How to manage digital customer relationships in tourism?

Have you had problems to manage customer relationships? Don’t you know how to keep your customers satisfied and loyal? Are you unsure, how to maintain customer relationships, especially in a digital world? This blog post will help you to understand how to deal with customers in tourism. Before we move on to the practical part it is worthwhile to take a little sneak peek behind the curtains to understand the history and reasons for relationship marketing.

Meaning of customer relationship marketing

 Francis Buttle studied the history, meaning and characteristics of relationship marketing.¹ He found that it is about healthy relationships including concern, commitment, trust and service. Meaning of relationship marketing started to grow as a term and strategy in early 1990 after the booms of mass marketing and customer segmentation. Behind this rising was incremental competition. Also, a need to stand out other ways when it was not possible to compete with the quality of products anymore.

Nowadays your product only is not enough to beat your rivals. Rather you need high-class service and focus on your customers. Marios Sotiriadis has researched business relationships in online distribution channels.² He discovered that internet has changed tourism markets from a consumer-centric market to a consumer-driven market. That means there is more competition in the online tourism industry. So, markets are today more consumer- and technology-driven. But what are the profits of relationship marketing and why it should be maintained?

Goals and benefits of customer relationship marketing

Rodoula Tsiotsou and Ronald Goldsmith have studied the goals and benefits of relationship marketing to understand, why it is so valuable for companies.³  They showed that relationship marketing is nowadays one of the most important tasks of marketing managers. The main goal is to create long-term connections and involvements with consumers. You need to attract customers, maintain the relationships and enhance them.  Your customers will get lifetime value. Simultaneously your company will have a revenue stream, positive word-of-mouth (WOM) and repeated transactions.

Here are five steps what need to be considered if you want to reach customer relationships.³ Firstly, acquire your customers with advertisement, promotions or WOM. Before that, you, of course, need to know, who your customers are. Secondly, you have to retain your customers and create an emotional bond with them to keep them loyal. When you know your current customers there’s a possibility to develop your products and services even more personal. You can also ask for help from your loyal customers and have consultation and co-creation with them. Finally, you can try customer conversion with influencers to spread the positive WOM. But is relationship marketing always just positive and are there some risks to fail?

Christina Öberg has studied the pros and cons of relationship marketing.⁴ She founded that there can be both negative and positive effects in short- and long-term. Let’s focus now more on the long-term effects. If you are having a positive long-term relationship with your customer, it will give a great opportunity to develop your products and services more to personalize them. You will enjoy a stream of satisfied customers and get even more through positive WOM. That probably increases your revenue.

How to balance between different customer's needs? @Joshua Coleman / Unsplash

The risk to fail?

But there is the risk to develop your products too much to fulfil the need of one specific customer. People are individuals and not all of them want the same personalization. Try to find a balance between different customers. Developing products is expensive and when it is not working, it decreases your incomes and may affect a bad reputation. Both Öberg⁴ and Tsiotsou and Goldsmith³ stated that it is cheaper to keep your current customers than get new ones. Also having negative WOM is a larger risk than the benefits you will get through positive WOM. But how to avoid these risks and get more benefits? Keep reading if you want to learn how to manage digital customer relationships in tourism.

Irene Gil-Saura, María Eugenia Ruiz-Molina and Beatriz Moliner-Velázquez have researched customer relations and their loyalty in the tourism industry.⁵ They agree that it is better to maintain long-term relationships with the customer to give more value and to achieve commitment and loyalty. They also stated that in B2C business can be seen three aspects of relation benefits – confidence benefits, social benefits and special treatment benefits. These confidence benefits are psychological factors. Social benefits are bonding with customers and special treatment benefits are service customization and economic benefits. When all these three aspects are taking into account and balanced, it is easier to get a higher level of loyalty and create better relationships with customers. Special treatment benefits are the most used ways to achieve customer’s heart.

How to convert a connection to a relationship in 5 steps?
 1 Know your customers

Before you can manage and create relationships, you need to know your customers. Who they are and what they really want from your company? Why they are your customers and what you want to offer them? When you find the answers to these questions, you can move on to the next step.

2 Listen to your customers 

Christopher Reichstein and Ralf-Christian Härting have studied potentials of changing customer needs in the digital world.⁶ They found that customer relationship marketing is one of the core assets of the company to fulfil customer’s needs. That is why it is important to recognize needs and meet them. Especially in tourism digital services, digital marketing, data mining and online travel communities are important potentials of changing customer’s needs.

To be effective and offer something special, you need to listen to your customers. Anna Krizanova, George Lazaroui, Lubica Gajanova, Jana Kliestikova, Margareta Nadanyiova and Dominika Moravcikova have researched the effectiveness of marketing communication.⁷ They stated that to cover customer’s needs you need to focus on stimulating, developing and increasing sales.

