How Destination Marketing Will Change Over the Next 5 Years

by J. William Seccombe

Bob Dylan said it best: “The times they are a-changin’” , and they are changing fast. For destination marketers, what’s worked for the past 20-plus years won’t be effective in the next five.  As reported, “We are undergoing a massive change in the way that the world works.”

At the heart of this shift are the exponential growth of technology and a serious crisis in confidence. Gallup polls show only 35 percent of American public have confidence in established institutions. Big business (21 percent) and Internet news (16 percent) are among the least trusted right alongside Government and Marketers. Conversely, small business maintains the confidence of 70 percent of the Gallup responders.

What does that tell us? Consumers prefer to do business with people and organizations they know and trust. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it does present real challenges to traditional destination marketing efforts when the public is wary of the media channels and messages that we historically have relied on.

Destination marketers must thread the needle of using rapidly evolving technology—considered invasive by some—to spread messages that resonate and add value to skeptical audiences. Personalization is key.  Marketers stuck with traditional targeting of large demographic and geographic audiences with mass marketing messages will lose out to those that deliver personalized information that add real value to individual customers.

It won’t be easy. Consider that Deloitte LLP predicts 40 percent of today’s Fortune 500 companies won’t exist in five years. But it can be done.

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less,” retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki.

How destination markets hone their skills with these six key technologies will dictate their fate.

Big Data

Savvy consumers know that they are being tracked at every step, from their email opens to their Facebook clicks—and they don’t like it. But at the same time, the data in the cloud is the key to unlocking people’s trust, and in turn, their wallets. What websites consumers visit, who their social media contacts are, where they live and where they’ve been are tools to predict their next trips, purchases and plans. The ability to accurately predict those future steps adds value to the consumer. Destination marketers can’t rely on humans alone to look ahead. This leads us to…

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI allows marketers to use all that big data. It is creating a shift from targeting consumers based on their demographics and how much they spend to predicting their trends based on purchase history and other factors like location. Currently, about 20 percent of advertising through automation. By 2023, that number will be closer to 80 percent. By using a consumer’s history and preferences, marketing messaging will be far more effective. Big data and AI are going to reshape how marketers do their jobs.

Digital Interface

For almost 150 years—since the typewriter was invented in Milwaukee in 1868—we’ve relied on a keyboard in some ways to communicate. With the rise and fall of the BlackBerry and ubiquitous smartphones with touchscreens, they board has shrunk at about the same rate as consumer confidence. Soon, keyboards may be non-existent. Already, 20 percent of mobile searches are using these chatbots. NYC & Company, the tourism arm of New York City, is piloting the launch of Chute’s chatbot designed specifically for destinations. “Travelers are no longer just going to one resource or turning to visitor guides alone to research and plan. With so many outlets, it’s vital for destinations to be at the ready and reach travelers wherever they are,” says Fred Dixon, NYX & Company president and CEO.

Comscore estimates by 2020 about 50 percent of mobile searches will be done via chatbots like Alexa, Siri, Cortina and Jarvis. In 2025, 95 percent of consumers’ interaction with their devices, and homes for that matter, could be done through voice. What does that mean for marketers? Just consider the pages of results a Google search results in and compare that the one or two options Alexa offers up instead. Are you beginning to understand why you need to know what a consumer is looking before they even know?

Internet of Things (IOT)

Gartner Tech Research says 8.3 billion things are connected to the internet in 2017—up 31 percent from last year. It predicts that number to jump to more than 20 billion in 2020. When you combine IOT with digital interface, the pace of how you rely on AI and voice search picks up significantly. IOT is reshaping habits we have had for generations, such as walking into the house and turning on the lights (remember the Clapper?)—now you can tell your phone to go ahead and turn those on for you.

Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR)

AR has already arrived. If we weren’t quite sure of that fact, the Pokémon Go craze certainly proved it. New phones are coming out that are pre-programmed to support AR. Apps are coming out almost daily with AR uses. Now that we know the technology exists and can be mass produced, it’s only a matter of a time before AR goes fully mainstream. VR is also here, but it is still a burgeoning technology that has yet to be used by marketers on a universal scale.


Blockchain technology is decentralized data (it’s the technology that Bitcoin is built on), and lives in so many places that it can’t be changed or hacked, as happed to Equifax customers recently. In the future, instead of companies, such as credit bureaus and social media outlets, owning your data and monetizing it, consumers will own their own data and allow businesses to have it in exchange for products and services. This ties back into the trust issues at the very heart of destination marketing.

The Keys to Future Marketing Success

So, what can destination marketers do about the “crisis of trust” and technology that seems impossible to keep up with? Among the tips that will be discussed at Connect Travel’s Marketing Leadership Summit, Feb. 19-21, in Orlando, Florida, are:

  • Make offerings hyper-personal and providing real value adds for customers. Instead of focusing on pushing out your message to get consumers to act, focus on what you are providing them with that will enrich their lives.

  • Your voice search strategy. How do you get your brand to be relevant in a voice-search world? Start building quality Q&A content on your website that offers robust answers in natural language. Buzzwords and stiff language are things of the past.

  • Building circles of trust. Identify the brands—whether they are small businesses with a cult following or bigger players like Amazon—that people trust, and partner with them. Again, these partnerships provide value to your customers with services or information that they need or want. Remember, consumers work with who they know and trust.

  • Authenticity and specificity in your messaging. Communicate to your customers how your destinations are truly different. Blah language like “shopping, dining and fun for the whole family” won’t get you anywhere anymore. Get to the heart of the community values and deliver authentic messages.