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Tourism’s Shift to Customer Engagement

There’s an organization called Destination Next that provides insight into strategy for destination marketers. One of the current trends they’ve identified is a shift from marketing as a broadcast media to one that is an engagement media.

As I considered what this means to tourism, I reflected on a sentence on page 2 of the first marketing textbook I read. (Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management, for the curious). This sentence has shaped my career as a marketer and is almost a direct analogy to the shift from broadcast to engagement.  Here it is:

The sales approach is product centered: the marketing approach is customer centered.”

This trend is evident in other industries as well. Think of television and newspaper ads as broadcast. As a means of communication, these ads deliver a message. The ads are one-way. The company sending the message crafts what they want to say about its products, chooses the media, and out the ad goes.

Contrast this with the interactivity inherent on the web. First, e-mail marketing and websites increased the degree of conversation and now social media has fundamentally changed the relationships between businesses and their customers. The customer has some control over the content and frequency of the interactions, something that does not exist in the broadcast model.

So, what does this mean for tourism? It means a few things:

  • The dynamic is shifting from the old way of doing things, from using Travel Trade and intermediaries, to a digital world with direct contact with consumers. What this means is that instead of looking at the brochure of a tour company with a pre-set itinerary and package, consumers are now taking a more active role in researching and designing their own trips and experiences.
  • It means tracking and analyzing results. An example is TripAdvisor, which has become a trusted source for information. Tracking how customers rate a business or experience provides trends and can point to areas to emphasize or improve in marketing.
  • It means better understanding of customer needs, more customization. Instead of selling a one-size-fits-all vacation package, individuals are creating their own itineraries. Tour companies are recognizing this and creating more options and choice.
  • It also means digital skill sets are needed and that these skills will continue to evolve. Tourism-related businesses need to be active in social media, both posting and monitoring what is said about them. Rather than hiring or learning the skills in-house, many small businesses will decide to outsource the skills to another company with expertise.
  • Tourism is moving away from selling a destination and is becoming more focused on understanding their visitors. Word of mouth through social media is important in all markets. If the customer experience isn’t what visitors expect, they will spread the word. This is why surveys and customer feedback are becoming the norm– and why taking action to improve the experience is even more important.

The Take Away…

The core concepts of marketing are unchanged. Tourism Marketers still need to understand the needs, wants, and demands of the customer. Products and services still exist with accompanying perceptions of value and satisfaction. There is an exchange and a transaction taking place. What has changed is how marketers and consumers interact. It is no longer just one-way; it has become a two-way conversation.


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About the Author - Ginny Holtby
Ginny is an experienced marketing consultant and strategist. She was a member of the senior management team at Banff & Lake Louise Tourism and played a leadership role in developing their five-year strategy and revenue forecast. Ginny has a deep understanding of the global tourism landscape and is always curious about evolving tourism trends and innovations. With a B.A. from McGill University and an M.B.A. from the University of Alberta, Ginny has provided strategic consulting services for over a decade. While consulting, she also taught Marketing and Business Economics part time in the School of Business at the University of Alberta for eight years.