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Destination marketing efforts increasingly reflect the fact that people are at the heart of places. | Photo by ALAN DE LA CRUZ on Unsplash

August 28, 2023

Sell them what they want, and they will come. In simplified terms, this has historically been the purpose and goal of destination marketing.

But, tourism is changing, and destination marketing isn’t as straightforward as before. Some places want to attract fewer or more appropriate travelers. Some are thinking of traditional DMOs as destination management organizations instead of strictly destination marketing organizations. Others, like 4VI (formerly Tourism Vancouver Island), are shedding the traditional DMO model altogether; in the case of 4VI, this meant becoming a social enterprise.

One of the key challenges facing destination marketing is the fact that, to a certain extent, its purpose is still to position destinations as attractive places to visit. However, these same destinations recognize the importance of bringing the local community into the picture. If a good place to live is a good place to visit, then how can local people be acknowledged, represented, and even centered in destination-focused content while still appealing to travelers?

As destinations grapple with this quandary, they’re facing some common realizations, particularly as it relates to its marketing communications:

  • Destinations are dynamic, evolving places. Cookie-cutter content that fails to embrace a place’s complexity is no longer sufficient.
  • Acknowledging and prioritizing local residents requires reframing travelers as visitors or guests.
  • Sharing more robust information about places may challenge what visitors think they know or believe about a place because travelers have long received other messaging. Challenging stereotypes is not a bad thing if the new marketing is more truthful and faithful to a place and the people who live there.
  • People are at the heart of places. Giving them a place to share their stories allows the vibrancy of a place to flourish.
  • Acknowledging the full diversity of a place often requires acknowledging its “messy” parts as well, including past and ongoing racism, colonization, and exploitation.
  • Collaboration and partnerships with community groups is important in ensuring all people are appropriately acknowledged and represented.
  • Sharing the stories of those who haven’t been heard or seen in the past is important, but storytelling shouldn’t become another form of extraction.

As DMOs evolve their purpose and messaging, it can be helpful to see how others have married their marketing requirements with community realities.

Destination British Columbia (Canada) devotes a section of its website to Indigenous storytellers. These stories are rooted in place and not directly tied to visitor activities. While information about participating in Indigenous-led experiences is noted on this page, the stories told by Indigenous Peoples and the historical and cultural context they provide is prioritized in this space.

Meet Boston (Massachusetts, USA) has highlighted its commitment to diversity with its all-inclusive campaign driven by local pride. Its robust website amplifies businesses and experiences owned by local people with a wide range of diverse backgrounds, and makes it clear that anyone is welcome to visit.

The Sámi Parliament’s responsible visitor guidance is a highly accessible example of guest education about a culture as well as how to interact with it. This isn’t only a list of do’s and don’ts; the artistically crafted guidance also defines key vocabulary and illustrates the importance of holistic sustainability within the Sámi culture. Visit Finland links to this guidance on its website.

The first thing visitors to Travel Alaska’s (USA) homepage see are greetings from the five Indigenous communities — identified by region — in the state. Travel Alaska also offers a land acknowledgement on its site (not buried in the footer) with a reminder to guests that it’s important to learn about Alaska Native cultures and histories before visiting.

Recognizing the importance of travel content creators in sharing the tourism story, the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada has curated a comprehensive media room. The space includes story ideas, resources, and visual assets to assist media in telling an interesting and accurate story of the Indigenous Peoples in Canada. 

Visit Tucson (Arizona, USA) sends out a monthly Meet Our Makers newsletter introducing a diverse array of local residents living and working in the city. These stories are a deep dive into the artisans and business owners in Tucson, providing a compelling reason to visit both Tucson and these specific businesses. 

The concept of “destination” is changing, and destinations’ priorities are also changing as the tourism bubble opens up to local residents. It only makes sense, then, that marketing morphs alongside this evolution. Shedding its skin of strictly cheerful platitudes and traveler-centric content, destination marketing is emerging with a far more insightful and meaningful story to share — one that is compelling to visitors while embracing the people who matter most.

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  1. Hi, I want to hire a Destination Management Company for my upcoming corporate event because coordinating all the logistics and activities in a new city is just too much to handle on my own. I just hope that they can help make everything seamless, from transportation to local entertainment, and let me focus on enjoying the event with my colleagues. Also, thanks for telling me that the fact that destination marketing still primarily aims to promote locations as desirable travel destinations is one of the main obstacles it faces.

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