Many destination marketers have been operating in a state of waiting. Waiting for the pandemic to subside, for travel to begin in earnest and for social distancing limitations to be relaxed.
Only when these things happen will destination tourism go back to what it was before.
But one element of destination marketing will never go back to what it was before, and that’s data.
Understand what’s going away
Data is subject to major changes in the coming months that will change destination marketing in several ways. First, privacy regulations and changes by Google and Apple are going to limit the use of third party cookies and device IDs.
For destinations in particular, this means that the common link to identify your visitors and track them off your website is no longer going to be available.
Targeting is a very important element of a destination marketer’s strategy, and this, too is affected. Local targeting makes it easy to find the right audiences. In fact, most marketing campaigns rely on these identifiers, and without them, accurate targeting becomes much harder.
Even a platform like Facebook, with its own huge targeting capability has been hinting that they will be negatively impacted by the changes announced by Apple. Measurement is another issue to contend with. Without third party cookies or device IDs, tracking campaign effectiveness becomes harder, too.
On top of these changes, regulations are requiring that marketers collect and use data in compliance with new privacy laws across states and other countries. Within the U.S., every state is preparing legislation to protect consumer data.
Utah, Virginia, California have their own privacy laws and more coming soon. Geo-location data in particular is being considered as sensitive by every privacy law and vendors are not allowed to track unless explicitly consented by the user. With such big changes, many aspects of destination marketing need a new approach.
A new beginning for data
With the pandemic, travel behavior has changed and so have the buying patterns of consumers. Most of the existing data sources are no longer relevant and historic benchmarks no longer apply.
Many destination marketers are thinking about how they will build their data back up after such a long quiet period. This is a perfect time to upgrade your data strategy to prepare for privacy regulations and for cookies and other IDs going away.
First, audit your current data partners. Ask them to show that they are compliant to privacy regulations. Ask them what their plans are to be viable “post-cookie.” Ask what kind of change in scale, pricing and accuracy you can expect with these changes.
Next, tap your local network. Your marketing campaigns not only drive visitors to your destination but also boost economic activities and spending at local businesses.
With changing privacy laws as well as tracking changes, your network will need to change how they collaborate with local businesses to share data, assess your impact on their business and plan marketing campaigns together. Everyone needs to be compliant and find an alternative to third party cookies.
Finally, create new relationships to find first party data and compliant insights that can expand your reach and increase your ability to target and measure campaigns “post cookie.” Panel data won’t be as accurate, and so new campaign measurement techniques may be necessary.
Own the relationship with your traveler
To be successful in the new norm, every DMO needs to start owning the relationship with their travelers regardless of the channel or platform they use.
While Google and Facebook provide targeting and reach, they don’t offer insights that can be used internally nor do they help with data collaboration within your community. To have the most possible control and longevity, it’s important to forge a direct data relationship with visitors.
Think about what data you can collect yourself and how. Determine if new marketing initiatives can help increase engagement and data collection such as travel quizzes, loyalty programs or promotions.
At the same time, start testing different partnerships that offer cookieless solutions with privacy baked in that allow you to understand traveler behavior regardless of the channel.
Data sharing is going to become complex, while the availability of data is going to become more sparse. Collaboration with local businesses to understand traveler behavior will become more critical than before. Along with that, to boost their DMO co-ops, sharing data between members will become crucial, but privacy compliance is key.
Become a leader in that discussion so your destination is prepared once Google and Apple’s changes come into effect.
Specifically, think about a data strategy to create a network or consortium. Such consortium will allow you to connect data at the user or traveler level and go granular with research, targeting and measurement.
Data consortiums allow for precise targeting and attribution, and help with co-marketing and co-ops with local businesses and other DMOs.
We are finding that agencies are eager to help DMOs with the creation of new data collaboration capabilities, and are quickly gaining expertise. Several large city DMOs are already creating the foundation they need to be ready for data collaboration with their partners without third-party cookies or IDs.
This will put them in a position to have more scale across their targeting efforts, more confidence in their data compliance and a better ability to measure results.
In this time of upheaval, the worst thing you can do is stay the same. Start asking questions, testing new ideas and forging new partnerships now, before the big changes affect your chances at capturing the coming surges in travelers to your destination.
GM – Tourism