How smart marketing can give destinations an edge in a tough economy

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A recently released Travel Industry Association (TIA) report confirms what we already suspected: Travel is down, and the decline through 2009 is expected to continue with a projected 1.3% drop in leisure travelers and a 2.9% drop in business travelers.

With the downturn, destination marketing organizations (DMOs, aka Convention and Visitors Bureaus or CVBs) are working harder to attract visitors in an increasingly competitive marketplace. At the same time, they are tasked with cutting costs, increasing productivity and improving marketing effectiveness. One effective strategy is the intelligent use of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools and the deployment of highly-targeted marketing initiatives and promotions.

DMOs, like other marketers, want to gather and store comprehensive demographic data in their CRM applications so they can target prospective customers who demonstrate a high propensity to visit their destination. Sophisticated CRM applications built specifically for the destination marketing industry allow DMOs to create distribution lists targeting, for example, leisure travelers, interested in golf, who earn a household income of $200,000+/ year, live within 200 miles of their destination, and prefer spring or fall travel. With such specific filtering systems at their fingertips, destinations can design smart marketing initiatives like e-mail promotions, microsites and landing pages catering to the specific preferences, lifestyles or business interests of high-value prospects. 

In addition to attracting leisure travelers, DMOs also are tasked with securing large organizations, associations and groups looking for meeting, convention, sports and incentive travel destinations. Advanced industry-specific CRM software can allow destinations to monitor partner hotels' room availability or even booked business. This information is instrumental in identifying the right business opportunities that fit the profile of a destination and in crafting convincing RFP responses. At the same time, it also allows DMOs to proactively reach out to meeting planners who have had experience with the destination in the past in order to influence their selection process for meetings in the future. 

While CRM software gives destinations an easy way to store and organize information to attract visitors and track meeting sales opportunities, destinations also rely on CRM software to manage other DMO–specific tasks and responsibilities like tracking media and public relations exposure, managing FAM trips, inventory and collateral management, or storing their multimedia resource library. All of these features help a destination further promote itself through media outreach and by creating dynamic Web 2.0 features to lure prospective visitors by showcasing the best features a destination has to offer.

To prosper or just stay afloat in today's economy, DMOs must become more market savvy and utilize their data and business intelligence to identify and maximize their marketing initiatives. The creative implementation of CRM-based marketing efforts also can stretch a budget when “doing more with less” has become the norm. The destinations that are succeeding, and even making headway, are using destination-specific CRM platforms that allow them to integrate CRM-based marketing initiatives as a routine and integral part of their promotional research and marketing mix.   

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