Author: Emilie Ehrman

Branding a tourism destination requires a long-term strategy integrated into numerous different channels. It is more than just logos, taglines, commercials, billboards and social media posts. A destination’s brand is defined by a perception of its guests. It is an emotion that visitors feel, brought on by experiences created by stakeholders. Successfully implementing a branding strategy must begin with the destination asking itself the question, “What makes our place unique and attracts visitors?”

This chapter of Solimar’s DMO Development series explores how to put a strategy in place once these questions are answered.

Strategic Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC)

Oftentimes, DMOs will use an assortment of communication tactics across their many different platforms (Internet, print, billboards, TV, etc.), leaving their overall strategy fragmented. Integrated marketing communication, on the other hand, is a collaborative and promotional marketing function where a targeted audience receives consistent and persuasive brand messaging through various marketing channels. It is designed to move buyers, or in this case potential visitors, through the “where to travel next” decision making process. Social media campaigns should align with TV ads, which should link up with messaging on billboards and in print media. When executed successfully, an integrated marking communications plan ensures that marketers are using all available channels to amplify their marketing campaign and brand messaging to reach their target audience, or buyer persona.

A great example of integrated marketing communication comes from Montana, where the Montana Office of Tourism designed a campaign around Montana Moments. As the state’s official website reads, “To help increase awareness of Montana, the concept needed to break through the noise of the tourism market while setting Montana apart. The print, social, out of home, digital and earned media campaign focused around searching for moments.” This campaign won numerous awards and resulted in an increase in visitor spending, as well as a 38% increase in organic traffic.

The Traveler Decision Making Process

Through the vast tourism ecosphere, there is a process that all tourists move through before deciding where to take their next trip. For marketers, this path is broken into four parts:

  • Attract – Introducing travelers to a destination can be done via digital marketing (paid advertising, social media), billboards, commercials, etc.
  • Engage – Destinations now have the ability to develop relationships with traveler through interactive media, personalized communications, travel planning guide, and of course, social media. User-generated content has become a key to effectively engage an audience. 
  • Convert – Once the decision has been made to visit a destination, the DMO must ensure that booking channels are easy to find and navigate through. The user experience should be designed in such a way that booking a trip is as seamless as possible, thus preventing travelers from leaving (or bouncing from) the site in the midst of creating a reservation.
  • Experience and Share  – DMOs now have the ability to speak directly to their guests via user-generated content. Marketing managers should LISTEN (to their target audience via reviews on TripAdvisor, Google), WATCH (the images and videos that are being shared through different social media channels), SYNTHESIZE (the messaging that is being published by your audience), and RESPOND (to keep the conversation moving forward).

The Implementation of an Annual Marketing Plan

Let’s revisit the travel promotion’s virtuous cycle: more visitors lead to more money, which leads to more jobs and taxes. The need to market a destination is designed to make this cycle continue its spiral. The understory of the virtuous cycle is the annual marketing plan.

So, how do you implement an annual marketing plan?

  1. Identify the target market and understand how your destination meets their needs
  2. Set specific, measurable goals and time frames for your marketing activities
  3. Position your destination so that the target market sees your destination as better than, or different from, the competition
  4. Map out a strategy to reach the target audience, including messages, channels, and tools that will be used
  5. Communicate with your tourism partners so they can align their marketing efforts with those of the DMO
  6. Demonstrates to your funding and industry partners how the plan will be effective

DMO’s need an annual marketing plan — one that is revised annually and remains fluid throughout the year to ensure it remains in line with current events (Exhibit A: travel during a pandemic).

DMO Expert Interview

This session’s DMO expert interview featured Courtney Cacatian from the Charlottesville & Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

Cacatian suggests that, above all else, the most critical element of destination branding is market research. Anecdotally, she explains that the Albemarle CVB adjusts their marketing strategy based on who is more interested in specific activities. She uses bluegrass enthusiasts or bucketlisters as examples of the CVB’s target audience. She also explains that determining ways in which visitors will increase spending during their trip — or upselling — has been a key to growth in her destination,

Solimar asked Cacatian what advice she would give to a DMO director creating a new marketing plan. Her answer? “Read other destination’s strategic plans, especially if you can find similar destinations. See what’s important to their industry and their board. Even if there’s competition, our success is their success and vise versa….Read. There’s always more to learn.”



