What Can DMOs Learn From Airlines?

November 4, 2016

What can a destination marketing organization (DMO) learn from an airline? Okay, maybe not customer service. But international airlines, in trying to distinguish themselves from the pack, do offer lessons in original consumer marketing. Get inspired by some ideas that could fly in the DMO world.

Pop-Up Marketing

Mark Von Holden for KLM

Pop-up shops and restaurants have been in fashion in larger cities for the past few years. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines hopped on board the trend and opened its own version of a pop-up in Manhattan for three days in 2015. The mission was to have guests experience the zeitgeist of KLM and Holland by sharing brand values and celebrating innovative aspects of Dutch culture through interactive experiences. The Dutch airline transported a gallery in Little Italy (go figure), into a high-octane party. Visitors were given KLM swag and chances to win tickets to Amsterdam.  The airline from the land of Rembrandt hosted a professional artist to create an installation on-site, while artistic amateurs could try their hands at paper airplane origami. Free Dutch coffee and stroopwafels were served at lunchtime, while each day was capped up by a Heineken happy hour.

DMO Takeaway: Pop-ups can be a way to showcase your destination’s culture.

Truckin’: Bringing Your Food on a Road Trip

Korean Air Creates Food Truck in Houston To Show Off In-Flight Cuisine

The only thing more popular than a pop-up these days….a food truck. A couple of years ago, Korean Air wanted to increase awareness of South Korea as it introduced new flights out of Houston. The airline drove a food truck wrapped with a Korean Air advertisement around Houston for several days. It served up everything from bibimbap, the airline’s award-winning signature dish, to bulgogi and galbi-jjim. During the week, the truck parked by corporate locations, while during the weekend, it set up shop at local events in the area. Houstonians bit.

DMO Takeaway: Use regional cuisine as a lure to draw attention to your destination.

Do a Destination Wrap

brussels-airlines-x-tintin_680x294-1

Food trucks aren’t the only vehicles getting a good marketing wrap. Airlines are as well. British Airways once wrapped a plane with a panda design to promote new flights between Heathrow and Chengdu, China. Southwest Airlines regularly brings out planes designed with state flags when new service is introduced to a market. Brussels Airlines, with the cooperation of The Hergé Foundation Moulinsart, has an Airbus A320 with a livery inspired by Tintin, the world-famous Belgian cartoon character.  Along with images from the cartoon, the writing on the wall reads, “We fly you to the home of Tintin.” Partnering with Tintin makes perfect sense, according to Bernard Gustin, CEO of the company.  “Tintin is a frequent traveler, discovered countries around the world and met people of different nationalities and cultures during his adventures,” notes Gustin. “Abroad, we feel like an ambassador of Belgium. Tintin fits perfectly into this positioning and represents the characteristics that we also want to put forward.”

DMO Takeaway: Use airplanes or metropolitan buses as moving billboards for short-term promotions.

The Wow Factor: Advertising with Impact


Another vehicle for promotion is outdoor advertising. The trouble with that avenue, though, is that there’s a lot of clutter.  An old-fashioned billboard just won’t cut it anymore. Originality is key. Low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific decided to saturate Hong Kong locals tired of monsoon season with a campaign to drive bookings to the sunnier Philippines. Water repellent spray was used to draw ads on streets in high traffic areas.  The ads were invisible until rain hit them. At that point, the message “It’s Sunny in the Philippines” magically appeared, accompanied by a QR code commuters could scan to receive a Cebu Pacific discount code for flights to the Philippines. Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong, the agency behind the campaign, claims the stunt led to a 37 percent increase in online bookings for Cebu Pacific.

DMO Takeaway: Be creative in outdoor advertising efforts.

Lend a Friend

Icelandair wanted to showcase its home country’s friendly nature and to promote its low-season stopover packages. Its marketers also knew that vacationers seek out localized experiences. So, they designed the Stopover Buddy program, available free of charge to passengers flying to Europe on Icelandair. A passenger could sign up and a Stopover Buddy with shared passions would tailor a short trip. Upon arrival, a passenger might go hiking with the Stopover Buddy, or take a dip in a hot spring, or sample the Northern Lights. According to Birkir Holm Guonason, CEO at Icelandair, “We’re thrilled to offer this unique service that allows our guests to experience Iceland as an Icelander. The Stopover Buddy service will give our passengers an authentic taste of Iceland.” Birkir himself is a buddy, offering passengers a tour of his hometown and a day of backcountry skiing.

DMO Takeaway: Think about promotions allowing visitors to have authentic local experiences and to meet residents of your city.

Have you seen other innovative airline marketing that exemplifies a best practice that DMOs can apply?  Tweet us a photo @aboutDCI

Written by Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is managing partner of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

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