Within the tourism sphere, it can often feel like trends are waves, out of our control. But the right tools can help measure and predict the tides.
Destination marketing organizations are uniquely placed to be the source of truth and knowledge about their areas, collaborating with other organizations and their own residents. They can both educate about trends and influence the shifts, especially as we welcome in post-pandemic tourism.
But what are the key elements for DMOs to build back better?
The missing piece of the puzzle?
DMOs bring information together from different sources and collate a holistic picture of their market. Often that comes with access to government data, tax income and external booking data, as well as traditional surveys. The key to any DMO’s success is understanding volume, both historical and into the future.
Still, one of the biggest blind spots in many DMOs’ data is short-term rental, the little brother of traditional lodging that has overtaken hotels particularly in the pandemic, where short-term rentals have actually performed better.
Vacation rentals are an integral part of the tourist landscape in 2021, reaching record occupancy levels across the U.S., though they act differently to hotels. Supply ebbs and flows more frequently, and there is a different demographic due to the different range of amenities and property sizes available.
It’s easy to forget that it is often residents who are renting out the properties, so the money from short-term rentals stays in the local economy, rather than away to a multinational company’s HQ. Understanding markets’ distinguishing features can empower DMOs to target their true customer base, and advocate for appropriate regulation that benefits both visitors and residents.
Out-of-season demand havoc in the Hamptons
As we navigate the pandemic, data is essential to tracking recovery, predicting income and marketing strategy. The famous summer-house hotspots of the Hamptons were witness to this in March of 2020, when the mass exodus from New York caused an unprecedented surge in out-of-season bookings.
In East Hampton, demand was 442% higher than in March 2019. As many properties in seasonal markets close up out of season, it was down to those in the know to get as many open as possible to absorb the massive demand.
With these unprecedented changes in traveler behaviors, a DMO can no longer rely on seasonality and occupancy patterns established in pre-pandemic times. Having future-looking and real-time data gives them an opportunity to better control and prepare for these otherwise unpredictable shifts in the visitor volumes.
Data needs contextualization
In a world of increasing connectivity and globalization, tourist organizations need to collaborate to best organize. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, small cities and rural areas are seeing the highest levels of growth, up 68.1% in May compared to the same month in 2019, and many of them are not prepared for these levels of visitors.
Even on a data and strategy level, the traditional hotspots in their neighboring cities could offer insights, not to mention partnerships to promote each other. If your area is struggling with demand and overtourism, you can promote similar areas as an alternative. If the tables are turned later, they can then return the favor.
Recently two of Spain’s biggest tourist cities, Barcelona and Seville, announced that they are joining forces to campaign for themselves as the two must-see destinations in Spain. Liaisons between tourist destinations can bring in longer trips and more bookings for both areas. If you’re visiting X, why not visit Y?
Get tourism where and when you want it
In the French Alps, we see clear patterns of inverse seasonality within the ski resorts and outside, where visitors can come for hiking and fresh air in the summer months. A collaborative strategy could bring in visitors year-round with minimal effort, and everyone benefits.
Taking pressure off highly visited areas will reduce the anti-tourist feeling and ecological concerns brought in by overtourism, while also redistributing wealth to other areas, by guiding and educating tourists to less-pressured destinations and businesses.
Empowering local businesses by sharing your knowledge
Hotel guests may act differently to short-term rental or campsite guests, preferring different lengths of stay, areas and seasons – and if your local businesses aren’t ready for that, they could be losing out on key revenue.
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The Department for Tourism of Cape May County, New Jersey, reported that the local businesses traditionally closed after the high summer season, but when they began to receive AirDNA data on short-term rentals, they realized they had a strong winter season as well, only, these guests weren’t staying in hotels.
The department for tourism convinced many restaurants, shops and activity providers to stay open longer for the winter visitors.
These resources allow you to prepare a vast level of educational content for the public, advocating for higher-quality visitors by getting the right marketing materials in the right hands, so they can appreciate your tourist attractions safely, and reduce pressure on highly visited areas.
Who is a high-quality visitor?
Is it simply someone who spends more money? Is it a certain demographic that is less obtrusive, or chooses activities that benefit local businesses more?
Destination marketing organizations need data to understand what is the current demographic and potential opportunities, to be able to define, without discriminating, their ideal visitor and then market towards them.
Could it be someone who respects the environment in the destination? Who learns about the local community and traditions?
Whatever you decide, your destination needs to be ready to receive their ideal visitor with the attractions and accommodation that they want – but focus on education if not every visitor is high-quality right now.
Post-pandemic, destination marketing needs to build back better
We are faced with a unique situation, as the world has been changed forever in the wake of the pandemic, and DMOs should take the opportunity to strategize how they market their destinations, with a focus on a radical rethinking of where and how we invite tourism in.
Overtourism has been slowed down, and even with the negative effects of COVID-19 on tourism, DMOs are now presented with an opportunity to work for a better and more sustainable future for many destinations, provided they have the right tools and collaborators.