PART TWO OF A TWO-PART LOOK AT THE EVOLUTION OF DMOs

PASSION PLAY

Destination marketers are increasingly focusing their messages on interests such as culture or cuisine, often in the hope of luring visitors off the beaten path.

By Eric Moya

Destination marketers are increasingly focusing their messages on interests such as culture or cuisine, often in the hope of luring visitors off the beaten path.

By Eric Moya

TW Illustration by Jennifer Martins

TW Illustration by Jennifer Martins

Several destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are forgoing messages based on traditional demographic criteria in favor of campaigns that more directly appeal to travelers’ interests — in marketing parlance, their “passion points.”

And while these campaigns are primarily meant to motivate travelers by focusing on the ever-increasing interest in authentic experiences, several DMOs said that another goal of this approach is to put less-visited areas and attractions on travelers’ radars.

“We know we’ve got great castles, we’ve got royalty, but what we want to say is, ‘We’ve got all that plus a lot more,’” VisitBritain CEO Sally Balcombe said of her organization’s “I Travel For” campaign, which launched last year and focuses on appealing to travelers’ motivations.

"We know we’ve got great castles, we’ve got royalty, but what we want to say is, ‘We’ve got all that plus a lot more..."
— Sally Balcombe, VisitBritain

That approach can be seen on the homepage of VisitBritain’s website, where a scroll-down menu enables visitors to choose one of eight ways to complete the sentence “I travel for …”: stories, local flavor, culture, the undiscovered, bliss, characters, the unexpected or thrills.

Click “culture,” for example, and the website redirects to a page with topics spanning a number of interests as well as destinations — everything from “five family-friendly activities in London fit for royalty” and “foodie map of Britain” to “48 hours in Newcastle” and “let’s go to Edinburgh’s festivals!”

With that approach, Balcombe said, the campaign “allows us to show lots of different aspects of Britain [and] allows us to show lots of different parts of Britain,” such as England’s North Yorkshire county, which hosted this year’s ExploreGB conference.

“This is a beautiful county,” Balcombe said in an interview at the conference. “This is just stunning. But I think if you went to the States, most people wouldn’t know or have heard of Yorkshire.”

But if a potential visitor is, say, a fan of British film and TV, or an antiques enthusiast, the VisitBritain site might steer them toward Newby Hall and Gardens in the North Yorkshire town of Ripon. The 18th-century manor has served as a filming location for TV series such as “Mans-field Park” and “Victoria” and boasts one of the world’s largest collections of Chippendale furniture.

“So we’re trying to respond to their passion” and suggest itineraries and experiences from there, Balcombe said.

During ExploreGB, daytrips for international media showcased Newby Hall and other attractions in the North Yorkshire area, while fam trips held before and after the conference visited Scotland and Wales, respectively. I participated in the Scotland fam, which brought travel advisors, tour operators and members of the media to Edinburgh and the Isle of Arran.

On one hand, the Edinburgh leg offered major sights, such as the city’s 14th-century castle, and essential experiences, such as a tasting at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

On the other hand, the Arran itinerary was arguably one for those whose tastes run toward “the undiscovered.” Attractions such as the ancient Machrie Moor stone circles might not be as well known as the Isle of Lewis’ Calanais stone circle (used in the filming of the “Outlander” TV series), but they proved to be at least as Insta-worthy, judging from the handful of selfie-taking visitors we encountered there on a weekday afternoon last spring.

Advertisement
One of the prehistoric stone circles at Machrie Moor on Scotland's Isle of Arran, part of a fam trip that took place before ExploreGB 2019. TW photo by Eric Moya

One of the prehistoric stone circles at Machrie Moor on Scotland's Isle of Arran, part of a fam trip that took place before ExploreGB 2019. TW photo by Eric Moya

Lochranza Castle on the Isle of Arran, dating to the 1500s. TW photo by Eric Moya

Lochranza Castle on the Isle of Arran, dating to the 1500s. TW photo by Eric Moya

Newby Hall, Harrogate, England. TW photo by Eric Moya

Newby Hall, Harrogate, England. TW photo by Eric Moya

One of the prehistoric stone circles at Machrie Moor on Scotland's Isle of Arran, part of a fam trip that took place before ExploreGB 2019. TW photo by Eric Moya

Lochranza Castle on the Isle of Arran, dating to the 1500s. TW photo by Eric Moya

Newby Hall, Harrogate, England. TW photo by Eric Moya

Where’s the beef? It’s in Kobe

Like VisitBritain’s campaign, the Japan National Tourism Organization’s (JNTO) “Enjoy My Japan” campaign launched last year and similarly seeks “to entice long-haul travelers to … explore the country beyond the well-known popular attractions and immerse themselves in the rich depths of Japanese nature and culture that exist off the beaten tourist path.”