3 Give Value

Not only needs play an important role in relationship marketing. Martina Gallarza, Irene Gil-Saura and Morris Holbrook have researched customer value in tourism services in meaning for a relationship marketing approach.⁸ They stated that relationship marketing is one of the most closely linked to the role of customer value. It makes it an important component of the customer’s decision-making process. When your products and services co-create value, it will also boost the positive WOM and increase transactions.

 4 Use Big Social Data to analyze and develop

In the digital world using and analyzing Big Social Data is necessary to beat your rivals. Maria Teresa Duomo, Debora Tortora, Pantea Foroudi, Alex Giordano, Giuseppe Festa and Gerardino Metallo have studied digital transformation and tourist experience co-design.⁹ They found that the meaning of creating value is in a key role. It is also essential to understand how to use Big Social Data and how it can strengthen digital collaboration and customer experience.  Technology has increased information sharing and value co-creation together with customers. Participate your customers to share their experiences by storytelling and giving value to encourage potential customers to choose your company.

Big Social Data and user-generated content appear to be key sources by managing customer relationships. You can utilize Big Social Data to develop your products and services to fulfil better your customer’s need.⁶ Social media and influencer marketing provides you with good opportunities to characterize your products. But remember to not personalize too much and follow ethical practices in data management.

 5 Know your business and be one step ahead

Especially in the tourism business is better to be careful with one’s own actions. The effects of negative WOM might be crucial. Do not overthink but keep your focus on customers and their needs. The tourism industry is now a consumer-driven market.

Ibrahim Yilmaz has researched service quality and marketing.¹⁰ He has used as a base of his research the refreshed version of the Service Quality (Gap) Model by Zeithaml, Berry and Parasuraman (1988). That model focuses on gaps between customer expectations and management perceptions in service quality. So, the dilemma is, how to fulfil the expectations and give quality service maintaining customer relationships at the same time. When the quality of your products and services are good, you will more likely get positive WOM and more loyal customers.

 

To sum up, remember to attract, maintain, develop and enhance your customer relationships. You cannot fully please everyone but try to find a happy medium and enjoy the flow. Give your customers a stage to express themselves in social media channels and encourage them to tell about their experiences and feelings. Listening is in a key role. Remember to reward your customers and create something new with good taste. Be you and people will value your achievements.

Acknowledgements

This blog post was written as a part of the Information Technology in Tourism Business course at the International Master’s Degree Programme in Tourism Marketing and Management (University of Eastern Finland Business School). Read more about the programme at https://www.uef.fi/tmm

References:

¹Buttle, F. 1996. Relationship Marketing – Theory and Practice. London: Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd, 1-8.

²Sotiriadis, M. 2018. Evolving destination and business relationships in online distribution channels – Disintermediation and re-intermediation. In Gursoy, D. & Chi, C (Editors),  The routledge handbook of destination marketing (488-501). New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

³Tsiotsou, R. & Goldsmith, R. 2012. Strategic marketing in tourism services. UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 139-146.

⁴Öberg, C. 2011. Pros and cons of long-term customer relationship. In Farkas, V. (Editor), Customer Relations – Business issues, competition and entrepreneurship (129-141). New York: Nova Sciences Publisher.

⁵Gil-Saura, I., Ruiz-Molina, M-E. & Moliner-Velazquez, B. 2011. Customer relations and loyalty-based segmen-tation: A B2B approach in the tourism industry. In Farkas, V. (Editor), Customer Relations – Business issues, competition and entrepreneurship (115-128). New York: Nova Sciences Publisher.

⁶Reichstein, C. & Härting, R-C. 2018. Potentials of changing customer needs in a digital world – a conceptual model and recommendations for action in tourism. Elsevier: Procedia Computer Science 126.

⁷Krizanova, A., Lazaroui, G., Gajanova, L., Kliestikova, J., Nadanyiova, M. & Moravcikova, D. 2019. The Effectiveness of Marketing Communication and Importance of Its Evaluation in an Online Environment. In Cristobal-Fransi, E., Ramón, N., Ferrer-Rosell, B., Marine-Roig, E. & Martin-Fuentes, E. (Editors), Sustainable Tourism Marketing (28). Basel: MDPI.

⁸Gallarza, M., Gil-Saura, I. & Holbrook, M. 2012. Customer Value in Tourism Services: Meaning and Role for a Relationship Marketing Approach. In Tsioutsou, R. & Goldsmith, R. (Editors), Strategic marketing in tourism services (147-162). UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

⁹Cuomo, M.T., Dordora, T. Foroudi, P., Giordano, A., Festa, G. & Metallo, G. 2020. Digital transformation and tourist experience co-design: Big social data for planning cultural tourism. Elsevier: Technological Forecasting & Social Change 162.

