From the Chairman: 3 Destination Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

December 01, 2023
Diverse group of people sitting around a table in an office

While we normally focus on marketing successes, let’s take a moment to look at some of the biggest destination marketing mistakes to avoid. We’ve seen it all over the past 60+ years.

Rather than pull specific examples and grill destinations who have hopefully learned from their past errors, let’s take a look at three broader themes for placemakers. Whether it’s in tourism, economic development, talent attraction, or any other type of destination marketing, you’ll want to steer your efforts far and away from these mistakes that far too many places have made over the decades.

1. Leave the Herd Behind

First, the biggest destination marketing mistake to make is to follow the herd. Herds are powerful ways to find resources, to move as one, and to find safety in large numbers. They are not the place to stand out from the crowd. Quite the opposite.

When a destination does something innovative, being inspired by their marketing efforts is permissible, but copying it outright is a poor solution. It’s tempting because a successful campaign with big results makes us all envious to achieve the same success. But what works for a zebra doesn’t work for a hippo. 

Building sustainable destination marketing solutions means doing what’s right for your specific destination while attracting your target market. A herd mentality doesn’t facilitate those types of solutions. The better path to success is to develop a richer understanding of your community’s unique selling proposition and then marketing it effectively to the right target market.

2. Focus On Your Audience

Another destination marketing mistake is focusing on quantity vs. quality.  The “there’s something for everyone” mentality helps no one and requires a swift demise. Please. No matter the goal of your destination marketing, connecting to the right audience is almost always better than connecting to a wider audience.

Reach is important, but match is better. Especially within economic development marketing, it is better to reach a small number of qualified, prospective investors than to try and tell everyone about your community. For tourism, aiming for adventure travelers is better than trying to get everyone in the world excited about your outdoor appeal. And in talent attraction, destinations act as magnets for certain types of highly skilled works – like those in life sciences, or maybe tech – so a broad approach doesn’t make sense.

Target and reach out to your target audiences rather than engaging in a “carpet market” approach that may leave you sorely missing the mark.

3. Engage Your Community First

All of this outreach leads to another common destination marketing mistake: forgetting your local community. It’s easy to do because, instinctively, our marketing looks to engage those unfamiliar with our destination brands or whom we want to arrive in our destinations from other states or countries. 

Locals, however, matter the most. Before sharing your story outwardly with those beyond your borders, consider telling your story internally to make sure your communities are onboard with everything your DMO is doing. Blog it. Share it on social media. Hold focus groups. Do whatever you need to do to make sure your local city, state, or region knows what kinds of visitors or investors you are looking to attract.

Residents and local businesses are the most effective representatives of your community, when all is said and done. Engage them, get them on your side, and you’ll have an entire community of ambassadors that will help attract potential investors, travelers, and new talent to your destination.

Are you thinking about how you made one or more of these mistakes in the past? Get in touch with Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to learn more about how DCI’s more than 60 years of experience can help get you back on the right path to achieve your economic development, tourism, and talent attraction goals.

Written by

Andy Levine