Destination Marketing & Small Business

Locally-owned businesses have long been the lifeblood of travel and tourism. Recently, travel restrictions due to COVID-19 have brought hard times for industries that rely on tourism dollars, causing local businesses to suffer inequitably. The crisis has served as a reminder of how vital small businesses are to our communities’ economic health and well-being. Locally-owned mom and pop shops enrich our beloved neighborhoods in both wealth and culture—attracting residents and travelers alike. As destination marketers, in conjunction with our DMO partners, we can ensure that local businesses reap the benefits of tourism while providing visitors an unforgettably authentic experience.

How Destination Marketing Can Support Local Economies

As marketers in the travel vertical, we can nourish the small business economies of towns across the US through thoughtful advertising. In collaboration with our partners, we start by identifying what makes your destination unique. Is it the quaint and colorful downtown shopping area or perhaps the mouth-watering “down-home country” Cajun restaurants that make your city stand out? By providing local treasures a platform, we can illuminate and uplift these small businesses.

Through authentic content and a thoughtful digital media strategy, we are able to amplify your destination’s eccentricities, creating a healthier and more robust local economy.

Authentic Content 

A high-performing marketing campaign always starts with exceptional content. At Madden, our Content Team embodies an authoritative “insider’s perspective” view, unique to your destination. Through first-person narrative storytelling and the activation of in-market writers and influencers, we guarantee genuine and bona fide content. Information about local attractions imbued with relevant keywords on your website provides our Digital Team with excellent landing pages to drive visitors to while boosting your SEO value.

Awe-Inspiring Video

Leveraging our professional production team, we can create on-site video content featuring small businesses. These videos serve as a visual representation of your destination’s local community. Our So-Fi Videos utilize User Generated Content to give visitors an authentic view of the destination, from travelers who have actually experienced it. In today’s visual world, videos are absolutely key to your online advertising strategy. They give travelers a sneak peek into your destination and can be housed on your DMO website or utilized as advertisements on Facebook, YouTube, or elsewhere.

Thoughtful Digital Marketing

Our Digital Media Team develops an all-encompassing online advertising strategy for your destination that includes keyword bidding and targeting. By focusing on search queries and custom audience segments for local businesses, we can reach travelers lower in the marketing funnel who are searching for the things that make your destination unique. Conversely, we can reach visitors at the awareness stage of the funnel by bidding for keywords that include “local,” “family-owned,” etc., and tying them to your location through geo-modifiers and targeting. Our Digital Media Team is equipped to share your city’s local attractions with the world by meeting travelers online with information about your destination.

Travelers are inspired not by homogeneity and chains, but by the family-owned bakeries and unique vintage boutiques that light up a town.

The vast digital landscape is enhancing and expanding the ways in which we can influence travelers from near and far to experience the unique zest of your destination. By directing visitors to local attractions and businesses, Madden can help foster a thriving economy that gives cities financial autonomy while producing meaningful jobs for locals. Providing a platform to the small, local, and irreplaceable businesses in your community has never been more critical. It is just one of the ways in which Madden is focused on growing communities through tourism and economic development.

2020 Hermes Award Winners!

Madden is proud to announce five wins for our clients’ campaigns in the 2020 Hermes Creative Awards! Congratulations to Galena Country Tourism on their Platinum Hermes Award for their Integrated Marketing Campaign and to Lubbock Economic Development Alliance for their Digital Marketing Campaign. Gold Hermes Award winners for the electronic media category are Lake Havasu City’s “Find Your Element” Campaign and in the print publications category Missouri Official Travel Guide and DISCOVER South Carolina. Read on to learn more about these successful programs:

Galena Country Tourism

Platinum Hermes Award:
Integrated Marketing Campaign

Galena Country and Madden Media built an entire print and digital campaign around the Marketing Initiatives that were put in place for 2019. The Official Visitors Guide and complementary digital campaigns showcased the following themes through creative and paid media:

  • History (Historically Amazing) 
  • Events in Galena Country 
  • Adventure Awaits 
  • Get to Galena Country 

The omni-channel approach tied print and digital efforts together to form a tourism marketing campaign that used research to define the messaging shared across all media. The success of each tactic and element came together to support prospective travelers (and ultimately visitors) at each stage of their consumer journey—awareness, inspiration, consideration/conversion, in-market, and advocacy.

The success of Galena Country’s Tourism Marketing Campaign was measured at granular levels to create a full picture. At the top level, Galena Country and Madden were able to implement the guide into more channels and incorporate guide requests and downloads into year-round ads. Data informed all decisions about the campaign, including research, analysis of components, and continuous optimization.

Learn more about Galena Country Tourism’s campaign here.

Lubbock Economic Development Alliance

Platinum Hermes Award:
Digital Campaign – Interactive & Social Media

In 2019, LEDA wanted to spur economic growth by targeting professionals to return to Lubbock to fill needed professional vacancies, encourage college and high school graduates to remain in Lubbock and build community awareness and pride. There were several campaigns as part of this effort, including Return2LBK, StayNLBK, and Here By Choice. Return2LBK’s focus was targeting individuals who had previously attended a west Texas college or university and encouraging them to relocate to Lubbock. StayNLBK’s focus was reaching recent high school graduates and college students who were nearing their final year to encourage them to get a job in Lubbock after graduation. The strategy for this campaign was to focus on tying efforts to Lubbock culture and nightlife. The Here By Choice campaign focused on telling the stories of entrepreneurs who work in Lubbock as a way of using advocacy to encourage others to relocate to the area. Lubbock Economic Development Alliance worked with
Madden Media to create and execute these campaigns.

Learn more about Lubbock Economic Development Alliance’s campaign here.

Go Lake Havasu “Find Your Element” Campaign

Gold Hermes Award:
Electronic Media – Audio & Video

Go Lake Havasu’s branded campaign, “Say Yes to Adventure,” had run its course, and it was time for a little refresh. The aspirational “Find Your Element” campaign was developed in collaboration with Madden Media. The goal was to inspire visitors to “be in their element” and find “greater happiness” while visiting Lake Havasu City. We took a fun twist on the universe’s elements with “water, earth, air, and fun” to represent what makes up an epic Lake Havasu experience. Strategically, these campaign elements showcase the unique pillars and things to do, while the integrated brand campaign targets high-intent consumers and invites them to find their element in Lake Havasu City.