¹⁰Yilmaz, I. 2018. Service quality and marketing. In Gursoy, D. & Chi, C. (Editors), The routledge handbook of destination marketing (92-99). New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

How can Tourism Businesses successfully implement Social Selling?

Have you ever wondered what kind of new ways there are to benefit from social media? Or how tourism businesses could use social networks to engage with their customers even more? The key term in this text will be social selling. Social selling can be defined as a modern way to create and develop relationships with potential customers (Minsky & Quesenberry, 2016). Before getting there, we will familiarize ourselves with social media in business-to-business (B2B) marketing. This way, we can understand the important theoretical aspects of social selling. After that, social selling is utilized as a term and as a tool for tourism businesses to enhance their social media marketing.

B2B Social media marketing in a Nutshell

Social media has become a phenomenon of our time. It is inevitable that the role it has in terms of communication and marketing is increasing all the time. For a while now, the interest in using social media in B2B operations have increased. B2B marketing in social media is a tool for businesses where they can integrate already existing marketing strategies.(Bodnar & Cohen 2012, 3.)

Let us ask, why waste time on implementing already functional marketing strategy to social media? First, statistics show that average daily social media usage was 144 minutes in 2019 and global population usage was 49 percent (Clement 2020, “How much time do people spend on social media?”, para 1). It is clear how strong a platform it really is. Social media marketing can help businesses to do marketing in a smarter way when contributed well. With social media, businesses can reduce expenses, provide a clearer return of investment (ROI) and allow two-way communication between businesses and customers with more positive interactions. (Bodnar & Cohen 2012, 3-4: Agnihotri, Dingus, Hu & Krush 2015.)

Customer satisfaction and Information go Hand In Hand

Agnihotri et al (2015) emphasize the importance of information technology in their article. Using it together with sales technology will positively affect information communication. When a business has effective information communication it will generate responsiveness and customer satisfaction. To demonstrate this to practice, Agnihotri et al (2015) researched this theory by using data reports of sales professionals and implementing structural equation modelling. The key factor to achieve customer satisfaction is sharing information that is important for customers and delivers timely responses. Overall, the study indicates that social media indeed plays a major role when it comes to communicating information. To support this, a survey made by Statista confirms that social media have increased people’s access to information and made communication easier. (Clement 2020, “Global impact of social media”, para 1.)

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash

According to Leung, Law, van Hoof & Buhalis (2013) tourism industry identifies the opportunity to enhance communication and marketing with social media functions. In practice, this means stimulating demand via travel blogs with links to the company’s web site or booking platforms. TripAdvisor and other online communities are considered as great sources to get to know the customer and what they like and dislike (Leung et al 2013). This goes hand in hand what Agnihotri et al (2015) demonstrated in their research about the importance of communicating the right information and responsive actions from the company at social media platforms. Tourism businesses focusing on communication with people is a way to reach customer satisfaction if we implement findings from Agnihotri et al (2015). This is especially valuable as tourism business is all about companies selling experiences and intangible products. This why customers decision-making process is filled with risks. Creating close relationships with customers plays an important factor to affect decision-making positively.
What is special about social selling?
Now that we have emphasized the important role of social media marketing, we can focus on a different way of implementing it. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, social selling is all about creating relationships with potential customers and one-to-one communication between salesperson and buyer. The key to social selling is to be pro-active, to reach out to customers before they are even thinking of purchasing. This is also where it differentiates with social media marketing. With social media marketing, companies are engaging company brand awareness among bigger audience instead of focusing on deeper one-to-one interactions as in social selling. (Minsky & Quesenberry, 2016.)

Photo by inlytics on Unsplash

How can tourism businesses succeed in Social Selling?

In order for businesses to succeed on social selling, Minsky and Quesenberry (2016) highlight the importance of co-operation between the marketing and sales team. The marketing department should train sales personnel to use social media effectively in different channels and to use social media software if the business has one. This way, sales personnel understand the social media guidelines and customers’ interest and needs when it comes to online content. The key objective to remember here is how Shanks summarized it: “Social selling is a team sport, not a showcase for great individual contributions”. (Shanks 2016, 1-5.)

Social selling is still unfamiliar phenomena in the tourism industry. This why it is vital to implement social selling studies and theories to help tourism businesses. The following framework is for tourism businesses who are new to social selling. It is created by using Shanks’ (2016, 57) guide for sales personnel. A DMO is used as an example but any tourism business can benefit from it.

Social selling framework

The important question when starting a social selling career is: who are my buyers? It all starts with customer information gathered by the company. A CRM software where all the buyer related information can be found is important. DMOs could use the information from CRM software to find the right audience on social networks. Great tool for this is LinkedIn Sales Navigator where you can easily highlight the potential buyers. (Shanks 2016, 72-75.)

