Transformation of the Catalan Tourism Brand Towards Responsible Tourism

Through persuasive storytelling in a diverse range of marketing campaigns, the Catalan Tourist Board has driven more responsible visitor behaviour.

The Catalan Tourist Board represents the number one tourist destination in Spain, yet as a mature destination this presents a significant overcrowding challenge. Recognising the need for change, the DMO significantly shifted its marketing approach to encourage visitors to act responsibly and explore rural areas of the province. In recognition of this fundamental change to create a positive impact from tourism, the Catalan Tourist Board received the Purposeful Brand Award at the DTTT’s 2023 X. Awards.

The Catalan Tourist Board represents the number one tourist destination in Spain, yet as a mature destination this presents a significant overcrowding challenge. Recognising the need for change, the DMO significantly shifted its marketing approach to encourage visitors to act responsibly and explore rural areas of the province. In recognition of this fundamental change to create a positive impact from tourism, the Catalan Tourist Board received the Purposeful Brand Award at the DTTT’s 2023 X. Awards.

The Catalan Tourist Board represents the number one tourist destination in Spain, yet as a mature destination this presents a significant overcrowding challenge. Recognising the need for change, the DMO significantly shifted its marketing approach to encourage visitors to act responsibly and explore rural areas of the province. In recognition of this fundamental change to create a positive impact from tourism, the Catalan Tourist Board received the Purposeful Brand Award at the DTTT’s 2023 X. Awards.

While the DMO's success has brought economic benefits, over-reliance on summer crowds in Barcelona and coastal areas has led to environmental strain, overcrowding and social challenges, threatening the very value proposition that made Catalonia so attractive. While some destinations would see such a situation as a signal to stop marketing, or in the case of Amsterdam undertake de-marketing initiatives, the Catalan Tourist Board has embarked on a bold transformation in the opposite direction by using persuasive storytelling to invoke changes to visitor behaviour.

The National Commitment for Responsible Tourism was established in March 2023 and aims to achieve a harmonious coexistence between locals and visitors. This commitment, along with a draft Tourism Law currently in development, addresses the key challenges facing Catalonia as a tourist destination: 

  1. Environmental sustainability
  2. Territorial fairness
  3. Social justice
  4. Innovation

Strategic shifts

The Catalan Tourist Board's goal is to attract more environmentally conscious and high-quality visitors, diversify tourism experiences and spread the benefits beyond the high season. This long-term strategy focuses on shifting demand through targeted communication and strategic investments.

Campaigns highlight hidden gems and through micro-segmentation of digital advertising, Catalonia attracts visitors with specific interests, from cultural enthusiasts to nature lovers. This shift in focus, coupled with increased investment in sustainable tourism initiatives, paves the way for a brighter future for Catalonia's tourism industry, balancing economic needs with environmental and social responsibility.

Using communication as a strategic tool to shift demand is achieved by undertaking the following actions:

  1. Moving from a single brand campaign to different annual campaigns focused on products, new experiences and locals.
  2. Identifying the source markets that show the highest demand for sustainable tourism and strongest purchasing power.
  3. Focusing on micro-segmentation by tailoring the content strategy for different audiences.
  4. Progressively increasing investment in marketing, with levels even maintained during the COVID pandemic.
  5. Gradually changing the media mix to achieve 80% of investment in digital marketing.
  6. De-seasonalisation of advertising investment.
  7. Transforming digital platforms and creating a new ecosystem to help support an omni-channel approach and gain insight into visitor decision-making.

The Journey of Your Life

The Journey of Your Life is more than just a travelogue, it is a coming-of-age story about a girl discovering who she is and is a reminder that sometimes, the most life-changing journeys are the ones we take with the people we love. The film beautifully captures the essence of what it means to travel like a local, showcasing charming villages, breathtaking landscapes, and the delicious food of Catalonia, all while meeting friendly locals who share their stories and traditions.

What makes this campaign stand out is its interactive nature, stimulating an immersive multimedia experience, with the journey unfolding through four cameras that viewers can constantly switch between: 

  1. The protagonist's smartphone
  2. The director's lens which captures sweeping landscapes
  3. A drone offering breathtaking aerial views 
  4. A map tracking the family's progress 

The campaign was targeted towards diverse audiences, with unique landing pages for each of the six key markets (Catalonia, Spain, France, the UK, Germany, and the US). Four distinct visitor personas were targeted within each market, offering content tailored to each traveller's interests. This personalisation was complemented by a vibrant soundtrack by a Catalan pop band that added an authentic local touch, strengthening the campaign's emotional impact and brand identity. 

