Destination marketing

05 Sep 2005|Added Value

“Destination Brands” have become a new area of focus for branding, a trend reflected by the inclusion of “Favourite Travel Destinations in South Africa” in the Markinor ‘Top Brands Survey’.  Today, the question is not whether destinations can be branded, but rather how to build desirable destination brands in increasingly competitive markets.

As with any brand, customers (or in this case – travellers) are looking for a certain experience and will choose the destination that they believe is most likely to give them this desired experience. They already have existing beliefs about all the destinations they can choose from, either through direct experience or through indirect information sources – so even if the destination has not actively branded itself, it has been “branded” by consumers who aggregate all their feelings, ideas, impressions and knowledge (however limited) into a belief about that destination.

As more destinations actively brand and market themselves, so it becomes harder for individual, smaller destinations to achieve stand out. It’s no longer enough to have the right “products”: to succeed, a destination brand needs make clear strategic choices about how to talk about their offer, based on a clear understanding of their customers and their market.

How does the South African domestic tourism market measure up? In South Africa, some 70% of tourism is domestic travel, and only about 20% of this is leisure-based: the rest is for visiting friends and relatives (VFR). Thus the key opportunity for any domestic destination is to convert VFRs to leisure travellers by persuading people to include leisure in their travels – a significantly more profitable route, since people spend almost three times more on leisure travel as they do on VFR! Other opportunities lie in increasing weekend breaks, travel outside peak periods and travel beyond customers’ home provinces.

Historically, South African destinations have competed with each other: by imitating the more successful destinations; by attacking competitors head-on; or by repositioning other destinations through claims such as “we are the only malaria-free…”.

This has undermined South Africa’s ability to successfully sell itself internationally, and has limited domestic destinations from becoming brands in their own right. The answer lies in developing a portfolio of complementary offers, each built on a unique differentiator, and each of which has a role within the total South African offer.

Successful domestic destination brands are built on a number of key pillars:

The development of a public/private sector partnership as early in the process as possible. 

  1. A clear understanding of how your destination is perceived: what do people think of it and what are the key factors are that influence these perceptions, based on existing data or research, as well as current customer insight.
  2. Understanding your visitors’ desires: What experience are they looking for? Where they are in the travel evolution cycle? What role does travel plays in their lives? Mining both local and global trends (in travel and generally) will help to understand how these desires might change and where the potential growth areas exist.
  3. Knowing how you measure up to your competitors: identify your destination’s relative competitive strengths.
  4. Making choices!   Who do you want to target, keeping the quality of the demand and the growth potential in mind?  What is the key customer insight about your target market that you can build your brand on?  What is the single minded association that you would like travellers to have about your destination in 5-10 years time? Make a compelling brand promise based on your existing strengths and points of difference.Focus your resources, given your chosen target market and your brand promise.
  5. Having a plan for how you will get from the current reality to your future vision: this should include a brand roll-out plan, a stakeholder strategy, media management, obstacles that need to be removed, an appropriate distribution strategy, promotional plans, communication plans and innovative media choices.
  6. Ensuring that the brand vision is translated into behaviours: Added Value’s success in destination branding has been due not only to our ability to develop the right insight and define motivating destination brands, but through helping our clients to empower their teams and partners to consistently deliver the desired brand experience. 
  7. Measuring and monitoring changes in both the market and your brand, and evolve your strategy accordingly. 

With the increase in national pride, overseas destinations are no longer the only aspirational places to visit. People have come to realise the incredible magnitude of all that South Africa has to offer and they are starting to take advantage of it. The challenge of developing a strong portfolio of domestic destination brands is a huge opportunity that should be relished, for ultimately, it isn’t about getting people to see more scenic views or play on more beaches – it’s about improving the quality of life of all South Africans and benefiting everyone who lives in each region, through the increased revenue generated by each destination.

By Christine Williams, Director

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