Four Ways AI is Helping Destinations Connect with Travelers

AI is not just bringing us to the precipice of a technological evolution that will change and shape the world around us in the future, we’re already living in the world AI is creating.

Marketing technology is already being molded by AI-enabled capabilities—and these emerging technologies are creating new opportunities and opening destination marketers eyes to new ways to reach and engage travelers. Tried-and-true tools are becoming obsolete as adaptive AI-powered tactics are changing the ways DMOs connect with travelers. 

Here are the four ways AI is helping DMOs connect with travelers that you can leverage for your destination. It’s time to prepare for the future AI is already writing—literally, they have AI that can write now. 

Chatbots for Tourism and Travel

Chatbots are not new, but back end technology has leveled up. Chatbots are gaining an increasingly well-rounded understanding of language.  They will soon understand all the weird questions and requests we throw their way and respond in a way that won’t make us want to pull our hair out. Even more exciting, your existing website content can be used as part of a training dataset to allow it to be prioritized over other general information. Chatbots can even be trained to give them their own personalities and avatars.

AI-driven chatbots for tourism and travel will likely continue to evolve in the following ways:

Improved natural language processing

Chatbots will become more adept at understanding and responding to customer queries in a natural and conversational manner.

Increased personalization

Chatbots will be able to analyze customer data and preferences to provide more personalized recommendations and assistance.

Greater integration with other systems

Chatbots will be integrated with other systems such as booking engines, CRM systems, and social media platforms, providing a more seamless customer experience.

More advanced decision making capabilities

Chatbots will be able to make more complex decisions and provide more accurate information to customers in real-time

More advanced virtual reality and augmented reality integration

Chatbots can use VR/AR to provide immersive experiences for customers, for example, virtual tours, and walkthroughs of destinations or hotels.

Multi-lingual support

Chatbots will be able to support multiple languages, making it easier for tourists to communicate with locals.

Proactive customer service

Chatbots will be able to anticipate and act on customer needs before they are even aware of them.

Advanced analytics

Chatbots will be able to collect and analyze data from customer interactions and use that data to improve the chatbot’s performance over time.

When we envision the future, there will be chatbots interacting with each other through systems integration. They will become master multitaskers, seamlessly integrating with booking engines, CRM systems, and social media platforms, making the whole travel experience a smooth sailing. Chatbots powered by AI are going to revolutionize the way we travel and make the whole experience a lot more fun and stress-free.

AI-powered translations

But let’s not forget about the language barriers that often can come with international travel. Chatbots and AI-powered translations will speak multiple languages, making it easy for tourists to communicate with locals and navigate through unfamiliar places. Just imagine: no more awkward hand gestures or Google translate fails! AI-powered translations will make communication with locals a breeze. No more getting lost in translation, or accidentally trying to order a plate of worms instead of spaghetti.

Booking a trip will also be less of a headache, with AI-powered translations helping international travelers understand and complete online forms with ease. And the best part? No more confusion about important information, like hotel amenities or tour schedules, as AI-powered translations will make sure everything is crystal clear.

But it’s not just the travelers who will benefit from this technology, customer service representatives will also be able to assist international travelers in their native languages, making the overall experience even more delightful. Marketing efforts will also get a boost, with AI-powered translations assisting in creating effective marketing materials that can reach a wider audience.

Overall, AI-powered translations have the potential to greatly improve the tourism industry for international travelers by making communication and navigation more seamless, providing more accurate information, and improving the overall customer experience.

AI-Enhanced SEM & SEO

AI is the secret ingredient to a great Search Engine Optimization (SEO) recipe for destination marketing websites. Imagine having a tool that can analyze large amounts of data and tell you exactly what keywords and phrases to use to make your website more delicious to search engines.

We are already using some AI tools in our current efforts across SEO and Search Engine Marketing (SEM), and we envision these efforts to continue to expand AI can greatly improve your overall search efforts (paid and organic) in several ways:

Keyword Analysis

AI-powered tools can analyze large amounts of data to identify the most relevant keywords and phrases for a given destination or tourism service, helping to optimize website content and improve search rankings.

Content Optimization

AI can analyze website content and suggest changes to improve its relevance and searchability, such as adding keywords or reorganizing text.

Voice Search Optimization

AI-powered tools can optimize websites and apps for voice search, allowing companies to reach customers who prefer to use voice commands, this can help increase visibility of the website on search engines.

Predictive Analytics

AI can help identify patterns and trends in customer search behavior, allowing marketers to anticipate and respond to changes in search demand and optimize their SEO strategy accordingly.

Image and Video Optimization

AI can be used to optimize images and videos for search, by analyzing the content and automatically adding relevant tags and descriptions.

Ad targeting

AI can analyze user data and behavior to target more relevant ads to specific audiences, this improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the ad campaign.

Bid Optimization

AI-powered SEM tools can analyze large amounts of data and optimize bids on keywords and phrases, ensuring that the ad is displayed to the right audience at the right time.

Overall, AI can help optimize website content, improve search rankings, increase visibility and improve the effectiveness of ad campaigns. It can also provide detailed insights into how visitors interact with a destination marketing website, helping to identify areas for improvement and optimize the user experience.

AI-powered (but human-driven) copywriting

AI-powered copywriting is a tool that uses AI to generate content. After this initial creation, a human editor can review the content before publishing. It is estimated that 90 percent of online content may be synthetically generated by 2026. 

This mixture of technology and human skill ensures that you get the best of both worlds: automated writing and original ideas from humans. AI-powered copywriting has become increasingly popular because it can be used for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Creating landing pages for your website
  • Writing emails for newsletters or other marketing assets
  • Generating new blog posts
  • Creating marketing advertising taglines
  • Training AI-driven chatbots

So,you may be wondering as you read this: how much of this article was written by AI? About 50% was provided by AI, all guided by an outline to start and refined with our knowledge. Time saved, easily 3-4 hours. 

