Branding Vacation Destinations in Travel and Tourism

Branding your vacation destination. When the traveling consumer decides where to vacation this year, what influences…

Branding Your Vacation Destination

By Tom Dougherty CEO, Stealing Share

Published in Advance Magazine

Branding vacation destinations
Destinations need to be competitive

What is the answer?

When the traveling consumer decides where to vacation this year. What influences the decision-making process? For tourist destinations, cruises, island paradises and vacation clubs, the hope is that all the dollars spent behind advertising and promotion will translate into a top-of mind preference. The question, however, is how to ensure your place in the traveler’s mindset. There is, after all, a lot at stake.

The answer is brand. Yes, that time-tested consumer package goods idea about building a brand is more important that ever. Our understanding of what makes a brand powerful has changed. Our knowledge of the consumer and the art of “brand management” has evolved to such a degree that the old sciences look more like alchemy than chemistry in this day and age. Brand is more important in destination and tourism than perhaps any other product or service, and brand advertising is far removed from image advertising.

Image advertising is syrupy and hints at the traveler’s benefit in a melodrama that is more cookie-cutter than revealing. Brand advertising, on the other hand, always illuminates a real reason to choose. So, how does a more complete understanding of brand-building affect the tourism business?

Branding vacation destinations requires research to know what is valued
It is never a level playing field

What is usually done?

Traditionally, a brand manager was responsible for the packaging, advertising discipline and strategy. Brand managers, through consumer research and product development, continually tweaked the advertising strategy to ensure that the compelling benefit was reaching the correct target audience. Management of the brand was an internal process.

Recently there has been talk about the death of brands, and I would agree that the way in which we understand brand has indeed died. But as Mark Twain so eloquently stated, “The reports of my death are premature.” As it turns out, Twain would be proud because brand is much more than the aforementioned model and it is alive and well. It has far-reaching implications that are of greater value to the destination and tourism industry than consumer package goods because of the emotional tug that destination and tourism hopes to ignite. It is the means by which one can create demand for services and own a competitive advantage over the competition by reaching into the essence of the traveler.

The first step in making this work is understanding brand as it is today. Brand is not a product or service. It is no sandy beaches, crystal clear water, or snow-capped mountains. Brand is, in fact, the expectation that the consumer brings to a service or resort. Brand belongs to tile customer -not to you. A powerful brand always answers the question of “Who am I – not “What am I.” The “who” refers to the customer. Not to you. This consumer-owned brand reflects the consumer’s own definition of himself or herself. How do I look today? Where do 1 want to go? How am I doing? What do I hold as important?

Brand Really Matters

Brand is the magnet that attracts every traveler who needs to discover what he or she believes to be true about themselves. We are not attracted by that sexy couple strolling along a secluded beach that is lined with royal palm trees because it looks like fun. But if the advertising is successful, we will desire to be them, because in our own fantasy that is who we believe we should be.

Branding vacation destinations means knowing how you are different
Destinations can be exotic

Today’s consumer is constantly in a state of “becoming: Every purchase choice he or she makes is an attempt at defining who they are. From a destination and tourism viewpoint, this becomes an opportunity to help define your target audience in a way that is aspirational in tone and reinforces the choice. Who am I? I am trim, slim and look flattering in a revealing bathing suit. I’m romantic. I’m active, virile, and young. I’m cosmopolitan. I’m thoughtful. I’m fun.

If identifying the answer to “Who am I” can build a preference for soap detergent, how much more powerfully can it be utilized when identifying and experience like a cruise or skiing vacation? It stands to reason that if brand belongs to the consumer and not to the tourist destination, then our new definition of brand management requires a more finely tuned target audience than we have heretofore understood.

Brand management should aim for simplicity

Brand management today requires helping the consumer manage his or her own expectations. You can’t own it. You can only define it clearly and convey it consistently in every aspect of your communications. This understanding of brand can be found inherently in some of the great tourism advertising. Virginia’s powerful campaign built upon the branded idea that “Virginia is for Lovers,” for example. Why has this campaign had such staying power over the years? Why is it not tired, but still acutely compelling? The answer is that it is the voice of the vacationers identifying themselves. It never said Virginia is a lover; instead it spoke of the “Who am I” of the person who appreciates the beauty of Virginia. Think about this, who wouldn’t want to be considered a “lover! It is aspirational in tonality and asks those who consider the romantic in themselves, as important, to come to Virginia and be reaffirmed. It is a strategic position that can be continually discovered by new tourists and revisited by the old.

Find what makes you shine
Destination often boarder each other

It’s powerful stuff because the identity belongs to them, not us. So, if you can’t own a brand what should you own? You should own a position in the marketplace. While brand always answers the question of “Who am I,” position always answers the question of “Why am I” It speaks to you and your resort or destination. It is your reason to be. If one thinks about it carefully, positioning is the part of your marketing strategy that allows for differentiation and appeals to the needs of your target audience. It needs to be unique because ownership implies exclusivity.

Two families cannot own the same house without some obvious problems. The brand that you are managing helps payoff this positioning promise in a way that spells success. They must work in concert if they are to be effective. Today’s consumers have many options when it comes to spending discretionary dollars. The world is smaller and more accessible than ever before. Micronesia is competing with the Caribbean for SCUBA divers. Australia is competing with South Africa for tourist dollars. An overnight stay at the Jersey shore is competing with a long weekend in Jamaica.

Marketers of recreation and tourism must provide a compelling reason for the customer to bypass the noise of competition and bring their dollars to your destination. Brand will do that. Like a headline in a compelling advertisement, brand yells, “Hey, notice this! This is for you. The more personal the you is, the more it is believed. The more it is believed, the more it answers the brand question of “Who am IT And success will follow.

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