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Enhancing the Visitor Experience With Digital Analytics

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Whenever I utter the words “digital analytics,” people tend to either perk up with a slow grin spreading across their face or their eyes glaze over with immediate fatigue. And, honestly, both reactions are understandable. In the digital world, you can spend hours (trust me, I do) going down data rabbit holes, connecting the dots and drawing conclusions based on comparative data. It can become an overwhelming task. 

The real question is, what data is the most important? For DMOs/CVBs, the focus tends to gravitate towards bottom-of-the-funnel data — you know, the good stuff like membership growth and hotel bed tax numbers. This data is the real “meat and potatoes” of destination marketing, if you will, that has to be reported out to stakeholders and board members. 

But, what about the “in-between” data? Are you creating a system that allows you to own the entire visitor journey? Do you have, or are you able to build, an optimization loop to continue to talk to the right people and own the conversion point where you acquired a visitor from? Essentially, you need to know what brought users to you and what they’re interested in. And you most definitely need a system to keep the conversions coming.

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This is the data that advises your future marketing tactics and reassures your stakeholders on your direction. It’s what speaks to you and tells you you’re creating the right content and getting it to the right audiences. But before you can leverage your marketing insights successfully, you need to back up and look at the bigger picture to make sure the right tools are in place. 

Treating Destination Websites as e-Commerce Platforms

We all know by now that websites serve as the foundation for marketing initiatives and the tourism industry is certainly no exception to that. However, DMOs/CVBs have a misguided habit of treating their websites as a digital directory in an effort to prioritize the needs of their stakeholders. Strategies tend to lean towards providing these stakeholders with what is oftentimes viewed as maximum exposure across the site, getting them in front of the most people possible. But, does this actually benefit them… and does it convert users? 

Rather than viewing your website as a glorified business listing, treat it like the robust e-commerce platform it actually is. A destination’s website is the singular platform that prospective visitors go to at every stage in their journey — ultimately, websites need to sell, sell, sell. 

No, I don’t mean just selling in the literal transactional sense. The goal of the DMO is to always act as the not-so-silent salesman, inspiring and driving feelings of excitement and wanderlust that forces users to immerse themselves in potential experiences. There are steps DMOs can take to inspire these feelings in their potential visitors and “close the deal,” so to say.

1. Understand Your Goals and Provide Tangible Stakeholder Support 

There’s no question that DMOs/CVBs need the support and participation of their stakeholders to have a successful brand and marketing strategy. The easiest way to achieve this is by aligning the DMO’s mission around the fundamental idea of helping drive visitors through the doors of local businesses. Whether it’s through sales, marketing or community outreach, to provide tangible stakeholder support. 

The internet underwent a second digital boom during the pandemic with the explosion of growth in TikTok and other social media platforms. We’ve suddenly found ourselves in a digital age where content is the new commodity and DMOs are in the wonderful position to take advantage of this new content model and leverage it to both their and their stakeholders’ advantage. We see all sorts of DMOs, CVBs and cultural nonprofits quickly adapting to leverage a top-of-funnel style of marketing that hones in on user generated content (UGC), quick blogs and engaging TikToks showing off amenities. It’s a great change in the digital landscape that makes content creation and acquisition feasible for the tourism industry, even for those with tight budgets. 

But how does this tie back to those “meat and potatoes” numbers I mentioned earlier? How does this loop back to heads in beds and visitors in the doors of local amenities? It’s all about using unique experiences to grow your different audiences and learn more about them.

2. Put Your Marketing Dollars Towards Crafting Unique Experiences to Drive Local Business Foot Traffic

“Bed tax” is a significant term that carries a lot of weight in the world of tourism. It can make up anywhere from 35-60% of revenue for DMOs and CVBs. But, more likely than not, your visitors didn’t actually convert because of the hotel listing on your site. Somewhere, somehow, they were inspired to come to your destination. So, why is 90% of your marketing spend trying to generate 35% of revenue and ignoring what happens after they book their hotel room? 