It’s AI’s World, We’re Just Marketing In It

In summary, while artificial intelligence may seem like an advanced and futuristic concept, it’s actually already in use today. AI is a tool that helps businesses make better decisions by analyzing data and presenting insights at a faster rate than humans could ever do on their own. 

The goal of this article was not only to introduce the concept of AI but also show how it can be used by tourism professionals today in order to improve their services or products. Please do not hesitate to connect with our team at Madden who are constantly looking for ways to bring the latest technologies to our clients.

The Future of AI in Destination Marketing According to AI

This article was written in part by a publicly available AI text generation model.

Like all industries, destination marketing and tourism are already being enhanced by Artificial Intelligence (AI). While still in the early stages, it is already changing how destinations connect with travelers, such as chatbots for customer service and AI-powered virtual reality for booking experiences. 

AI is rapidly changing the way we live and work in the travel and tourism industry. As technology changes, so too will its use in travel marketing and tourism. This blog post will discuss how AI is already being used in destination marketing and explore potential opportunities for future advancements. 

What is AI?

Get ready to have your mind blown, folks! While not a new technology, AI is the soup du jour in the world of computer science. It’s centered around creating machines that can think and react like humans—and even learn and adapt on their own. 

You may have heard of its cool cousin, machine learning, which can be used to learn about a topic without explicit programming or guidance from humans. Machine learning has a long history, with Arthur Samuel coining the phrase “machine learning” in 1959 when he made the first instance of it in a checkers program. With this form of AI, computers can learn from massive amounts of data and make predictions about new situations based on past experiences. It’s like giving a computer a memory, but way cooler!

AI can be used for all sorts of things like predicting weather patterns, translating languages, playing strategic games like chess, and even walking robots through unknown terrain without falling off cliffs. And it’s not just limited to one specific task—at a high level, there are two types of AI:narrow (or weak) AI and general (or strong) AI. Both have the ability to perform any intellectual task that a human can. It’s no surprise that AI has the potential to revolutionize destination marketing, and other industries like healthcare, finance, transportation and manufacturing.

Generative AI

What we are most excited about in the DMO space is generative AI. Generative AI t is able to generate new and unique outputs, such as text, images, or speech. This is in contrast to discriminative AI, which makes predictions or classifies inputs based on previous examples.

Generative AI models are typically trained on a large dataset and use various techniques such as deep learning, Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), Variational Autoencoders (VAE), and others. These models can then generate new outputs that are similar in style or content to the examples in the initial training dataset. For example, a generative AI model trained on images of animals could generate new images of animals that it has never seen before.

Generative AI models are used in a variety of applications, such as natural language processing, image and video synthesis, music composition, and drug discovery. They can also be used for data augmentation, anomaly detection and for creating realistic simulations for various industries.

How DMOs will use AI

It’s no secret that the way we market destinations has changed significantly over the past decade.The future of marketing is now clearly AI-centric. Just like machine learning has already transformed the way we search for new content and information online, it is also set to profoundly change how DMOs engage travelers.Some of the ways in which AI is being used to improve marketing include:

Personalization

AI-powered systems can analyze visitor and customer data and preferences to create personalized marketing messages and offers.

Predictive Analytics

AI can help predict which visitors are most likely to visit or churn and target marketing efforts accordingly.

Automation

AI can automate repetitive tasks such as data entry and analysis, freeing up marketers to focus on more strategic work.

Chatbots

AI-powered chatbots can provide 24/7 customer service and support, allowing a virtual concierge 24/7 to engage with customers in real-time (and this is not your 2022 chatbot!).

Content Creation

AI can be used to generate written content, such as product descriptions and social media posts, saving time and effort for marketers.

Ad Targeting

AI can analyze user data and behavior to target more relevant ads to specific audiences.

Voice Search Optimization 

AI-powered systems can optimize websites and apps for voice search, allowing brands to reach customers who prefer to use voice commands.

Influencer Marketing

AI can assist in identifying and selecting the right influencers for a brand and create personalized content for them.

Overall, AI is helping marketers to work more efficiently, reach their audiences more effectively, and personalize their messaging to individual consumers. As AI technologies continue to advance, we can expect to see even more ways in which they will be used to improve marketing efforts.

How travelers will use AI

AI is the ultimate travel buddy! It’s here to help you plan your trip, find the best deals and even point you in the direction of the coolest things to do. Some of the ways in which AI is being used by travelers include:

Personalized Travel Recommendations

AI-powered systems can analyze a traveler’s preferences and past travel history to make personalized travel recommendations.

Virtual Travel Assistants

AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can assist with tasks such as booking flights and hotels, making restaurant reservations, and providing information about local attractions.

Language Translation

AI-powered language translation apps can help travelers communicate with locals when traveling abroad.

Smart Packing

AI-powered apps can help travelers create a packing list based on the destination, weather, and length of the trip.

Smart Travel Itinerary

AI can assist travelers in creating a personalized itinerary based on their preferences and budget.

AI-powered search engines can analyze a traveler’s preferences and make personalized suggestions for flights, hotels, and activities.

Virtual Reality

AI-powered virtual reality technology can allow travelers to preview destinations and activities before they book.

Intelligent Travel Safety

AI can assist travelers in identifying potential security risks, alerting them to potential dangers and providing them with personalized safety recommendations

How the rest of the tourism industry will use AI

AI is not just for DMOs and travelers for example, hoteliers can also benefit from AI by identifying how many people are going to visit during peak seasons, who they are, and what they might want (like maybe a room with an ocean view). 

This information can lead to better decisions about how much inventory needs to be added during these times, saving money or even increasing ADR if all the rooms are booked up! AI shines at predicting traffic patterns and correlating weather conditions with visitor behaviors. It can tell you if more people will come out to an event on a sunny day or if they’re more likely to stay indoors during a storm.

