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  • Dan Peltier

4 Trends Defining Tourism Marketing in 2018

In the digital era, a marketing campaign can be a risk or a major reward for a brand, especially for destinations.

If a message is off point, inaccurate, or pretentious, travelers will vote with their wallets and go elsewhere. Many destinations choose to stay out of the culture wars and current events, but some like Los Angeles have launched video campaigns this year promoting diversity and inclusiveness because it’s part of who they are.

Other destinations like Iceland and Copenhagen have found there is strength in numbers in partnering to market each other after it found nearly 9 percent of U.S. travelers who stopped in Iceland in 2017 also visited Copenhagen.

Visit Denmark partnered with Icelandair to produce a video, which rolled out last month (watch below), that blends scenes from both destinations to show their similarities and why a trip to Copenhagen would appeal to someone visiting Iceland. “It is a challenging brand story to tell,” said Tai Klan, marketing manager USA for Visit Denmark, the country’s tourism board.

Visit Denmark’s campaign with Icelandair differs from those its done in the past on its own. “DMOs have a tendency to control the brand story too much and not let the creative have more leverage,” said Klan. “This was a take on that to entice the movie director to do something really creative together and let him explore the subject matter.”

In a 2017 survey of more than 400 destinations from 52 countries by Destinations International, participants ranked video at the top of the list as it “becomes the new currency of destination marketing and story-telling” as one of the top trends in the sector, the first time video made the ranking. Respondents also said they plan to prioritize investment in video as a marketing tool in the year ahead.

While companies like Expedia or United Airlines run campaigns conveying deals to specific destinations, it’s destinations themselves that need to convince travelers they’re worth visiting – even if price reigns supreme in consumers’ minds.

Skift looked at four destination campaigns from this year that each represent a trend that is defining tourism boards‘ marketing strategies and how travelers want to see the world.


The United States has become Copenhagen’s largest visitor market, with more than 709,000 U.S. hotel room nights in 2017 (up 12.2 percent over 2016). The co-branded campaign combines natural and urban experiences that Iceland and Copenhagen, respectively, offer and creates a powerful trip combination for travelers who want a little of both.

Visit Denmark and Icelandair worked with director Vincent Urban to produce a video that takes architecture, natural scenes, people, and activities from both destinations to show how two places more than a thousand miles apart can have similarities. Scenes include a mash-up of a black sand beach in Iceland with a church in Denmark and horses running in Iceland with someone riding a bicycle in Copenhagen.

The organization couldn’t afford a big budget TV commercial like Tourism Australia’s Super Bowl commercial, and Klan and his team needed a different approach, such as one without voice narration or plot. “This video also afforded us the opportunity to circumvent the traditional story arc that would inspire the movie director to do something he really liked as well,” said Klan. “We didn’t want it to be too commercial.”

From Icelandair’s perspective, there was some creative risk to the campaign but the airline felt comfortable knowing that Visit Denmark would be involved throughout the production. “That being said, there is definitely something to be said about giving up some level of brand control, believing in creative talent, and not letting branded content become too commercial when trying to get consumers to engage emotionally with your brand message,” said Lára Möller, brand manager at Icelandair.

Visit Denmark plans to roll out 30-second versions of the full two-and-a-half minute video for pre-roll ads for YouTube, or ads that play before a video. The full video will also play on all in-flight entertainment seatbacks on Icelandair flights departing from U.S. airports.

“Air carriers are focused on converting ticket sales but as a DMO we need to be more in the upper funnel to create that awareness,” said Klan. “VisitDenmark has primarily promoted direct connections to Denmark, but Icelandair’s stop-over service presented a unique opportunity to market two very different destinations as one trip.”

“Ultimately this represents a great value proposition for the commercial partners we work with because the emotional brand connection to the destination is often more pronounced or easier to establish, than the emotional connection to a commercial brand at least in the travel sector,” said Klan. “By partnering around a joint brand message, we effectively leverage the strength of a DMO with the strength of a commercial brand.”


If you took many destinations’ words for it, you’d believe that locals are currently one of the best value propositions of visiting a destination. That’s debatable for a number of reasons, particularly when you consider whether a local population supports tourism and wants to see tourists taking up space on their sidewalks and in their stores.

But Aruba is one of the destinations making locals the stars of their marketing campaigns this year, and in Aruba’s case, the island said it’s people are one of the top reasons why more than half of its arrivals are repeat visitors.