Learn more about Go Lake Havasu’s campaign here.

DISCOVER South Carolina Vacation Guide

Gold Hermes Award:
Print Publication; Magazine

In a world where video and digital storytelling become more popular year after year, DMOs are challenged to innovate with their print products—Madden and South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism (SCPRT) have done just that. For the latest rendition of DISCOVER, big inspiration was the number one goal; informative content can be found online. SCPRT and Madden focused on creating a printed guide that moved away from the traditional in-market usage and encouraged consumers to cherish the guide as a keepsake. Our strategy to take the Vacation Guide to a whole new level of inspiration included four key tactics:

  • Featuring a local celebrity on the cover 
  • Crafting a horizontal guide with quality paper stock 
  • Investing in stunning imagery and design 
  • Sections separated by story topic

Learn more about the campaign here, check out the digital edition here, or immerse yourself in the Content Hub here.

Missouri Official Travel Guide

Gold Hermes Award:
Print Publication; Magazine

The 2020 Missouri Official Travel Guide draws prospective travelers in from the moment they see the intriguing Bridal Caves on the wrap-around cover. The artistry of illustrations used throughout the guide—particularly in the “Kidding Around” feature that showcases family fun activities across the state—make readers pause to take a closer look. The design provides a multitude of visual entry points that keep the reader engaged. The Show-Me State’s guide lives up to its nickname.

The guide includes stories that appeal to a variety of interests. One of our favorites is “Made by Hand in Missouri.” The designer was given freedom by the client to express their personal style, and threw in some hand-drawn elements throughout the feature. Texture, grain, and intentionally imperfect illustrations round out the photos and create an interesting reading experience. The great photography— combined with the other elements—really showcased Missouri’s maker movement in a way that feels authentic

Read more about the guide here, or check out the digital edition here.

Keeping Your Audience Engaged

While folks can’t travel, give them something they can use: information, inspiration, and humor.

The past month has been devastating to many. The effect the COVID-19 crisis has had—on people, families, businesses, industries, and the world economy—has been far and wide. The travel and tourism industry has physically screeched to a halt during this time. But virtually, it is alive and well. Many of our tourism industry partners have continued their messaging but tailored their message to respond to the situation. During times of crisis, the key is not to go silent, but approach your audience with empathy, and deliver sincere, genuine, compassionate communication. 

Think of others and help out where you can

While the shutdown has impacted DMOs and their partners, the compound effect of the loss of travel and forced closure of restaurants and bars has caused the loss of millions of jobs worldwide. DMOs can help by getting involved in their communities. In Michigan, Travel Marquette established a food pantry in that community, with food and gift cards to help out workers in the hospitality industry. 

Be a source of information

While folks are stuck at home, they are getting plenty of screentime. Make your website a place they can turn to for information. For example, Visit Tampa Bay established a Dining at a Distance page where residents can easily see—in both map view and list view—which restaurants are offering take out with pick up or delivery. Restaurant owners and individuals can also easily submit changes as the hospitality landscape rapidly shifts. Travel Marquette has also done something similar. They created a page with a list of restaurants, their hours, and whether they are offering take out, delivery, or both. 

Make it fun

To encourage residents to support their local restaurants, Tampa Bay created Takeout Bingo where residents can select from a variety of bingo cards pre-filled out with various restaurants, and fill it up by ordering from those establishments. Once they submit their completed card, they’ll be entered to win a host of restaurant gift certificates. So not only can locals feel good about supporting your local community by ordering takeout, they may even be rewarded for their efforts. 

Offer inspiration through virtual experiences and livestreams

Life can get pretty boring being stuck inside looking at the same four walls. Take people outdoors—or indoors—to entertain and engage them with virtual experiences. It didn’t take long for this video of rockhopper penguins exploring the other animal exhibits at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium to go viral. 

Using this viral video as a use-case example, we recommend creating similar opportunities for your destination. Some of the ways our partners are doing this include:

  • Visit Tampa Bay created a Virtual Experiences page with links to livestreams at several of their local attractions, such as the Florida Aquarium, ZooTampa, Busch Gardens, as well as museums, theaters, and symphonies. 
  • Visit Idaho and Visit Tampa Bay also designed online jigsaw puzzles, word searches, and coloring books featuring their local attractions. 
  • Visit Tampa Bay also created this Discover Tampa from a Distance page, with user-generated content showing ways residents are finding their zen at home, and remembering time spent in their favorite local places. 

Use humor

The Director of Security at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City is the latest media sensation. 

After taking over the museum’s social media from “Seth from Marketing” while the museum is closed, the museum has seen its social media following explode from thousands to hundreds of thousands. This is all thanks to Tim’s down-to-earth style, which has resonated with users. 

Be sincere

Viewers can tell when you’re not, and no one benefits when you put profits over people. Ease up on urgency. Now is not the time for early-bird promotions. Take the opposite approach. Visit Idaho, Visit Independence, Missouri, and Grand Canyon West have all encouraged visitors to stay home—for now—with videos and digital ads (Idaho See You Soon, Keep Dreaming Idaho and Idaho Stay Home, Stay Healthy animated).

While the impact of this crisis is expected to be long-lasting—and we will likely all be changed in some way—we know people will begin to travel again. Because travel is in our DNA. It’s part of human nature. We are curious, social creatures. Travel exposes us to other cultures, food, surroundings. It builds compassion and expands our worldview. It brings us closer together as we come to realize we are all more alike than different. And that alone can help make the world a better place. For all of us. 

Be well. And start planning your next adventure.

Looking Ahead: How to Help U.S. Travel Planning

Perhaps now more than ever, Americans are dreaming of their next travel adventure. With tactful sensitivity and an emphasis on flexibility, your destination can help travelers start thinking ahead, and give them something to look forward to while sheltering in place. 