The AI Revolution is Already Happening

Overall, AI is helping travelers to plan and book their trips more efficiently, make more informed decisions, and personalize their travel experiences. It is also creating more dynamic ways for DMOs to reach travelers, and giving tourism and hospitality businesses tools to provide better service. As AI technologies continue to advance, we can expect to see even more ways in which they will be used to improve the tourism industry.

2023 Destination Marketing Predictions

The year ahead will be a pivotal year for the tourism industry. With substantial challenges in the rear-view mirror, there are  external factors out of DMOs control. But there is hope! As we gaze into our crystal ball, we see emerging trends and technology that will help destinations respond. Read on to discover how DMOs should prepare. 

Recession Ready

The tourism industry has weathered numerous tragedies over the past two decades: 9/11, the Great Recession, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Each has brought unique circumstances, and required tailored strategies to recover. 

Unlike those previous events, we can see the next one coming. Inflation, interest rate increases, and a divided government have analysts predicting an economic recession. DMOs should look to leverage visitation data to identify their top origin markets and which target markets deliver the longest average length of stay. Recessions are when destinations should double down on their strengths and lean on reliable origin markets. 

International Travel Continues to Lag

More than any other vertical, international travel was hit hardest by the pandemic and has been the slowest to recover. Is 2023 the year for DMOs to restart their international targeting, Probably not. What should destinations know as they look to rebuild their visitation from other countries? 

Even with a recession on the horizon for the U.S., economic challenges are not an isolated domestic issue — the global economy is reeling. A strong U.S. dollar also means U.S. destinations are more expensive for international travelers. Pile on continuing international COVID restrictions and tensions caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, it is extremely unlikely destinations will be able to restore their international visitation to pre-pandemic levels. 

Time for a (Virtual) Reality Check

The Metaverse is slated to be at the center of conversation in 2023. However, like previous “hype vs. reality” news cycles, the conversation is bound to be all style and no substance. While its technology can seem like magic, it doesn’t solve consumer problems. Escaping from their everyday surroundings takes more than slipping on some goggles and headphones. The only virtual reality DMOs should embrace is Vacation Reality — travel is so much more than the sights and sounds. It’s about the feelings of your stomach lurching on a thrill ride, rushing endorphins as you experience something new, the taste of local authentic cuisine, and most importantly, sharing those moments with the people who matter most. 

DMOs would be best served by not rushing to dip their toes in the Metaverse without a strategic plan. There are some examples of tourism brands experimenting with the Web3 technologies, such as CitizenM building a hotel in the metaverse and Singapore’s Sentosa Island recreating itself virtually in Animal Crossing. DMOs should continue to monitor the metaverse in 2023, and plot ways to achieve specific objectives, like generating an earned media boost through VR initiatives. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Continues to Evolve Travel Planning

AI’s growth continues to make consumers’ lives easier. Smart-planning apps for travelers are becoming more popular, and giving consumers an easy way to create customized itineraries with the help of AI to give users a better idea of destinations and experiences. 

According to a recent report from Trendhunter, the use of smart technology to streamline aspects of consumers’ lives has resulted in people being able to organize their time more effectively, and in a way that’s personalized to their exact interests — this convenience extends to infrequent events like travel. For example, iplan.ai is a smart travel planning platform and Karambol is an AI-powered travel guide — both utilize AI to help consumers efficiently and effectively assemble travel itineraries. 

Audio Marketing is Music to Consumers Ears

Audio marketing boomed during the pandemic, and while that growth has leveled off in recent years, one of the medium’s most popular elements is retrospective analyses of users’ year-long listening habits. Spotify’s “Wrapped” feature is popular not only for keeping track of how many times someone listens to Taylor Swift, but also for analyzing what type of people users are based on their listening habits — Wrapped results also lead to organic social media posts from users sharing their results. 

Tourism is dipping its toe in the audio analysis game. Spotify and easyJet teamed up to create Listen & Book to analyze listening habits and make personalized travel recommendations based on them. This collaboration with Spotify gives the airline a new way to tap into wanderlust — recommending botanical gardens in Lisbon or a relaxing sauna in Helsinki to someone who prefers calm and dreamy music, for example.

Death of the Duopoly?

For years Google and Meta have been the monarchs of the digital advertising kingdom. Could breaks start to show in 2023? With the rise of TikTok and Gen Z, consumers are shifting their consumption habits away from the digital stalwarts. DMOs should monitor their performance on the two leading platforms and look to grow their presence in other channels to meet younger travelers where they are. 

Platforms like Pintrest are popular among travel planners, with 72% of pinners planning their travel on the platform. The influencer market grew to $16.4B in 2022, due largely to the growth of TikTok. Don’t get us wrong, Google and Meta are still going to be the major players next year, but DMOs should not put all their eggs in those two baskets. 

Experiences will Connect with Travelers

Let’s face it, consumers are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages a day, and frankly, they all start to blend together. Studies dispute the specific percentage, but all show the vast majority of ads go unnoticed. So, how can your brand stand out? 

After years of restrictions or COVID-caused travel challenges, Gen Z is looking for escapism. According to a recent report by Trendhunter, they are singly turning to brands that can offer them genuine moments or experiences that create a sense of freedom from personal responsibilities and stress.

Giving consumers an escapist experience, whether in real-life or digitally, is the best way to make a lasting impression that resonates with travelers. These experiences can be big, like in-person activations in your target markets, or small, like unique user experience (UX) elements on your websites. Above all, they should embody your brand and create positive feelings among your target audience. One example of this is Kiss & Fly, an augmented reality (AR) book that features nine different locations. Travel enthusiasts can visit France, Brazil, Iceland, Mexico, Italy, Greece, India, Jordan, and other countries along the Mediterranean sea.  