Now we have found our customers. The next step is to provide them with the right kind of insight.  According to Shanks (2016, 87) “buyers are looking for teachers or consultants, not order-takers or caretakers”. The goal is to solve the customer’s problems. This is exactly what a good DMO is all about. They are maintaining and developing destinations. To be successful, DMOs need to “teach” potential buyers about the destination and emphasize the right information to be an attractive destination for them. A great example of sharing educational content is Finnair’s Instagram takeovers by employees. Viewers get a real-life insight into different work positions around the organization.

Engaging is important in social selling. According to Nunan, Sibai, Schivinski & Christodoulides (2018) to understand customers, businesses should monitor social media comments. When approaching customers, they could generate surveys, share information about new product testings and of course, share stories (Nunan et al 2018). In addition, sales personnel should also use personal profiles to communicate and engage with customers in LinkedIn. It is the modern version of business cards after all. Last but not least, developing is required. Businesses need to always set goals. This way it is possible to measure if we are heading in the right direction. Monitoring likes, comments, shares, mentions and retweets is a must.

To sum up

Social selling is still an unknown term in the tourism industry. It has not yet been researched a lot. However, many studies indicate the importance of social media and creating close relationships with customers. This is where social selling comes in. It can be an asset for tourism businesses when used correctly. Businesses can make the most out of social selling by collaborating marketing and sales team together. In addition, they need to be active on their networks. It is vital to know what customers are talking about online. Two-way conversation is the key objective of social selling. Now, more than ever, it is important to engage with potential customers.

Acknowledgements

This blog post was written as a part of the Information Technology in Tourism Business course at the International Master’s Degree Programme in Tourism Marketing and Management (University of Eastern Finland Business School). Read more about the programme at https://www.uef.fi/tmm

References

Agnihotri, R., Dingus, R., Hu, M.Y & Krush, M.T. 2015.  Social media: Influencing customer satisfaction in B2B sales, Industrial Marketing Management. 1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.indmarman.2015.09.003.

Bodnar, K. & Cohen, J. 2012. The B2B Social Media Book: Become a Marketing Superstar by Generating Leads with Blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Email, and More. Hoboken, NJ. 3-10.

Clement, J. 2020. Daily social media usage worldwide 2012-2019. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/.

Leung, D., Law, R., van Hoof, H. & Buhalis, D. 2013. Social Media in Tourism and Hospitality. A Literature Review, Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing. 30:1-2, 3-22.

Minsky, L. & Quesenberry K.A. 2016. How B2B Sales Can Benefit from Social Selling. Harvard Business Review. 1-6. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/11/84-of-b2b-sales-start-with-a-referral-not-a-salesperson.

Nunan, D., Sibai, O., Schivinski, B. & Christodoulides, G. 2018. Reflections on “social media: Influencing customer satisfaction in B2B sales” on a research agenda. Industrial Marketing Management. 1-7 doi: 10.1016/j.indmarman.2018.03.009

Newberry, C. 2019. Social Selling: What it is, Why You Should Care, and How to Do It Right. Retrieved  October 31, 2020, from https://blog.hootsuite.com/what-is-social-selling/#care.

Shanks, J. 2016. Social Selling Mastery: Scaling up Your Sales and Marketing Machine for the Digital Buyer. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.uef.fi:2443/lib/uef-ebooks/reader.action?docID=4648728.

How a starting tourism business creates customer value by adopting digital marketing technology?

How a new tourism business creates customer value by adopting digital marketing technology?

Everybody is online today and everybody is expecting all the noteworthy and legitimate running businesses to be there as well. If the consumer can not find your online presence the chances are your business goes unnoticed. Even worse it builds an image of untrustworthiness in the minds of the consumers. The potential customer may presume the business can not deliver what the customer is expecting. If the business fails in the first customer touch point the game is over before it even began, no matter how good the service or a product in reality is.

travel planning

Where to start when you´re starting- the do´s and don’t´s

 Alford and Page state in their study of technology adoption in marketing that SMEs who have a strong Web presence grow twice as quickly as those who have no or minimal presence1. It is essential to seriously think about implementing technology from the very beginning. As a starting business owner, you should start by thinking about what you want to achieve and who you want to reach. Once the business plan is ready, the goals, strategy and the understanding of the desired customer is clear it is time to use this knowledge as a basis in creating a suitable digital marketing plan. The plan should not be a separate aspect but rather intertwined with all that is in the very core of the business.

Dredge et al. examined the challenges and opportunities of digitalisation in tourism listing the needs of tourism businesses when taking up new technology2. They identified five topics: skills, mentoring support, finance, policy support, and infrastructure.

 Skills.