The Journey of Life wasn't just a video; it was an invitation to experience Catalonia on your own terms, a testament to the magic that unfolds when travel and personalisation are mixed together. It's a campaign that reminds us that travel isn't just about ticking off bucket-list destinations, but about forging connections, discovering ourselves and experiencing the world through a million different lenses.

Grand Tour of Catalonia

The Grand Tour of Catalonia ditches the traditional travel brochure for an interactive gamified video experience, inviting viewers to become the driver through this captivating story, with six key decisions that influence their immersive exploration of the region. Such an approach is an effective trend that has been utilised to great effect by video streaming providers, such as Netflix, transforming passive viewers into active participants and helping brands form stronger connections with viewers.

From sun-kissed beaches to rugged mountains, delectable cuisine to fascinating traditions, every click shapes a unique Grand Tour, making this campaign a personalised digital journey through Catalonia, culminating in four different endings. Curiosity is the key to unlocking the full experience, with viewers desiring to rewind and explore alternate routes. This campaign embraces the magic of digital media, shattering the linear storytelling mould and transforming advertising into interactive entertainment. 

Alongside the short film, a website visualises all stages and highlights relevant points of interest, enabling visitors to customise their journey and use Google Maps to optimise their route. Curated Spotify playlists provide additional enjoyment during the road trip and allow further immersion into local culture.

It's not just the Catalan Tourist Board who have established a Grand Tour to help extend visitor stays and encourage travellers to explore the full extent of a country. With the dispersal of tourists a key priority for most DMOs and visitors desiring off-the-beaten-track travel, developing slow travel experiences has become a must-have for leading destinations:

  • Grand Tour of Switzerland: A 1,643km circular journey around Switzerland of the top attractions and scenic landscapes, encapsulating all 13 Swiss UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 5 Alpine passes. Through an efficient companion app, visitors select their desired experiences and plan their preferred route, while MapBox integration enables seamless navigation from a single user-friendly interface. An immersive 360-degree VR experience has also been developed to inspire potential visitors with a preview of all Switzerland has to offer. Promotion from celebrity influencers such as Roger Federer, Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway and Trevor Noah has brought significant visibility to the Grand Tour of Switzerland making it one of the country's flagship products. Sustainability is also an essential consideration, with the Swiss public charging station network mapped out to help electric car drivers plan their journey with confidence, while a Grand Train Tour of Switzerland is designed for visitors reliant on public transport.    

Route of Fate

The Route of Fate is a captivating and heart-warming story of two women’s adventures around Catalonia to find a singer whose diary they found at a train station. By utilising effective storytelling, where the destination provided the backdrop, the campaign won the prestigious CIFFT award, recognising it as the world's best tourism campaigns.

Capitalising on the success of the Route of Fate, the Catalan Tourist Board developed Legends of Catalonia, the first-ever PlayStation VR adventure game dedicated to promoting a tourist destination. Through immersive virtual escapes guided by Catalan celebrities, ancient myths and breathtaking landscapes of Catalonia come alive. Murals in New York, London and Manchester also help to share the legends of Catalonia. Meanwhile, a dedicated Alexa skill extends the journey by sharing tips for routes to explore the region.

With smart speakers the fastest growing consumer technology, using voice marketing and developing specific Alexa skills has also been realised by other destinations:

  • The collaboration between Contiki and PROCOLOMBIA building an Alexa skill focused on the items to pack for a holiday to the South American paradise of Colombia. The campaign generated a reach of 5 million people and won a Webby Award and Alexa’s own innovation award.

Catalonia's niche marketing campaigns

By targeting based on niche segments, the Catalan Tourist Board goes beyond general messaging and delivers a range of specialised content: 

  • Make it Happen: Showcasing Catalonia’s sports tourism potential through an Olympic medallist accompanying international sports influencers as they try different sports activities in Catalonia. This was complemented by Catalonia being the host for the first UNWTO World Sports Tourism Congress in 2021.
  • Catalonia is Appetising: Aiming to promote gastronomy tourism in an experiential and motivating way through immersive storytelling, viewers embark on a journey woven through the eyes of diverse protagonists. The campaign goes beyond mouthwatering visuals, promoting respect for the land, its customs and its people.

