Destination MarketingFebruary 1, 2014

The Future Is Now By
February 1, 2014

Destination Marketing

The Future Is Now
Cupid's Span San Francisco

Could this massive sculpture called Cupid’s Span be one of the iconic images to appear on San Francisco’s new game app? Credit: San Francisco Travel

Destination Marketing Organi­zations (DMOs), also known as Convention & Visitors Bureaus (CVBs), are hopping on the digital and social media marketing bandwagon to promote their destinations to planners and the public, vie with competitors for meetings, and grow return on investment.

Indeed, DMO websites are centerpieces of marketing efforts. The sites are integrated with social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to provide resources and information that meeting planners need to sell destinations to groups and executives.

Looking to leverage the power of social media, DMOs are forging social media partnerships with hotels, restaurants, attractions and others to co-promote destinations. Many DMOs are stepping up marketing via smartphones and tablets and optimizing their websites to make browsing easier on the small screens of mobile devices.

Websites Provide a Wealth of Information

DMO websites are often the first stop for 25-year meeting planning veteran Maureen Santoro, manager of group operations at Atlas Meetings + Incentives in Milford, MA. “When I first started as a planner with no experience, CVB sites were a great help to learn about destinations,” says Santoro. “But as I grew as a planner and became more experienced and well-traveled, I used them less. But now I’m back to using the websites again, very much so due to the information they offer. They are a lot more sophisticated and designed like a planner thinks.”

Santoro knows what she wants on DMO sites. “I look for downloadable versions of information such as meeting and convention services booklets, links to suppliers and a planner’s toolbox,” says Santoro. “There are also checklists and templates to help with planning. I also check meeting schedules to see if there is a large city-wide happening to tell me if pricing is going to be an issue because availability will be tight.”

Recently, Santoro navigated the Visit Tucson site as she began planning a four-day meeting for 60 executives of an industrial machinery company. She examined several sources. “I spent a good amount of time on the site,” says Santoro. “I looked at everything — hotels, resorts, things to do, the weather, transportation, the Tucson region and volunteerism opportunities, which are important to the clients. When I was done absorbing what I could on the site, I got the name of a CVB person from the site and called that person. She gave me valuable information about hotels to consider that I couldn’t get on the website.”

Santoro finds that DMO digital information helps her zero in on attributes of a destination to educate and persuade groups and C-suite executives. “If I’m trying to convince a group to go to a destination and I don’t know much about it, then I’m not going to sound convincing,” says Santoro. “The information I get from a website in combination with speaking to somebody is invaluable in taking the information and passing it along to clients. If they are on the fence about a location, it might actually help make up their mind.”

Traditional and Digital Marketing Activities

Planners are finding that social and digital media play an increasingly large role in DMO marketing. The Destination Marketing Association International’s 2012 DMO Marketing Activities Study sums up the progress: “Although traditional marketing (print/broadcast advertising, consumer shows/events) still commands a large share of DMO leisure marketing dollars, there is a noticeable commitment toward digital marketing,” the report states.

“DMOs have fully embraced a wide variety of online activities into their overall destination marketing efforts. Banner ads and search engine marketing (SEM)/adwords dominate, comprising more than half of DMO online budgets. Social media is now a permanent element of destination marketing, with almost all responding DMOs present on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube,” states the report.

Numbers tell the story. Traditional marketing methods account for 63 percent of the total of all DMO marketing budgets, while digital efforts make up 34 percent, the study reports. Ninety-eight percent of DMOs use Facebook, 91 percent are on Twitter and 88 percent utilize YouTube.

Much of the information that DMOs market to planners also is available on digital sources other than CVB websites. For example, planners such as Mary Ann Willingham, who extensively use services such as Cvent also use CVB marketing information. Willingham, director, meetings IQ operations and account management for Plymouth, MN-based Travel Leaders Group LLC, says that they also use CVB sites because they don’t want to rely on a single source for information that’s important to their clients. “We use CVB sites as much as anything to make sure we haven’t overlooked any information. And the information from Cvent can be a starting point to contact CVBs for more specifics and establish a relationship if none exists.”

Willingham cites an example of how she uses CVB digital information. “We have one customer that goes to Australia every year. Very often, they want to do something different, like a different restaurant or activity. So the CVB information in a place like Sydney can be very useful. Information that we get on a community, whether we get it from a CVB or Cvent, is crucial to a presentation, because the more information you have about a destination, the better,” says Willingham.

Case Studies From the DMAI Toolkit

The 2103 Digital & Mobile Marketing Toolkit by Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) is available online at
The 84-page study includes marketing case studies from 10 DMOs including Visit Denver, Visit Baton Rouge, San Francisco Travel Association, Fredericksburg Convention & Visitor Bureau, New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, Visit Florida, San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau, Pocono Mountains Visitor Bureau, Tourism British Columbia and Mexico Tourism Board.
The two case studies below illustrate what the DMAI study provides.

Visit Denver

The mainstay of Visit Denver’s mobile marketing effort is its mobile app, which was originally introduced in 2010. A new version was re-launched in 2012. Since the original launch, the app has been downloaded more than 200,000 times and has accumulated over 2.5 million page views.
Visit Denver sought to expand the app’s social media reach by launching the “Denver Dares” campaign. The effort encouraged users of the app to share their experiences with social media buddies. The campaign consisted of activities in Denver that were divided into 10 categories. Each category received a name and a badge that social media users could earn. The badges appeared on users’ Facebook pages. Denver Dares was promoted in attendee meetings and destination planning guides, on a landing page on as well as placements in hotel lobbies.