Win with Smarter Content

Search engines are changing. While this statement could be relevant multiple times a year, it feels particularly true as the travel and tourism industry hits 2023. Since August 2022 alone, Google has rolled out not one but at least five updates as part of its ongoing efforts to improve search results, meet user intent, and reduce spam.

As organic search changes, destination marketing organizations need to create content to match user intent to leverage zero visit searches, equip websites with personalization technology to keep users engaged, and exceed user expectations by providing rich UX experiences, like using scrollytelling technology, to set your destination apart from the rest.

Last year was the peak of the streamings war, as many subscription streaming services came to market in earnest and long-standing streaming superstars began to lose subscribers. It’s hard enough keeping track of all these streaming services as consumers — the monthly statement surprise — but in 2023, DMOs will be challenged to keep track of streaming services as many launch ad-supported models. 

This year will be the first year that Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Prime Video, Apple TV, HBO Max, Peacock, and Paramount+ all have pricing model options that include advertising. The best thing DMOs can do is richly understand and define their target audience, and leverage the platforms that best reach those types of travelers. DMOs should also understand the minimum spend requirements for each platform, as you will need a substantial budget to leverage these top players.

The Year Ahead

Did you have any of these predictions on your to-do list this year? Did anything in our crystal ball surprise you? Reach out to our team if you’re looking for destination marketing help in 2023 or want to learn more about any of these predictions. 

Planning for the Unexpected: Why Your DMO Should Have a Crisis Communications Plan

Destination marketing is about sharing an area’s fun side. Promoting exciting attractions, cultural offerings, and unique dining experiences are usually top of mind when it comes to planning marketing campaigns. No one wants to think about the what ifs, the worst-case scenario situations. But unfortunately they do happen, whether by an act of nature or at the hand of an individual. 

These instances can leave a DMO scrambling to pick up the pieces. It can be a tough role to navigate, how to best support a shaken community, while upholding a responsibility to member businesses and visitors. Without a response plan in place, DMOs can be left swimming against the current without any way to mitigate the challenges brought on by crises. This is why DMOs should consider a professional crisis communications plan. 

Our team combines years of prior experience in the news industry, public relations agencies, and DMOs to craft messages and communication plans to guide a DMO through public emergencies or a negative event.

Hurricane response plan

It wasn’t long after signing a public relations contract with Madden, the Bradenton Area CVB’s staff called upon our crisis communications services. The destination, which represents an area on the West Coast of Florida, found itself in the projected path of Hurricane Ian as it barreled toward the United States. The Madden team jumped into action, developing an emergency message guide for the CVB team. The action plan included key messages for a variety of scenarios, ranging from total devastation of the destination to zero impact. Each scenario included key messages for each of the CVB’s key audiences, talking points for inbound media requests, and recommended courses of action for the CVB to take in the aftermath to responsibly pursue their brand mission and support partners. 

Throughout the storm and during the aftermath, Madden’s public relations team guided the Bradenton Area CVB. The CVB executed the emergency messaging plan, leveraging the near-miss scenario recommendations to effectively communicate with the public and provide support to its partners.

Responding to negative events

The need to enact crisis communications is not only critical when facing natural disaster. Unfortunately, unexpected events can unfold that land a destination in the spotlight, gaining negative attention.  Grand Canyon West, a famed attraction and destination on the Grand Canyon West Rim, experienced a series of public deaths at their Skywalk. One of the suicides included a public danger to other visitors. Grand Canyon West called on Madden Media’s services to assist in crisis management in response and planning moving forward.

With no established crisis communications plan, Madden Media immediately moved into action offering social media messaging, key talking points for tribal leaders, and a press release response to the incident. Madden offered media monitoring for sentiment and accuracy of the incident along with press interview coordination. After working with Madden, Grand Canyon West had their first crisis communication plan to rely on, which extended to multiple scenarios beyond public deaths on property.

Planning is key

While weather-related situations and tragic events are not something many want to think about, especially when your job is to attract visitors to your area, planning is key to handling them as smoothly as possible. Working with Madden Media’s public relations team can help your DMO feel confident that should the worst happen, you have a resource on your side helping you with appropriate messaging and navigating media, so that you can support your community and local tourism industry.

Turning the Page on OVGs: Why DMOs Need to Let Go of Listings

There’s nothing quite like the excitement of turning the pages of a visitors guide and making plans to take in the views, taste the flavors, and experience the fun sprawled out in front of you. The pictures and stories pique your interest, move you to learn more, to make the reservation, and to take the trip. While the internet and online booking platforms play a hand in travel planning, official visitors guides (OVGs) hold an equally integral role in the traveler’s journey. That role, however, is shifting and industry experts say DMOs have to rethink what’s on the pages to keep their publications relevant.

Print is not dead

With so much information accessible with the tap of a screen or the click of a mouse, some may claim that print media is on its way out and the need for a printed visitors guide is declining. But that couldn’t be further from the truth…print is growing in popularity.

Print has stood out as a trusted option for consumers among fears of data collection, hacks, and disinformation on social media. A 2019 study by Kanter found that 78% of Americans surveyed agreed that print publications “provide news and information I can trust,” but that consumer trust drops for both websites and social media.

Print is also a tangible object that grounds us in the real world and cuts through the so-called “digital clutter” we all encounter daily. With an endless array of choices, online users skim more and retain less. While digital media may be the most popular and accessible medium, print still reaches all ages, with Gen Z reading print at a comparable rate to previous generations. What’s more, 92% of young adults who were surveyed said that they find print easier to read.

Propelling print forward

While there is room for print in a digital world, guide creators need to look closely at what they are offering consumers. In addition to inspiring travelers, visitor guides are increasingly retained as souvenirs, lasting long after the trip has ended. With nearby dining, attraction information, and hotel booking more easily accessible online, print publications are increasingly shifting toward timeless, inspirational, and experience-oriented content instead.

