THE CHALLENGE REMAINS:
HOW TO ACHIEVE AND MEASURE
INTERNATIONAL MARKET ACCESS SUCCESS,
YEAR-OVER-YEAR, IN A SUSTAINABLE WAY?
5 QUESTIONS AS A PROCESS TO ATTRACT INTERNATIONAL INBOUND TOURISM
Since this article is conceived as A GUIDE TO TOOLS AND EXAMPLES TO ENHANCE INTERNATIONAL MARKET ACCESS, the order of the questions suggest the order in which steps should be taken to attract the desired type of international inbound tourism.
However, the discussion for each question could be also read independently, as a stand alone post in itself, which in any case will provide you valuable knowledge to reach your destination’s objectives.
In the following sections we answer each question and we provide you with examples and tools to tackle all of the questions by yourself.
However, if you want to learn about an
integrated solution to implement the whole process,
check the Hermann Global Insights approach.
Let’s dive into the details!
When people, the media, or politicians talk about a destination trying to attract inbound international tourism, they usually think about the importance of building some sort of infrastructure as an attractor, or about the need for a budget to start with marketing campaigns right away.
This phenomenon in tourism is known as the “Cargo cult”. It explains how destinations tend to imitate the most superficial aspects of other examples, that they deem as “successful”, ignoring the underlying process that actually led to such results.
And while attractions and marketing are part of the process, attracting the desired type of international inbound tourism starts with, and requires, other capabilities.
This is especially true for the case of attracting international visitors, for which it is necessary to involve different actors from the local to the global level. Whereas for potential visitors, who may not be familiar with the destination context, simply seeing an advertisement will not be enough to make them decide to visit a destination abroad.
BARRIERS & PROMISES
Scientific research about “Determinants for tourist destinations’ international markets access”, drawing upon 48 years of data and performed in source market and destination, shows that the 5 top biggest barriers have more to do with internal capacities of the destination, than with the availability of great attractions or marketing budget.
The top 5 biggest barriers for international tourism market access are the lack of capacity to:
Perform collective initiatives;
Define target markets;
Implement and sustain efficient processes;
Innovate for and adapt to the target market;
Have qualified personnel for internationalization.
In order to overcome these barriers, we must first keep in mind that a destination is not only a territory with attractions on it.
On the contrary, destinations are mostly characterized by the presence of different stakeholders that interact in that territory, typically: host communities, service providers, and governments. These stakeholders are the ones who imprint the tone or the quality of the experience on the visitors.
But overall, it is key to remember that such stakeholders aim at developing their destination not only for the sake of receiving tourists. The underlying expectation is the promise of tourism development to SERVE AS A MEANS to improve the host community’s living standards at the destination in a sustainable way.
The value of these expectations is globally recognized and formalized through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, to which tourism has the potential to contribute greatly.
At the other end of the destination-visitors relationship, we have the source markets, which have shown an unstoppable desire to travel abroad.
According to the World Tourism Organization’s Global Tourism Dashboard, international arrivals continuously increased over 19 years, from 673 million in 2000 to 1.4 billion in 2019.
And even in the middle of the pandemic, 2020 reported 440 million international arrivals, with a promising recovery perspective in the near future, thanks to the roll out of different vaccines.
So, considering how the world is connected today, with all sorts of transportation and online communication means, it seems like there has always been and will still be, enough room for any destination to attract the desired type of international inbound tourism.
Despite the great opportunities for each destination, there are large discrepancies between some “dying of success” due to over-tourism, while, in most cases, other destinations have no idea how and what type of international tourism starts or stops arriving.
But, in any case, this lack of knowledge has negative repercussions in the host communities, since the positive economic impacts that tourism could bring, if any, are diminished in the mid-term by the negative social and environmental implications.
Thus, the main challenge remains: HOW TO ACHIEVE AND MEASURE INTERNATIONAL MARKET ACCESS SUCCESS, YEAR-OVER-YEAR, IN A SUSTAINABLE WAY?
Nowadays, we are not only facing the challenge of attracting the desired number of visitors. The current challenge is, overall, attracting the type of responsible tourism that resonates with the destinations’ needs to improve the host community’s living conditions in a sustainable way.
