A Market Study of Destinations and Tourism
By Tom Dougherty
The destination, travel and tourism market has done a great job of building the tourism category. However, they have not done so well when it comes to differentiating themselves within their own competitive sets. One of the main reasons for this is that most destination brands sell themselves by citing only category benefits (i.e. table stakes). For example, most tropical destinations (i.e. Jamaica, The Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Mexico and the Cayman Islands) laud their clear blue water and white or pink or black sandy beaches.
They sell fun, excitement (or relaxation) or the various activities that their destination offers with an added dose of local culture. The brand messaging for the entire tropical destination category can be defined by the following axis in our comprehensive tourism market study.
We call this destination, tourism, and travel brand model “inside-out” because it looks at the destination/tourism category from the point of view of the destination. It’s what the destinations are saying about themselves — to the customer.
Tropical and Caribbean destination brands are positioned in this quadrant. There is little difference in the destination brand and tourism brand definitions and most define the brand strategy by natural wonders, ethnic culture and amenities. The market is crowded with these locations and few real differentiating brand values are to be found. (The exception may be Cuba.) Everyone sells blue water, sandy beaches and colorful and friendly locals. It does not matter if the latter is even true.
Theme parks (like Disney, Six Flags and Universal Studios), golf resorts (like Pinehurst) and ski resorts (like Vail, Breckenridge, and Steamboat Springs), another type of destination brand, are positioned in this quadrant. There is little difference in the destination brand strategies and definitions. Most of the advertising looks similar.
Cruise lines (like Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Holland America) and “All inclusive resorts (like Club-Med, Sandals and others) type resorts are positioned in this destination brand quadrant below. The main differences in these destination and tourism brand strategies are segmentations by age and marital status.
National Parks/Natural Wonders
National parks, cities, and states, as destination brands, are positioned in the quadrant below. The main differences in these destination brands are in the specific natural wonders and distance of travel.
Despite the crowded landscape and the lack of positioning opportunity, when creating a destination brand strategy, this matrix only helps the customer pick a category. It is not how they choose a destination brand or a tourism brand. And there are other parts of a very complicated destination and tourism market space. The hospitality industry for example. Let’s look at what a few individual hospitality brand segments say about themselves.
The Airline Industry
Airlines, while also part of the transportation category, fit into the destination and travel brand segments as well. Airline brands have struggled for years to offer differentiated positions. Only British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Southwest Airlines have legitimate brands. The rest have businesses — but not brands. To better understand how to uncover a stealing share opportunity, let’s take a closer look at the tropical destination brand segment. It is imperative that we dig deeply into the customer’s minds. Brand strategy development is much akin to anthropology. First we look at the decision tree. The decision tree is the linear representation of the process of choosing a destination brand. Read the Airline Study here.
For this exercise we have broken the process down into 13 rudimentary steps. In reality, the analysis of the brand decision process is more complicated and detailed. The goal is to find the relationship between the internal (and sometimes external) dialogue that race through our target audience’s mind as they decide on a travel destination or a destination brand.
The question is asked and a series of unspoken values are explored. Time-off can be recreation or relaxation or both. It may involve travel or simply staying at home.
Destination/Tourism Decision Tree
- A trip represents a change of environment and carries with it the expectation of newness or an out of the ordinary destination experience.
- The duration of the trip, holiday or vacation is planned. Often the length available is dictated by the expectations raised in question two. Other times it is dictated by outside influences.
- This is the second question that begins the narrowing process of options (duration is the other).
- This is the first time destination brand expectations are directly addressed. For a brief moment, the considered set of destination brands becomes wider again as the available universe (known destination brands) is reconsidered.
- This question directly responds to the issues raised in number five, and the considered set of destination brands that are generated at this point is difficult to adjust.
- Often, it is not the original destination brand that is re-ignited by this question but the emotional rewards and memories that it created.
- This is more than simply comparative shopping for a destination brand or a tourism brand. The traveler is, at this moment, summarizing all the values considered in the first seven questions. Many times, a category or destination is chosen at this time even if it is not verbalized.
- A simple question that springs directly out of question eight. If a destination brand is already decided upon, the rest of the family may either be included or excluded. In some instances, this is asked in conjunction with question two.
- The destination brand is chosen (with the considerations of questions eleven and twelve) and will remain the choice unless a physical or emotional force is applied.
- A continuation of question ten. It helps define the field and opens the set to a few new arrivals.
- A continuation of questions eleven, but is used to narrow the field by adding criteria to the decision process.
While usually the last consideration, it is often considered in questions two, three and four. This decision can be an emotional decision or a practical one. These questions are all about amenities and the destination brand itself. Some destination brands believe these are the cornerstones of their hospitality brand promise, but they are in reality descriptors for destination category benefits.
Destination and tourism brands traditionally battles for share of mind at these three junctures (questions 10, 11 and 12). At this juncture, the target audiences is asking key questions about themselves and their values, and are reflecting on their own vision of who they are (or would like to be).
Inside-out. We considered all sorts of inside-out perspectives, based on the advertising, such as these. Tropical destination brands, for example, seem to define their hospitality brands either by the amenities they offer or the culture that they represent, and they enter the considered set because of distance. The problem with this inside-out view is that this is not how the customer chooses. The outside-in perspective is from the point of view of the customer.
The Market Opportunity
The best axis use values that have the most meaning to customers are positioned against the competition and are believable. This is an axis we believe gives the traveler a reason to choose and unveils a destination brand development opportunity for a destination to claim – and steal share.
The “Tropical — Temperate” axis is the category definer. It represents one of the four quadrants we examined earlier and will change depending on the considered set. The “Tourist — Traveler” axis is a direct reflection of question five on our brand decision tree — it answers the question of “why am I going?” A tourist is a distant visitor and a word that carries bad connotations. A traveler, on the other hand, is invited into the local culture, leaves a part of himself behind and carries a part of the experience with him. The power in this destination brand position is that the visitor to the destination already identifies himself as a traveler yet no destination yet claims it. The market opportunity is all on this side of the axis.