In collaboration with the Arizona Office of Tourism (AOT), we embarked on a transformative journey to enhance Arizona’s presence in the global inbound tourism market. This paper details our comprehensive strategy, from inception through implementation, highlighting key successes, challenges, and future directions.

Navigating International Tourism: A Comprehensive Strategy for Destination Marketing Excellence

Introduction

In an era defined by digital connectivity and evolving consumer preferences, the tourism industry faces unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Recognizing the need for a paradigm shift in international marketing, the Arizona Office of Tourism (AOT) partnered with Herrmann Global to evolve Arizona’s international tourism strategy. 

Current strategies have relied heavily on travel trade networks and traditional media placements. However, the digital revolution, epitomized by the emergence of web 2.0, has reshaped the way travelers plan and book their journeys. As we stand in 2024, the proliferation of online travel agencies (OTAs), vacation rentals, direct booking platforms, and an abundance of digital resources has empowered travelers with unrivaled access to information and choices.

For states like Arizona, celebrated for its natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon and vibrant cities like Scottsdale, adapting to this evolving landscape is paramount. While iconic destinations guarantee a steady stream of visitors, there’s a pressing need to extend visitation beyond these well-trodden paths and tap into the potential of smaller communities and lesser-known destinations.

Arizona Office of Tourism presentation slide, "Is this trip part of a prepaid tour package?"

Our partnership with the AOT was forged with the ambition of reshaping Arizona’s standing in the global inbound tourism market. Historically categorized as a tier 2 travel destination, Arizona rarely attracted first-time visitors to the United States who traveled outside of the Grand Canyon area. After evaluating internal research and research provided by the National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO), we identified that 7-32% of international travelers access Arizona via pre-paid tour packages. This left a large share of international travelers opting for alternative planning, purchasing, and travel methods, presenting a valuable opportunity to capture this segment through direct-to-consumer marketing strategies. 

Arizona’s approach distinguished itself notably during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was among the few states to maintain international marketing efforts, a move that proved pivotal when borders reopened, allowing Arizona to seize market share. The AOT’s recognition of the importance of direct-to-consumer marketing, particularly in international programs, set it apart from its peers. By integrating paid media across multiple channels and prioritizing content creation, the AOT saw increased awareness and visitation, even during challenging times.

Before 2019, Arizona’s marketing approach primarily focused on trade and media channels, relying on fragmented campaigns facilitated by third party providers. These initiatives were crafted to accommodate numerous destinations and partners, yet they overlooked the unique geographical and seasonal dynamics of Arizona and lacked the cohesion to effectively engage the target audience. Recognizing these shortcomings, the AOT wished to take ownership of their target markets through comprehensive marketing strategies. Despite the disruptions in 2020, the AOT viewed this as an opportunity to gain market share and sustain marketing endeavors. This strategic pivot led to successes in their key markets of Germany, the UK, Canada, and Australia.

Once borders opened, the AOT expanded their campaigns to include Mexico and France. With ongoing campaigns in all key markets, Arizona saw spikes in visitation in 2021-2022, propelling Arizona from #17 to #10 for overseas visitation. Unlike most states, Arizona recognized the importance of consumer marketing in addition to trade and media efforts. This holistic approach fostered innovation and agility in their strategies during and post-COVID.

As we dove into Arizona’s new strategy for global marketing, we uncovered the intricacies of their approach, challenges faced, and the remarkable successes achieved. Through this analysis, we aim to inspire other destinations to reassess and evaluate their own international strategies, emphasizing the importance of cohesive, data-driven approaches in the competitive landscape of international tourism marketing.

 

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