The digital competencies of your business will play a key role in the successful uptake of digital technologies. Often tourism businesses lack the necessary technical resources in their workforce to fully realise digital potentials. This can be due to a number of factors such as a lack of knowledge in identifying required digital skills to limited staffing issues. These restrict the time and effort which can be applied to learning new digital processes. You should map your knowledge and see if you already have knowledgeable personnel in the company. Or think do you want to outsource completely or partly.

Mentoring support

One option is to use mentoring initiatives. Mentoring can boost innovation, enhance creativity and ideation and assist with capacity building. It may improve connectivity between tourism enterprises, technology companies, the arts and cultural sector, and other start-ups. Mentoring reduces the distance and improves the timeliness, of advice between those that have the expertise and those that need to learn. It can be a prolific co-operation between two or more companies where all parties deliver something the other needs helping their businesses thrive. It is smart to keep in mind to not to bite off more than you can chew and here the importance of networking stands out.

Finance

Lack of finance is identified as the number one obstacle preventing the implementation of digital technologies in tourism businesses. There is a significant concern amongst tourism businesses that the cost of implementing new digital technologies will be more than the gains. Analyse what technology your business can benefit from and make a decision. You can start by taking up a few platforms and expanding from there according to the set budget. It is important to remember to build digital marketing around your customers and choose channels accordingly. Thinking which technology to choose to reach the specific customers and which technology brings the most value to the customer in return. Starting smaller and smart saves time and assets.

Policy support

You need policy initiatives and actions to support business awareness of new technologies. They make clear the benefits of their implementation. Your business requires support in business planning and decision-making with regards to new technologies to ensure efficient utilisation. Do research on the available technologies and find what best suits your needs and what serves your customers best. Find out what is out there, any new innovations that would suit you and your customers´, needs. Choose only appropriate, functional and effective technologies.

Infrastructure

The geographic location of tourism enterprises greatly affects their access to adequate digital infrastructures. In developed countries, connections tend to already be adequate even in more remote areas. Still, businesses in urban settings benefit from modern wireless and fibre broadband connections. The infrastructure in rural or more remote areas can be less developed. Getting your software and connections up-to-date is important so that the basic tools at hand are functional.

Are you (all) motivated enough?

Different personal motivations, corporate culture and managers attitude affect the willingness to adopt technology, which is traditionally explained by the technology acceptance model (TAM). Ritz et al. studied the combination of TAM and the do-it-yourself (DIY) behaviour model in adopting new technologies. They stated that small businesses are less likely to participate in digital marketing than larger businesses3. TAM evaluates the ease of use and perceived usefulness of the technology. DIY motivators are economic benefits and lack of quality in existing services. In other words, managers should make the use of technology easy and the economic advantages and other benefits that come with technology apparent. This applies to themselves and communicating this to the whole team.

Alford and Page found out that small business owner-managers have a positive attitude and a real appetite for adopting technology for marketing1. If you can channel this attitude successfully to motivate your employees you may be able to get staff involved in creating more innovative marketing content. This may serve a wider spectrum of customer expectations that exist towards your business.

So what is customer value and how it is created using technology?

 According to Holbrook customer value is the basic foundation for everything in marketing. It can be defined as a preference, experience, interactive and relativistic, that is comparative, personal, and situational4. Komppula and Gartner talk further about desired value, which refers to the value that customers want to receive from products or services and their providers. Received value refers to the value customers have actually experienced through specific customer interactions5. Zeithaml encapsulates the definition by stating that value represents “a trade-off of the salient give and get components”6. All the definitions explain what exactly is the customer value that is created when a business can answer to the needs and wants of their customers.

The product of tourism business is a service that can be thought of as an intangible object which is more difficult to define and label. The service involves emotions, hopes and dreams and the pursuit of satisfaction. As Neuhofer et al. state in their study experiences constitute the essence of the tourism industry7. Holbrook continues that therefore customer value resides neither in the product purchased, in the brand chosen, nor the object possessed but rather in the consumption experiences outcome. People desire not simply the product but rather what is behind the product or service; the satisfaction the experience brings through activity8.

It is all about the experience

It is important to understand the consumer´s journey. How they experience it throughout all the phases of tourism experience which happens before, during and after the service situation as stated by Opute et al9. For a business aiming to achieve improved customer experiential value at a profit, the focus should be to leverage digital technology. This is to fundamentally optimise customer satisfaction. That is why the focus should not be limited to leveraging digital technology to ensure more effective service design and implementation. It should also be about leveraging such technology to drive an integrated implementation strategy. The strategy should recognise the importance of reaching out to customers. This involves engaging actively with them to access customer ideas and suggesting cues for improving their overall experience.