The JNTO conveys that message via seven passion points: art, cities, cuisine, nature, outdoor adventure, relaxation and tradition.

According to Sayaka Fujii, director of the JNTO’s New York office, the passion points strategy has helped the country’s tourism message resonate with its target markets in a variety of ways. For example, cuisine and relaxation are popular among potential U.S. visitors, while those from Germany and Italy have expressed the most interest in outdoor activities.

That, in turn, could help Japan promote some of its less-visited areas, which Fujii said was “one of the important pillars” of the campaign, “in terms of revitalizing rural economies and fixing [the] imbalance between popular cities and lesser-known cities.”

This global effort by the JNTO could be seen as a continuation of recent efforts by Japanese regions such as Setouchi and Tohoku, which, via their own DMOs, have touted their tourism assets as alternatives to more well-known Japan experiences. In Tohoku’s case, for example, that includes promoting fall foliage in a country renowned for its springtime cherry blossoms.

Chusonji temple , Iwate Prefecture Photo by Japan National Tourism Organization

Chusonji temple , Iwate Prefecture Photo by Japan National Tourism Organization

Chusonji temple , Iwate Prefecture Photo by Japan National Tourism Organization

One example of how the JNTO seeks to encourage exploration via passion points is the organization’s recently released brochures listing “100 Experiences in Japan,” which divide those experiences into the aforementioned seven categories.

The Cuisine brochure, for example, mentions Kobe beef among the country’s quintessential culinary experiences, as one might expect. But rather than list a restaurant in a major tourist destination such as Tokyo or Kyoto, the listing directs visitors to Setsugekka in the city of Kobe itself, where the prized cattle originates.

Advertisement
The Cuisine brochure, for example, mentions Kobe beef among the country’s quintessential culinary experiences, as one might expect.

The Cuisine brochure, for example, mentions Kobe beef among the country’s quintessential culinary experiences, as one might expect.

The Cuisine brochure, for example, mentions Kobe beef among the country’s quintessential culinary experiences, as one might expect.

Street food and street wear

Unlike the U.K. or Japan, Singapore didn’t have overtourism or promoting lesser-known areas in mind with the 2017 launch of its “Passion Made Possible” campaign, which targets travelers based on six “passion tribes”: foodies, explorers, collectors, socializers, action seekers and culture shapers. Still, the strategy of focusing on passion points does appear to be influencing how travelers experience the destination, according to the Singapore Tourism Board.

“On average, there are about 169,000 visitors in Singapore at any given time, which is a healthy ratio relative to the local population, and there is room for growth in Singapore,” said Kershing Goh, regional director of the Americas for the Singapore Tourism Board.

"As travelers become more adventurous and seek more local, authentic experiences, we are seeing more visitors go off the beaten track."
– Kershing Goh, Singapore Tourism Board

She added that while the Passion Made Possible campaign does not explicitly seek to promote lesser-visited areas of the Lion City, “as travelers become more adventurous and seek more local, authentic experiences, we are seeing more visitors go off the beaten track.”

Enabling that exploration are local suppliers that have capitalized on the tourism board’s efforts by launching more than 35 tours based on aspects of the Passion Made Possible campaign, Goh said. The itineraries include Vespa tours with Singapore Sidecars (for “explorers at heart,” Goh said) and the Next Gen Hawker Food Tour by Wok ’n’ Stroll, on which visitors “can connect with Singapore’s new generation of hawkers and enjoy rejuvenated classics.”

Helping connect visitors to all aspects of Singapore’s tourism are the Passion Ambassadors, whom the tourism board describes as “Singaporeans and residents who have persevered and achieved their dreams, constantly striving for progress amid challenges, whom potential visitors might be able to personally identify with.”

