The festive season is almost upon us and many tourist establishments around the world are hoping to make the most of the holidays by attracting customers to their destinations. The battle for customers in the tourism industry will be fought not over price, but over the hearts and minds of customers. Destination marketing can be defined as the marketing activities that support the creation of a symbol, logo, word that identifies and differentiates a destination and consistently conveys the expectations of a memorable experience that is uniquely associated with the destination as well as reducing customer search costs and perceived risk.
I often wonder when tourism and hotel officials tell the world how great, safe, wonderful, unique, their hotel, country , restaurant etc is, the bottom line is, it is not up to the marketer but the customer who experiences your brand and lives to tell the tale who should be giving you the thumps up or indeed down about your destination.
From research in this area, there are three building blocks of a destination branding strategy that will help you to market your prize jewel better.
Do you know what is out there?
Brand analysis is necessary to get in depth knowledge of what tourists and customers are looking for. A little market research goes a long way in understanding the local, regional and international markets that you are competing against.
• Research will help you to understand your customers. Customers are fickle and choosy. Where they go for a meal or on holiday is determined by many things, including what they want to do when they get there, the economic situation in their home countries, what they read from travel comparison sites and social media, what their governments say about your country and indeed their age, gender, socio economic situation, cultural and religious beliefs. Knowing this information will help you to create better experiences and marketing messages.
• Research will give you information about your competitors. You need to know both your local and international competitors. This will help you to understand what functional, emotional and other benefits they offer as well as how customers perceive your country and establishment.
• Research will also enable you to get to know your business and your capabilities. Does your country or hotel have any core competencies that you can use to attract more tourists? Does your restaurant have a competitive edge over its competitors and how can you leverage on these?
How is your destination brand positioned?
Can you, based on the above thorough analysis clarify your unique brand identity? What does your destination stand for? As a restaurateur, hotelier, you need to select a brand identity to communicate to your target audience. For country destinations, this should set the direction for marketing messages and the creation of brand associations in the minds of consumers.
What comes to mind when you think of holidaying in Kenya or London or visiting the Victoria Falls or going for a meal at your favourite restaurant? How can you differentiate your destination? To be effective, your destination brand positioning should be realistic, believable, appealing and distinctive.
Do your stakeholders believe in your brand values?
Do all internal stakeholders have a common and shared understanding of your brand values?
Branding a country is a national affair and hoteliers, local travel agents, municipality and government, amongst others should agree on a common branding philosophy. The 2010 World Cup and the London Olympics are two cases in point where all people came together and rallied behind one cause and the country brand. Yes, while there were some protests and unhappy voices, but overall, political leaders, business and communities believed in their destination brand and worked to make it a success. Influential men and women in both countries did and said things that gave their support to the destination brand thereby creating internal and external interest and reducing perceived country risk.
Ordinary men and women in these two countries were also involved in marketing their country by participating in activities preceding the two sports showcases.
To capture the hearts and minds of your prospects, local, regional and international tourists, your need to have a clear strategy in order to create marketing campaigns and experiences that your customers will value.