What organizations do now will make a lasting impact on their future in terms of loyalty and growth. Have confidence in the fact that travel will bounce back, and keep your destination on minds and in hearts. While it’s understandable that paid marketing efforts may need to be kept to a minimum right now, a few relevant, thoughtful updates on your part can go a long way. With this in mind, below are some ideas you may want to implement now.  

Promote a Fall/Winter Getaway

Those popular fall festivals, holiday celebrations, winter sports, and ski lodge stays in your area could be worth promoting much earlier this year. Think about your best fall and winter attractions, events, and seasonal lodging offers, and bring those to the forefront now. If you usually put out a fall and/or winter travel guide for your destination, consider providing it now for planning ahead efforts. There may also be rescheduled events, like weddings, that are being considered for a later date in the year (for gatherings, please refer to the latest guidelines provided by the CDC).

Offer Deals

Travelers enjoy deals not just in terms of low cost but for overall value. Put together assorted package deals to help potential visitors choose your destination. Discounts on accommodations, dining, and attractions for both new and returning visitors can be promoted now for future travel.  You may also want to highlight any free things to do in your area.

Be Flexible

Try taking the measures to offer more flexibility with plan-ahead options. Travelers already appreciate minimal risk and low stress when booking trips, but at this time, it may be a key decision-making factor for whether or not to consider your destination. Allowing for special (temporary) considerations, such as changes to your policies regarding refunds, cancellations, and deposits, is both considerate and forward-thinking.

Provide Answers 

Try to ease worries that potential or returning visitors may have before they plan their trip. One way to do this is to have a current FAQ section on your site that lists questions and answers to some of the most relevant topics of today. Make it easy for visitors to find out what’s open, where to stay, and address any safety concerns. Include the date when the FAQs were last updated. It’s important to remain vigilant in providing accurate information. Also, be sure to have a contact email available as well, which is checked regularly.   

Target Regional Visitors

With many travel restrictions in place, people may be looking closer to home for their next getaway. It’s reasonable to assume many travelers will forego flights in favor of driving to destinations this year. Consider efforts to target surrounding states within driving distance. A fairly low-cost example would be to run Facebook ads that target by interest and only show within your state and surrounding states. This way, targeted users are more likely to see your organic message in their feeds. Click here for more information on how to use this function on Facebook. You may also want to consider using only top-drive markets for your location.

Map it Out

It’s likely many of the first travelers to start planning a getaway will be interested in doing a road trip. Throughout the United States, there are a number of fantastic routes to explore – from scenic loops to river roads to historic interstates. Take a look at opportunities near your destination to include a stay along the way for visitors. You may even want to consider partnering up with nearby locations to help map out some road trip ideas. An actual online map within your site is also ideal for getting visitors to plan time in your destination.

Be a Bucket List Destination

Now is a time when people may be getting creative in where they go and what they do. If you’ve never quite seen your destination as a “bucket list” place, maybe it’s time to ask yourself why not! The United States is a melting pot of cultures from around the world. That European trip may be off the agenda for a while, so what does your location offer that can provide cultural experiences unique to your location? Many destinations show off villages and areas of town with strong heritage and communities – where visitors can try unique traditions, foods, art, and more from other countries.

Suggest Itineraries

A time like this may require you to think a little more like a travel agent might, in that efforts to put together the legwork could help get you more interest and bookings. Design some trip ideas for visitors to check out before they book their getaway.  Get creative and try grouping itineraries by activity level – relaxing, adventurous, solo, family, kids, empty nesters, etc. Not only do itineraries make planning easier for a visitor, but they can be great in highlighting some of the best things your destination has to offer.

Show Off Videos and Virtual Tours 

A highly inspiring way to motivate future travel to your destination is with video. Get travelers excited by giving them a way to visualize an experience in your location. This doesn’t have to mean shooting a video from scratch – you can also take existing video assets and create a new edit, with current messaging. For great video examples, check out Visit Idaho’s goodwill video, and their wonderful page of virtual tours

Boost Your SEO

Make sure your Search Engine Optimization is up-to-date. Are your meta descriptions and keywords relevant for current web searches? Review our blog post on SEO for more tips on protecting your current SEO status, which is especially vital if you’ve had to cut marketing efforts down significantly. 

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions or need assistance implementing any of these ideas.  

Recovery Marketing Led by Travel Intent

As the COVID-19 curve flattens and destinations look toward resuming or restarting their marketing campaigns, Madden has made it a priority to help our partners make better decisions about their marketing efforts and planning based on reliable data and insights.

Utilizing our DOMO powered reporting dashboard, Madden Voyage, we’ve identified and compiled key industry trends and research from a variety of sources including media platforms, DMO websites, and Google. Taking this broad mix of ever-evolving data, we’re able to analyze multiple streams of information at once to better predict when travelers will be ready to start traveling again. We’re working behind-the-scenes to help DMOs:

  • Capture the consumer as they resume travel planning and seek inspiration by providing insight into when to begin campaigns to start engaging the consumer on their own terms.
  • Compare travel intent against historical trends to see how behavior is changing in order to optimize marketing tactics based on travel intent in real-time.
  • Identify messages resonating with consumers that are increasing their intent to travel.

Identifying Intent Indicators

When it comes to determining intent measurements, we’re focusing on a few key pieces of data:

  • Aggregated Organic Intent (AOI): We believe this is one of the key indicators of travel intent because it shows dedicated engagement on DMO websites. Beyond just site visits, we are looking at page types and DMO search terms to validate that the consumer is on DMO websites with the intent to be inspired or plan for travel. We weigh this type of metric highly for consumer travel intent.
  • Aggregated Marketing Engagement (AME): The goal of this metric is to show how the consumer is interacting with paid marketing efforts compared to historical trends, so we can ensure marketing is being provided at the right time.
  • Travel Search Trends (TST): Based on Google searches by week and keyword, we believe this will be a leading indicator showing when consumers will start regaining their interest in travel. We know the circuitous path that is the traveler’s journey, and this information enriches what we are not able to see on DMO websites and from media providers.

