With the COVID-19 pandemic causing a stay-at-home order in many places, travel has seen a sharp downturn in recent months. As a result, it’s difficult for a tourist destination to focus on where to spend their money. My advice? Spend it on building anticipation for future visits. Anticipation makes the heart grow fonder, and nowhere is that more true than in travel; it is proven that anticipation makes tourism experiences more memorable when that anticipation is met. Furthermore, memorable tourism experiences are a better indicator of brand loyalty and revisit intention than visitor satisfaction. Research has found that destination marketing should focus on emotional rewards (thrill, relaxation, fun, inspiration, knowledge, socialization and so on.) as much as the attributes of the destination – if not more so. This means centering your efforts on the tourist, not the destination.
As some of you know, I have been exploring Memorable Tourism Experiences (MTEs) for SEO this past year. But I thought it would be interesting to find out about other marketing paths that have helped travelers build anticipation for an MTE and how that stimulated their reaction. In this quest, I reached out through HARO to solicit responses to the query:
“Describe a memorable tourism experience you have had and what helped build anticipation, especially any marketing that you remember. Please respond if you have a flashbulb memory of a tourism experience and remember how the anticipation was built.”
Below are some of the many thought-provoking responses I received, as well as a brief analysis of how destination marketers can gain insight from those experiences. The net result, I hope, is for a destination marketer to be able to combine various tactics (don’t forget SEO!) to build an anticipation strategy.
Flashbulb Memories of Travelers Impact Destination Marketing
The first respondent was Mia Clarke, editor of InvertPro, a business that sells power inverters that allow you to take power with you on your travels. Her MTE response:
“Easily my most memorable travel experience was the first time I drove north to Glencoe in Scotland. Suddenly, the landscape went from rolling hills of Rannoch Moor to striking, dark mountains rising up in the distance. A low cloud cover actually enhanced the view, instead of diminishing it, and as you drove closer to the mountains the breadth and depth of them was immense. I had seen pictures from Instagram and tourism websites, but nothing prepared me for the incredible beauty and vastness of the Highlands in real life. Walking about and breathing in the fresh air, hearing the elk bugling – there is nothing like it anywhere else. Completely otherworldly. “
Analysis: The first rule of any travel marketing is images! Mia found her images on Instagram and on tourism websites, and she expresses disappointment that these images did nothing to prepare her for the emotional experience. I would suggest that some of those images should not only be of the destination, but of visitors experiencing the beauty, vastness and otherworldliness of the Highlands. The closer you can build the anticipation to match the experience emotionally, the more memorable it will be upon experiencing it.
Next up was Torben Lonne, a diver and chief editor at DIVEIN.com, whose memorable moment occurred when visiting Rome last year. Torben said:
“I was definitely pumped for my arrival in Rome after watching some incredible drone footage over the city. Rome is already an incredible place to visit for its historical monuments, food culture, and the fun-loving Italians that inhabit it. As a history geek, I was amazed at the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia having seen it on drone footage.
The moment I arrived at the Colosseum… was my flashbulb moment since it’s hard to match your anticipation with the real excitement of being at your destination in person. Usually you can feel the anticipation and get hyped up over the marketing suggesting a “top destination”, only to arrive there and be disappointed. That wasn’t the case with Rome, as I was awestruck by simply walking down the streets and experiencing it in person. Any part of the city that you wander through has monuments and fountains of historical value, and it feels like walking through an open-air museum at times!
I would say the drone-footage video marketing was valuable in terms of creating the anticipation for traveling to Rome. I was already interested in going there for a long time, but seeing it presented by aerial footage is what really pushed me to explore Rome, the eternal city, and go through with my travel plans.”
Analysis: The experience that drone video footage provides is a great way to generate excitement and anticipation for travel. Like all video content, drone footage is good for SEO. Having drone video content on a blog page can increase your organic traffic to that page by 157% on average.
Carolin Pilligrath, Travel Writer and Social Media Strategist for Breathing Travel, had this to say:
One of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve had in my life was traveling in a camper van around Iceland last year. I planned this trip and all the stops along the way for months and months before we finally sat on the plane to the capital Reykjavik. I remember the anticipation was built mostly through watching an endless stream of YouTube videos and browsing Instagram profiles on Iceland. I found many hidden and off the beaten track spots through social media which I most certainly would’ve never found if I stuck to a guide book.
Analysis: It’s imperative to have a YouTube channel for your brand. According to research, YouTube processes more than 3 billion searches a month. 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute. It’s bigger than Bing, Yahoo!, Ask and AOL combined, making it the second-largest search engine in the world. As for content, focus on the emotional impact. There are seven dimensions of emotional impact that create memorable tourism experiences. In the above quote, Carolin alludes to the emotional dimension of knowledge by finding “hidden and off the beaten track spots” through videos (and Instagram). This builds anticipation for those experiences by foreshadowing the emotions she will experience when she arrives at her destination.
