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  • Kari Lynn Larsen

the evolution of destination marketing

The Evolution of Destination Marketing

For those of us who have been in this industry for the past 25 years or more, we can look back and see how drastically this industry has changed in the marketing, researching and selling of destinations. The advancement of technology has been one of the most influential forces in this change.

Destination marketing has always been about engaging with key players to drive awareness and interest in a location, so that people will ultimately visit there. It has traditionally focused on creativity in communicating the destination’s value proposition.

Going back as far as 1995, destination marketing was extremely paper based. Destinations and hotels went from print (brochures and libraries) to sleek video productions on VHS tapes, to computer age marketing with CDs and DVDs. The infancy of the world wide web thirty years ago, led to websites, personal emails and whole new marketing strategies with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. Cultural diversity also entered everyone’s living room with movies and pop-culture leading to increased awareness of destinations - Crazy Rich Asians (Singapore), Slum Dog Millionaire (India), etc. You can see that technology has been a game changer in our industry over the past 30 years.

In the late 1990’s destinations were partnering with hotel chains and airlines for package pricing, to maximize online marketing budgets. Hotels were becoming more of a destination than the destination itself. For example, the build of the Burj Al Arab and the resorts on Palm Jumeirah, put Dubai on the map for luxury travel. With this new century also came the transition from PDAs to Blackberry’s and Smartphones, which meant constant connectivity and travel information at your fingertips. Travellers were becoming way more educated on destinations, resulting in cities and resort areas having to up their game in promoting their distinctive offerings.

The increased popularity of social media influenced global affairs having an impact on destination popularity taking us out of our North American comfort zone. For example, after Nelson Mandela’s election win in 1994, South Africa became an extremely popular safari destination. Over the top, luxury lodges were trendy and considered an experience of a lifetime.

Moving into 2005-2008, historical buildings like palaces, forts, and cultural estates were being restored for a new type of destination offering - experiential accommodation. Older cities like London and Morrocco were being restored to create meeting destinations promoting both modern facilities and deep-rooted history. This movement also led to hotels offering well-being services. Infinity pools, fitness centres, yoga classes, full-service spas, watersports and club level offerings became expected.

A number of global natural disasters made marketing some destinations a difficult task in the 2000’s. The extensive cleanup of Thailand’s Tsunami, New Orleans hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake that killed 220,000 people, forced these destinations to appeal in their marketing campaigns to the CSR and philanthropic opportunities available for corporate meetings.

As we moved into the last decade of 2010 - 2019, the trend shifted towards promoting adventure offerings. Quests incorporated into conference activities were on the rise, with exploring rainforests, hiking mountain ranges, and sea kayaking coastlines. We saw a push for healthy food & beverage offerings, with destinations marketing locally produced ingredients, sustainable / ethical sourcing and the ability to offer great culinary options for the dramatic rise in dietary restrictions and preferences.

As we enter this new decade of 2020, “Travel Styles” is next in the evolution in destination marketing. We are now marketing to personal style versus destination. Travelling with people your own age, being with active co-travellers, taking wellness retreats, experiencing local living, exploring marine life or mountain trekking. Due to the pandemic, destination marketing had to quickly pivot with a focus on local and regional destinations while still catering to “Travel Styles”. Virtual programs have been created that allow us to explore the places beyond our national borders and experiences that we will one day soon discover again.

I strongly believe packaging destinations under these styles will become the marketing and selling propositions for meetings and events today and in the next few years.

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