In many ways, the answer is yes. Countries like Kenya, Egypt and South Africa often rely on their iconic culture and popular experiences to market themselves to leisure and business travelers. Each has welcomed record international arrivals, so their tourism development strategies are succeeding as intended.
However, there’s a shift in how destination marketing companies are engaging travellers, due to an increase in competition and changing consumer expectations. It’s a switch from selling cities as “places” to selling them as “platforms for inspiration”.
Looking ahead, new destination marketing strategies will build community between locals and visitors around different passion points. The idea is that both travellers and residents can learn from each other to help them achieve their aspirations by sharing their collective knowledge. The city is positioned as a living social platform to connect like-minded visitors and locals. For that to work well, the “city as a social platform” strategy requires some kind of identity based in the cultural DNA of the destination. This may include pop-art, cuisine and festivals that showcase the authentic culture of the city.
So how does identifying that cultural DNA translate into a destination marketing strategy that can increase engagement with travellers? In other words, why should international leisure travelers or conference delegates care what a particular country represents to convert into new bookings?
Whether a traveller is a conference delegate or a leisure visitor, a country’s energy will awaken something deep inside them. That’s what many travelers are looking for now beyond the physical attributes of what we can experience within a destination.
Rethinking What ‘Local Culture’ Means
The demand from travellers for more local and authentic travel experiences is now mainstream. DMCs have been answering that demand by differentiating their urban neighborhoods and promoting the unique types of experiences that travellers can explore.
Today, though, the definition of localism in destination marketing is extending beyond the neighborhood food truck, the local band, and the corner bar in a post-industrial district selling craft beer. That’s because lots of cities have their own homegrown food trucks, bands, beer, and hipster ‘hoods.
In this context, a destination’s cultural DNA can’t be as easily replicated by others. Again, the first part of the process, is defining some type of identity based in local community values, purpose, history, and other influences. That is the future of destination marketing. It’s simply a pivot toward connecting people — travellers and locals — around what’s important to them.