Intent by Numbers

When it comes to AOI and TST, our partners saw a sharp decline to almost no engagement starting in March. However, these numbers have since plateaued and we have even seen marginal increases over the last couple of weeks. Additionally, travelers are revisiting travel websites and research after booking to stay on top of developing information. This offers even more opportunity to engage and interact with prospective travelers as their intent to travel increases. In the case of AME, engagement has stayed relatively steady with dips occurring only when efforts were paused momentarily. As of this week, each of the partners we’ve monitored has seen a return to “normal” levels of Aggregated Marketing Engagement.

What does this mean?

With week over week gains with a plateau in six-month travel plan cancellations, these numbers indicate that engagement has already reached its lowest point and our partners can begin moving from protecting their brand to planning for future marketing initiatives as outlined in our Protect. Plan. Recover. Framework. 

Marketing to Travel Intent

Don’t wait for stay-at-home orders to end before restarting your marketing efforts, encourage your audience to plan for recovery but recognize that your messaging must be tailored to be specific to the situation. Prospective travelers still perceive fall travel as safe but, among those planning travel, there is a clear increase in drive market intent to travel while consumers are still avoiding air and international travel. Additionally, these hopeful travelers are particularly interested in outdoor activities and local support and collaboration beyond hotel partners. Inspirational messaging that showcases outdoor options and creates emotional connections to the destination will be well-received. It’s not just the messages that need to be tailored, the method of delivery is also evolving as digital platforms and TV receive more attention and audio formats receive less.

As traveler intent increases, the following tactics will help our partners reach consumers where they are in their planning process—knowing that booking windows will shorten while planning windows expand amid uncertainty.

Engage and Encourage

Lower-funnel marketing efforts continue to serve consumers looking for more information and those who have previously expressed interest in your destination. Target your existing engaged audiences and continue to build audience development momentum among leisure travelers through SEM, YouTube, lead generation, remarketing, CTV, organic social, SEO, and print and digital visitor guides. Minimize events content while identifying and promoting virtual tourism opportunities.

Continue meeting planning marketing with long-term orientation and adapted messaging for future meetings booking in 2021 and beyond. Shift focus to audiences already in the conversion funnel to continue to build momentum and maintain the lead through SEM, remarketing, and LinkedIn remarketing. Now’s the time to transition to online sales and planning tools as much as possible; consider virtual planning and visualization opportunities like maps, 360-video, and digitally-built itineraries. 

Incentive Activation

Update your site with engaging content that welcomes visitors back to your destination and promotes local dining and hotel partner packages/deals while remaining reflective of current and future social distancing expectations. Be sure to resume any lapsed SEO efforts to bridge gaps in content. Continue to focus on lower-funnel efforts with an increase in paid media to further fuel inspiration and awareness as well as recover site traffic losses. Geo-target residents, in-state and drive markets, and key meetings markets to reach them with SEM, remarketing, paid social, native advertising, and other brand awareness tactics.

Collaborate with meetings venues and local business partners to create incentive opportunities that can be used in promotion in order to quick-start bookings and re-establish the sales pipeline. Re-establish awareness tactics and promote these new incentives with SEM, prospecting and remarketing, LinkedIn prospecting and remarketing, LinkedIn InMail, dedicated meetings incentive content, and native content advertising.

Recovery Marketing

Diligently review marketing performance and pivot messaging as travel is reintroduced across the board and the industry heads toward recovery. Expand targeting to include regional and key fly markets. Transition messaging to include content pillars and discovery-oriented calls-to-action for new consumers and booking calls-to-action for remarketed consumers. Test, optimize, and measure media and creative carefully during this recovery period to ensure relevancy. Results and responses during this time will influence future planning. Continue incentive promotions, especially around lodging and dining for leisure marketing and incentives to book for meeting planners/group travel. 

Expand Brand Marketing 

As the travel and hospitality industry continues to recover and adjust, gauge reintroducing events, gatherings, etc. into marketing messaging and creative. Assess and activate broad and niche brand marketing activities across channels. Re-evaluate international marketing initiatives to possibly resume in 2021. Consumer needs and values around what matters most have likely been altered and will have a lasting impact. An appreciation for life, experiences together, and joy-seeking will emerge as emotional values to highlight in brand marketing. 

Market Reorientation

As consumers continue to ramp up travel, this is the time to revisit research in order to get an understanding of the new consumer landscape. Understanding your current audience is the most important step in developing future strategies. Messaging and prioritization can now shift to once again focus on occupancy. Assist in navigating consumers through the Traveler’s Journey with a comprehensive marketing campaign including SEM, prospecting and brand awareness, and remarketing and conversion. 

Looking Forward

Travel has already shown beginning signs of resuming and Madden is keeping a pulse on industry data to provide our partners with actionable insights. These insights will help us identify when to enact new strategies in order to reach consumers where they are in their planning process. As the industry rebounds to a new normal, we’ll continue to provide cutting-edge solutions in real-time and prioritize the growth of our partners—your success is our success.

The Messages of Compassion, Unity, and Hope in Trying Times

In times of uncertainty, it can be difficult to navigate appropriate communication and messaging to clients and consumers. A sense of compassion, unity, and hope can go a long way in hard times. In the travel industry, we know how vital it is to convey these messages in ways that are understanding and supportive. As we navigate turbulent times, several destinations and companies are finding great ways to do just that.  

If you’re in need of inspiration, we’ve highlighted some key themes and phrases of such messaging.

Compassion and Unity 

Messages with a great deal of understanding and patience are currently being used by several large organizations, such as General Motors (Cadillac commercial).  The phrase “we’re all in this together” is an appealing personal message you can provide while business as usual is on pause. 

Hope and Looking Ahead

“We’re here for you when you’re ready” is an excellent way to inspire planning ahead. It’s likely a lot of people are daydreaming of their next vacation right now, and being a beacon of light could help lift their spirits.  The destination of Las Vegas has recently aired a spot with this messaging.  Grand Canyon West created an inspiring video with this type of messaging as well.

Presentness and Flexibility

The message of “we’re here for you, now” is also very prevalent with the current state of tourism and other businesses. Staying vigilant to do what you can, day-to-day, can not only build stronger ties with your clients and customers—but keep you first-in-mind when the storm has passed.  