Visit Baton Rouge

Visit Baton Rouge commissioned a survey of the organization’s Facebook and Twitter followers to determine why and how the public and planners use the platforms.
The survey found that Facebook generated an additional 3,184 trips that lasted 2.7 days because visitors were influenced by Facebook. Twitter produced 380 trips that lasted 3.2 days. “This research as well as continued education on social media has allowed Visit Baton Rouge to maintain sustainable growth in the social spectrum,” stated the DMAI case study.

Combine Campaigns

DMOs are creating advertising campaigns that integrate Web, mobile and traditional print advertising. For example, San Francisco Travel’s “San Francisco. It Begins Here” campaign has several components. These include save-the-date and invitation emails for sales missions to other cities. The emails stress three points that surveys indicate people associate with San Francisco — inspiration, innovation and ideas. The campaign includes follow-up emails to thank attendees and contact information for questions.

The campaign also includes social media. San Francisco Travel is a social media sponsor at the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) 2014 World Education Congress, Minneapolis MN, August 2–5, 2014 and will provide attendees with a game app they can download from the MPI and San Francisco Travel sites. The app allows users to identify things that remind them of San Francisco and win prizes. In addition, San Francisco Travel advertises via banner ads on the websites of major industry associations such as MPI and the Professional Convention Management Association.

San Francisco Travel also is exploring the use of mobile devices to reach planners. “We are currently in the evaluation stage,” says John Reyes, executive vice president and chief sales officer. “It can be helpful because many people are searching for information with their mobile devices as an extension of how they search for information. DMOs certainly have to evaluate mobile.”Social and digital media are becoming an indispensable part of DMO marketing efforts. Visit Seattle set up a special website to support a marketing effort called 2daysinSeattle. The campaign is based on the attributes of Seattle and provides information about attractions and venues. The campaign includes an interactive map of attractions and venues based on messaging captured from social media bloggers that Visit Seattle brought to the city for a free two-day visit to blog, tweet and write about the city during their visit. Planners and the public use the interactive map to help plan their itinerary.

Visit Seattle also is looking at offering interactive apps and product-specific applications such as an e-cookbook and a guide for Washington state wine. (Washington is the nation’s second largest wine producer). Other considerations for apps include adventure travel and the outdoors.

Like many DMOs, Visit Seattle measures how often users access its digital media. For example, Visit Seattle offers a 90-page free online document entitled Seattle Fresh that is downloaded up to 10,000 times a month, says Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Visit Seattle. Also, the CVB’s Facebook page has more than 500,000 fans.

Visit Seattle also recently launched efforts to measure online searches for the destination. The CVB’s research reports show how often Seattle appears on the Internet in searches for travel-related products, primarily hotel stays. Seattle officials are comparing their share of search results to competitors such as Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco and Denver. The CVB may use the results to help decide whether to spend more in markets where there are fewer searches for Seattle compared to competitors. Visit Seattle also will be able to determine whether advertising helps increase the number of searches. Their goal is to be more strategic in how Visit Seattle spends money to market to planners and the public via the Internet, says Norwalk.

The Latest and Greatest Tools

Following is a summary of the latest methods that DMOs are using to market to planners and the public, according to the DMAI 2013 digital and mobile marketing toolkit


The opportunity in mobile for DMOs is huge because more transactions in the meetings, travel and tourism industry are taking place via smartphones and other hand-held devices. About 16 million people in the U.S. made some type of travel booking via mobile devices in 2013, up from more than 12 million in 2011. Eighty-four percent of mobile users say they use mobile devices to search for business locations, maps or driving directions.

As a result, many DMOs are creating mobile-enabled websites prior to introducing mobile apps. The goal is to encourage people who habitually access DMOs via desktop computers to do so with smartphones. “The lack of a mobile site or having a hard-to-navigate mobile site is the No. 1 deterrent to booking travel on a mobile device,” according to the DMAI Toolkit.


Up to 52 percent of social media users have changed travel plans based on its content. Facebook, of course, is the dominant social media. “Facebook applications give users a richer branded experience and allow DMOs to connect with users beyond conversation and move towards actionable goals,” according to the DMAI Toolkit. “An effective Facebook page not only attracts fans, but is enticing and informative enough to keep them coming back and sharing. Because the majority of time (27 percent) spent on Facebook is with content on the newsfeed.” Facebook users who like a DMO brand expect exclusive content and offers, interactions with others and promotions, games and other one-of-a-kind experiences.


Some DMOs use Twitter-promoted accounts to display a destination’s branded page to users most likely to find it relevant. Promoted tweets appear at the top of Twitter search results pages, and are used mostly to tout DMO events and announcements. Many DMO websites feature Twitter. Some DMOs use Twitter Web Analytics to measure the number of Twitter followers, determine what (and how often) website content is distributed over Twitter, and estimate ROI.


Pinterest, one of the fastest growing social networks, allows users to build an online collection of themed bulletin boards consisting of photos and other art. Users “pin” the art to the boards and share the postings with followers. Users can re-pin postings from other boards to their own as well as to Facebook. DMOs are using Pinterest to create themed boards to promote attractions, venues, special events, restaurants and more. DMOs use Pinterest to drive users to their Facebook pages and websites.

Strategic Partnerships

More DMOs are developing social media partnerships with hotels, venues, attractions, restaurants and others. The collaborations diversify DMO content, and promote DMO resources via links on partners’ websites.

The Future Is Now

Experts predict that one day all DMOs large and small will fully embrace all forms of digital and social media marketing. “It’s about using it to stay in touch with planners and feed them bits of information that is pertinent to their group,” says Michael Carrier, president, Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Planners want to know things like when new restaurants open and changes in hotels and facilities, and digital media provides an opportunity to instantly let them know about those things. But it’s still a relationship business. You have to be able to back those things up with solid relationships and trust between your team and planners.” C&IT

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