21 Feb 2012

Destination Marketing - Jettison the Generic!

Before she met the wizard, Dorothy lived with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in a black and white Kansas. 

When a tornado dropped Dorothy – house and all – into the Land of Oz, the dust settled, she opened her front door, and the world was in brilliant Technicolor. Dorothy picked up her dog and said, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. We must be over the rainbow!” There was no mistaking Oz – it was as different from Kansas as Disneyland is from, well, Kansas.

Any community trying to attract more visitors needs to be a little like Oz. They need to take visitors over the rainbow to a new place, providing them with activities significantly different from what they can find closer to home. They need to tell the world how they’re truly unique and worth a special trip. That image, the vision that sets one community apart from all others, is its brand, and branding a community is critical to its success in creating an outstanding downtown destination and increasing tourism spending.

Attracting more visitors hasn’t always required such emphasis on being unique. What’s brought us to this situation is three- fold: a change in the international psyche, the state of the economy, and the plight of travel.

International Psyche

As we grew up, most of us went on vacations to the places our parents took us: camping in the great outdoors, Grandma’s house, locations with scenic beauty, destinations they’d heard about, read about or saw on television. It was the age of the two-week vacation with the kids packed into the station wagon and the luggage strapped to the roof. For the most part those days are long gone.

The Internet has changed everything, opening doors to new places and adventures we have never heard of before. We don’t even need to know where we want to go to find a great vacation destination – all we need to do is search for the activity we want, and a wealth of opportunities in different locations is instantly available.

By simply typing “horseback riding South Dakota,” into your favorite search engine, we’ll find nearly every horseback riding opportunity in the state within seconds. The same applies to fly fishing, antiquing, concerts, wine trails, farmers markets, boating, and just about any other activity you can think of. For the first time ever, the destination is now second to the activity. Locations travelers have never heard of before are now on the first page of search results alongside well-established destinations. And since more than 216 million Americans have immediate Internet access (71%), the web is, by far, the number one resource for travel planning. The playing field has been leveled.

State of Travel

Since deregulation of the airline industry in 1978, air travel has grown five times faster than the population. We have enjoyed inexpensive travel, more direct routes, and air travel has become the norm, rather than a luxury. Well, the bubble is bursting. 2007 was considered the worst year in aviation history in terms of customer satisfaction, and this year is projected to make last year look good. Some airlines are filing for bankruptcy, while others are merging so they can reduce options and routes. Nearly every airline is increasing ticket prices, adding fuel surcharges, and adding charges for third bags, meals and entertainment. Airports are overtaxed with antiquated equipment and overcommitted space. According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 45% of all air travelers say they are less likely to fly this year because of rising fares. With increasing delays, cancellations, over-bookings, cramped quarters, and overall aggravation, who wants to fly anymore?

For those planning to drive instead, fuel prices are going through the roof. Gas is expected to surpass $4 a gallon this summer, and, according to the Travel Industry Association, that will be the “breaking point” where people will start to cut back on travel. Ninety-six percent of leisure travel in North America is by private vehicle, and the fuel price explosion could hit most drive-to destinations hard.

The Economy

With rising travel costs, tighter credit, and a sagging economy, many people are second-guessing the value of extended road trips or flying for vacation getaways.

While all this sounds like gloom and doom for the travel industry, the fact remains that people still want to travel. Travel is seen as a necessity, not a luxury. We love our cars, we love new experiences, and we’re reluctant to give those up. What has changed is how we decide where we’re going. And this is where the importance of branding comes front and center.

With the Internet at our fingertips, let’s look at that horseback-riding getaway in South Dakota. We search for the activity, but when we see the results and start looking at websites and the location, two powerful questions surface:

1. Could I do this closer to home?

2. If I can’t do it closer to home, is this experience so great it will be worth the extra cost and the hassle?

While 94% of web-enabled people use the Internet to plan their travel, 70% are frustrated in their planning efforts. Why? Because most communities haven’t learned to market activities and experiences and still focus their efforts on counties, cities and geographic locations. They also insist on promoting themselves as having“something for everyone.” This all-things-to-all- people mentality does nothing to set a community apart from the competition. As much as 97% of advertising is ineffective.

Travelers won’t go someplace because it has something for everyone – they go places because there’s something specifically for them. And every town has “unique shops and dining” – so what is it that makes these shops different? Worth a special trip and the added cost to get there?

With the wealth of options and information on the Internet, travelers are able to find places that cater to their specific desires – they don’t want to go to a place that bills itself as“all things to all people.”The generic approach of being“unique, just like everyone else,” just doesn’t work anymore.

Savvy communities know they need to offer something specific – to fulfill a niche – or they’ll be left behind in the flurry of developing destinations. Every year another 1,500 communities in the U.S. and Canada are tapping into the tourism industry. Competition has never been this fierce. Creating and promoting a primary attraction that sets them apart from everyone else makes the community worth a special trip, repeat visits, and an extended stay.

Welcome to the era of the brand. Simplified, branding is the art of differentiation, finding that one thing that sets you apart from everyone else. Your community’s brand is the image or perception that people have of you, and the experiences they can expect when they visit. We are now in the “age of specialization.”

Nevada in particular is making impressive progress towards helping its towns become distinctive destinations. When someone mentions Nevada, your first thought is probably Las Vegas, the most successful of the “age of specialization” cities. After 48 out of 50 states legalized some form of gaming, Las Vegas took the brilliant step of removing the gaming focus from their marketing, and branded themselves“the playground for adults.”They put together the most successful branding effort in history with tag line and ads promoting “What happens here, stays here,” a perfect fit for “sin-city.”

The results have been outstanding. Since visitors can go to many casinos closer to home, Las Vegas took the focus off gaming and put it on entertainment, and as a result gaming revenues hit a record high of nearly $41 billion in 2007. The city hosted 39.2 million visitors in 2007, second only to Orlando with 48 million visitors. The 137,000 hotel rooms are seeing a 90+% occupancy level, a full 27 points above the national average.

When Dorothy and Toto landed in Oz, they experienced something dramatically different from life back in Kansas. They met interesting characters and had adventures unlike anything they could have had closer to home. What sets your community apart from the rest? What is that one thing that makes you worth a special trip? Find your niche and promote it like crazy, so that your community can be part of the new age of tourism.

Read the whole article at: DestinationDevelopment.com