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Why Destination Marketers Must Focus on Sustainable Tourism

By: Addie Palin

Read time: 5 minutes

Whether your destination was deemed desirable by visitors during the pandemic, declared off-limits by policy makers or fell somewhere in between, many marketers used this past year to shift gears from destination marketing to destination management.  

For the former, problems caused by over-visitation gave conversations around sustainable tourism a new urgency. Emptied destinations gave once overcrowded places a chance to re-evaluate and reset. And as visitors experienced the inconvenience of over-touristed areas firsthand or witnessed the effects of climate change on their favorite vacation spots, a shift took place in their mindsets as well. While world events may have forced many destinations to rethink their tourism approach, they have also given rise to a new era in sustainable travel that shows no signs of stopping.

According to Booking.com’s 2021 Future of Travel Report, 53% of global travelers want to travel more sustainably in the future. To attract this rapidly emerging audience, we’ve come up with five ways destination marketers can promote sustainable tourism going forward.

5 Ways Destination Marketers Can Promote Sustainable Tourism

 

1. Redefine the ideal visitor

To address the issue of overcrowding, many destinations have already shifted their goals from “more visitors” to attracting more high value visitors—ones that stay longer and/or spend more. This enables them to manage visitor volume without making tradeoffs on economic impact.

To achieve this, it’s not enough to simply target higher household incomes; investing in research is a critical first step to identifying who these visitors are, where they are from and what attracts them to a destination. Destination marketing organizations must then do the research justice with a well-designed media and content strategy that finds, inspires and ultimately converts those prospective visitors to book their trips.

 

2. Distribute visitation to prevent overextending the capacity of any one region, town or tourism partner

Last year, many destinations experienced the greatest volume-induced pressures not only in their marquee outdoor attractions—national parks, beaches, ski areas and trailheads, to name a few—but in their state parks, public lands and waterways.

Even as travel behaviors shift back indoors, these “discovered” attractions remain at risk for an over-influx of return travelers. Moving forward, there are many ways to mitigate this risk with a thoughtful balance of media and messaging. Here are a few:

 

  • Intentionally feature less popular areas, seasons and activities.

Marquee attractions will always inspire prospective visitors to consider your destination. While they don’t need to be taken out of the creative mix entirely, consider promoting them in their off seasons.

Broaden prospects’ perception of your destination by showcasing unique experiences and off-the-beaten-path itineraries in your remarketing efforts. Invite influencers and journalists down lesser-traveled roads, and inspire visitors to spend their dollars with locally owned businesses.

 

  • Treat your cornerstone destinations as competitors

While marketers can’t stem prospective visitors’ natural interest in marquee destinations—social media’s influence isn’t weakening anytime soon—they can redirect those visitors elsewhere by harnessing that interest to cross-sell “under-the-radar” destinations and routes.

By using savvy media strategies to target interest during the trip-planning stage, marketers keep visitor dollars in their destinations but effectively spread the love across more partners who may need it.

 

  • Develop dedicated campaigns around areas with capacity

Call them hidden gems or simply undiscovered, travelers are hungry for uncrowded places to experience their vacations. That said, while some “under-sung” areas have remained out of the spotlight due to simple lack of familiarity, marketers would be wise to work closely with selected partners to understand any limits on capacity, seasonality and accessibility before putting the word out.

Read how Hoffman York put this strategy into practice with the ESTO-winning Eastern Montana Initiative.

 

3. Work with partners to provide resources efficiently

Partner with credible organizations to foster better visitor practices. Even when visitor volumes are managed, protecting our destinations is paramount.

Leave No Trace, Recreate Responsibly and other organizations offer certified best practices, turnkey messaging and creative, and augmented reach through their visibility in social hashtags and in the media. Many partners even allow destinations to customize messaging to their needs and redesign the communications to align with their tourism brand.

 

4. Attract eco-conscious visitors with eco-conscious content

The sustainably minded visitor has different criteria when making vacation decisions. Those DMOs that can should communicate destination recycling practices, the availability of vehicle charging stations, public transportation options, bicycle routes, agritourism opportunities, and eco-friendly businesses and lodges. To give the information greater impact, collect and repackage it into a resource page, newsletter or press release.

 

5. Collaborate with your tourism partners

Lastly, to maximize the success of these efforts, don’t forget that involving your tourism partners is key. Whether they are hurting for visitors or struggling to keep up with demand, they want to know that their DMO is adopting strategies that are sensitive to their needs.

 

It’s critical for destination marketers to keep the lines of communication open around the strides they are taking toward sustainable tourism practices. Hosting input forums, conducting webinars to communicate campaign strategies and sharing resource toolkits all help create the alignment and support necessary to promote and deliver a truly sustainable visitor experience.

 

Hoffman York is a full-service advertising and marketing communications agency with travel marketing experience, helping clients like Montana Office of Tourism and Outer Banks Visitors Bureau succeed. HY provides award-winning creative solutions, paid media, content creation, public relations, digital strategies and development, as well as research and analytics. To learn more about how HY can help your brand succeed, contact us at [email protected]. Or, click here to see a gallery of our work. 

 

Addie Palin, General Manager of Hoffman York MontanaAddie Palin, General Manager, Hoffman York Montana

Addie joined Hoffman York’s Montana office from Chicago, where she contributed her client service and business development skills to several agencies. In her 16 years in marketing, Addie has provided strategic leadership and growth for B2C and B2B brands across the spectrum of retail, associations, healthcare, technology, manufacturing, and more. Addie fell in love with travel—and specifically the West—during her time in graduate school in Montana, and she is thrilled to head Hoffman York’s Helena office, where she serves as the local client service resource for Montana Office of Tourism and Montana State Library.

 

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