can provide inspiration that changes consumer behaviour.
  • Brands take a long time to build. Therefore, visitors already have strong perceptions about the destinations they want to visit. Encouraging repeat visitors is viewed as a key method of redirecting visitors towards less-discovered parts of the destination. Many destinations are also recognising the strong opportunity to prioritise visitor management through using transparent data sources to influence in-destination visitor behaviour. Such an approach requires long-term investment in digital solutions, with budgetary constraints a significant factor in the successful completion and maintenance of projects. Another big challenge is encouraging the uptake of solutions among consumers and demonstrating the value added to the visitor experience. Ultimately, the user experience will be the enabler of linking sustainability with marketing.
  • There are also considerable political challenges in aligning the goals of different layers of DMOs within a country, while politicians are typically unfamiliar with the nuances of the tourism sector. With tourist statistics readily available, this source of data is hard for DMOs to ignore despite the potential for prioritising short-term developments. More innovative granular data have not yet been integrated into marketing strategies, with such sources typically monitored through one-off projects. Nevertheless, there is a lot of data available at a national level, including free sources of information, that can be utilised for optimising marketing campaigns but has not been thought of by DMO marketers.
  • Resistance to change is present in the wider tourism sector, with some businesses wanting to continue with business as normal. With DMOs typically being publicly funded, this creates the need to negotiate with stakeholders. Consequently, changes are implemented slowly. Similarly, DMOs are only just starting the evaluate the environmental impact of their marketing activities, potentially providing an opportunity to better interlink strategic goals and research into the marketing decision-making process to overcome issues of teams working in silos.
  • Data analytics help DMOs monitor their performance. However, the fragmented nature of tourism marketing means that obtaining a comprehensive picture is a challenge. Trial and error is needed to combine datasets, meaning such processes take time to perfect. Meanwhile, the lack of technical specialists in the tourism sector means that marketers face challenges in comparing the capabilities of different tools and using technology to its full potential. Data dashboards need to have a clear purpose and be easily understood so that the insights can be used effectively in marketing campaigns.
  • Overall, a mindset shift is required so that actions are taken to improve sustainability and destination resiliency. DMOs should consider the infrastructural requirements that would build a better destination and improve the quality of life of local communities. Such an approach requires collaboration and a data-led approach based on regular assessments of sustainability metrics.

Published on:
December 2023
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