  • Pyrenees of Catalonia - Open 365: Highlighting nature tourism and the various year-round outdoor mountain activities that can be enjoyed in Catalonia, this campaign encourages responsible travel that protects ecosystems, culture and traditions. 

  • The Trip of a Lifetime: A competition that let participants design their ideal route through Catalonia by choosing the experiences that resonated the most with them. Such a campaign helped show the diversity of Catalonia and inspire potential visitors, while also highlighting lesser-known experiences to a wide audience.

Exemplifying Success

Catalonia's bold transformation of its tourism industry has paid off spectacularly in only a few years, with visitor quality soaring, tourist crowds dispersing and new experiences thriving. Rural tourism has taken off with a staggering 1,900% increase, while food and wine tourism also experienced 356% growth. Similarly, decentralised routes, such as the Grand Tour of Catalonia enjoyed a 1,175% boost. However, visitors didn't just change where they visited, but daily spending saw a remarkable rise too, by 26% in domestic tourism and 16% internationally. 

This shift wasn't just about numbers; it reflected a deeper commitment to sustainability and responsible practices among the Catalan tourism sector. Catalonia's tourism is no longer a summer crush on its coast; it's a year-round journey of diverse experiences, spread across its enchanting lands, promising a richer, more rewarding discovery for both visitors and the region itself.

While this increased commitment to sustainability has also been seen at an international level from the growth in sustainable tourism pledges, such commitments do not always have a clear positioning in strategic marketing initiatives:

  • Palau Pledge: In December 2017, Palau changed its immigration law to require visitors to sign a pledge in their passport to preserve the environment and act responsibly during their stay in the country. Having been drafted by Palauan children the initiative highlights the importance of ensuring sustainable tourism in a low-lying Pacific nation at high risk of climate change induced sea level rise.
  • Tiaki Promise: In March 2019, the Tiaki Promise was established to encourage visitors to commit to protecting and preserving New Zealand and act as guardians of the country. This initiative received widespread support from the national tourism sector and even inspired one of Air New Zealand's famous flight safety videos.

  • Icelandic Pledge: An oath that visitors sign to commit to respecting the country's scenic beauty and natural landscapes through travelling responsibly.
  • Aux Îles, je m'engage / I Care for Les Îles: Tourisme Îles de la Madeleine invites visitors to commit to protecting the local Quebecois environment and culture, with the pledges based on the recommendations highlighted in the DMO's 2021-2026 tourism strategy.

The transformation of the Catalan Tourist Board's strategy shows a clear impact beyond generic pledges and how sustained investment and strategic messaging can be an effective driver of sustainable tourism. Through a diverse range of marketing campaigns that use persuasive storytelling, from hero content promoting the variety of rural Catalan adventures to more targeted campaigns focused on niche topics, the different campaigns align to tell a shared story. Exposing potential travellers to a range of emotive stories about rediscovering oneself shows the power of travelling to Catalonia, with this well-executed strategy of developing rich heartwarming and interactive campaigns driving forward the DMOs strategic objectives to spread the benefits of tourism more equally within the region.

Key Takeaways

  • Invest in quality content: While it may seem counterintuitive to increase marketing when faced with crowding issues, by investing in quality content and disseminating it through appropriate distribution channels visitors will get a better feel for the wider destination. This reduces pressure on the main landmarks and helps spread the benefits of tourism, especially when launching various campaigns focused on different niche themes.

  • Don’t underestimate the power of good storytelling: Building a strong connection with target audiences and highlighting heritage can drive visitors to change their behaviour and travel more sustainably. Telling an authentic story about how travellers can connect with a destination is essential to ensure that messages resonate with viewers.

  • Data analytics is essential for effective segmentation: Understanding the specific interests and motivations of visitors is crucial to enabling DMOs to produce emotive content that is valued by viewers. Going beyond the mainstream destination promotional content and being able to hyper-segment content ensures targeting is personalised and inspires travellers to visit lesser-known destinations.  

  • Utilise interactive tools: Engaging and immersing viewers in storylines makes them curious to discover more and improves their attentiveness to marketing content. By making use of technology, such as through VR games, apps or even simply through interactive video content, DMOs can integrate subtle messaging that persuades visitors to act more responsibly and respect locals and the natural environment during their travels.
Published on:
January 2024
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