Opute et al. studied the role digital technologies play in tourism customer service experience. They continue by stating and summing up that tourism service providers can leverage digital technologies to drive a customer engagement focus. Doing this higher customer experiential value is reached. At the same time, customer retention and organisational performance improve. Achieving these targets requires the business to interactively engage with customers. By leveraging customer-generated information to fine-tune tourism service design and delivery leave an indelible and memorable impression in the mind of the customers. Customers may attach a high experiential value to a tourism service episode. When this happens they are motivated to undertake a repurchase or re-endorsement of the service. In addition, they want to share their positive service experience afterward9. This reminds the business to put emphasis on the follow-up of the customer visit on the marketing plan.

Ready, engage, interact!

Interaction is what consumers want. They want to be recognized and treated personally. Businesses have to keep in mind that consumers are not completely dependent on communication with the business. They also want to communicate with other consumers and a smart business creates these opportunities. This brings great value to the customer. Customers want honesty and transparency and they go where they can get it. As Prahalad and Ramaswamy 10 found out the consumers can choose the firms they want to have a relationship with. The consumer base this on their own views of how value should be created for them. This reminds the starting tourism business to be humble and how important it is to engage and answer to the customers’ expectations.

Technology adoption has been successful when your business uses technology that is suitable for your strategy. If the technology produces measurable customer value it can be said your business has been very successful. Tapping your digital marketing efforts on all the stages of the tourism experience you maximise the effect and benefit of technology. This way your business ends up creating superb value for the customer.

Acknowledgements

This blog post was written as a part of the Information Technology in Tourism Business course at the International Master’s Degree Programme in Tourism Marketing and Management (University of Eastern Finland Business School). Read more about the programme at https://www.uef.fi/tmm

References

1Alford, Philip & Page, Stephen John. 2015. Marketing technology for adoption by small business. Faculty of Management, Bournemouth University. The Service Industries Journal, 2015-07-07, Vol.35 (11-12-9, p. 655-669. ISSN: 1743-9507 DOI: 10.1080/02642069.2015.1062884

2Dredge, D., Phi, G., Mahadevan, R., Meehan, E. & Popescu, E.S. 2018. Digitalisation in Tourism: In-depth analysis of challenges and opportunities. Low Value procedure GRO-SME-17-C-091-A for Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) Virtual Tourism Observatory. Aalborg University, Copenhagen. © European Union, 1995-2019. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/tools-databases/vto/documents?page=1. Retrieved 25.10.2020.

8Holbrook M.B. (Ed.). 1999. Consumer value: A framework for analysis and research. London (UK): Routledge.

4Holbrook, M. B. 2005. Customer value and autoethnography: subjective personal introspection and the meanings of a photograph collection. Journal of Business Research, 2005-01, Vol. 58 (1), p. 45-61. ISSN: 0148-2963, DOI: 10.1016/s0148-2963(03)00079-1

5Komppula, R., & Gartner, W. C. 2013. Hunting as a travel experience: An auto-ethnographic study of hunting tourism in Finland and the USA. Tourism Management (1982), 2013-04, Vol.35, p. 168-180.35. ISSN: 0261-5177, DOI: 10.1016/j.tourman.2012.06.014

7Neuhofer, B., Buhalis, D., & Ladkin, A. 2014. A typology of technology‐enhanced tourism experiences. International Journal of Tourism Research, 2014-07, Vol. 16 (4), p.340-350. ISSN: 1099-2340, DOI: 10.1002/jtr.1958

9Opute, A. P., Irene, B. & Iwu, C. G. 2020. Tourism Service and Digital Technologies: A Value Creation Perspective. African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure, 2020-03-01, Vol. 9 (2). EISNN:2223-814X

10Prahalad, C. K., & Ramaswamy, V. 2004. Co-creation experiences: The next practice in value creation. Journal of interactive marketing, 2004-01, Vol. 18 (3), p.5-14. ISSN:1094-9968, DOI: 10.1002/dir.20015

3Ritz, Wendy, Wolf, Marco & McQuitty, Shaun. 2019. Digital marketing adoption and success for small businesses: The application of the do-it-yourself and technology acceptance models. Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing.2019-06-16, Vol.13(2), p.179-203. ISSN:2040-7122. DOI: 10.1108/JRIM-04-2018-0062

6Zeithaml, V. A. 1988. Consumer perceptions of price, quality, and value: a means-end model and synthesis of evidence. Journal of Marketing, 1988-07-01, vol. 52 (3), p.2-22. ISSN:0022-2429.DOI:10.1177/002224298805200302

 

How to benefit from influencer marketing in destination branding

Picture: Unsplash

How can DMO’s benefit influencer marketing in destination branding? How have the DMO’s used influencers in their branding strategy so far?

