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Summer Destination Marketing Strategies To Spread Out Visitation

It’s a challenge but a necessity to fight the instinct that crowds are worrisome, leading destination marketing organizations to value more than ever one important practice: spread out visitation.

Overtourism and excessive crowds were issues even before COVID-19, but now they are a true liability. Travel experiences that reduce the anxiety of crowds must become a standard feature in any destination marketing toolkit this summer and beyond.

Many travelers want to feel safe and in control, and part of that means avoiding the crowds. For some destinations, it will be impossible to beat back the crowds entirely, but for most, there are ways to rethink destination marketing strategies and offers to maximize when and where travelers visit. By keeping it top of mind to spread out visitation, destinations can rebuild stronger and fight actively against the overtourism that has become such a blight on many popular places.

While weekend beachgoers and visitors will create crushes at the most popular destinations this summer despite warnings. Spring Break 2021 has made that painfully clear. How can DMOs entice people to rethink their traditional vacationing habits? This summer, for destinations who can, we’ve got some ideas on how to spread out visitation.

Leading Lakes

Beaches scream summer, but for many travelers, a more muted, hushed plea for some crowd-free summer escapes are on the menu. Quiet. Peaceful. Natural. These are all keywords that get many people excited these days.

For many travelers, this summer won’t be a finger snap back to the way we used to vacation, and being around crowds – no matter what the CDC says – will still feel uncomfortable. From Vermont to Florida and across the nation, that means vacationing near a lake.

For destinations that can push lake travel, its benefits need to be front and center. Fewer crowds and parties mean lakeside vacations can offer what many North Americans want this summer – a break. Travel+Leisure is already ahead of the curve, so destinations with a strong lake game are going to want to play it now more than ever.

Weekday Advantages

For travelers who want to avoid the rush, traveling during the week is a better option. From theme parks and museums to parks and beaches, traveling when most people are toiling away at the office – or their work from home stations – is a winning solution. With so many remote workers and flexible office hours now the norm, getting away on a Tuesday through Thursday doesn’t seem as ridiculous as it once did for many 9-to-5 workers.

Destinations and their partners must channel this energy to produce incentives and advantages for travelers from Monday to Friday. Cheaper entry? A complimentary experience? Extended hours? There are countless options for making weekday travel more appealing to spread out visitation.

Hotels have been experimenting with remote work packages since the pandemic started, and there’s no reason to lessen efforts now.

Go Off-Script

 Those “off the beaten path” summer itineraries that always find themselves at the bottom of your destination marketing priority list? Prioritize them. Sea, sun, and sand might just not have the same appeal today as it did before the pandemic.

For destinations and experiences that don’t typically attract summer attention, this year will be different. Travelers are making more mindful decisions when it comes to their planning, so capturing wellness travelers with a spa retreat or hesitant travelers with a mountain escape are surefire ways to spread out visitation.

It’s also time to think creatively, proposing types of travel that perhaps never blipped on the radar before. Think outside the box to a week on a farm or an excursion in a treehouse – anything that travelers can do in your destination that they can’t do elsewhere will gain traction. It’s not the time to push traditional packages on the masses. Those who want to travel as usual will not need convincing, but there is still a significant portion of Americans hesitant to travel. Winning them over is key to building back the tourism industry.

After Dark

 Another fruitful way to spread out visitation is to promote more travel after dark. Market night-time visitation opportunities like stargazing or seaside campfires that not only hamper crowds but offer visitors something unique and special.

Not every destination is as well-known for stargazing as Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park, recently designated an International Dark Sky Park, but every destination has a nighttime sky! If it’s not stargazing, consider evening outdoor cinema experiences or nighttime tours that would help provide some crowd-mitigating adventure to your destination. By creating a longer window for visitation, destinations give travelers a chance to spread out even more during the day, while providing more opportunities for local vendors who can adapt.

Expanding into the after-hours market works for many museums that see visitors flocking to beat the daytime crowds. Now more than ever, destination marketing organizations need to adopt this mentality to diversify their offers and keep crowds thinner.

Partner Up

Working directly with partners to promote experiences that reduce crowds is another easy way to make sure destinations succeed this summer.

It’s as easy as creating promotions to pair bike or paddle board rentals with hotel rooms to help reduce the amount of steps needed to get people engaged in these socially distanced activities. Telling visitors that there are experiences that are free from crowds is one thing. Opening the door and nudging them through it is another.

A bit of gentle persuasion is important to spread out visitation as much as possible. Creating active partnerships with businesses in a destination can only benefit everyone involved, even if every traveler doesn’t take the bait. By creating more engaging and sustainable solutions to today’s problems, destinations can be sure to build back stronger than ever as we all navigate this new normal together.

Excited about the prospects of having visitors return this summer? Be smart about it and remember it’s a new normal we’re all living in – not the old one. Get in touch with DCI to tap into our 60 years of destination marketing experience and learn how best to spread out visitation in your destination. Contact Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to learn more.

Written By

Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is President 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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