Q&A: Inside the Minds of Tomorrow’s Tourism TalentOctober 1, 2020
Today’s big ideas are tomorrow’s winning strategies, but the travel industry needs to work together and collaborate to achieve them. DCI is doing just that, on all fronts, including working with rising tourism talent to share insight and guidance.
When NYU’s Alexandra Butman contacted DCI, we were more than excited to help. Butman has recently completed a Capstone research project on destination management organizations, communication strategies and digital travel influencers as a part of a PR and Corporate Communication M.S. program at the School of Professional Studies at NYU. Her research, “From Traditional Tourist Destinations to Instagrammable Travel Spots: How Cultural Capitals Use Creative Communication Strategies to Attract Millennial Travelers” asks questions about contemporary travel marketing – the very questions that DCI has been asking and addressing for years.
In her research, Butman interviewed several travel influencers, PR practitioners, travel professionals and digital strategists working directly with influencers. As leaders in travel influencer marketing, DCI was among the subjects of her research.
DCI’s President of Tourism, Karyl Leigh Barnes, answered a few of Butman’s questions. The Q&A gives an academic perspective into the travel industry, and to what questions future talent are asking.
AB: In your professional experience, how is working with travel brands different from working with not-for-profit travel organizations like DMOs?
KLB: The bottom line for travel brands is money and making the most attractive profits possible. United Airlines or Hilton – they serve their teams and stakeholders, which makes sense. DMOs, however, have a more holistic view, looking at community betterment and supporting their local businesses. Brands rove but DMOs are part of the placemaking process and are more dedicated to creating sustainable success for everyone. Without DMOs, every destination would look the same, with the same brands and the same experiences. DMOs help encourage establishing and keeping a more local flair.
AB: What are the main challenges you experience when working with DMOs?
KLB: Especially following the pandemic, where we saw firsthand the fragility of finances, it really comes down to inconsistent funding models. With DMOs depending on various types of funding from hotel taxes to the government, there is a lot of red-tape to wade through when figuring out budgets and how to help direct DMO strategies.
Also, we find that DMO staff don’t always know their destination as well as they could. Some DMOs have difficulties identifying stories to share with us. To say there is truly no story to tell is to overlook all of the people who make a destination amazing, and surely if you look a bit deeper you’ll find stories among locals that will help create a larger narrative about a destination. Of course, this hunt requires effort, but it pays off in the end if done correctly – and that’s why they work with PR and marketing firms like DCI in the first place, to help mine these stories and unique touch-points.
AB: In 2019, INSIDER shared a list of the 30 most popular destinations for millennials, including Zanzibar, Salvador da Bahia, and some non-mainstream European cities. Do you see a pattern in this aspiration to visit exotic places and try uncommon experiences?
KLB: The generational study we conducted at the beginning of the pandemic showed that there were clear differences between how the generations travel as we emerge from the pandemic. What’s clear, however, is that everyone will be looking for more isolated experiences moving forward. Millennials are different is their quest for more unique, out of the ordinary experiences. Blame it on Instagram, or just on having more information available at their fingertips, but I definitely see millennials and eventually Gen Z travelers as a major driver of visitation to “secondary” cities and less-visited places once travel really takes off again.
AB: As a PR professional, would you recommend DMOs to cooperate with travel influencers on social media campaigns? Could you please explain why?
KLB: Absolutely. Travel influencers can provide content and a voice for the brand to reach users on the apps that matter today, reaching audiences who may not consume traditional press or connect with travel advisors. Millennials are getting older, and wealthier, and as the original adopters of networks like Facebook and Instagram, they are a prime audience for DMOs to reach digitally. Our research on influencers during the pandemic shows, however, that cooperation needs to be more sustainable than before. So many influencers were dropped by DMOs when budgets were cut, and so that doesn’t really instill a lot of confidence among influencers to rekindle those relationships. More long-term partnerships need to be in place so that DMOs can see influencers as an asset no matter what happens, and not a nice-to-have that becomes expendable.
AB: Based on your professional experience, what is the most crucial audience for the travel industry?
KLB: I think the travel trade needs to be more engaged in order to keep the travel industry growing. If hotels and experiences aren’t being sold, then it’s harder for consumers to plan and buy them, especially for international travel and more niche destinations that will become in demand post-COVID.
That said, since money is tight, the industry needs to address affluent consumers who are more willing to spend on traveling. They aren’t going to plan just one vacation, so there is an incentive to keep them engaged so that, even if they have a difficult travel experience now, while travel is challenging, they’ll be more likely to plan another one later since their budgets aren’t restricted. For DMOs, this helps address their bottom line of servicing their local community, so while it seems elitist, it’s a way to make sure local businesses stay alive no matter what.
AB: In your professional experience, how efficient are experiential marketing strategies in the travel industry or when working with DMOs? What audiences are the most attracted by these tactics?
KLB: They are about top of mind awareness, but the ROI is often limited. They’re likely more effective for travel advisors and industry professionals who aren’t going to take the time to go on a familiarization trip or who don’t have the resources to travel their themselves. It’s probably the same, or even better, to fly a few writers or influencers to a destination and gain more exposure among target consumers to achieve top of mind awareness. The return on investment with some timely content in-destination will be more engaging and valuable than some pop-up event out of destination.
AB: Imagine a situation: your client is one of these three big DMOs: New York, London, or Paris. This client wants you to run a campaign that will target millennial travelers and you could only use one strategy. What would you choose and why?
KLB: I’d go with the influencer campaign. It can be integrated with other marketing – paid, owned, earned (even leveraging them as a spokesperson) – so you’ll get a stronger bang for your buck. It’s also a surefire way to meet millennials where they are. Using influencers is basically a step away from “sliding into their DMs” and will ultimately prove more powerful than traditional marketing tactics. It might be more challenging to control messaging with an influencer, but if DMOs create trusting relationships with them, they can turn into a destination’s most powerful allies.
AB: What will be the biggest challenge for the travel industry and destination management organizations in particular when recovering from the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?
KLB: I think it all comes down to fear. Consumers are scared to get sick, or to get others sick, or to get stuck somewhere, or to have to quarantine – the fears are multiple. Once a vaccine, at least a successful one, comes onto the market, a lot of these fears may dissipate slowly, and the industry can get back on its feet. But now, during recovery, we need to address it. Messaging that focuses on safety and cleanliness is key and will help consumers feel more confident, especially in the U.S. where the pandemic still isn’t under control.
I think the industry needs to look to the future, as well, and imagine a future pandemic, or similar disaster, and strategize about how to avoid many of the problems we faced in 2020. We learned this time around where our vulnerabilities were, and I believe we need to challenge ourselves to create a more defensive travel industry for the future.
Interested to learn more about how DCI has been leading the thinking travel marketing for 60 years? Get in touch with Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] for more information.