Creating Preference in Destination and Tourism

The Tourism Category

By Tom Dougherty

The destination and tourism downturn may very well be the last sector to turn around. Therefore, let’s examine the implications of this slowdown and contraction, and find the means to rise within it. Destination brand building has not change much over time.

What would you expect in a bear market if, instead of being a destination, spa or resort, you were an investor in stocks? How would the broad-based downturn affect you then?

Structure in Bear vs. Bull Market

preference in destination and tourismThe structure of investing in a bear market is different from a bull market. In a bull market, it is generally expected that the entire market or index will rise. An investor is better off owning a broad range of equities because the entire market is expected to grow as a whole.

In a bear market, the opposite is true. The entire index of stocks will decline, but a few stocks will grow. In a contracting market, there will be many losers and a few winners – just as what is happening with destinations.

Your market is like that of a bear market now. Generally, there will be mostly losers in your ranks as a myriad of competitors scramble for a shrinking pool of customers and the contracting expendable cash stream. But, there will be some winners too.

How to position yourself as one of the chosen few is the secret.

Position to Win by Building Preference in Destination and Tourism

Winning in this highly competitive tourism marketing game means having to forsake the same strategies that brought you success in the past. They may well be the messaging that spells disaster now because your competitive set grows in a downturn. A spa today may very well be competing with a weekend resort for the attentions of travelers. A weekend resort might well be competing with a night on the town.

preference in destination and tourismTherefore, if you market the benefits of a spa, you’re not creating preference for yourself. You’re making a preference for the spa category. Winning means doing something else.

For one thing, you must understand that travelers have changed. They are driven by “right” rather than “best.” Unfortunately for the destination industry, sometimes the most “right” thing to do is stay home. Tourism marketing has not yet learned that lesson.

The more traditional choice may appear to be more “right” than it was when travelers were seeking unusual experiences that defined the customer as special. Those choices seem riskier today.

The “right” choice today, in this contracting market, is a more powerful emotional trigger than “the best choice” was a few years back. How well you understand the difference between the emotional fabric of “right” and “best” will determine where your destination or spa falls on the grid of success and failure.

Value vs. Cost

Another thing to keep in mind is that every decision being made by the potential visitor today is not being made in dollars and cents. Cost is not the final arbiter — value is. Beware of that before you decide to fight back with discounts, price reductions and “specials.” Travelers are looking for getting their money’s worth, what makes it more right, not what is the cheapest.

preference in destination and tourismYou will not fill the rooms, tee times and message tables with loss leaders that your competition can offer as well. Otherwise, you will fulfill Napoleon’s prediction that “the ultimate end of defensive warfare is surrender.” Quite to the contrary. Your goal is to promise an experience that makes the choice selection the jackpot of experience.

In destination brand building you must start by emotionally differentiating yourselves from this expanding competitive set. Eliminate the table stakes you have been touting for years. A spa can’t be the preferred choice because it is relaxing, spiritual and calming. That is the definition of a spa. It is not the vehicle for preference.

Honesty and a cold calculating view towards your business model is called for now.

If you are a golf resort or a resort of any kind, you are not going to gain the expenditures of customers by promising the bland descriptions of your amenities. Every golf course was designed by some renowned expert, every restaurant serves gourmet food and every resort claims top-shelf service. Those are not reasons to choose.

Real experience, in a tough market, is found when a prospective visitor feels incomplete when they don’t choose you. They must covet what you promise because the self-description in your brand is what they themselves aspire to be.

Explaining Your Promise

Then you explain in context how your promise as a destination brand is fulfilled by the amenities that you used to list as your differentiators. Now, the self-description of your customer is the differentiator. You’ve now answered the question why you offer the things you do, which is more emotional than simply saying them. Now, they are about the customer.

preference in destination and tourism

To execute this sort of persuasive destination branding  requires an investment. If you are to reflect your customers’ aspirations, fears, motivations and highest emotional intensities then you must know what these elements are. You must be willing to slay any sacred cow that stands in your way and redefine your business (and brand) so that it is about the customer and not about you.

The good news is that by doing this in a methodical way, you will be one of the select few that wins when others lose. Better yet, when the economy turns around, you will be propelled to heights heretofore unimaginable. A great bear market stock has its act together. In a bull market, it is a juggernaut.

(Read more on destination and tourism here)

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