Aruba is plastering Grand Central Terminal in New York City with more than 150 posters of the destination next month that features different Arubians making their case for why New Yorkers, who are Aruba’s largest U.S. market, should visit. The destination is also rolling out a handful of short videos (watch one of the videos below) each featuring a different Arubian on what makes their island special to them.

Some 87 percent of the island’s gross domestic products comes from tourism, which Sanju Luidens, chief marketing officer for the Aruba Tourism Authority, the island’s tourism board, said touches virtually every household like many other Caribbean islands. “People here are very outgoing and connected to the industry,” she said. “We have seen that this has been a natural development. Tourism is part of our DNA.”

Concept Farm, the agency Aruba worked with on the campaign, said local-focused content it creates for destinations has performed significantly better than other themed content, with average engagement 87 percent higher on Facebook and click-through rates more than eight percent higher than traditional display advertising.

“We had a lot of locals not only in front of the camera but also producing the campaign, said Luidens. ‘This is a new approach for us which started in 2017 and now even more. We’ve seen how this has helped locals up their games in terms of production.”

Luidens said destination marketing has become more about what travelers are saying on various platforms rather than the message a tourism board is trying to push out. “It’s about getting those who know the destination to become brand evangelists for us,” she said. “That’s definitely one of the strengths for this campaign. We do this across channels and we involve locals in our press trips as well.”

The videos encourage travelers to get off the beaten path to meet locals like the people featured in the videos. Luidens said a majority of Aruba’s visitors leave their resorts and beaches during their stays to explore the island’s culture. “Through our exit surveys we see people enjoy the friendliness of the people, ease of getting around, and we have more sunny days than any other Caribbean island,” she said.


The travel industry knows that digital influencers on platforms like Instagram and YouTube could be good partners, but it’s how some destinations like Carlsbad, California, are using influencers behind-the-scenes that shows more of their usefulness to marketers.

Carlsbad, a coastal resort city located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, wanted to determine which colors were most popular in travelers’ social media photos and see how those compared with colors common around Carlsbad.

Visit Carlsbad, the city’s tourism board, analyzed about 80 Instagram photos during the past year from 23 U.S.-based influencers with a combined following of 17 million. The organization worked with U.S.-based Pantone on the analysis. Pantone pulled the top three photos with the most likes that depicted travel from each influencer, omitting photos and captions unrelated to travel and omitting giveaway incentive posts as outliers.

The analysis yielded four colors the destination is featuring in its new campaign “Colors of Carlsbad” (see the colors in the video below). “From the ocean and lagoon waters to the rolling green hills and beautiful sunsets colors highlighted in the 2018 Colors of Travel Study illustrate the coastal beauty, casual elegance, and laid-back glamour with family-friendly outdoor fun that Carlsbad is known for,” said Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, in a statement.

“A blend of soft and warm with cool and calm expressing a marriage of land and sea; these colors encourage relaxation and provide refreshment while at the same time stimulating the senses and our desire to explore and experience,” said Pressman.

Carlsbad was already a colorful place, said Sam Ross, executive director of Visit Carlsbad. “Beyond our natural features, Carlsbad is home to a bustling local art scene, ground-breaking restaurants and breweries, a heritage of adventure and action sports, and a Southern Californian approach to wellness,” said Ross, in a statement. “Now more than ever, our visitors are interested in not only partaking in these unique experiences but sharing them with their followers near and far.”


Further up California’s coast, it might come as a shock that Sonoma County, part of California’s Wine Country north of San Francisco, hasn’t had an official destination brand or tagline before this year. But that’s how things have played out, and Sonoma County Tourism, the destination’s tourism board, wants to help the area step out of the shadows of Napa Valley, it’s more popular neighbor.

In September, the destination launched its new brand: “Sonoma County: Life Opens Up,” to highlight how Sonoma is part of one of the world’s best wine regions but also has plenty to offer travelers who don’t enjoy wine.

The destination decided to survey travelers about what words they associate with Sonoma County versus Napa Valley. Sonoma County worked with travel agency MMGY to survey more than 1,000 U.S. travelers and found that “fiercely independent, connecting, progressive, and real” were some of the most common words that came up in terms of how travelers perceive Sonoma. Word associations have been a key way to learn how travelers perceive a brand, but in 2018 there are also many sources to gather travelers’ perceptions from such as Facebook and Twitter.

“To succeed, we need to connect with our customers on an emotional level and create a compelling set of reasons to visit Sonoma County,” said Claudia Vecchio, president and chief executive officer of Sonoma County Tourism. “Our new brand helps us to evolve from simply talking about the destination’s assets to showing how those assets provide transformational experiences.”

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