Off the top, I have to admit that I originally started to right a “Top Travel News Stories in 2011″ post. Really. And I scrapped it. Aren’t you all lucky. I’m sure I’ll get the wistful year-end mushiness off my chest later. For now, though, I have some very simple, top-level tips for destinations as they embark on the next part of the online marketing journey in the new year. Some may be as obvious as others are not – but I sincerely hope they are all helpful:
1. Stop paying for advertising or wasting time on PR that makes absolutely no sense. The online space is actually one huge medium, and there are places to play that are extremely cheap and easily accessed – but you shouldn’t be there. No offense to Paris Hilton, but does Paris really want their ads to come up along side her – let’s say – somewhat revealing video links? The same is true for PR. If I am making it really easy for you to get your story up there, but I have no audience and no bonafides, how am I making money? How desperate for audience will I get? You need to be really thoughtful about where your content shows up. You have a brand that deserves TLC, even if that does cost time and money.
2. Have a plan for social and online crisis management. I’m not saying panic, but if 2011 has taught us one thing, it’s that calamities can roil destinations that aren’t used to or expecting them. They can be big (think hurricanes or earthquakes) or small (how about a surprise wind storm that knocks that power out in a resort community for a few days). Regardless, you need to be ready to use the tools now at your disposal for everything from regular information updates to marshalling aid for the people in need to recovery marketing. Press conferences are great, but passe. Now you need to look at the cache of instant communication tools available to you and see how they can and will help you in that time of need that will never come for most of you. It’s a worthwhile exercise, though, because you will be ready if something should happen. Look at it as Online Communication Insurance.
3. Don’t retweet every single mention of your destination on Twitter. With apologies to Charlie Sheen, that isn’t “winning.” “Winning” on Twitter is finding tweets and creating your own that dovetail with your top-level messaging and your promotional/tactical messages of the moment. Be selective and create your Sense of Place on the medium. If you simply let everybody following you know about the 60 people that let their respective worlds know they are staying at/landing in/checking in/shopping at/visiting somewhere in your destination, and that’s it – that’s just clutter and not worth your time.
4. Do come up with a mobile marketing plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or expensive, but you need something that helps people either in destination or on their way. That – right now – is what mobile is all about. And don’t rush. You’ll figure it out, but not if you don’t give yourself the opportunity to do it.
5. Have a look at where you’re at online right now. You should begin every year like this, and probably do it more frequently than that. There are tools to help you (like Travel 2.0′s fantastic mark platform), but go beyond that. Who is talking about you? What are they saying? How many videos of your destination are on You Tube? Photos on Flickr? Reviews on TripAdvisor? What are the common themes threaded through this content? Is it what you expected it would be? The social networking and user generated content power online provides you with more than a communcations vehicle for you – it is also the world’s largest, free focus group. Make use of it.
6. Austerity is everywhere, and that makes online your best friend. Funding tourism already sports great ROI. Show the people who fund your organization just how much more cost-effective utilizing all of these online tools makes that funding. Take it beyond your year-end spreadsheets and put it in your strategy documents, arm your lobbyists with this. You’ll have the people who run the rest of the government in your destinations green with envy.
7. Speaking of green, grab a green initiative. Enough talk, do something. Visitors will like you much better if you are serious about the environmental side of tourism. It doesn’t require something radical to be sustainable, either. This will be different in every destination, but in terms of marketing and actual impact on the planet at the same time – a little bit can go a long way. Oh, and did I mention that everything you do online is something you don’t have to print – and that one fact is a good first green step?
8. Create a strong network of support within the industry in your destination. You do this offline. Online it is even more important. Share content to aid in everybody’s marketing. Spread co-op to the non-paid stuff. Educate your stakeholders and provide them with resources. It won’t happen over night, but this is going to be supremely important as things get more and more social. Everybody’s good video, and everybody’s great photo or review or text or award can help all of the rest of you. Moving in that direction now will pay dividends later on.