For destinations, promoting the safest options available can be of great use to those looking for a simple getaway, if even just online. Some ideas are:

  • Solo Getaways: An interesting option that may be more applicable at this time are trips for one. Opportunities for taking a solo getaway could include bed and breakfast specials and outdoor activities like camping or fishing. 
  • Outdoor Recreation: Encouragement to enjoy wide, open spaces at this time is a positive message that can safely fulfill the need for a getaway. Focusing on areas with a lot of room to roam could be a welcome retreat to people within your surrounding community. If you have campgrounds, hiking trails, lakes, and open parks—providing people with locations, maps, hours, tips, and resources can go a long way in easing minds. 
  • Virtual Tours, Photo Galleries, Live Cams: There may already be assets you have that can be brought to the forefront presently. Some attractions are currently promoting their virtual tours. This is ideal for attractions like museums and historic homes/buildings.
  • Deals and Offers: Several destinations and companies are offering specials with discounts, deals, and giveaways. Keeping safety and health in mind, these might be opportunities that can be used/redeemed at a later date. 
  • Video Messages: A personal message from someone within your organization can be a great way to provide information and supportive words.  

Being Helpful with Relevant Information and Awareness 

Ways to provide relevant information can help inform people of current conditions in your area.  Several destinations and companies have created dedicated landing pages, and crafted special emails, for this purpose. The message here is general and can cover updates, announcements, maps, press releases, or links from reliable sources such as the CDC and the U.S. Travel COVID-19 page.

With creative thinking and an emphasis on kindness and flexibility, a pause in business doesn’t have to mean “closed.” We hope you’ll find some of these ideas useful.  For more insight and information on getting through this time in our history, please see our helpful guide to Protect. Plan. Recover. 

If you have any more tips or ideas that you’re currently implementing and finding successful, feel free to drop us a line, and we might feature you on our Instagram page!

COVID-19 Website Strategies

There’s a lot on everybody’s plate right now. From adaption to a new normal to concerns about family, friends, and the world, it’s a tough time that is new to all of us. But beyond the day-to-day logistics, we want to encourage you to think about this time as a real potential opportunity to begin your plan, protect, and recover path through to the future. We believe that this path should include a focus on a short-term marketing strategy for your biggest marketing tool, which is your website. Reports from the CDC and U.S. Travel continue to share that the risk to the U.S. public is low and there are no restrictions on travel anywhere in the U.S., however it is clear that public confidence is shaken, and the full impact of this time has yet to be seen. The bottom line is that both DMOs and the travel industry in general will come out of this. With that in mind, a focus on Q3 and Q4 marketing efforts for your site can be a good way to help you prepare for the return of visitors and travel throughout the country.

So what can these strategies be? The good news is that there are plenty. While we encourage you to use your site to relay information to locals about news and updates, we do also believe that you can think about a shift to inspiration for travelers for when they are comfortable and able to travel again. While your events sections today seem overwhelmed with a sea of cancellation notices, the longer term strategy of continuing to show visitors why they should visit you can still be ongoing. These types of changes can include:

  • Ongoing SEO efforts to make sure your website rankings are preserved.
  • Adjusting your homepage content to focus less on current events and more on general destination information.
  • Temporarily pausing media campaigns directly aimed at specific events or time windows.
  • Consider a round of inspirational storytelling to help website visitors become inspired to visit you when the dust settles.
  • If you are seeing a large volume of cancellations on your events pages, consider only showing any activities that are still scheduled, and also add content to discuss what sorts of events typically happen at your destination.

In addition to these types of changes, this can also be a time to do a little house cleaning, or working with your website development team to address long-standing issues that you’ve been meaning to get to but haven’t had time. If you are utilizing our Growth-Driven Design website and marketing strategies, we can adjust your ongoing sprints to focus more on these types of projects. If you are on our monthly hosting and maintenance plans, we can also work with you to show you ways that you can work to clean out outdated and redundant content using your WordPress administration area. 

The takeaway is this: While we don’t want to sugarcoat anything that is currently happening, we do know that this will pass, and when it does, we want you and your primary marketing tools to be as ready as possible for the return of visitors to your destination. And as your partner in that process, we want to be available to you to help and guide you through to that time. The reality right now is that people are at home way more than they might have typically been – this means they will be surfing the web and looking for information, be it as a distraction from the times, or wanting to plan future trips once we come out from the other side. This is why it’s important that you and your site are ready to help them.

Interested in learning even more about how you can protect, plan, and subsequently recover from the current COVID-19 environment? We’ve developed a COVID-19 Marketing Preparation Guide for you and your partners.

The Importance of SEO

SEO is a crucial element of successful marketing campaigns. Madden’s experts want to share what you can do to keep your website optimized for good Search Engine Optimization.

Why Focus on SEO Now?

SEO is more critical to destination website success following the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on, many people were confined to their homes and searching for things to do and places to travel once restrictions lifted. As people start feeling safe to travel again, you want your website to appear in searches. This will help you connect your brand to audiences interested in travel.

Protecting your current SEO status and preventing it from slipping now will help you recover in the future. Madden is here to help. We have SEO experts that are ready to ensure your site remains as visible as possible for those with travel intent. Our team is always happy to provide strategies and advice that can help your website stay high in search results.

SEO is an Always-On Tactic

Remember that your site needs to remain SEO-optimized in order to be seen by visitors. It is much more difficult to regain lost rankings than to maintain and improve current rankings over time. Beyond this, there are additional items that can occur with a suspended SEO campaign, such as:

  • Competitor sites can overtake your website in search rankings, especially if they are continuing SEO while your campaign is inactive.
  • Stopping a long term investment such as SEO will greatly reduce its value. Think of SEO like a gym routine—if you stop, it is much more difficult to pick back up where you left off. The longer you neglect SEO, the harder it will be to regain lost traffic and rankings.
  • Unresolved errors can cause a poor user experience and result in a drop of repeat visitors.
  • Any new keyword opportunities are missed, resulting in a loss of new visitors.
  • Updates to Google’s algorithm continue to happen frequently – these updates have to be addressed with ongoing SEO.
  • Your site can quickly lose search visibility.

