Raw emotion. Real experiences. And finding allies and advocates in unexpected places. These phrases may sound like a description for a blockbuster movie, but they were actually concepts discussed during a lively session, “Marketing for Growth,” during the WTTC Americas Summit.
Matthew Upchurch, the CEO of Virtuoso, the upscale travel agency consortium, led the session, which addressed the importance of brand management in tourism marketing.
“It’s all about the power of emotion,” said Chris Graves, CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations, during a visual presentation about how travelers — and human beings in general — are more likely to make decisions based on emotion, rather than logic. Connect with the consumer’s emotional side, he said, and you’re more likely to make a sale. “What emotional story would you tell with your destination?” he asked delegates, before showing a rather exciting television commercial produced for Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts that didn’t offer even a glimpse of an actual hotel property.
During a subsequent panel discussion, David Rice, president and CEO of the Barbados Tourism Authority, highlighted how his organisation focuses marketing efforts on five top markets as well as on the destination’s main selling points. “We need to realize that one size does not fit all,” he said, adding that the authority also works with people outside of the tourism segment to improve the overall visitor experience. “What we have started to do is educate all of our residents.”
In the case of the Mexico Tourism Board, marketing has played an important role in protecting the brand after the destination went through a rough period of bad publicity related to the H1N1 virus and security concerns, as well as a downturn in arrivals exacerbated by the U.S. economic recession. The positive result of these unfortunate situations is a new ad campaign that has resonated with the public, according to Rodolfo López Negrete, COO of the Mexico Tourism Board.
Using interviews with real travelers, as well as publicity gained from celebrity endorsements (superstar Jennifer Lopez, for example, filmed a music video in the Yucatan peninsula and spoke about her positive experience), tourism officials were able to turn perception back in Mexico’s favor. “Our brand was being threatened,” López told delegates. “That’s where it all began.”
Social media has radically shifted the marketing landscape for tourism organizations, according to Michele McKenzie, president and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission. “Our world has changed,” she told delegates. “The biggest change is that customers now are doing the marketing. Our job has become very, very different.”
As a result, McKenzie said, travelers and the general public can become “advocates” who help spread the word about tourism product. The Canadian Tourism Commission has devised a new strategy focused largely on user-generated content. “We’re going out into the social space,” explained McKenzie. “We’re finding messages about Canada. We’re using their content and our broadcast. The thing that we’ve learned about our websites is that they’re really not entirely relevant any more.”
“We’re also taking more risks,” McKenzie added, explaining that giving up a bit of control can have very positive results. As an example, she described her organisation’s decision to put up a live Twitter wall in New York City, which featured comments from the general public about Canada, without any editing. “It was fabulous — but it was very risky, from my old-thinking perspective.”