Tourism Marketing

By REBECCA DELLINGER, Marketing Intern

What do experiential marketing and the tourism industry have in common?

Well, experiential marketing is all about giving consumers a memorable experience that creates good feelings associated with a brand.

Tourism and hospitality organizations have basically the same goal. Want guests to feel excited? Nostalgic? Comfortable? Adventurous? What better way to showcase a brand and a business than to give consumers a taste of that feeling?

In the travel industry, all eyes are on the consumer, how they feel, where they’re heading to and what experiences they’re having. An experiential campaign speaks to this because it gives a consumer an experience that can boost travel intent or maintain travel loyalty.

The Montana Office of Tourism found great success with last year’s experiential campaign. To increase tourism from target markets, including Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle, Montana created the #IdRatherBeInMT campaign, taking over each of the respective markets. Huge bears and bison were found around Subway stations and street furniture, billboards decorated the cities and buses got a face lift. This all encompassing effort won an OBIE award.

For some, the Montana ad campaign became a personal experience. Our activation featured a food truck converted into the famous Polebridge Mercantile building. Brand ambassadors wearing boots and belts gave away Montana-made ice cream and bison jerky. A photo mat was designed to make people feel like they were standing in Montana. A real bison head greeted consumers as they entered the experience to learn more about Big Sky Country.

An experiential campaign appeals to the senses – that’s what makes it such an impactful impression.

In advertising, there’s a lot of promotion. But in experiential advertising, there is also room to share information about your brand with consumers. Field teams and brand ambassadors can take the experience up a notch and tell people where they can continue their great experience, just like they did for Montana!

Crowd at the Montana Mercantile

Some tourism authorities may be hesitant to dive into experiential marketing. It seems like a risk to go out-of-the-box and do something other than traditional media. However, the impression that experiential marketing leaves on consumers is much more meaningful than that of seeing a static billboard or an ad in a travel magazine. Some tourism marketers may fear that carrying out such live, in-person events may break their budget. Experiential marketing truly has a wide spectrum range – from simple interactions to full-scale productions. Even dabbling in experiential can move the needle on your market’s heads in beds rate.

Creatives will argue that even a traditional ad may catch someone’s eye or make them feel something; after all, that’s the point of most advertising. But an experience evokes emotions and engages the consumer in a more personal and memorable way. It holds their attention for a longer amount of time, and they feel more connected to the brand that gave them the experience. When you add in a human-to-human element, you’re humanizing the brand and making it more real, more relevant.

Let’s say a hotel decides to have a pop-up experience in one city, and maybe a couple hundred people will actually get to experience the promotion. These few hundred people may be so enamored by the experience that they become brand loyalists, but even so, compared to a TV or print ad, that doesn’t seem like very many impressions for the price.

However, social media has revolutionized the impact of experiential marketing. Those few hundred people had an unforgettable experience with a brand that they’re excited about. And let’s be honest, people like to show off what a good time they had! So, they’ll share it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it. Then their hundreds or thousands of friends and followers will see the experience, they’ll like and share it and make the experience reach to their friends and followers, which keeps on going!

Popular photo spot for social media integration

For our Montana example, 15 campaign days in three cities resulted in a reach of 1.25+ million on Twitter alone. That doesn’t count the countless Instagram and Facebook posts using the same hashtag to share the same experience. All of a sudden, with this very shareable content, the experiential campaign drastically increased traveler intent among those who had the first-hand experience – and also made millions of others seeing the experience via social media consider whether Montana is a destination for them.

That’s not even to mention print or broadcast news sources that might pick up the story on a local, national and even international level – and have it featured as a feature story that people will want to read, not as an ad that’s easily overlooked. Brand experiences are great at drawing media attention which can also provide a lift in impressions.

For tourism marketing, portraying brands that represent discovering new adventures, it just makes sense to produce an excitement around your destination that consumers can experience while in the vacation planning phase. Give them a taste, so they yearn for more that they can only get if they book their own trip.

Experiential stirs up emotions and gets people talking. That’s more than you can say for any other type of advertising out there.

Want to start creating experiences for your brand? Drop us a line!