“The most effective way to create a visitor guide that inspires in-market action and leads to lifelong memories is by letting go of listings and ads to make room for more editorial and design,” said Marissa Selby, a content strategist at Madden Media. “This step can turn the guide into a publication more like a premium travel magazine.”

But what about partners?

Partners or member businesses are a large part of traditional DMOs and business listings in printed guides can be a major selling point when signing on new members. So how do you still offer the guide as a partner benefit, while still swapping the listings for more content?

Madden has been helping clients make the switch by leaning into QR codes. Instead of pages of small-type business listings, the pages can be filled with quality photos and stories with a QR code sending readers to a corresponding page on a DMO website. This, said Selby, is making the most of a limited number of pages to motivate travelers.

There are other benefits to the QR code listings too. For instance, if a partner moves, closes, or changes their website, it can be easily updated online. The use of QR codes also leads to increased web traffic on the DMO website and offers a better visitor experience for users who are searching for a specific category or location. QR codes also open the door for real-time marketing. By collecting visitors’ data while they’re in-market, interest-targeting and remarketing campaigns can be launched when it’s most impactful. What’s more is that QR codes can go beyond linking travelers to business listings, they can link to tips, deals or even audio walking tours. The options are endless, but all help the user better connect to the destination.

Travel and tourism is an ever-changing industry and over the years OVGs have remained a reliable marketing tool. Printed publications will continue to inspire visitors, so long as they change with the traveler and work in sync with their digital counterparts.

Want to see more?

Here’s a small peek at some of the work Madden has done helping clients upgrade their content by letting go of listings:

Visit Phoenix
Visit Alexandria
Visit Bellevue
Travel Wisconsin

Let’s talk about updating your visitors guide!

Reach out to our team at marketing@maddenmedia.com to give your official visitors guide a new look.

2022 HSMAI Adrian Award Client Wins

Madden Media is excited to announce four of our clients won a total of six 2022 HSMAI Adrian Awards for work we’ve done in collaboration with them. The HSMAI Adrian Awards recognize hospitality brands and agencies for creativity and innovation in advertising, digital marketing, and public relations. We are proud to share our clients’ accolades and applaud the outstanding destination marketing we did together this past year.

Congratulations to the following destinations:

Gold Award

  • Visit Idaho

Silver Award

  • Visit Idaho

Bronze Award

  • Visit Buffalo Niagara
  • Florida’s Sports Coast
  • Visit Port Aransas (two wins)

GOLD: Visit Idaho — Integrated Campaign – B2C

Together with Visit Idaho, we created the “Beyond Words” campaign. What will serve as the foundation for a multiyear campaign, “Beyond Words” is deeply versatile at its core, transforming to suit our target travelers, Idaho’s vast adventures, all four seasons, and the diverse geography across the entire state. The campaign cuts through the noise of advertising to reach consumers as they began to plan their trips and educate audiences about the opportunity for adventure found throughout Idaho.

SILVER: Visit Idaho — Integrated Campaign – Corporate Social Responsibility

Visit Idaho represents a state that is home to five federally-recognized Native American tribes. Our goals were to connect with the tribes, preserve local culture through education, and build relationships between the local tourism industry and the Indigenous peoples who live in the state. We collaborated closely with the Native-owned organization NativesOutdoors to build a campaign that represents Idaho’s tribes and highlights Native American artists. We worked alongside the tribes to create these components: two print stories in the 2022 Official Idaho Travel Guide (“Translation Through Art,” a profile of three older Native American artists, and “Climbing the Selkirks,” a first-person account of rock climbing by NativesOutdoors CEO and a female, Indigenous photographer), three video profiles of on-the-rise Native American artists who are carrying on tribal traditions and one digital exclusive story, “Inspiring the Next Generation,” which is a companion to the videos.

BRONZE: Visit Buffalo Niagara — Digital-Website

Visit Buffalo Niagara’s new site spotlights the destination’s energy and better connects each website visitor to Buffalo’s brand identity. As the city continues its renaissance with new hotels, attractions, and more opening in 2023, we wanted to ensure that the website reflected the same energy for a breakthrough year ahead.

BRONZE: Florida’s Sports Coast — Digital-Website

FLSportsCoast.com spotlights the destination’s energy and active nature, and better connects each website visitor to Florida’s Sports Coast’s brand identity. Madden streamlined navigation, crafted a dynamic layout, produced creative assets that celebrated diversity, and developed a rich storytelling library. Both existing and new content were optimized with SEO best practices while still telling the story of the communities that make up Florida’s Sports Coast. New videos, animations, graphics, and illustrations capture the spirit of the destination and keep visitors engaged throughout the website.

BRONZE: Visit Port Aransas — Digital-Multimedia Multiple Channels

The Salty Stories series set out to introduce potential visitors to the human side of Port Aransas, Texas. This destination is blessed with one of the best beaches along Texas’ Gulf Coast, making it all too easy for visitors to overlook the eclectic island community that’s worth exploring. The Salty Stories Series used a mixture of traditional interview videography, shots of the interviewees interacting with their day to day tasks, relevant locations, and B-roll shots collected around the island. This intentional mixture pulls the viewer into the story, strengthening the connection between the community of Port Aransas and the beach they may be more familiar with visiting.

BRONZE: Visit Port Aransas — Digital-Contest/Sweepstakes

The pandemic caused many Texas businesses to close, and these restrictions were especially harmful to the bar and restaurant industry. This resulted in Margarita Madness, which we brought to life for the second year in a row. In an effort to drive visitors and residents to local bars, Visit Port Aransas aimed to create an event similar to Shop Arounds and Restaurant Weeks.

Reach out for your award-winning campaign!

Reach out to our team at marketing@maddenmedia.com to bring your own award-winning campaign to life.

