The changing role of DMOs in the digital era
In the past the Tourist Office was always the first point of call for a tourist when physically arriving in a destination for the first time, a place where they could get a map and advise on places to visit locally. Today, with the rise of internet and the huge array of knowledge that is available, a visitor will be just as likely to get their information from the tourist office, or other sources, online before their trip. DMOs can no longer therefore rely solely on printed brochures, travel guides and the expertise of their visitor centre staff to promote their destination. More and more, they are working to attract visitors to their destination through websites, social media and mobile engagement efforts. This means that while DMOs continue to passionately promote their destinations, they have changed the channels they use to do so.
The focus is on visitor numbers
Tourist offices’ activities are not just tourist orientated however they are a mix of trade and media/PR operations, but the paradox is that often tangible results are determined solely by visitor numbers. A recent survey of 71 DMOs in fact show that 57% prioritise consumer direct marketing, though this is not really reflected in budgets.
While most offices allocate around 40% of their budgets for trade, a lesser 35% is used for consumer direct marketing, meaning that tourist offices sometimes struggle to finance suitable activities and services for visitors with a high ROI.
Digital services are proliferating
Though geography and language are important defining elements for strategies, globalisation and the internet are prevailing. Online digital marketing activities of tourist offices are generally on the increase and are principally content marketing based. They include blogging, engaging influencers or expats in advocacy programs, past travellers in word-of-mouth activities and retargeting campaigns. There has also been an increase in digital services made available directly to visitors, such as downloading of digital maps and/or audio guides, which have the advantage of being available in various languages. These tools are a perfect response to the tourist office’s requirements, as they are low cost and highly pragmatic.
The importance of quality apps
These tools are greatly appreciated by visitors, when easy to use, and range from basic free downloads to combination packages of audio guides and entrance tickets to local attractions. Online reviews highlight that it is extremely important that the download experience is simple, the app is interactive (and not static files) and that the audio is not only interesting (people do not want a history lesson) but crystal clear in the mother tongue language chosen. This ensures visitors will be much more inclined to positively review such a service, and the tourism industry is well aware of the huge benefits of UGC (User Generated Content).
Receiving rich data
The other major advantage of this type of app, which can be provided free of charge as a stand-alone service by the information office, or included as part of a package city pass, is the rich data that can be collected from the app users. Until recently, tourist offices struggled to collect relevant data on tourist activities in their destinations. Travellers relied mainly on Google Maps as their sole navigator, so activity data was collected only by Google. Today however, some new technology on the market, such as POPGuide or Vox2Go, now allow DMOs to collect tourist movement data, so that they can more easily manage flows and optimise tourist spot visits. This new breed of application technology also allows sophisticated pop-up notifications with special offers or recommendations, which have the added advantage of sponsorship options for the tourist office.
Nobody does it better!
National tourism boards, state/provincial tourism offices and visitor bureaus’ role is to promote the long-term development and marketing of a destination, positioning it as a rewarding travel experience.
They always have played a critical role in developing their destination and are the best organization in a community to protect the destination’s brand. Technology and digital services are helping them in this responsibility, as today’s travellers are digitally savvy and have more information at their fingertips than ever before.
Not only can DMOs bring it all together for the success of a destination, but they are probably the only ones who can!