As with so many events in the past few months and surely the foreseeable future, the Destinations International 2020 Convention turned virtual this year to accommodate for the health and safety of attendees. Despite the physical distance, those attending could still sit in on the main sessions, break apart into the smaller discussion-based and timely sessions, and participate in some mindfulness and breath practice (and even smoothie making) between speakers. 

As part of Solimar’s DMO Development Program, a 16-week online training program for new and developing DMOs, our DMO participants in the Republic of Georgia and Armenia were able to attend the conference and virtually network with hundreds of tourism organizations around the world. This participation was critical for our DMO participants, as they were able to integrate with the global Destination Management community and learn directly from industry leaders and other DMOs. 

Bridging the gap between virtual travel and real-life travel

Adapting to Virtual Conferencing & a New Way of Managing Destinations

Coinciding with the main talking point of many speakers and sessions, many upcoming plans face inevitable and unknown changes in the future. Be them festivals facing capacity issues, destinations seeing changes in types and numbers of guests, or conferences being redefined into online events, remaining nimble and resourceful is key. Destination International’s (DI) conference did just that, allowing guests to keep their own digital notes, participate in polls regarding content, and opening each session up for live Q & A. Within unpredictability lies new opportunities for experimentation, change, and most importantly, growth.

It seems each aspect of the tourism industry will play a part in this unavoidable change, but those parts may require a bit of exploration before revealing themselves. Patrick Tuttle from Visit Joplin MO pointed out the role of the Outdoor Adventure niche now and in the foreseeable future. With indoor locations and attractions prompting valid hesitation from keen adventurers, how can destinations make the outdoors an accessible and exciting alternative option? How can smaller or lesser-known destinations, which are usually short stops on the way to a larger destination, attract visitors on their own? This is where creativity comes into play. 

Tuttle used a handful of examples based on the many stops visitors usually make along Route 66, which will certainly see a big dip in the international tourists who normally frequent the famed highway. How will those stops along the way continue to draw in visitors? Tuttle suggested getting creative, and even allowing guests to get their hands a bit dirty (after washing of course!). Referencing a famous chocolate shop along the way, Tuttle encouraged allowing visitors to take part in creating whatever they have come to see, specifically allowing guests to create their own candy bar treats with the famous chocolate. Taking these treats back to family and friends is likely to encourage travel over closer distances while international travel continues to rebound.

Rita McClenny, president and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corporation, and Todd Davidson, CEO of Travel Oregon, assured visitors that leisure travel will recover first. In many ways, this may be perceived as ideal, as this gives destinations and DMOs more room to explore exactly what they can offer and how they can change to provide new and safer experiences. In times of such uncertainty, the pair encouraged conference attendees, saying “The intrinsic desire to travel is still there; it’s not if, it’s how and when.” So how do we find that chocolate-making experience for visitors that are bound to come?

Solimar’s DMO development program, based in the Republic of Georgia and Armenia, has been working to do just that. As with any country, some regions and destinations offer more or better known experiences, while others serve as pass-through regions. These lesser-visited regions, however, often still offer great traditional history, notable culinary experiences, great wine, and more. Being aware of the freedom and options to expand those qualities into experiences that will attract more visitors for longer stays is a major key in today’s tourism ecosphere. 

Memorandum of Understanding is signed between the USAID Economic Security Program and Caucasus University

Adam Sacks, founder and president of Tourism Economics, Inc, Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, and Paul Ouimet, partner and president of MMGY NextFactor also shared a handful of tips for organizations to move towards recovery post-COVID-19 that they can begin today. 

The identification of new source markets was an important tip when it comes to recovering customer engagement. What do we do now? Where is there room to grow? Do we make chocolate bars? The answer: Embrace the change and be proactive by taking the time to explore those new options that weren’t always necessary in the past. 

Speakers also encouraged organizations to work with all resources available and pool together to go as far as reassessing the purpose of the organization itself. If your region was just a pass through for a nice meal and a great glass of wine, how can you make this bigger and better? How can you keep visitors for another night or have them buy an extra bottle to take home?

Now is an ideal time to reassess a DMO’s purpose and goals. As with so many scenarios during a time of uncertainty, change should be taken hand in hand with creativity. 

To learn more, visit Solimar’s Destination Management and Development services page.

“We rely confidently on Solimar's deep technical experience and professionalism as tourism consultants. You always are exceeding our expectations.”
Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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