The Time Is Right For Destinations To Build Brands
Destination Brands. Cuba and the Tourism Market
By Tom Dougherty
It has been years since the bottom fell out of the destination and tourism industry, (Read some thoughts on the destination/tourism market here) but many are hopeful that prospects are looking up. However, from a destination brand perspective, the fear is that the marketing of the Tourism brands will fall victim to the same trap, constantly fighting to attract tourists without any long-term solution as new and more enticing destinations enter into the category.
The way to overcome this seemingly never-ending struggle is for destinations to build individual brands that are more about the tourist than about the destination. Historically, that’s not been the case.
Instead, the tourism brands have been marketing destinations themselves and have more often than not been about the type of destination, exploring the benefits of visiting a tropical destination or one in the Far East, etc.
In tropical destinations, for example, marketing dollars have been lavishly spent enticing the potential visitor with brand visions of romance, white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.
So, if you bought into that as a tourist, you bought into the idea of traveling to a tropical destination, but you haven’t really made a decision. You’ve only picked your considered set of destinations. How can you differentiate one destination from another? It’s not as if no other island or resort has sky, water, white (or pink or black) sandy beaches and friendly natives. Destinations are not creating brands to inspire true preference among the considered set. They’re just motivating preference between considered sets and creating preference for tropical destinations over, let’s say, adventure and wildlife destinations, such as Alaska.
Cuba And Destination Branding
There’s proof of this lack of brand identity in the numbers. With a few exceptions, market share mirrors share of voice. The one that spends the most money gets the largest market share. But from a stealing share perspective, you don’t have to outspend the competition to increase market share. You can develop a brand positioned against your competition and aligned with customer values so that the customers naturally covet your destination brand.
Now there’s a new problem: Cuba. The lifting of the U.S. travel embargo to Cuba is currently being debated in Congress. Make no mistake about it; Cuba will quickly jump to number one in tourism branding traffic when that happens at the expense of the rest of the category. So few destinations have a brand and tourists will flock to Cuba because, for a while at least, it will represent something like a brand. Cuba will represent “forbidden fruit” and Cuban tourists will feel special, like they are setting a trend by being among the first to visit the exotic locale.
A destination brand that is built to steal market share is not found in the beaches, coral reefs, or local culture. Stealing share capabilities reside in the hearts of the customers of the competition. Take Cuba, for example. The ”forbidden fruit” and “one of the first to visit” attractions have nothing to do with the amenities of the country itself. Everyone who plans a visit to a place like Cuba will expect the same marketing promises: exotic food, white sandy beaches, turquoise blue water and interesting culture. They will go to Cuba because being a Cuban visitor says more about them as a traveler than going to any other tropical destination.
Tourism branding is always about your customer and not about you (the destination). On too many occasions destinations claim all sorts of amenities they believe will be important. Puerto Rico claims to be close and the Virgin Islands claim to be “ours” (as in, part of the United States), but our research indicates that the consumer does not care for those claims. Puerto Rico may be close, but it’s not that much closer to us through the air than Jamaica. Does anyone actually think that tourists are going to choose Puerto Rico because it saves them 15 minutes in the air?
Consider this: Hawaii is first in top-of-mind awareness among U.S. travelers, but it’s not at the top in the number of U.S. visitors. If it had a brand that said something meaningful about who the tourist is when they visit Hawaii, they would not have to increase their marketing budget to steal share.
Tropical destinations can rest easy knowing that their advertising does not have to say, “Come here to swim. We have beaches, sun and alcohol.” Even though that’s exactly what they are saying now, they should understand they are not telling their target audiences anything new. Few other industries have category benefits that are so well known. With tourists beginning to travel more and with the looming threat of Cuba, it’s time for destinations to build brands around the tourists and start stealing share.