The new destination marketing darlings of 2021

In order to boost destination awareness in an increasingly pay-for-play world, tourism marketers must make the choice of investing money into paid amplification or investing time into optimising destination information found on less traditional platforms. Because marketing funds are hard to come by right now, we’re sharing our three favourite platforms to incorporate and optimise in your 2021 destination marketing strategy to encourage positive destination perception, expand awareness, and drive visitation while maintaining the delicate balance between effort and ROI.

YouTube

Already a component of most destinations’ marketing mixes, YouTube is often an underestimated channel for optimisation. While commonly used as a place to simply archive video content, YouTube can actually be a significant driver of increased destination visibility and improved perception because of its relationship with Google.

It’s generally understood that Google’s algorithm preferences content from within its own environment (ie. YouTube and other subsidiaries) when displaying answers to users’ queries. Optimising file names, titles, and descriptions with relevant keywords and adding accurate categories and tags will help ensure your video content ranks and displays for important destination search queries. But, that’s not the only benefit.

In addition to crawling YouTube titles and descriptions, Google indexes and interprets video captions to ascertain relevance for specific search queries. While Google can automatically generate captions and subtitles for videos in a number of languages, the process is much quicker, and generally more accurate, for videos which are already subtitled. Additionally, these can be further supplemented with detailed video chapters, especially for any how-to content.

As direct question searches through digital assistants and voice search queries continue to trend upward, Google has begun to supplement featured snippets with new key moment answers. These answers direct users to a specific moment within a video that is deemed relevant to the query. While key moment answers are still largely restricted to “how-to” style questions, a framework is being established to expand scope in the future, presenting huge opportunities for destination marketers looking to rank for long-tail and direct question searches.

To take advantage of the immediate opportunity, consider what content you’ve produced, or can produce, that provides answers to various “how to” queries. Certainly, searchers would prefer to learn how to make a quality Manhattan from a Manhattan bartender than a general vlogger, assuming that a DMO-created instructional video was accessible. As Google’s ability to answer more complex and nuanced queries expands, it’s not out-of-the-question that you’ll be producing video content that answers questions like “What’s the best road trip from Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park?” or “What kind of animals will I find on a trip to the South” with more authority than user-generated content.

Wikipedia

No, you didn’t read that wrong; humble Wikipedia is quietly taking on new importance as a destination marketing platform. The eighth most popular site on the internet and a commonly cited source of information for a growing range of platforms, Wikipedia data is playing an increasing role in travellers’ journey planning. Unfortunately, most destination entries on this platform offer little to no specific tourism information for travellers. This represents a missed opportunity for destination marketers to take ownership of yet another channel that has a direct connection to improved destination perception, visitation, and revenue.

The open-source encyclopaedia has even largely shirked its unfair reputation for inaccuracy, with a 2010 study finding that 70% of academics use Wikipedia as a source for teaching.

Take for example, an experiment by economists from Collegio Carlo Alberto in Turin, Italy and ZEW in Mannheim, Germany. These economists found that by simply adding two paragraphs of text and a single photo to a destination’s Wikipedia article, the number of nights spent in-destination increased by 9% during the busy season. While this is just one isolated example, it clearly underscores the specific commercial benefit of optimising Wikipedia and the general benefits of taking a broader holistic approach to destination optimisation.

Conversely, inaccurate or unflattering Wikipedia entries can depress destination perception and visitation as well. Museum curator, and prominent Wikipedia editor, Dr. Mike Dickison illustrated the missed opportunity for New Zealand destinations by highlighting the Wikipedia page for Fox Glacier, one of the country’s most prominent outdoor adventure spots. Dickison believes that potential travellers were dissuaded from visiting because of a number deaths and accidents highlighted on the page with little positive information to balance it out.

Even now, a quick Google search of nearly any destination will provide a short three- to five-line description in the Knowledge Panel that often cites Wikipedia as the source. Wikipedia content is often used to answer specific questions or provide background information on a topic in Google’s featured snippets. Facebook is also beta testing similar “featured snippet” functionality to add authority to content shared within their platform.

Virtual AI assistants like Siri and Google Assistant will only further cement the platform’s importance as they often draw from Google’s featured snippets, themselves drawing upon Wikipedia, to answer queries.

While individual businesses fight it out to rank for direct queries like “Where is the best Thai in Newtown?” (Thai Pothong, in our most humble opinion), destination marketers need to ensure their destination’s Wikipedia page is up-to-date with accurate and comprehensive information ready to answer queries such as “Can you camp at Yosemite National Park?” or “Which landmarks are in Sydney?”

Spotify

With over 286 million active users and 35% of the streaming market share, you might be listening to Spotify right now. The unique blend of mass appeal and social influence that the platform maintains gives marketers an intriguing opportunity to create emotional connections between destinations and music, despite the inherent challenge of converting listeners to consumers.

With short- and medium-haul travel trending towards shorter trips increasingly based around events and culture, highlighting ways that consumers can discover and connect with their favourite artists in-destination is a powerful tool. Even if your destination isn’t obviously linked to music in the public consciousness, (think Nashville, Los Angeles and Chicago), there is no doubt a robust music scene that adds to every destination’s cultural brand.

Building out playlists that highlight your destinations most successful (or undiscovered) artists or highlighting musical genres that are associated with your destination can help listeners understand and uncover a cultural or artistic depth before they even start packing their bags. And with the social media integration offered to Spotify listeners, they can quickly share their new discoveries, with friends around the world, all without paying a cent.

Further, with only 45% (give or take) users avoiding advertising through premium paid memberships, the opportunity to reach a huge swathe of engaged listeners with mass messaging is a boon for destination marketers who may have a little budget available. However, Spotify’s utility goes beyond relatively low-cost advertising with massive reach. The platform is also able to quantify and draw useable data from users’ emotionality.

Take, for instance, its 2016 brand campaign, which drew on outlier insights from users’ listening histories to create taglines such as “Dear person in LA who listened to the ‘Forever Alone’ playlist for four hours on Valentine’s Day, you ok?” This campaign is as much aimed at attracting savvy marketers as it is to engage intrigued consumers.

Another strength of Spotify is its ability easily connect with Millennial and Gen Z audiences. In their 2019 road trip campaign, Born to Be Wild, Visit California utilised a number of new and emerging social media platforms to create emotional ties between consumers and the Golden State. Their Spotify strategy encouraged young travellers to craft their ‘essential’ road trip while generating a customised playlist based on interactive quiz responses.

Other DMOs have centred the entirety of their campaigns around Spotify. In 2019, Go New Orleans partnered with Spotify to generate an ‘authentic’ New Orleans playlist, covering genres from Jazz and Blues to Hip-Hop and Bounce. Spotify collected user data from playlist listeners, from which Go New Orleans identified and invited key fans to a live concert in the city recreating the playlist. The show was recorded and released as a ‘B-side’ playlist and accompanying film. Through this campaign, Go New Orleans highlighted its city’s strong cultural connection to music, whilst capturing significant data about their listeners’ associated preferences, and targeting a key market demographic.

Optimising YouTube, Wikipedia, and Spotify is just a small part of your destination’s overall digital optimisation strategy. In addition to these platforms, make sure your destination and tourism community are well represented on Google Maps and Google My Business, the most important contributors to the modern travel planning process. Gate 7’s Digital Destination Optimisation Program is designed to help tourism marketers create an appealing comprehensive digital presence for their destination across a number of highly relevant platforms.