Therefore, we discuss the 5 QUESTIONS DESTINATIONS SHOULD ANSWER TO ATTRACT INTERNATIONAL INBOUND TOURISM.
Question 1. WHAT IS THE BEST INTERNATIONAL INBOUND MARKET FOR YOUR DESTINATION IN TERMS OF RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL? ↓
THE ONE THAT SUITS YOUR LOCAL
As previously mentioned, destinations do not aim at attracting tourism just for the sake of receiving visitors. The underlying motivation is the promise of tourism to act as a means to improve the standard of living of host communities and its potential contribution to sustainable development.
Fortunately, given the high number of international travelers, there is plenty of room for everyone to get their share of the pie.
So, currently it is not a matter of “if” there will be enough market for a given destination. The current matter is “what market” a destination wants to attract.
In principle, a destination should target markets that value responsible travel and visitors who are respectful of local values, people and resources.
Therefore, instead of just saying “we want to receive visitors from the USA, Germany or the UK”, destinations should start by determining the profile of visitors they want to receive.
HOW TO PROFILE YOUR DESIRED TYPE OF VISITORS
For example, destinations could decide that the desired visitors should be:
Able to spend between 7 to 12 days available for their visit (based on the average days that the experiences offered at the destination can take);
An experienced traveler who values authenticity and diversity;
Looking for non-massive experiences in non-traditional destinations;
Interested in personalized and flexible tour packages;
Cognizant of context, sustainability, and social responsibility;
In an age range between 30 to 60 years old;
A traveler with a university or professional education;
Able to speak English or Spanish.
These characteristics are only examples, and they can change depending on the case.
The central notion here is that the described profile resonates with the type of tourism that the destination wants to develop locally and promote internationally.
Doing so is fundamental to perform efficient strategic marketing efforts, allowing the offer to reach the desired audience with the right message.
HOW TO LEARN WHAT YOUR DESIRED VISITORS THINK OF YOU
Once a destination knows the desired type of visitor to attract, the next step is to find out where they are, what communication channels they use, what type of things they talk about, and most importantly, how they feel about your destination.
One approach to discover all of that is by performing traditional market research. The problem, however, is that this method usually takes several months to present the data, and the results must be continuously updated, which costs a lot of money, not to mention the additional costs if you want to research in different countries of origin.
A better alternative is to use modern online social listening tools, which only need to be set up once, and they provide 24-hour, almost real-time data about your target markets’ level of awareness of your destination, their sentiment towards you, key topics, preferred information outlets, and much, much more.
Example of Sentiment report through a Social Listening Dashboard by Hermann Global Insights.
You can easily share these results online with anyone inside or outside your organization to respond and react in real time, or use them as fresh market intelligence for planning and coordinated product development or strategic marketing actions.
If you want to learn more, you can check “What is social listening & why is it important?”, published by our recommended tool TalkWalker. However, there are several other options that you can easily find by performing a simple Google search with the words “social listening tools”.
On the other hand, if you want Social Listening capabilities
already integrated into a complete solution to attract
the desired type of international inbound tourism, learn
how Hermann Global Insights does it with you.
BECAUSE THEY ARE AWARE THAT YOU
PROVIDE A VALUABLE EXPERIENCE FOR THEM.
Even if you have identified where your desired international visitors are, and even when they might be willing to experience what your destination offers, we currently live in a digital world where we have “too much” information and travel influence has become cluttered and often complex.
So, the challenge here is how to let your desired visitors know you are the perfect match for them. As the saying goes, “it is not only necessary to be good, it is also necessary to look good.”
In relation to “being good”, destinations need to work internally, integrating the required stakeholders to adjust their offer—to the greatest possible extent—to what the desired target visitor expects.
This process implies an effort of balance between what the destination envisions as the type of desired tourism to develop, and what the desired visitors expect in terms of activities at the destination.
On the other, in relation to “looking good”, here is when quality content and strategic marketing have to do their magic.