Mark Ong of SBTG, an apparel company that has customized sneakers for clients including former NBA star Kobe Bryant. TW photo by Eric Moya

Mark Ong of SBTG, an apparel company that has customized sneakers for clients including former NBA star Kobe Bryant. TW photo by Eric Moya

Mark Ong of SBTG, an apparel company that has customized sneakers for clients including former NBA star Kobe Bryant. TW photo by Eric Moya

They include entrepreneurs such as Mark Ong, a street-wear designer whose customized sneakers have been worn by former NBA great Kobe Bryant and other international celebrities. For the campaign’s rollout in China, a key market for Singapore, the tourism board enlisted singer-songwriter and Lion City native Nathan Hartono to talk about his favorite hangouts and Singapore’s music scene.

Advertisement
Marina Bay, with the Marina Bay Sands and its SkyPark at right and the Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel at left. TW photo by Eric Moya

Marina Bay, with the Marina Bay Sands and its SkyPark at right and the Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel at left. TW photo by Eric Moya

One of the dozens of hawker stalls at the Maxwell Food Centre. TW photo by Eric Moya

One of the dozens of hawker stalls at the Maxwell Food Centre. TW photo by Eric Moya

Nathan Hartono, singer-songwriter from Singapore.

Nathan Hartono, singer-songwriter from Singapore.

Marina Bay, with the Marina Bay Sands and its SkyPark at right and the Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel at left. TW photo by Eric Moya

One of the dozens of hawker stalls at the Maxwell Food Centre. TW photo by Eric Moya

Nathan Hartono, singer-songwriter from Singapore.

Beyond the bungalows

Like Singapore, Tahiti Tourisme isn’t necessarily concerned about overtourism, but the DMO for the 118 islands of Tahiti is interested in spotlighting lesser-known islands and their associated experiences, as it does in its “Pick Your Paradise” effort.

Visitors to the Tahiti Tourisme website’s Pick Your Paradise microsite are invited to “choose your own virtual adventure” by selecting from three prompts: Go Far (Explore Adventure), Go Deep (Explore Culture) and Go Together (Explore With Loved Ones).

Those prompts, in turn, lead to other prompts: Click on Go Far, for example, and the next prompt invites visitors to Hold On (signified by a photo of water skiers) or Let Go (which shows cliff divers next to a waterfall).

After a half-dozen such prompts, a video compiling all six of the user’s selections plays. Then the user is encouraged to share the video via social media as well as to contact a travel specialist for a price quote on their adventure.

According to Kristin Carlson Kemper, managing director of Tahiti Tourisme North America, the campaign represents a substantial shift in approach from previous efforts that emphasized iconic island imagery.

That, in turn, helps Tahiti target audiences beyond its traditional honeymoon-and-romance market, such as multigenerational and adventure travel as well as more culturally minded visitors. Recent fam trips for social media influencers have highlighted aspects of Tahiti tourism that go beyond romance and relaxation.

“Whereas now, you see the diving, the snorkeling, the fire dance, ziplining, somebody doing a stone or wood carving. We still have the overwater bungalow [in our ads], but it’s not the end all, be all.”
– Kristin Carlson Kemper, Tahiti Tourisme North America

“If you were to go back and look at our advertising images from before 2016, you’re basically going to see an overwater bungalow, a lagoon and Mount Otemanu,” Kemper said. “Whereas now, you see the diving, the snorkeling, the fire dance, ziplining, somebody doing a stone or wood carving. We still have the overwater bungalow [in our ads], but it’s not the end all, be all.”

And on the subject of those overwater bungalows: While that iconically Taihitian accommodation style is ideal for couples, Tahiti Tourisme is also interested in highlighting other options at other price points, such as smaller, B&B-style offerings on less-visited islands.

“There are about 400 of them throughout the islands of Tahiti, so actually the room count is more than there are in the resorts,” Kemper said. “There are only so many hotel rooms on Tahiti and on Bora Bora, so we do have to get people out to the lesser-known islands.”

Tahiti sunset. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme

Tahiti sunset. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme

Fire dancers at Hilton Moorea. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme/Garrett King (Shortstache)

Fire dancers at Hilton Moorea. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme/Garrett King (Shortstache)

Pearl Farm on Tahaa. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme/Garrett King (Shortstache)

Pearl Farm on Tahaa. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme/Garrett King (Shortstache)

Pearl Farm on Tahaa. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme/Garrett King (Shortstache)

Beyond the bungalows

Like Singapore, Tahiti Tourisme isn’t necessarily concerned about overtourism, but the DMO for the 118 islands of Tahiti is interested in spotlighting lesser-known islands and their associated experiences, as it does in its “Pick Your Paradise” effort.