The State (of the State) of Digital Marketing

The State (of the State) of Digital Marketing in October 2022

Search engines are changing. While this statement is true year-round, it feels especially true now, as the travel and tourism industry hits the tail-end of 2022. Since August alone, Google has rolled out not one but three updates as part of its ongoing efforts to improve search results, meet user intent, and reduce spam. 

And it’s not just Google that’s changing. Other search engines and apps are also jumping on the UX improvement train. TikTok (you’ve heard of TikTok, right?) has also released several enhancements to solidify its status as an organic search engine.

As organic search changes, destination marketing organizations should focus on two key goals heading into 2023. First,whatever they do, match user intent, and second, exceed user expectations by providing rich content and unique experiences to set your destination apart from the rest.

TikTok: The Authentic Search Engine

It’s no secret that TikTok is popular. In 2021, TikTok made headlines as the most popular web domain in the world, surpassing Google as the longtime champion. Taking a look at the numbers backs up this claim: TikTok officially reached 1 billion active users per day in 2022. What helped get TikTok to this point?

What Makes TikTok a Good Search Engine?

TikTok has created an economy of authenticity, something critics complain Google lacks as many agree search results are getting worse. “The user-generated content is authentic and provides tips, tricks, and advice that resonate and answer important daily questions,” says Nicole McElroy, Media Strategist at Madden Media. “This content ranges from top new restaurants to the best places traveled.”

As a search engine, the platform offers endless sources of entertainment and discovery. This sense of discovery, however curated it may be, has several benefits.

Users Feel in Control on TikTok (even if they aren’t)

TikTok’s For You page creates a sense of control for the user. Humans love feeling like we’re in control, especially in a world where so many decisions feel made for us.

TikTok Content Feels Personalized and Inspirational

TikTok’s content feels personalized, and users love it. Users love it so much, even 72% of users report finding paid ads inspiring. “This is important as destinations seek to inspire and increase curiosity through visual storytelling,” says McElroy. “Marketers can use TikTok to cut through the advertising noise and reach people while they are attentive and in the exploratory phase.”
Indeed, Google might be borrowing a page from TikTok’s playbook. In September 2022, Google announced plans to offer more personalization, and crucially, show users what goes into generating their search results.

Younger Audiences Prefer TikTok over Google

Lastly, TikTok is preferred among younger audiences. 40% of Gen Z users turn to TikTok for search instead of Google.“TikTok’s search feature delivers fast and efficient answers through visual videos that are short and to the point,” says McElroy.

Engage users with TikTok series

For the reasons above, McElroy stresses that it’s time for destinations to lead the conversation for travel. Share tips on unique places. Highlight seasonal events. Create a sense of community. Destinations that do all of this will truly be recognized as the authority for all things travel.
One way destinations can lead this conversation is through TikTok series, a strategy where content creators upload videos in parts and stagger releases throughout the week. This keeps the user engaged and shifts the dynamic from passive to interactive.  “Destinations can create a series on wellness, dining, and seasonal events —  options are truly endless,” says McElroy.

TikTok Increases Character Limit from 300 to 2,200

TikTok SEO is here to stay. “With TikTok’s rise in popularity and engagement, it’s leaning toward SEO-driven opportunities,” says McElroy. “This change is most notably expressed through the recent announcement of increasing the character limit in the post caption from 300 characters to 2,200 characters — a 730% increase.”

Key Focus: Include More Context (and Keywords)

“This change allows for more real estate in the caption for creators to explain, educate, and inspire users with how-to’s, use important facts, and increase the use of hashtags,” says McElroy.
As TikTok rolls out this new feature, destinations should use the increased character limit to provide more helpful context while naturally including keywords and key phrases. “There is an increasing opportunity for brands to gain exposure under relevant keywords through content creation,” says McElroy. “TikTok offers unique ways to increase SEO opportunities by using text on video and saying keywords aloud in the video.”

Nearby Content on TikTok

Around the same time as the increase in character limit for the captions, TikTok began beta testing a “Nearby” content feed for testing. McElroy says, “TikTok’s Nearby video feed will work in tandem with the increased character limit to pull information from the caption and hashtags used to show a user nearby restaurants, attractions, local businesses, and events.”

Key Focus: Highlight nearby Towns, Cities, and Things to Do

To take advantage of TikTok’s nearby feature, McElroy recommends using hashtags for nearby towns and cities to help the algorithm feature your content to a nearby audience that is more likely to convert.

“The idea of the nearby feed is to feature local content. If a user’s For You Page consists of dining spots and hiking trails, the FYP will feature those types of places nearby,” says McElroy. “If an FYP consists of live events and music venues, the nearby page will feature those types of businesses. This ties into the relatively new launch of tagging a location in video content. The algorithm will pick up the location tag and SEO drivers including hashtags and captions to generate content into the Nearby feed.”

Now’s the Time to Start TikTok SEO

With the platform’s popularity, 2022 is the perfect time to start posting content on TikTok. “TikTok’s search engine capabilities are still new with less competition in the space than Google, so get in while it’s new.” says McElroy. “While TikTok continues to rise in both popularity and engagement, it is important to create a strong footing now to rise with the tide.”

Google as a Semantic Search Engine

For years, Google has been the recognized leader in all matters of search. As of October 2022, the search engine giant holds 91 to 92% of the total search engine market share worldwide and boasts over 8 billion searches per day.

As TikTok implements search features, Google has also been making efforts to innovate the way users search and find answers, especially as it seeks to combat TikTok’s rise in popularity.

Semantic search is a method of searching where users are shown results based on relationships between parts of speech and entities. Rooted in natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU), users are served results based on intent versus exact-match keywords or key phrases.

What Does Semantic Search Mean for Travel SEO?

Google has made it clear in their recent updates: user intent matters. As travelers search on the web, and search engines get more intelligent, Google is shifting from a “string” search— focusing on exact match keyphrases — to a “thing” search— focusing on meeting user expectations.