Bringing it All Together

Travel has been and continues to be one of the first industries affected by unprecedented national and world-wide events. However, we firmly believe that tourism will be one of the first industries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. People will be more eager than ever to get out of the house once again when it is safe to do so. Using strong SEO tactics to be there for them with strong search results will translate to a quicker recovery for your destination.

In closing, we know that saying you have a lot on your plate right now is an understatement. We want to help make you aware of how you can best be prepared for recovery through positive planning and prevention. Stay positive, keep your websites visible in front of audiences worldwide, and remember that we will come out of this stronger as an industry.

Interested in learning even more about how you can protect, plan, and subsequently recover from the current COVID-19 environment? We’ve developed a COVID-19 Marketing Preparation Guide for you and your partners.

Protect. Plan. Recover.

Updated 4/28/20

The evolving role of Destination Marketing Organizations into Destination Management Organizations has never been more evident than in recent weeks. We’ve developed the following framework to provide you and your partners with a helpful guide to thinking about not just short-term actions, but preparing and planning for the recovery of your marketing efforts for your destination.

Protect. 

While our hotel partners are experiencing a downturn like never before—one that some may not recover from—we know your destinations provide much more than room nights. Each of you hosts your own unique offering of coffee shops, breweries, museums, events, and so much more. While we cannot promote immediate travel, we can promote those assets and the stories and people behind them through social media and local earned media. More than ever, you will need to activate your local residents for the duration of this COVID-19 crisis to help fill the massive gap left by the mitigation measures currently being put in place.

As destinations begin to open up the gates to responsible marketing, the current message should be “Don’t travel now, but we are looking forward to having you back when the time is right and we want you to be dreaming about us, too.” This sentiment is reflected back in comments on social media as past visitors are expressing nostalgia and the desire to visit again soon.

Now is the time to adjust SEM plans for those in the planning phase and shift keywords and ad groups to outdoor spaces or promotions for curbside pickup and other ways to support local economies. Beyond organic posts on social feeds, numerous cities across the country are running display, video, and paid social campaigns for inspiration.

As you look forward, look at the collective impact models that exist to bring together diverse organizations and groups with a common agenda. Collective impact models bring people and organizations together in a structured way to achieve social change with a common goal. We have the opportunity as an industry to advocate for our communities and lead toward this future.

Some immediate measures you can take to support your community broadly include:

  • Continue being the conduit between partners to share information and best practices. This includes sharing information between partners about resources available to both the people affected through layoffs and the companies themselves. Helping to ensure the people have access to these resources will soften the effect of this crisis on them and improve the likelihood that those individuals will be able to rejoin the industry and bring back their historical knowledge, training, and skills. 
  • Tell the stories of your partners on social media, consolidate a list of companies offering take-out and delivery services, and create unique, newsworthy experiences with those partners to be picked up by local media. Look for opportunities to bring these efforts to visual-based media like YouTube or 360 videos. 
  • Reinforce the messages from your local health department regarding the current situation and the best measures to protect individuals, along with links to official releases.
  • Review your current content and itineraries and determine what to share with locals to encourage activities they can do while practicing social distancing. Not all of these activities will be doable during specific times like a shelter-in-place directive, but locals will be able to return to those activities at some point ahead of visitors. These can also help drive pride-in-place among your residents and help reinforce your brand.
  • Listing management is always a challenge to keep the most relevant information updated, and it will become more challenging during this period as businesses are forced to close. Create a workflow to review what businesses are temporarily or permanently shutting down, so this does not become a significant task that shadows your plans when you start to return to the new normal.
  • Work with your local chambers and economic development offices to share resources and coordinate joint messaging.
  • Adjust your homepage content to focus less on current events and more on general destination information.
  • Share educational content (potentially in partnership with teachers) about your destination for children at home across the country. This could include math problems around distance, volume problems around size, destination history, and more.

Everyone is seeking assistance from all levels, and you likely have reduced resources either through furloughs or new budget constraints. You already know your most critical assets through your existing destination development plans, visitor profile studies, and research data; use these studies or get the historical pattern of life tracking data, so you know where to prioritize your resources. While you may have significant leisure data, do not forget to review the pattern of life data of visitors to your convention centers to see what enriches the experience for event attendees. Work with your board to move some of your media efforts to support these key partners.

Whether you’re a government entity or a non-profit organization, you are going to have to protect and defend your budgets. Right now, you need to protect your organization and resources and, like your partners, look for recovery funds and loans to protect your team and efforts. Seek board approval to take on debt that might include potential payroll protection loans and economic stimulus benefits. Like your partners, you have also been adversely affected, and your non-profit should be seeking SBA assistance and working with your political leaders to ensure 501(c)6 organizations can qualify. Programs like these will be helpful to ensure that you have your full team to help you prepare and respond. U.S. Travel has established a guide to review options and your potential eligibility.

Lastly, keep in mind that there are still bookings for meetings going on for the future. These will easily be 6-18 months in the future, making short-term cuts for payroll could have long-term consequences. The relief programs should help to minimize the short-term pain and help mitigate the longer-term impact.

Plan.

The world has just hit the pause button and we can’t expect that travel and tourism will suddenly go back to normal once the doors are open. Still, we all need to be working towards growing your destination and returning your hotel partners to a sustainable occupancy level. First, identify where you are on your curve. We are seeing a 15-30 day bell curve from the time community spread reaches a destination—this is within a metro region or state, not the data we will see from the country. As we review industry news, trends, and considerable research provided by Tourism Economics, we see booking interest start to return at 30-45 days from community spread. The result is that those areas which are most likely to be hit first will also be the first to recover, but will continue to suffer the longer-term PR concerns about safety. 

As the virus settles into pockets, some destinations will be better suited to handle visitors sooner rather than others. All of us know from our experience working within the traveler’s journey that leisure travelers will dream about a type of trip well before they start considering your destination. It is imperative to meet them where they are in the journey. Right now, people are home either not working or working remotely; they are looking for distractions and are online in droves. Keep those who are showing interest and intent to travel inside of your funnel by maintaining some limited media through the duration of the crisis since leisure travelers generally take 40+ days to decide to book. Bear in mind, 76% of travelers stated they planned to travel in the next six months, as recently surveyed by Longwoods.