In that regard, it all comes down to communication using the right tone and message, via the right channels, to let your target markets know that you offer something relevant for them, while you also care about responsible tourism and its contribution to sustainable development.
If you want to learn more about how tourism and your destination can contribute to global sustainable development, while adding value to your offer and for your international target markets, check “Tourism for SDGs” (Sustainable Development Goals).
HOW TO REACH YOUR TARGET MARKETS WITH YOUR MESSAGE?
A destination does not necessarily have to go through any kind of certification process to stand out, although it is a plus, nor does it have to carry out complex and expensive marketing strategies.
It is simply a matter of being authentic through concrete and quality pieces of content, aiming at providing value and satisfying the need for information of your target international inbound visitors.
We refer to the creation of content pieces with different levels of depth, such as: social media posts, article-like blog posts about your key attractions or experiences, or multi-day itineraries with detailed and practical suggestions on how to visit your destination.
However, creating and amplifying quality content is a task that many destinations overlook. As a result, too often destinations run superficial marketing campaigns, probably with great graphic design, but without a specific target audience in mind, nor any deeper valuable content behind it.
HOW TO CREATE AND DISTRIBUTE RELEVANT CONTENT
To start creating, collecting, amplifying, and reusing your online content, we suggest the quality, free website tool Wix.com. This tool will let you build your own professional looking destination blog in a matter of minutes, with integrated social networking functionalities and other content distribution tools, without the need for any coding.
Another option is also to reach out to professional content creators or bloggers, with established travel related platforms. A great example of this is Untraveled.com, a platform devoted to helping lesser-known destinations reach their international tourism audiences, while highlighting the importance of sustainable development through responsible tourism in uncrowded destinations.
Finally, if you are looking for the complete solution,
check how Hermann Global Insights integrates your
local development goals with online strategic content creation
and global marketing strategies, to help your destination
attract the desired type of international inbound tourism.
MEANS TO BOOK SERVICES AND ACTIVITIES
IN YOUR DESTINATION HAVE TO BE IN PLACE.
Knowing your audience (discussed in Question 1) and preparing great content (discussed in Question 2) are key previous steps.
However, if in the end no one is able to make a reservation to live the experience you have inspired in your audience, then it is like you have thrown your efforts into the void.
A common mistake by DMOs and tourism government organizations is to think that running marketing campaigns and doing brand positioning is the end of their role.
They take the attitude that “the private sector must do its job to attract customers,” or expect inbound tourists to arrive spontaneously after short-sighted “spray and pray” marketing approaches.
However, the current travel information and reservation landscape is so complex and diversified that leaving everything to chance is not a good idea. Especially if a destination wants to attract a specific type of international visitors and measure results.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “BEING AWARE” AND “BOOKING” A DESTINATION?
First, people become aware of a destination, for example, by reading blog posts, comments on social media, or on websites about attractions and activities, as discussed in the previous Question 2. This is still a more general information level.
While for booking a destination people need more detailed information, such as itineraries, or concrete conditions and prices offered by online reservation systems and physical travel agencies to book either specific services (at least a flight, hotel, car, etc.) and activities, or a complete tour.
Thus, before running online or printed marketing campaigns, or renting a spot in the next international top trade show, it is important to make sure the destination and its partners provide the means for the desired type of visitors to plan and book their trip.
And, to make effective use of global distribution channels and booking platforms, we need to understand how the type of visitors we want plan and book their trips. This is done by identifying what kind of language or “keywords” they type in when they search for services.
HOW TO UNDERSTAND BOOKING BEHAVIOR THROUGH KEYWORDS
There are several solutions online to perform keyword research. They even offer different types of add-ons that might be of interest to you, such as social media integration and more. If you want to learn more, just search for “compare keyword research tools” and you will find many options.
However, Google itself offers a couple of great free solutions. The first is Google trends, which works better when you already have specific keywords in mind and you only want to know how trendy they are in specific source markets.
Google Keyword Planner (part of Google Ads) offers a most useful approach to start from scratch. Only by entering a couple of reference keywords related to your destination, for example “travel to Arizona”, Keyword Planner will provide you with a long list of contextually related keywords that are currently being used in the source market(s) of your choice, including their level of use per month.
