This week, a couple hundred stakeholders involved in Palm Beach County tourism gathered to hear the "state of the industry" at an event organized by the destination marketing organization Discover the Palm Beaches (DPB).
DPB is a sophisticated group, with a staff of almost 50, and appears to have strong community support, not least of all because it delivers: Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners administrator Verdenia Baker said that tourism contributed $77.8 million from annual bed taxes last year (a 44% increase over the previous record, set in 2019), and in 2022 the county outperformed the state as a whole by increasing visitation 8% vs. 5%.
Many DMOs in its position would be apprehensive about embracing change when on such a successful trajectory. But constant re-evaluations appears to be in the organization's DNA.
DPB's chief marketing officer, Milton Segarra, spoke about the importance of "always-on brand." When he first said it, I assumed the hyphen was between "on" and "brand."
Being an "always-on" brand could suggest that marketing efforts are maintained at a constant level year-round, but that uniform approach would sound off-key to any marketer who understands the ebb and flow of the travel business.
Peter Yesawich, vice chair emeritus of MMGY Global and vice chair of the DPB board, had suggested that the group develop a "dynamic marketing model," similar to what hotels and airlines use to adjust their prices in real time, depending upon demand. The goal for the organization would be to predict visitation across the calendar and allocate resources to shore up what appear to be softer periods.
Most destinations have well-established low seasons, but DPB was aiming for more granularity, such as unexpected clusters of low days. Leaning on a wide range of sources -- Google, Facebook, Expedia, Instagram, Kayak and TripAdvisor among them -- the organization was able to improve forecasting, track traveler sentiment and gain intelligence on bookings.
It then populated a calendar with days colored green (solid visitation), yellow (could be improved) or red (slow) to create a visual aid to guide decisions about when and where to increase marketing spend.
"Always-on" marketing also looks for opportunities in crisis. After Hurricane Ian devastated portions of Florida, resulting in 165 million negative earned media impressions, the state spent $2 million to send videographers to unaffected areas where people could be documented enjoying sunny beaches. The footage, augmented with date and time stamps, demonstrated that "the state was not destroyed," said Visit Florida CEO Dana Young, who also spoke at the event.
DPB likewise stepped up marketing in the hurricane's aftermath, subtly presenting itself as an alternative to western Florida destinations that were temporarily shut down.
"Always-on" also gives a second look to the individual targets of the multiprong approach most destination marketers use to segment visitation. To attract MICE groups, DPB chief sales officer Kelly Cavers noted separate campaigns against financial, medical, manufacturing and technology companies. But complementing those efforts is a campaign called Between the Sessions that encourages conference attendees to get out of meeting halls and do some sightseeing.
And its integrated marketing approach also targets geographic areas, with parallel programs to bring in media, influencers and trade from those areas. "It's about knowing whom you want to talk to and when you want to talk to them," Segarra said.
Among the unexpected campaigns is one aimed at Palm Beach County residents, and not just for staycations. To encourage locals to post images of what they see on a daily basis, those who use the hashtag #lovethepalmbeaches become eligible for recognition awards.
Either despite of or because of its success, the creation of a new tourism master plan is underway in Palm Beach County. Part of the goal, says Segarra, is to "strengthen the brand personality."
The organization has trademarked the slogan, "America's First Resort Destination," and Segarra touched on the importance of ensuring that no marketing message the group puts out conflicts with that phrase.
In other words, although DPB embraces "always-on brand," "always on-brand" is a complementary, not competitive, approach.
The group has a long history of being very detail-oriented in its approach to marketing. It dropped "County" from its name a decade ago because, said the organization's CEO, Jorge Pesquera, "when people hear 'county,' they may think of 'county jail' or 'county waste management.'" A parallel benefit to removing the extra word, he hopes, is that "The Palm Beaches" will become as familiar to most people as "The Hamptons" or "The Hawaiian Islands."
Pesquera promises to "double-down on boldness and innovation," and he said consultants have been hired to help them find "undiscovered truths" about Palm Beach County.
When will enough be enough? County administrator Baker said that, currently, "it's difficult to come up with a reason not to come." And, she added to knowing laughter, "And next thing you know, they're moving here."