Shilpa Shashidhar, a travel blogger from India, reached out about an experience she had when she traveled solo to Central Asia. Her story:
“I still remember all the adrenaline rush, eagerness, fear and uncertainty I had when I embarked on a month solo trip to Central Asia, to an unknown land all on my own. I was set to explore Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan over the next 2 months. I entered each of these countries with a fair amount of trepidation. I knew language would be a huge barrier. Was it safe for a solo Indian woman traveler? Were they sexist? Was there really only horse milk and camel milk to satiate my dairy cravings? Would I feel welcome? I was even told that being a vegetarian I’d have a hard time, where the traditional cuisine is dominated by meat.
Before going, I saw some videos on BRIDE KIDNAPPING in Kyrgyzstan. In Kyrgyzstan, a man can take a random woman who is just walking on the street to his house and, if both parents agree, he can marry her, and the woman can’t say anything. I know, it’s not a real kidnapping but it’s a crazy tradition and, even today, some locals told me that this is practiced by 40% of the population, especially in small, rural villages.
I knew one thing before catching my flight to Tashkent – this wasn’t going to be anything like the journeys I’ve been on in the past, and it most definitely wasn’t. I was questioned by many on my decision to go to these parts of the world solo. This country I previously knew so little about, taught me so much. Through all the adventures and misadventures, I embraced the uncertainty that comes with travel, because these places haven’t laid out a red carpet for travelers. But what you forego in comfort, you will get it back in a lifetime of memories.”
Analysis: False information is the scourge of our times. Your marketing efforts need to take into consideration the online reputation of your destination;negative information needs to be either driven down the page in search results or countered with positive stories disputing the false one. There is an eighth unmentioned dimension of emotion that is memorable, but for all the wrong reasons – an unpleasant experience. Try not to build anticipation for such.
Small Things are Big Experiences
Chris Kaiser – the CEO and Founder of Click a Tree, a really admirable company dedicated to making sustainability simple – contacted me next. He had this to offer:
“One of my most memorable travel experiences was meeting an elephant up close.
I had been looking forward to this moment for about four months – my research had started in July, and in October I was finally on site.
The company had done excellent work in marketing the experience, with beautiful photos and excellent videos. The reviews on TripAdvisor were outstanding, and people from all over the globe raved about how this had been their favorite travel experience ever.
I received a few emails leading up to my experience about the trip and what I was supposed to pack. Every email of course contained further images and videos, so the anticipation grew every time.
Nonetheless, I wasn’t fully prepared for the experience itself. Standing opposite a real-life elephant, staring up its broad trunk to then look into its gentle eyes is a moment I’ll never forget.
And that’s why it’s one of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve had – because the experience even excelled my expectations. If an experience meets the expectation, you’re happy, because you got what you expected. But if it excels, you’re very likely to remember this moment for the rest of your life.”
Analysis: Sometimes, it’s not the grand vistas,overwhelming scenery or intense entertainment that make for a memorable experience. It’s often the more intimate things, like an interaction with the local people and wildlife, that can create meaningful memories. Find those in your destination and highlight them in your marketing.
Blogger Mike Gmerch of Trouveler had this challenging story to tell:
“My most memorable experience was 3 years ago when I bought myself a solo trip to Europe as a gift for my 32nd birthday. I went backpacking to 4 countries, but Rome was always the dream destination. I planned the whole trip so my birthday would be spent doing a walking tour (using the now-defunct Detour app) of the Roman Forum, gelato in hand.
There isn’t any advertising or marketing needed for Rome’s ruins. I’m a history geek and love being in these legendary places where you can just stand there and imagine the epic moments that occurred where you’re standing and the historical titans that walked by. To build up for this moment of visualizing the sheer magnitude of what occurred here, I relistened to the 13-hour Hardcore History podcast on the rise and fall of Rome in the days leading up to my walking tour.
The night before my birthday (aka Forum Day) I ended up in the hospital with a broken leg.. I still got to do my walking tour, but unfortunately, I had to omit the gelato since my hands were full of crutches.”
Analysis: While Mike’s experience wasn’t exactly how he’d imagined it to be, he brings up an important point: the increasingly important role of audio marketing. As of 2020, 55% of the US population – 155 million people – has listened to a podcast. Building audio experiences for your destination is a missed opportunity for most marketing strategies.
