Why 97% of Destination Marketing is Ineffective

Ninety-seven percent of destination marketing is ineffective, and it isn’t because of the medium you’re using! The reason isn’t because of National Geographic Traveler, Leisure +Travel, or Southern Living Magazine. It’s NOT a reflection on your digital advertising, television, radio or billboards. The reason is the content you’re giving them! 

Here are the five reasons why you’re wasting 97% of your advertising budget and what to do about it.

Reason #1: Trying to be all things to all people
We're going to keep harping on this subject until you change your ways! Look at your ads. If your headline and the photography (or art) you use could fit just about anyone in your market, toss it and start over. Readers, viewers or listeners will give you four seconds to pull them in. If your message is generic, you will lose them instantly. If your ad starts with “One of the top 5 mountain biking destinations in the world,” and that quote is attributed to Biking Magazine, it may not draw us in if we're not a mountain biking enthusiast, but if we are, you just got our attention, big time. NARROW YOUR FOCUS!

What to do: Join our association and download our “Words & Phrases to Avoid” poster and give copies to your marketing agency, graphic design agency and anyone charged with marketing your hotel, B&B, community, museum or attraction.

If your marketing focus can fit anyone else in your market area, toss it and start over.

Reason #2: Marketing place before experience
We have the world at our fingertips – every community, lodging facility, and business – in a fraction of a second via the web. But we don’t search for places first, we search for experiences first and THEN the area or city. We search for “Best Italian restaurant, central Pennsylvania,” or “mountain biking trails, Southern Utah.” In your advertising and on printed materials always SELL the experience first, the location second.

What to do: The name of your community (don’t market counties!), your hotel, your guide service – your business – should be at the BOTTOM of your ad, not at the top. Utah Tourism does a great job with its headlines promoting the Mighty Five (five national parks all located in Southern Utah) with photographic experiences that can’t be found anywhere else. Then at the bottom of the ads you’re informed of what and where the parks are.

Reason #3: Using mundane text and photography
There’s nothing more boring than elevator music (video or radio ads), or photos of scenic vistas without a soul in sight. To win you MUST evoke emotion. If your headline is boring or generic we won’t remember it. We are drowning in advertising overload so your ads MUST be memorable. 

What to do: Make sure you have photos of people enjoying your activities – whether in a spa, or careening down a mountainside on a bike, or reading a book in front of a cozy fire with snow falling outside. Your art should get the reader to instantly think “I want to do that!” And make sure it fits ONLY you in your marketplace.

Reason #4: Not telling us WHY we should visit or buy from you
Don’t tell us what you have, where you’re located, or who you are until you’ve told us WHY we should visit you. McDonald’s famous (and effective) campaign, “You deserve a break today” wasn’t about food. It was aimed at moms – they deserve a break today, so get up and get away – to McDonald’s. The most successful tourism campaign, perhaps in North American history, is Las Vegas’ “What happens here, stays here.” It’s not about what they have (entertainment, gambling) but WHY you would go there over other places.

What to do: This one requires digging deep. Alpena, Michigan is hitting a home run with its “Sanctuary” brand based on the National Marine Sanctuary of Thunder Bay and the 54% of Americans who are dealing with stress in their lives. A water park that asks us “How loud can you scream?” will be more successful than the water park that tells us “The largest water park in Central Ohio.”

Reason #5: Not creating a call to action
If McDonald’s had told us, “You deserve a break, so consider heading to McDonald’s sometime,” the ad would have fallen flat. But by telling us, “You deserve a break TODAY (right now), so GET UP AND GET AWAY” (call to action), it became one of the most successful ads in company history. Nothing is worse than “Discover My Town” as the header, then a generic photo (or collage of photos) and then just a website address or phone number. There is no call to action.

What to do: Always finish your ad with what you want people to do: “Space is limited, so call for your reservation now,” or “Log on now for the complete schedule…” or, as I’ve done in past Weekly What To Do’s: “Download your free Words & Phrases to Avoid poster.”

What to do: To you we may be preaching to the choir. So how do you get this message to your local businesses? To your graphic design or ad agency? To other organizations also marketing your community? Join the Destination Development Association, where you get access to countless resources, including lots of video content, that go beyond what you’ll read here. Membership starts at just $250/year. You can access our resource center anytime, anywhere, and you can share the resources at meetings as well. This is the best way to get everyone on the same page, pulling in the same direction.


  • Melanie Patterson I am looking for the Words & Phrases Poster and cannot find it. Please help! Thank you!
    10 months ago