Focus on inspirational content. Instead of generating content based purely on search trends and keywords, destinations must craft content that understands a user’s goals. Not only that, but content must also offer clear and actionable solutions.

For instance, while a user searching for “best places to eat near me” is probably looking for restaurants, they’re probably looking for more than just a simple listicle. Users are also looking for the menu, popular food items, pictures, prices, and ratings.

Maybe they’re also planning a day trip from a nearby location, or are looking for nearby things to do or places to stay as part of a longer trip. Whatever the case, destinations can provide all of that information, and more, to engage and inspire users once they visit their websites.

Most importantly, destinations should focus on placing themselves as the authoritative voice of all things travel. Amplify the voices of locals, highlight fun businesses through stories, and continue posting unique photos and videos that cannot be found anywhere else.

Web Stories & User-Generated Content

In today’s digital world, content no longer means just written text: It also encompasses images, video, and user-generated stories. And Google has noticed.
For this reason, Google has announced plans to switch to a widget-based layout for mobile search results (much like what you’d expect on iOS). This new layout will highlight stories and experiences from other users, much like how TikTok displays content for users.

Web Stories for Travel Inspiration

If you aren’t already, destinations should consider creating web stories, and promoting them in content calendars and social media regularly. While web stories aren’t exactly new, Google is encouraging creators to use their WordPress plugin (especially as they’re trying to combat TikTok). Web stories can be an effective tool for conveying inspirational stories, especially when coming from authentic sources and influencers.

Multisearch: Text Meets Photo & Video SEO

As TikTok has already discovered, users love short-form content and curated images. That’s why Google’s app has created Multisearch, a new and unique way of searching for answers when words aren’t enough.

The days of typing in and refining a query are quickly falling behind, as users can now take a picture and pair it with voice or text to get better results. The implications of this feature range from ensuring destinations load pictures of popular locations in Google Maps to making sure they host photos on their own websites as storytelling platforms.

Multitask Unified Model (MUM) and Video

Videos matter too! The Multitask Unified Model is Google’s algorithm developed specifically for searching for answers through text, image, and video to provide users with the best answers to their questions.

This means that Google understands what’s in videos now, and can decide which sections are the most pertinent for an answer that meets user intent.

Auto-Translated Articles

Starting in early 2023, Google also announced that they’re going to start testing auto-translated news articles in search results. Traditionally, if destinations wanted the content to rank in multiple languages they’d have to implement hreflang, ccTLDs, or even some combination of the two. 

But now, with Google testing MUM’s robust auto-translation, the possibility of reaching audiences across the world seems easier than ever before.

Forums & Discussions Rich Snippet Features

In an attempt to serve more user-generated content to the people who are looking for answers, Google has also announced the addition of a new forum and discussion-rich snippet features.

There is a large subset of users who use Google to search popular forums like Reddit, where they’ll input queries like “things to do Tucson reddit,” or “places to eat Phoenix reddit.”

Some users also search in this manner to find authentic content from a primary source, much like the users who use TikTok. Google has received the message, and now offers relevant forum threads and discussions in search.

Looking Forward: Meet User Intent with Content

As we wrap up 2022, and we look toward TikTok and Google, it’s clear that meeting expectations and driving conversations will continue to be the key players in travel and inspiration.

Content is king. User intent is queen. Marry the two together and watch your traffic grow. Destinations should continue generating the content, using their websites to tell and share stories, and look toward short-form videos as an effective medium for serving users’ information and inspiration.

Ad Overload: How to Adjust Advertising During Election Season

The United States will hold its midterm elections on Tuesday November 8. With election season just around the corner, here are several media and marketing strategies to navigate competition with political ads and polarizing news coverage. 

Eliminate Perception of Preference by Proximity

DMOs should tighten up where ads are running. Politics and news websites, especially ones with partisan preferences, can publish increasingly provocative content as election day nears. It is best to avoid these topics in general, but especially so during election campaign season. 

We always recommend political sites be added to DMOs’ exclusion lists.We also recommend not running ads on articles with political tags. We believe it is a best practice to do these things year-round, but it’s especially important to do so when the country approaches election season. 

Double Check Negative Keywords

Working in the DMO space, having affiliations with public departments, and being linked with municipality, county, or state governments, makes it likely your organization or brand will appear in election-related internet searches. We recommend neutralizing this possibility so your brand is not associated with these searches. 

A DMO should set the negative keyword match on Google to include any iterations of its destination with election-related words, such as candidates’ names, slogans, or election campaign messaging. 

Eliminate the Chance to Tie You to a Campaign or Candidate 

Consumers are starting to associate brands with causes, candidates, and political parties as companies become more open with their support and attention is paid to corporate campaign donations. This correlation can negatively impact brands trying to stay out of the political fray. This is especially true of DMOs that are publicly-funded. 

Taking the above steps can help DMOs stay away from political topics this time of year, and remove any chance consumers will associate their brand with a candidate or political party. Our media team is standing up to help your team navigate the intricate election season advertising landscape. 

Influencers and TikTok: How DMOs Can Connect with Young Travelers

While TikTok grew in popularity during the pandemic, travel and foodie influencers weren’t able to take immediate advantage of the fast growing platform. The initial public health guidelines kept people from traveling or visiting restaurants, so TikTok was immediately filled with tourism industry content as its user base rapidly expanded. 

More Generation Z consumers use TikTok than Instagram in the U.S. and Millennials are 30% more likely to trust user generated content (UGC) compared to older generations. Now, as the pandemic wanes from the top of travelers’ minds, DMOs and hospitality brands are making plans to leverage TikTok to connect with younger travelers.

It’s important for DMOs to plot a long-term strategy and allocate budget to get their brand on the platform while creating authentic content that resonates with Millennials and Gen Z travelers. Our team worked with Visit Tampa Bay and the Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council to achieve that very goal.