Visitors to the Tahiti Tourisme website’s Pick Your Paradise microsite are invited to “choose your own virtual adventure” by selecting from three prompts: Go Far (Explore Adventure), Go Deep (Explore Culture) and Go Together (Explore With Loved Ones).

Tahiti sunset. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme

Tahiti sunset. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme

Tahiti sunset. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme

Those prompts, in turn, lead to other prompts: Click on Go Far, for example, and the next prompt invites visitors to Hold On (signified by a photo of water skiers) or Let Go (which shows cliff divers next to a waterfall).

After a half-dozen such prompts, a video compiling all six of the user’s selections plays. Then the user is encouraged to share the video via social media as well as to contact a travel specialist for a price quote on their adventure.

According to Kristin Carlson Kemper, managing director of Tahiti Tourisme North America, the campaign represents a substantial shift in approach from previous efforts that emphasized iconic island imagery.

Fire dancers at Hilton Moorea. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme/Garrett King (Shortstache)

Fire dancers at Hilton Moorea. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme/Garrett King (Shortstache)

Fire dancers at Hilton Moorea. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme/Garrett King (Shortstache)

That, in turn, helps Tahiti target audiences beyond its traditional honeymoon-and-romance market, such as multigenerational and adventure travel as well as more culturally minded visitors. Recent fam trips for social media influencers have highlighted aspects of Tahiti tourism that go beyond romance and relaxation.

“Whereas now, you see the diving, the snorkeling, the fire dance, ziplining, somebody doing a stone or wood carving. We still have the overwater bungalow [in our ads], but it’s not the end all, be all.”
– Kristin Carlson Kemper, Tahiti Tourisme North America

“If you were to go back and look at our advertising images from before 2016, you’re basically going to see an overwater bungalow, a lagoon and Mount Otemanu,” Kemper said. “Whereas now, you see the diving, the snorkeling, the fire dance, ziplining, somebody doing a stone or wood carving. We still have the overwater bungalow [in our ads], but it’s not the end all, be all.”

And on the subject of those overwater bungalows: While that iconically Taihitian accommodation style is ideal for couples, Tahiti Tourisme is also interested in highlighting other options at other price points, such as smaller, B&B-style offerings on less-visited islands.

“There are about 400 of them throughout the islands of Tahiti, so actually the room count is more than there are in the resorts,” Kemper said. “There are only so many hotel rooms on Tahiti and on Bora Bora, so we do have to get people out to the lesser-known islands.”

Advertisement
Pearl Farm on Tahaa. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme/Garrett King (Shortstache)

Pearl Farm on Tahaa. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme/Garrett King (Shortstache)

Pearl Farm on Tahaa. Photo by Tahiti Tourisme/Garrett King (Shortstache)

Stage, not age

These DMOs’ current approaches represent “a fundamental shift from focusing on mass marketing and messaging based on a foundation of demographic information,” said Katie Briscoe, president of travel marketing agency MMGY Global.

“Leaning solely on demographics as a way to understand audiences is not relevant anymore,” she said.

"Leaning solely on demographics as a way to understand audiences is not relevant anymore"
— Katie Briscoe, MMGY Global

She said that millennials, for example, can be at vastly different stages in their lives and thus represent a broad range of potential travel interests.

“Millennial families make up more than half of the millennial age core, so they’re obviously looking for a very different experience than a 25-year-old backpacking through Europe,” Briscoe said. “And millennial families spend more significantly on travel each year, and because of the nature of that stage in their life, they’ve transitioned into more rooted, predictable behaviors.”

Whereas past efforts to understand travelers’ habits and motivations were limited by the more traditional types of data available to marketers back then, “now there is this capability to provide far more depth in the development of relevant audiences or personas for these travel brands,” said Briscoe, whose company released its 2019-2020 Portrait of American Travelers study this month.

DMOs, she said, “really can understand who is interested and what the assets are that they have to offer and sell and really create a connection across the consumer journey.”

Moreover, understanding that consumer has less to do with traditional demographic data and more to do with traveler mindset.

“A persona like a wanderluster, we’re not concerned as much about age,” Briscoe said. “That’s still an important factor, but we’re really concerned more about motivators, the interests that are driving them to these travel decisions — talking about getting off the beaten path or a real desire to focus on self-care. Because that gets more into that aspirational lifestyle that we see driving travel decisions.”

Advertisement
Advertisement