Tourism in the United States is on track for another banner year, with over 15 million arrivals in the first quarter alone. This record tourism has created intense competition among American destinations, each vying for a piece of the growing pie.
The Resonance Report takes a comprehensive look in its latest report, which "is designed to help destinations understand, evaluate and manage the supply side of their offer – the products, programming and experiences that resonate with travelers today." The report takes a look at city-specific efforts and then ranks them in a cohort of the most effective destination marketers today.
The report looked at a series of qualitative and quantitative factors, including Yelp reviews, TripAdvisor reviews, crime statistics and other online research. The ranking was determined by combining each destination's business and leisure score, weighing leisure at 78.5% of the final result and business at 21.5% based on average of total trips taken in 2012.
Successful tourism is a group effort, and this report highlights just how important a cohesive strategy is for a city. By considering the traveler's perspective, these rankings importantly show how the visitors is experiencing a city.
Here's more on how destination marketing is doing in the US, with the majority of the destinations leaning heavily on digital to expand impact and reach. Each of the 50 cities features as its own go-to market strategy, from digital tool kits for travel sellers to galvanizing social hashtags, and it's worth a look to see how some are succeeding in the digital age.
Winner: Los Angeles, CA
LA comes out on top in this particular report, which is not surprising as so many conferences - HITEC, GBTA, PhocusWright - have chosen this city for their annual confabs. The report identifies China as the key driver to success:
Five years ago, the country’s second-largest city had 158,000 visitors from China. In 2013, that number skyrocketed to 570,000 (which was a 21.3% increase over 2012) – and the city is estimating as many as two million by 2020. China has gone from not even being on the tourism radar to being the single biggest feeder country for Los Angeles tourism.
On the tech side, the destination created a "China-ready" program called NiHao China ("hello China") which includes a Mandarin website, and a training guidebook distributed to more than 40,000 venues. Each venue can then be certified by the Convention and Tourism Board and the Chinese Tourism Board. This initiative will be boosted by digital spend to increase the number of Chinese visitors to 2 million by 2020.
Beyond China, the city has enjoyed a 5% year-over-year increase in spend due to other factors, such as the increase in new hotel developments and $229 million of improvements at LAX to woo more travelers to the city.
Runner up: New York, NY
The coasts are clearly leading the pack when it comes to bringing in tourists - perhaps this is inevitable, given the scale of these cities and their respective marketing budgets. Both LA and NYC are also ideally positioned as gateways to America, where foreign visitors can spend a few days on either end of a trip to explore.
New York's ongoing success is attributed to a focus on neighborhoods, and bringing travelers away from traditional tourist centers to the outer reaches. This follows along with the "local first" trend in travel, where visitors want to explore far reaches and actual neighborhoods rather than made-for-tourists attractions.
This neighborhood focus is supported by a comprehensive digital tool kit that includes resources for travel professionals to sell New York neighborhoods. These resources give agency to sales professionals, as they can learn and train themselves with a minimal ongoing effort by NYC & Company. The digital toolkit includes videos about each neighborhood, guides and downloadable photos to enhance the sales position of travel sellers.
The report also points out the growth of tourism under Bloomberg, with a vast increase in hotel inventory combined with more arrivals at JFK:
Arrivals at JFK International Airport increased by 43% between 2003 and 2012. Between 2008 and 2013, the city increased its number of hotel rooms by 23.7%, with 73 new hotels scheduled to open in the five boroughs by 2016; more than 150 additional properties are in various stages of planning.
The city has laid out all of its digital initiatives, and how each works in concert with the other prongs of its marketing strategy, in a whitepaper here.
Other notables: Dallas, New Orleans, Detroit and Milwaukee
Of course, the larger cities generally have larger budgets - and some, especially in Florida, have outsized budgets compared with the city size. Nonetheless, smaller cities must be competitive in this environment. Some of those cities doing well are Dallas, New Orleans, Detroit and Milwaukee.
Dallas has leveraged a steady and consistent hand to increase tourism over time, which landed them in the third position in this report. The arrival of Emirates' Airbus A380, which will be flying direct to Dubai, offers an enormous opportunity for the city to bring direct visits.
The tourism authority began promoting a new social campaign last year to continue growing past the 2015 plan, called "Big Things Happen Here." The campaign continues as the heart of the brand, and includes a digital activation called BIG Influence that brings together digital influencers from Dallas in one place for users - and journalists - to explore.
#DallasBIG became a trending topic on social, galvanizing the entire city - from Dallas Mavericks to Conan to Southwest Airlines - around the destination marketing campaign.
New Orleans has been on a tear in the past 5 years, growing the average arrivals to near-record levels post-Katrina. The city has played host to the NBA All-Star game, the Super Bowl, and Wrestlemania in the past two years, and is focusing more on events - the city actually has more festivals than days in the year.
Similar to New York, the city's "Follow Your NOLA" campaign looks to bring locals out from the main tourist areas into neighborhoods. This campaign has an interactive website that allows travelers the ability to save destinations while planning a visit, and also to see some local celebrities' favorite places.
Detroit has been making headlines as the largest US city to ever declare bankruptcy. That isn't stopping the city from bringing more people to the city with a cohesive marketing campaign. The city is focusing on drawing more leisure travelers, as business travel has been fairly healthy given the Motor City's industry. New boutique hotels are under development to attract independent travelers. From the report:
Between a $299 million expansion of the Cobo Center and changes at the airport – including runway improvement and the first new airlines in nine years – business travel is up throughout the city. In 2013, occupancy in metro Detroit reached 63%, its highest since 2001 and a 6% increase over 2012.
The ongoing tech renaissance in the city - fueled by cheaper land and lower cost of living - is reflected by the airport's recent win on the fastest WiFi in the country.
Milwaukee is also doing an admirable job at competing for tourist dollars, especially given its proximity to Chicago (number 4 in the report).
The city has a beautiful new art museum, and has been attracting more conferences than usual. Beer is also on the mind, as "the heritage and culture of beer is, understandably, one of the city’s big draws, with no fewer than seven different brewery tours from the biggies like Pabst, Schlitz and Miller-Coors to quirky microbreweries with comic guides and poetic brew names, from a Munich-style beer garden to a pub crawl on a 16-person bike."
For any destination marketer or city official, this report is an informative and compelling breakdown of what's working well for cities across America. Download it here.
NB: Downtown Los Angeles image courtesy Shutterstock.