A healthy chunk of funding comes from hotel bookings, and that’s ultimately one of the main goals. But what about transitioning to a model that intentionally focuses on maximizing the 50-60% of spend after they book? (Hint: your visitors are spending their funds exploring, eating and visiting other businesses in the area — maximize the exposure!)

People crave unique experiences and want to find amenities that are going to resonate with their passions. Committing to a model that taps into things to do and unique experiences will expose your destination to niche audiences that will appreciate your amenities and convert. And, by putting marketing effort into the non-obvious amenities you’re distributing your visitors across businesses, even to the less-traveled destinations.

A perfect example of this strategy is how Visit Florida is diving into the eco-conscious target audience. There’s so much competition within its own state for tourism dollars, it’s nearly impossible to market the smaller dolphin research center in the Keys when you’re up against larger, more popular attractions. When the funnel is condensed to travelers who value education, sustainability and nature, it’s easier for the amenity to make the shortlist of things to do.

This strategy also sets your website up as a conversion center for you to track movements and actions throughout the entire visitor journey, not just clicks onto a 3rd party website such as a hotel booking. These insights keep you in-the-loop on growing trends and guide you where to put your marketing efforts to tap into audiences most likely to convert and become your brand champions.

3. Own Your Customer Journey at Every Stage of the Funnel

Building the right tools into a destination’s website is critical to tracking this information — you can have the most engaging, interesting content, but what are you doing with your data and information?  If you only track visitor guide downloads and your basic newsletter sign up, you’re missing out on a whole world of untapped information from potential visitors. 

Destinations need to hone in on owning the entire customer journey. By building optimization loops to continue to talk to the right people and owning that conversion point, you’ll know where you acquired visitors, what brought them to you and what they’re interested in. This allows you to focus on the content you have, gauge how effective it is and enable building experiences at scale. 

By leveraging website software-as-a-service (SaaS) add-ons for destination websites, like interactive experience builders such as Visit Widget, or customized attraction passes for the modern traveler, you’re creating a system to drive conversions based on your content and the inspiration you’re presenting them with. 

Once you have the right infrastructure built in, it’s all about deciphering it and acting on the data to craft better experiences for your visitors.

Acting on Data for More Informed Marketing and Better Experiences for Visitors

This is where treating a destination website like an e-commerce platform comes into play. By putting more investment towards conversions, content optimization and abandoned cart remarketing — real change can happen for your marketing efforts. 

For example, let’s say your destination has a growing number of breweries, wineries and microdistilleries. Your organization and your community wants to focus on growing awareness of these unique venues and leverage them to bring the “foodie” crowd to your city. Rather than just creating one blog and a few posts on your owned social channels, you might make a pillar page and dive into all of the attractions that fit within the craft drink and artisanal food category in your region. From there, you can map out a recommended Ale Trail for users to bar hop with friends, with a specific tracked hashtag for social media use. 

To create an additional conversion point in this campaign, you could orchestrate a “check-in challenge” on this mapped out Ale Trail crawl, allowing users to win a free t-shirt if they complete it. Not only do visitors love these types of challenges, but the data from their check-ins will provide you with more tangible ROI outside of hotel bookings. 

Taking it a step further, your organization could have a separate newsletter dedicated just towards this niche vertical. This tactic allows you to tell people about special events and new businesses that might appeal to them. In fact, on the Destination Marketing Podcast, Bandwango recently stated that around 70% of users who reference niche itineraries and programs will convert to sign up for niche newsletters. This closes the optimization loop, allowing your website visitors to continue to get notified about special offers and events that directly appeal to their interests. 

These insights can be leveraged to craft future programs and initiatives, building a sustainable, rotating marketing calendar of experiences that capitalizes on a destination’s amenities year-round.

Megan McDonnell
Director of Digital Marketing and Brand Development at Bull Moose Marketing. Travel enthusiast, foodie and avid reader. Currently traveling back and forth between Pennsylvania and Tampa, Florida. Connect with me on LinkedIn @megan-m-mcdonnell

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