SEO Dream – the Researcher
This is a long one, but I think it represents my point in the analysis. Elisse Clark, owner of Elkhorn Inn & Theatre (a place I now have on my bucket list), wrote this essay:
“…When my husband and I planned our 5 week honeymoon to Asia – Vietnam, Korea, and Japan- I had a lot of time to do a lot of research, and between his suggestions (he’d been to all 3 places and had lived in both Vietnam and Korea) and Googling, I came up with lots of things I hadn’t been aware of that we HAD to do: A Geisha “dress-up” photoshoot in Kyoto (from a magazine article online); pheasant hunting in Jeju, Korea; “Dr. Fish” in Korea; a Royal Dinner in Seoul; staying at an historic Ryokan in Kyoto (via the official Japanese Ryokan tourism website), a Mekong River day cruise and an overnight dragon junk cruise thru Halong Bay (via our hotel’s websites), village visits by dugout canoe and motorcycle in the Central Highlands of Vietnam (via the Travelfish blog)…
When we spent a month in Vietnam in 2015 I again did a tremendous amount of online research and found our new must-dos: Coffee and elephants in Buon MaThout; Eco Tours to learn to wet rice farm with water buffaloes, and to net fish near Hoi An (from the Nam Hai Resort website); a foodie walking tour thru Hue (via the Tours By Locals website), a train excursion in Dalat (via the Facebook page on Vietnam Trains), and a Wonderful chef’s foodie tour by motorcycle thru Saigon with “Back of the Bike”…
When we spent a month in China in 2018, I did similar research, and in addition to the classic Must Do things, such as walking a portion of the Great Wall and seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’An, we were able to ride one of the last steam trains in China, take cooking classes to make hand-pulled noodles, dumplings, and authentic Sichuan food at the Chengdu Cuisine Museum, take foodie tours by Tuk Tuk, eat at the historic Ice House in the Forbidden City, visit a winery “castle”, take a Yangtze River cruise, and eat at a restaurant that hangs over a cliff…
In Israel, even though I am Israeli, thanks to internet research we found lots of things to do that even I didn’t know about! We visited a number of the 300+ wineries and stayed at one, took “foodie” tours around the country, stayed at a lovely goat farm, & rode camels and baked Bedouin bread in the desert…“
Analysis: Almost 4.57 billion people were active Internet users as of April 2020, encompassing 59%of the global population. Of those people, the ones who travel are searching, hundreds of times during micro moments for their travel consumption needs. Destinations need to place themselves in all of those moments along a consumer’s buying journey.
Email Sells the Emotion
Elise Volkmann, owner and world-class practitioner at Wandering Hummingbird Massage, reminds us that emails carry emotion well:
I went to a writer’s retreat last year in a castle in Tuscany, Italy. The advertisement was an email that was super descriptive about the experience and the dream of going to see the Birth of Venus and other art works.
Waking up every morning at dawn and watching the sun come up over the Tuscan hills over the infinity pool is one of my most vivid memories. Going truffle hunting, seeing David and so much more.
Analysis: According to Mailchimp, travel email marketing has a 20.44% open rate. That’s no doubt why 84% of brands use email marketing to help them retain customers. A destination should never forget to nurture the relationships they start with other campaigns by funneling them into a long-term email strategy. One tip: build a huge email list with social promotions targeting the demographics popular at your destinations.
The Memory of Anticipation Lasts a Long Time
Ben McLaughlan, Travel Content Creator for Horizon Unknown, talks about the power of a single image:
“Waiting at my airport gate, a simple yet powerful image of the Canadian Rocky Mountains has stuck with me.
Seven years ago, I changed my travel plans and booked a ticket to Canada for the first time. As I was waiting for my plane to board, this towering mountain and snow-capped peak called to me. It’s like it knew where I was going.
I don’t remember the text other than “visit Canada”, but I knew seeing these ancient giants in person would be unreal. And I wasn’t wrong.
My first road trip had me staring out the window, peering up at those snowy peaks and it took me back to that poster.”
Analysis: Think long-term with your content and SEO marketing. People can be triggered by a story or image that will linger for a long time, eventually leading them to pursue dreams that were inspired by marketing. It is important to think of all of your content as long-term marketing assets, needing regular review and revision.
Sewing it all together with Destination Marketing SEO
While COVID-19 has put vacation plans on hold all over the world, it hasn’t changed our fundamental desire, as human beings, to get out and explore. If anything, it’s made people more eager to travel once they feel it’s reasonable and safe to do so (case in point: the trends on Google for the search term “when can I travel again”). As a travel marketer, the best way for you to prepare for the eventual rebound of your business is to use every tool in your arsenal to generate positive anticipation. From images that tell stories to robust audio and video marketing, a comprehensive email strategy and careful attention to potential misinformation, now is the time to build an experience that transports your customer to your destination well before he or she actually sets foot there.