Marketing Your Destination to Make a Connection

November 21, 2011

By Heather McNeill

With so many potential visitors to a destination, and so many ways to reach them, finding the right market to target requires more preparation and research than ever. As the saying goes, “It’s not just what you know, but who you know.” In marketing a destination, though, it’s not just about who you know, but knowing who you want.

Convention and visitors bureaus must effectively tailor their advertising to appropriate markets. Then, they have to bring that advertising to those groups. Finally, the destination has to decide which marketing channels—print, direct mail and social media, for example—will best reach the groups they want.

“One of the single most important things that [destination management organizations] can do is take a step back and ask, ‘What are the primary target markets for that destination?’” said Chuck Martin, executive director of the Cape Girardeau CVB. “For us, it always has to come down to identifying our core strengths.”

Established tourist destinations as well as hidden gems must find their strengths and highlight them. When a destination can effectively communicate these strengths to the right groups, the outcome will not only be attracting more people, but ensuring multiple repeat visitors.


“As with any business, it’s important for CVBs to determine their niches and customize their marketing plans accordingly,” said Deborah Cohen, director of meeting and convention sales for the Branson CVB. “Every destination has a unique appeal that sets it apart. Branson is unique because of the number of diverse activities we can offer.”

Beyond matching the location with a group’s interests, a destination also must be able to accommodate a group in terms of meeting space, hotel rooms and other facilities.

“The size of your convention center, other meeting space, lodging and attractions often can dictate which types of groups are the best fit for your destination,” Cohen said. “As a CVB, you always want to find many different types of groups that utilize as many of the businesses in your region as possible. We find a great variety of groups fit well in Branson.”

With more than 8 million visitors a year including religious groups, sports groups, families, incentive groups, associations and corporate groups, Branson was also a good fit for a new $160 million airport, which opened in 2009. The airport, which has provided a costeffective and easy way for groups to travel into town from out of state, is much different from others because it is privately developed and operated. It’s the only one of its kind in the country, said airport executive director Jeff Bourk. AirTran Airways and Frontier Airlines currently offer direct flights to Branson from several major cities.

“We are a volume-driven business, with the goal to make a profit, which is also very different. We do what it takes to get air service in, and make sure that air service is promoted and marketed,” Bourk said. “We are very proactive as far as going out and advertising the service.”

Cape Girardeau’s CVB has identified three target markets – the amateur sports market, heritage travel and tourism, and families, said Martin. Families were a relatively new target market for the destination but were a natural fit because of attractions such as the Cape Splash Park Family Aquatic Center, the Conservation Campus Nature Center, and the Discovery Playhouse children’s museum.

The Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau also has emphasized its strengths. “Columbia highlights the convenience that we offer due to our central location. We also highlight our size – small enough for people to easily navigate our city, but we offer a variety of services and experiences you would expect from a larger destination,” said Amy Schneider, acting director of the Columbia CVB.

Of course, all destinations want visitors to stay as long as possible, but even reaching visitors one time with the potential for inspiring a repeat visit is an important goal for a CVB, Schneider said. “Our top tier of potential clients would be those staying for multiple nights. However, we understand the value of those groups who are coming in for one day only, as we hope to entice them to return and spend the night at another time.”


Partnering with other organizations is crucial to reaching groups, according to Martin. “If any market is smart, they are going to establish really good relationships with hotel and hospitality partners.” He said the Cape Girardeau CVB acquires ZIP code data from its hotel partners to discern where its overnight guests are coming from. With that information, the CVB is better able to target its visitors by creating campaigns on a specific theme every few months to correspond with the bi-monthly print date of many industry publications.

“People would be directed to a unique URL — for instance, on the history and different places they can see — that has links to other sites as well. We really do try to gear an ad campaign to a particular segment and make that our major advertising focus for that time,” Martin said.

The Columbia CVB also focuses on advertising in trade publications as well as other forms of advertising. “We don’t do a lot of direct mailing as we don’t see a good [return on investment]. We focus on print advertising in industry specific publications and we use Web advertising and social media to focus on Columbia’s leisure options, i.e. restaurants, wineries, music and festival venues,” Schneider said.

Diversification is central to all CVBs’ campaigns. “We have utilized print, Web and electronic advertising through industry publications and Web sites. We maintain pages on LinkedIn and Facebook,” Cohen said of the Branson CVB’s marketing strategies. “We also have done a few direct mail campaigns and e-blasts – including pre- and posttrade show campaigns. “

The Branson Airport also has taken advantage of the marketing potential of the Internet and social media. For example, with “geo-targeting,” the method of using the Internet user’s location to tailor information to that user, the airport can drive potential customers to its Web site, with information about the destination and links to the airlines’ Web sites. These groups, ultimately, can bring all-important revenue to the city, Bourk said. “It’s good for the airline, good for the airline partners, good for the community, and it has a large economic impact on the area when visitors come to Branson and spend money.”

The airport also has a travel company to help groups make hotel and other arrangements for their visits. In its partnership with the CVB, the airport also has focused efforts on bringing national and regional conventions to the Hilton Branson Convention Center, Bourk said.


Using diverse strategies to reach groups has been particularly important in these economic times, as CVBs have had smaller budgets to work with potentially more customers through the Internet and other channels. “We really have had to take a step back especially with this economy, looking at the pie and re-slicing the pie in a different way,” Martin said.

Part of the Columbia CVB’s approach to reach new and repeat visitors, who may have smaller budgets themselves, has been to offer more services to these groups. “One of the best forms of marketing we utilize is our service package offered to planners. We have an extensive variety of services that can be tailored to meet each planner’s needs,” Schneider said.

In addition to social media and smartphone-friendly Web sites, Martin said the Cape Girardeau CVB also uses follow-up surveys of a random sample of individuals who have requested information about the destination. “We look at how we reach [these individuals] more effectively in the future with information about Cape Girardeau, and how do we disseminate this information more effectively,” he said.

Obtaining this kind of information is part of the wider aim of CVBs to draw upon their strengths to target specific markets. It also fits in with the aim of communicating more effectively to attract potential visitors. These aspects of marketing a destination may be challenging, but all the CVBs seem to be enthusiastic in meeting this challenge. Their enthusiasm may stem from the fact that these destinations, and many others in the state, have so much to offer. MM&E

(Heather McNeill is a contributor from
Kansas City, Mo.)

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