In recent years, the rapidly growing use of influencer marketing has caught the attention of researchers and marketers alike. Influencer marketing has also opportunities for the tourism industry, of which destination branding is explored here in detail. Some DMO’s have already had a go of this non-traditional type of marketing, however, limited examples exist in the tourism research literature so far. This post briefly reviews the literature around the topic and gives suggestions on how destinations can harness influencer marketing on their brand management. Case examples from the tourism industry are presented of Greece, Spain and China.

Influencer marketing

The fast evolution of the influencer industry has introduced several definitions around the word influencer. What is common for the majority of these definitions is the influencer having large numbers of followers, active engagement, promotion of brands and skills in certain niche 1;4. Here, the following definition applies by De Veirman et al: “people who built a large network of followers and are regarded as trusted tastemakers in one or several niches” 10. What separates them from traditional celebrities, is influencers being “regular people”, who have achieved influencer status by the creation of content in social platforms such as Instagram 4. Whereas traditional celebrities remain distant for the “regular people”, influencers connect with their followers on a more personal level 11. The more interactive, predictable, and competent the influencers are seen by their followers, the more their followers feel kinship and trust towards them 1. In a nutshell, influencer marketing can be regarded as commercial eWOM: marketers invest in influencers, then influencers create or promote their branded content for their followers 2;4.

Influencer marketing for destinations

Similar to traditional WOM, destinations today can benefit from the effects of influencer generated eWOM has on consumer behaviour. Research of Spanish DMO’s has shown how influencer marketing has already adopted a profitable place in their media 8. Influencers are a natural way to reach customers who throughout the customer journey seek information from social platforms, where influencer generated content is consumed and a growing amount of time is spent 2;4;8. Especially the younger generations and millennials can be reached via influencer marketing, the latter of which is the generation with the most purchasing power 4;7;8.

Picture: Unsplash

The power of influencer marketing is based on the special relationship between the influencer and their followers. The influencer’s followers identify with them and try to imitate them, and the brands influencers use are seen real and attainable by their followers 1. As influencer generated content is seen as more trustworthy and authentic by consumers, influencer marketing is found to be more effective for boosting brand awareness than traditional brand or celebrity generated content 1; 4; 8. This results ultimately the followers to have higher purchase intentions of those brands endorsed by the influencers 1.

Destination branding with using influencers

Regarding brand management, influencer marketing is a powerful way of branding on social platforms for destinations to benefit from 1. Today tourist’s choice of destination is a lifestyle indicator, where the destination image plays an important role 3;6. The destination image is defined by Echtner as: “not only the perceptions of individual destination attributes but also the holistic impression made by the destination” 12. To influence the destination image, brand management is needed. Influencer marketing can be benefited in branding strategy, as it is a way to improve a destination’s image 8. Influencers can act as effective intermediates to create awareness of destination image between potential tourists and destinations. Moreover, destination branding gives a potential tourist an assurance what can be expected, lessens the burden of their search process, and allows destinations to communicate their unique selling proposition 3. Branding contributes also to building local pride and identity 5;6. Together these positive impacts of branding enhance the attractiveness and vitality of a destination.

Picture: Unsplash

Influencer marketing can be of help for destinations in brand management especially in times of refining the brand: influencers can attract more of certain types of tourists and influence the perceptions of the destination image 8. For example in Benidorm, influencer was used to rebrand an older Spanish beach destination appealing to younger people interested in responsible tourism, whereas in Greece influencers were used to revitalize rural quiet destinations by attracting millennials 7;8. Moreover, the findings in Spain demonstrated influencer marketing to help recapture DMO’s control of its brand and promotions, while benefiting the eWOM on social platforms 8. Following chapter moves to instruct how destinations can successfully use influencer marketing for brand building.

4 tips for successful use of influencers in destination branding

1.Congruence between brands

Perhaps the most important factor for influencer marketing is choosing the right influencer. Many studies support that both the brand and the influencer brand must fit each other for positive outcomes 1;2;9;13. The fit affects the perceived expertise and trustworthiness of the influencer, where stronger fit has better results for follower’s brand attitudes and behavioural intentions 3. In addition, the similarity between the influencer and their followers should be congruent 4. Therefore, the research process for finding the best fitting influencers should not be neglected.

The importance of the fit was also supported when researching influencer marketing impacts on Chinese generation Y’s choice of destination 9. In addition to the fit between influencer and brand, it was found that the fit between the influencer and followers’ ideal self-image had a significant positive impact for follower intention to visit a destination endorsed 9. Interestingly, however, the fit between follower’s actual self-image with the influencer did not affect the intention to visit the destination 9. Thus, marketers should not only look into the influencers follower’s actual self-image but also focus on the signals of the ideal self-image of those followers. This is definitely a potential challenge for marketers when planning on influencer marketing campaigns.