HOW TO PROVIDE BOOKING MEANS
Once a destination has a better understanding of how its desired type of visitors look for services, it is time to make sure the destination is actually bookable. There are two steps involved at this stage.
First, based on the previous keyword research, the destination can create / improve its content creation, so it can be found when people look for information.
And second, wherever that content is published, either online or printed, it must include links or QR codes to distribution channels with booking capabilities containing the destination’s offer.
Or, if for some reason booking capabilities are not yet available for the destination offering, the published content should at least link to detailed itineraries that provide the potential visitor with enough certainty to visit the destination on their own.
Fortunately, nowadays there are many booking solutions for all sizes of companies and organizations offering tours and activities. Most likely, several tour operators and hotels in any destination already use some type of online booking solution.
If that is not the case, or if you just need to learn more about booking systems for your destination, perform a Google search using the terms “booking system for tours and activities” and you will find many options.
One great option is Bokun.io. This company is part of Trip Advisor, which is already a great backup. The tool allows tour operators to structure and centralize the information of their products, like itineraries, prices, policies, etc., and distribute it among tens of Online Travel Agencies, including the biggest ones like Expedia, Viator, or Get your Guide from one only platform. Bokun also allows users to embed their offer into any website, and even take offline or phone reservations, among many other powerful features, with an easy-to-use interface and a great support service.
However, if you are looking for a complete solution to
attract the desired type of international inbound tourism,
check how Hermann Global Insights can help you
integrate booking and distribution strategies
that support your local development goals.
LESS THAN WHAT YOU EXPECT, BUT NO BUDGET
WILL SUFFICE WITHOUT THE RIGHT CAPABILITIES.
Fortunately, given the widely available communication technologies and the current global connectivity, it is not necessary anymore to have a large marketing budget to attract international inbound tourism.
However, DMOs and tourism-related government agencies usually complain about limited budgets for tourism marketing at an international level.
On the other hand, there is also the case of well-funded organizations who launch visually beautiful marketing campaigns, disconnected from the local reality, without a concrete offer behind, and with no booking options in place.
In any case, as mentioned in the introduction, research drawing upon 48 years of data, performed in source market and destination, has demonstrated that among 46 identified barriers for international tourism market access, those related to the lack of budget for promotion do not even make it to the top 10 most critical barriers, falling to positions 20 and 25.
Actually, the top three most critical barriers for international tourism market access refer to a lack of capacity to: 1. Perform collective initiatives, 2. Define target markets, and 3. Implement and sustain efficient processes.
Such scientific findings are also supported by experience. Anyone who has worked in the tourism sector has seen first hand that these three factors are fundamental to attract the desired type of international inbound tourism.
Therefore, the answer to the question “What marketing budget should you allocate to be competitive internationally?” is: no marketing budget will suffice when the required capabilities are not available at the destination.
HOW TO ATTRACT INTERNATIONAL INBOUND MARKETS IN A BUDGET-EFFICIENT WAY
Here is when key players at the destination should make the difference. We refer to the so-called “Destination orchestrators,” a role usually performed by different forms in DMOs, government organizations, key enterprises, or even community initiatives.
Good orchestrators use their networks and their capacity to reach agreements in order to facilitate coordinated actions that attract the desired type of inbound international tourism.
When skilled enough, destination orchestrators can bring together the visions of the different stakeholders into a more strategic marketing approach. One that reflects the reality of the local offer and connects with booking means in a compelling form.
To understand how to improve a destination’s capacity for collective actions, you might read about the so-called “Social Capital at the tourism destination level”. This theory explains how resources are mobilized for common purposes and the paper presents a structure to reflect about your destination’s specific case.
Another way to acquire these skills is to enlist the external support of specialized tourism marketing agencies. Look for agencies that place the emphasis on first understanding the reality of the destination, and only then conceiving and carrying out efficient international marketing campaigns.
One example is the Multilingual Digital Marketing campaign performed by Park City, in Utah, USA, with the support of Herrmann Global. In this case study, with a very affordable budget, an increase of 400% international market reach, year over year, was achieved for the winter season.