When travel does pick up again, there will still be significant segments of the population that are reluctant to travel—whether due to financial instability or lingering health and wellness concerns. For those who do travel, find ways to highlight the affordability of your destination. The first people to travel will likely be drive-markets looking for budget-conscious short stays, day trips, and potentially weekends. Rather than lowering base prices (which can create complications around raising them in the future), increase value for these travelers with special packages and incentives.

Travelers will also take a particular interest in what your community, your restaurants, and your attractions are implementing to ensure their safety. Collaborate with your partners to create and communicate plans that address health and safety.

What you can do to ensure your message and assets continue to be seen and considered by your future travelers:

  • Don’t wait for stay-at-home orders to end before restarting your marketing efforts, encourage your audience to plan for recovery but recognize that destinations cannot go back to the same messaging. Tailor your messages to be specific to the situation and call out those activities travelers are most excited about such as getting outside and enjoying a change of scenery.
  • Utilize your B-roll. Repurpose those images with a new soundtrack and voice-over telling future visitors—especially those in your remarketing pool and social channels—that you look forward to their visits in the future. Identify distribution channels that have increased viewership currently like YouTube, CTV, and social media.
  • Nurture your existing social media relationships by offering calming messages and continued engagement of your followers. There will be a time for prospecting, for now, you may want to put a small amount of paid media behind your posts to ensure visibility to your followers.
  • Consumers are shaken from this event, and they’re seeking things that give them comfort. Memories of previous trips will be shared as families come together, and they will want to recreate those memories now even more. 
  • Build stronger social advocacy campaigns and dive into some of your historical UGC efforts to reengage with past comments from visitors on social media. 
  • Try and find a unique spin for your marketing. Many destinations are putting out the same message, what opportunities do you have to differentiate your message? Be funny. Be humorous. Be memorable.
  • Consider lead-generation efforts to build your email list and get people to sign up for visitor guides, get access to a special passport to your businesses, etc. Find ways to build anticipation and curiosity about your destination with your consumers.
  • Continue to meet the consumer where they are through current SEM, Remarketing, and RLSA efforts. Keep them dreaming about what they want to do; it will increase their desire and commitment to making their dream a reality. 
  • Respond to consumer shifts in their travel plans. Use in-market audiences to capture those individuals shifting plans from cruise and international travel to road trips and domestic.

What you can do to improve the performance of your organization and marketing assets:

  • Analyze website traffic trends. Use consumer-driven insights to update pages seeing the most interest. Ongoing SEO and conversion optimization efforts will make sure your website can be found in searches and help to pinpoint organic consumer intent metrics that show you should start ramping up your media spend.
  • Dust off your strategic plan, media strategy, most recent visitor profile studies, etc., and reset your priorities and core messages. Redefine and evolve campaigns and personas; what made sense six months ago may not be fitting today. 
  • Conduct a more in-depth media analysis of historical data, establish what is working & where tactics can be the most beneficial for future spend/channels.
  • Start planning an intense summer blitz that is likely to be more competitive than we have seen in the recent past, along with fall and winter campaigns to drive occupancy back up in softer months.
  • Identify which meetings have been postponed and rescheduled and use this information to adjust your tactical marketing plans.
  • Plan outreach with partners and gather lists of media outlets (print, online publishers, blogs) to contact about positive destination stories (SMBs, Locally Made, One-of-a-kind attractions, outdoor spaces).
  • Understand the unique value drivers and the search trends behind those places to make recommended content plans.
  • Improve your meetings marketing assets—use this time to create assets that speak to the meeting planner personas and types of events that correlate with economic development planning instead of building solely against square feet, configuration options, and price. 
  • Work with your restaurants and attractions partners to build assets and programs on platforms like Bandwango to be able to provide to residents, visitors, and conference attendees.

Recover.

Your office, your partners, residents, and visitors all want to get to the other side of this crisis. The future will look different, but the core roles and responsibilities of DMOs will remain the same and will likely be that much more appreciated by your stakeholders. You will be the ones to help lead your destinations through the recovery. Whereas your hotel and attractions partners currently have messaging driving bookings, you are there to inspire the dream and brand of your destination for the consumer.

This year, the focus will be on occupancy over ADR, opening the doors of your hotels and attractions again, and a continued emphasis on social distancing. Consumers will want to see your inspiration-focused imagery or videos. However, it is wise to limit videos and images with numerous people in them due to social distancing concerns for the intermediate future. 

Use your social media channels and email marketing campaigns to let people know which of your partners are open for business. Media budgets have been paused, so when your destination is cleared to receive travelers, you will need to start ramping media up to peak levels while still seeking to control costs per conversion. Continue to focus on media channels that supply the highest return on investment, focusing on conversion actions that meet the strategy that you developed during the planning phase.

Be positive. There are more challenges to come as this virus affects your communities and individuals whom you know personally, and there will be more difficult decisions ahead. There is no crisis our industry has not rallied together to find a way through; because we know travel is a necessary part of the human condition. We have always been drawn to explore, to not sit in one place for too long, and to seek out the unknown. We are curious, social, and insta-worthy travelers that want your destination to be part of our story.

Great Marketing Comes with Great Responsibility

Consumers expect brands—including destinations—to think beyond the bottom line and deploy responsible marketing. Marketers have a duty to protect the privacy of the individuals they are trying to reach, embrace inclusivity with personalized content, prove the ROI, and integrate environmentally sustainable practices whenever possible. 

How can agencies and marketing organizations in the tourism industry increase responsible marketing? From combatting over-tourism to creating environmentally responsible publications, your organization can choose to follow socially responsible practices and become leaders in making travel more sustainable. 

Madden believes in actively developing long-term growth alongside our partners through conscientious marketing. Together, we can lead the way to thoughtful and responsible promotion of travel.