Tick Tock, Time to get on TikTok

The Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council, which comprises 14 counties, wanted to host a digital content creator trip to use influencers to elevate the many offerings of the region to their target audiences. Our team utilized Tagger, an influencer marketing platform, to identify creators that focused on the Finger Lakes’ core pillars of outdoors adventures, small town exploration, and craft beverages.

Our team curated multiple itineraries that touched all but three counties within the Finger Lakes to amplify those strategic missions in their key travel markets. We were able to highlight story lines of waterfall exploration, craft beverages mixed with adventure, and the specialities of the area’s small towns through TikTok posts, as well as daily Instagram stories, short form videos, posts, and blogs.

Results

  • 128 Posts over three days 
  • 352,000 impressions 
  • Potential Reach of 7 Million+ accounts 
  • Over $267,000 in earned media value 

Create Influencer Worthy Experiences

Visit Tampa Bay was recently awarded Michelin Star City Status with 19 restaurants in the region receiving Michelin recommended ratings. Visit Tampa Bay wanted to build awareness and generate consumer buzz of their new elevated status in the highly recognized culinary destination, New York. 

Our team curated a unique and custom Visit Tampa Bay destination takeover at Smorgasburg, one of the most popular food festivals in New York. An immersive pop-up was created to highlight Ybor City in Tampa with on-site sampling of the iconic Cuban sandwich. To generate consumer buzz and build third party credibility, we partnered with three influencers to create on-site content of the activation highlighting the food and destination offerings. One influencer traveled to Visit Tampa Bay prior to the event for an immersive experience to the destination’s food scene. 

Results Pre-Event

  • 42 posts
  • Over 227,000 impressions 
  • Over 1.2M video views
  • Over 36,000 engagements 
  • Over $545,000 in earned media value 

Results During Event 

  • 22 posts
  • Over 184,000 impressions
  • Over 80,000 video views
  • Over 1,600 engagements
  • Over $92,600 in Earned Media Value 

Creator Economy 

The media landscape is shifting. Consumers’ eyeballs are turning to digital channels. There are only eight TV networks with over one million primetime viewers, but TikTok has over 1 billion monthly active users internationally, and counting. 

By keeping our finger on the pulse of the media industry, we can ensure your media plan is tailored to meet users where they are showing up — right now that’s video-centered digital channels. To make your media spend impactful, your brand needs to have a meaningful presence on TikTok and other popular social media platforms. 

Our digital media strategists and PR experts and creating relationships with influencers everyday. Reach out to see if there are any who can help elevate your brand.

Valley Forge for the Holidays

How Madden Mastered Winter Marketing in the Northeast

DMOs in the northeast often struggle with marketing a destination during the months of unpredictable winter weather. Unless your destination has a large-scale attraction like a ski resort, indoor water park, or a convention center – figuring out how to encourage and maintain a steady flow of visitation in the wintertime can require creative and unique approaches.

In November & December of 2021, Madden helped the quaint small towns of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, promote their local treasures as a holiday getaway – and it worked. Occupancy rates in Montgomery County soared to pre-pandemic levels.

Located in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Valley Forge region encapsulates all of Montgomery County. As a suburb of Philadelphia, the destination may not be immediately top-of-mind for travelers at this time of year. But, the region is packed with many hidden gems that offer charming, family-friendly activities for the holiday and winter seasons. During the holiday season, Montgomery County reaches many people traveling home for the holidays, whether it be students returning home from college, young couples leaving the cities for a getaway, or families seeking a haven for holiday fun that won’t break the bank. 

The goal of the “Valley Forge for the Holidays” campaign is a great example of how a DMO can bring awareness to its destination during traditionally slower times of year. The campaign highlighted destination features including unbeatable shopping excursions, craft beverage makers, quaint Main Streets, seasonal family fun, winter adventures, and more.

Madden and Montco Unite

Madden and the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board (VFTCB) spun a seasonal play on VFTCB’s “Make It Montco” campaign to help drive foot traffic to businesses in the small communities. We started by designing a seasonal adaptation of the organization’s original logo. A landing page was developed by the VFTCB that showcased available hotel packages for the holiday season, including booking information. For campaign assets, Madden’s creative team utilized a unique approach that mixed bright, graphic elements with rich destination photography. We also featured animated aspects throughout the creative work that would catch the consumer’s eye.

Madden’s account strategy and media teams deployed a mix of channels, including digital mainstays like Facebook and Spotify complemented with traditional channels like billboards. Our team leveraged a strategic stack of tactics that allowed us to create unique ad experiences and cultivate relationships with users along various points of the booking funnel. 

In addition to traditional geographic and interest-level targeting, we used strategic conquesting efforts to target visitors who might be visiting other holiday-related attractions in our key origin markets. These visitors were targeted with ad creative that showcased the experiences that were available throughout Montgomery County, PA, including hotel package opportunities.

The success of the “Valley Forge for the Holidays” campaign was demonstrated through strong KPIs in digital ad placement. Throughout the campaign, all tactics performed at or above goal, with many reaching above industry standards. Our successes from this campaign can also be traced through conversions of arrivals in-destination, as demonstrated through the DMO’s occupancy data provided through STR reporting.

Working with Madden on this campaign was an important part of reaching and surpassing goals.

Justine Garbarino, Associate Vice President of Marketing, Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board

During the months of this campaign, the VFTCB reported significant year-over-year occupancy increases (nearly reaching 2019, pre-pandemic numbers). In addition, the DMO saw its highest-ever referral and search numbers through their Book Direct data. 

Cold-hard conversions like this are music to our ears as we help client destinations recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Helping our clients find new tactics and solutions to highlight the unique businesses and people in their community during a normally slow time of year is the best kind of holiday cheer.

Ready to learn more about how Madden can help drive results for your destination? Complete the form below to get the conversation started.