Finally, if you need an integrated solution to design and
perform affordable international marketing strategies that
support your local development goals, check how
Hermann Global Insights can help you attract
the desired type of international inbound tourism.
MEASURING IMPACT IS THE MISSING PIECE
FOR DESTINATIONS TO DEMONSTRATE VALUE.
The idea is simple: If a destination can track how many visitors from a given target market arrive and how much they spend during the visit, it is easy to calculate its ROI (Return On Investment).
But, as easy as it sounds, given the complexity of the international tourism distribution landscape, making the connection between the efforts to attract international inbound tourism and results, in terms of ROI, has been a challenging endeavor for the global tourism community for decades.
Nevertheless, reporting such results is fundamental for destination managers (or “orchestrators”) to show decision makers, regulators, and host communities how tourism returns more than what was invested and why efforts must be sustained.
Currently, the typical type of results that destinations report, if any, is the number of people that potentially read a piece of promotional content, or the economic valuation of an article published in a determined information outlet thanks to public relationships efforts.
But destinations cannot yet track the variation of international visitors from a specific target market, how much they spent, nor attribute those variations to the corresponding marketing efforts.
Furthermore, to allow strategic adjustments on time, such data is required as soon as possible after visitation happens. Unfortunately, visitation data, if any, is usually delivered after a year or more, mostly as general statistics at the country level, and without reporting on spending.
HOW TO MEASURE TOURISTS ARRIVAL AND SPENDING (ROI) IN A TIMELY MANNER
Achieving this does not only require a good methodology, but also the capacity to coordinate timely provision of data from multiple sources like ports of arrival, service providers, or even attractions.
For that, in terms of methodology, the United Nations and the World Tourism Organization developed a guide for implementing such measuring capabilities, called: “Recommended Methodological Framework for Tourism Satellite Accounts”.
However, in terms of practical implementation, many resources are required to assure the constant flow of information, at least to monitor the number of visitors.
Measuring spending is a much more complex task, as this would require service providers or financial institutions, like credit cards for example, to report on visitors’ spending during their stay. Not to mention that part of the expense could have been incurred prior to arrival to the destination, booking hotels or activities, for example, making it even harder to track spending.
This is why measuring a destination’s ROI, in a timely manner, still remains highly challenging.
To solve this issue, a potential alternative is the implementation of a so-called tourism observatory at the destination level. In that regard, the World Tourism Organization created the “International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO)”.
Although the INSTO initiative provides a framework and technical support to implement a tourism observatory, it is still up to the destination to assure the long-term resources for staff, research, outreach, stakeholder engagement, etc.
On the other hand, there is a more pragmatic, affordable
and integrated solution developed by Hermann Global Insights
to estimate a destination’s ROI in relation to the desired
international inbound tourism, using a combination of
geolocation and spending tracking technologies.
TACKLING THE CHALLENGE:
HOW TO ACHIEVE AND MEASURE
INTERNATIONAL MARKET ACCESS SUCCESS,
YEAR-OVER-YEAR, IN A SUSTAINABLE WAY?
As discussed, destination development is not anymore about increasing the number of visitors. It is mostly about attracting the type of international visitors who resonate with your destination development goals.
For that purpose, you can use the different recommended approaches and tools discussed in the previous questions.
It does not matter if you do not clearly know yet how to connect it all. It all comes to how much time you devote to walking the path. With enough consistency expertise will eventually emerge.
Nevertheless, there is a faster and more efficient way for a destination to obtain the capacities to answer either all, or one of the previously discussed questions:
Hermann Global Insights is a performance-oriented solution for tourism brands and government organizations to take data-driven action for international market access.
The solution aligns online listening, search patterns, social media, tourism impact, and visitor spending through a performance score, along with strategy support to transform the way you attract international travelers.
The special thing about the Hermann Global Insights solution is that the team does not only provide data, but “walks the talk” by supporting destinations to: draw insights, make strategic decision-making, implement product development, perform marketing campaigns, and measure results on attracting international inbound tourism.
And all of this, within the perspective of the destination’s objectives for sustainable development through tourism.