Inclusivity and Diversity

As we think about the challenges of 2020, none came to light more than the challenges we face trying to be a fully inclusive society. When we think about how to become more welcoming to all travelers, having a team that is inclusive and representative of the country is one of the most important ways to embody and affect change. As a company, we are committed to seeking consistent, sustained improvement. Consider your team dynamics and how you are building your organizations. To build a diverse organization requires work on recruitment, it does not just happen.

As marketers, we look to continue to evolve our marketing practices to better represent all of the population and not just those that have the perceived highest value. Some of the ways we are working with DMOs to become more inclusive include:

  • Audit Content, Photo Assets, & UGC: Take an open-minded look at the content used in your marketing. Look for opportunities to showcase a wider variety of people in your imagery. Evaluate your website content, blog, and social media efforts and audit for staff bias.
  • Talk About Inclusion With Your Partners: Your teams know your destination best. Brainstorm ways you can work together to be more inclusive and hold one another accountable.

Review Partner Listings: Are you featuring Black-owned business in your partner listings? Are there ways to highlight diverse businesses in a way you haven’t done before? Help your partners update their Google My Business listings.

Inclusivity starts with us — embedding equity in all aspects of our organization. The more diverse voices we have at each table, the more trusted spaces we have to listen, learn and amplify compelling stories. Creating this culture is critical to our shared success.

Sheretha Bell, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau

One of our partners, Discover Atlanta, has taken a leadership role in building inclusivity into their efforts. Working with them, we asked local Black writers to give an unfiltered review of their favorite places in Atlanta so that travelers would get an authentic view of the city’s nightlife, outdoor activities, dining, history, and more. Each piece of content includes a headshot and bio from the writers as well as photos of themselves throughout the city. Including these details reinforces Discover Atlanta’s commitment to representative storytelling and resonates more strongly with their target audiences.

Working with Atlanta on their new website, we worked with their team to bring creative assets highlighting a wide variety of people—giving their storytelling the ability to cut across demographics and compel a wide variety of people to visit and enjoy Atlanta’s unique combination of cuisine, culture, and community experiences. 

It’s vital to think about your audiences and create content that makes meaningful, authentic connections. Think about how people from different walks of life will find a photo or video snippet of someone who looks like them enjoying your destination. Investing in inclusive, diverse, and welcoming creative assets (and content!) not only helps our society get closer to universal allyship, but it’s more effective in compelling people to visit.

Environmental Impact

Sustainable Tourism

As travel marketers, our goal is to connect people to places, encourage exploration, and increase tourism year over year. However, from overcrowding to the deterioration of fragile environments, too many visitors can be harmful to local communities. At the destination level, local DMOs have the responsibility to educate prospective visitors about under-trafficked areas so that they can have a truly unique experience, not just everyone else’s vacation. Discovering less explored locations, attractions, and restaurants makes for a more balanced destination. 

Madden recommends implementing Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Programs and Responsible Visit Campaigns to our partners—all businesses and community members should unite together to reduce the impact of overtourism.

As travel marketers, we have a responsibility to proactively communicate and educate prospective visitors with information necessary for a unique and wonderful experience that protects and respects our destinations and residents.

Matt Borud, Idaho Department of Commerce

One of our partners, Visit Idaho partnered with a number of their stakeholders to promote responsible recreation throughout Idaho. The outdoor recreation community throughout the COVID pandemic saw many more visitors, especially many first-time visitors that were less familiar with the outdoors. Through the partnership, our team was able to work together to match responsible recreation messages with those individuals who were most likely to visit. This involved both a strong video campaign and information made available to help visitors and residents alike recreate more responsibly at Recreate.Idaho.gov.

Effective Use of Natural Resources

Our history began with promoting destinations through visitor guides, and there are many ways we can improve the practices and processes used to be more eco-friendly. By utilizing page counts that minimize waste when printing and downsizing pages for efficiency, visitor guides become far more environment-friendly. 

We love sustainable paper, we think it is a more environmentally conscious approach than recycled paper. Paper recycling uses more energy than plastic recycling, it requires chemicals to strip the paper, and you can only reuse the paper seven times before the fibers are too small. To be truly sustainable and environmentally conscious, and give your guide high quality paper, we recommend getting paper from trees that are grown and harvested in an earth-friendly way. These trees are planted and harvested in a way that doesn’t interfere with the habitat and use rainwater (Source: Sustainable vs. Recycled: Which Paper is Best?, Double A Paper).

Consumer Privacy

Complying with privacy laws is only the beginning of being trustworthy with consumer data. As consumers, we all want to know that our personal information is safe, so as marketers we should do all we can to respect and protect the personal information of our target audiences. We should go beyond the minimum efforts that are required and give consumers opportunities to opt out of data collection they’re uncomfortable with—besides, why waste your precious marketing dollars on people who aren’t likely to convert?

Madden takes privacy seriously, and we work closely with our partners to ensure the target audiences we’re reaching opt-in or consent to sharing the information we collect through responsible marketing. For example: 

  • In our remarketing efforts, we do not collect personal information that is protected under GDPR or CCPA policies. As an added protection and best practice, our team expires remarketing lists after 90 days, which is two times earlier than required.
  • We’ve evolved our lead generation programs and marketing through our proprietary sites, so our partners receive better quality leads and consumers are provided with travel information they’re truly interested in.
  • Our team collaborates with data platforms to increase transparency and boost consumer control of data. Madden will continue to work with our future & current DSPs to ensure compliance with the cookie-based targeting of the campaigns we manage for our partners.
  • We encourage our partners to update their website privacy policies as new guidelines and practices come into play.

Fiduciary Accountability

With the rise in technological advances and our ability to track ROI, it has become more important than ever for DMOs to prove the effectiveness of marketing efforts. Organizations from states to cities have been in the media spotlight fighting for their budgets. To execute responsible marketing, your agency must understand your need to report on the success of your campaigns to community members, stakeholders, board members, and partners. Reporting should be data-driven and provide transparent insights to show your budget is being used effectively with attributable results. At Madden, our clients are seeing success using our new destination intelligence platform, Voyage.  

Want to learn more about how your organization can deploy responsible marketing tactics? Let’s collaborate!