Picture: Unsplash

2. Control over content

When doing influencer marketing, both the DMO and the influencer should have control over certain things for successful collaboration. First, DMO should leave room for freedom for the influencers to express them in their own way 2. If certain freedom for content creation is not given, the followers’ attitude can turn negative towards both the influencer and the brand 2. To avoid these negative effects, the content should also avoid too commercial tone and give the followers honest, useful comments of the destination 2. However, the DMO should also have a certain level of control and establish guidelines for influencers to avoid negative effects 2;8.

Research of influencer marketing in Spanish tourism destination of Benidorm, tourism marketers suggest that DMO’s should control the influencer marketing process as much as they can 8. Here, it is recommended that DMO and influencer have a clear control where they are the best at: the DMO provides tools (e.g. accommodation, activities) and messages (e.g. values, image), whereas influencers convey this information through content creation in their own style. This way, collaboration has potential for positive results to both destination and influencer.

3. Data and planning

Picture: Unsplash

As in all marketing decisions, planning on influencer marketing should benefit data for success. When choosing an influencer, DMO’s should pay attention to statistics of the influencer’s trustworthiness, attractiveness and the informative value of the content generated 4. Together with the earlier mentioned fit between brands, these factors are studied to positively affect influencer marketing results 4. Moreover, the influencer marketing campaign should be measured throughout for evaluation and further development 8. DMO’s in Spain suggest influencer marketing to be included in destination strategy and long-term planning 8. Today, long term consistent branding can be a difficulty for destinations as the pandemic disrupts the situation and actions to reach new target markets have to be taken apace.

4. Alternative for traditional marketing

Most destinations find best to compete for niches with branding strategies focusing on certain customer segments 6. For these destinations, influencer marketing facilitates their small marketing budgets to reach those specific target audiences 6;8. Moreover, influencer marketing is relatively affordable, especially when using micro and niche influencers, hence accessible also for destinations with limited budgets 7. Spanish tourism marketing professionals have found micro-influencers to be very effective in marketing 8. In rural destinations of limited resources, where traditional marketing means are found ineffective, influencer marketing is a promising marketing alternative 7. As an example from Greece, influencer marketing was found useful in reaching millennials to visit Greek rural tourism destinations 7. To conclude, influencer marketing can be useful especially for those DMO’s of smaller destinations targeting younger generations with specific interests.

Concluding words

In summary, influencer marketing can be a valuable tool in today’s destination brand strategy. It can help the destination brand to reach those tourists who share their brand values and to whom they appeal as a desired choice. Especially in times of brand refinement, influencer marketing can effectively create awareness of desired destination image for relevant tourists via good influencer fit. It is seen particularly useful for smaller destinations struggling to convey their brand with traditional marketing means.  However, it could also help bigger destinations tired of too large visitor numbers rebranding themselves to attract customers of ‘quality over quantity’. To put simply, influencer marketing can attract new and better tourists for a destination. At its best, influencer marketing introduces benefits for all stakeholders involved from destinations to tourists, thus being a powerful way of value co-creation.

Acknowledgements

This blog post was written as a part of the Information Technology in Tourism Business course at the International Master’s Degree Programme in Tourism Marketing and Management (University of Eastern Finland Business School). Read more about the programme at https://www.uef.fi/tmm

References

1Jin, S., Muqaddam, A., & Ryu, E. (2019). Instafamous and social media influencer marketing. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 37(5), 567–579. doi: https://doi.org/10.1108/mip-09-2018-0375

2Martínez-López, F. J., Anaya-Sánchez, R., Giordano, M. F., & Lopez-Lopez, D. (2020). Behind influencer marketing: key marketing decisions and their effects on followers’ responses. Journal of Marketing Management, 36(7-8), 579-607. doi: 10.1080/0267257X.2020.1738525

3Blain, C., Levy, S., Ritchie, J., & J. R. Brent. (2016). Destination Branding: Insights and Practices from Destination Management Organizations. Journal of travel research, 43(4), 328-338.

4Chen, L., & Shupei, Y. (2019). Influencer Marketing: How Message Value and Credibility Affect Consumer Trust of Branded Content on Social Media. Journal of Interactive Advertising, 19(1), 58-73. doi: 10.1080/15252019.2018.1533501

5Campelo, A., Aitken, R., Thyne, M., & Gnoth, J. (2014). Sense of Place: The Importance for Destination Branding. Journal of Travel Research, 53(2), 154-166. doi:10.1177/0047287513496474

6Morgan, N. J., Pritchard, A., & Piggott, R. (2003). Destination branding and the role of the stakeholders: The case of New Zealand. Journal of Vacation Marketing, 9(3), 285–299. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/135676670300900307

7Chatzigeorgiou, C. (2017). Modelling the impact of social media influencers on behavioural intentions of millennials: The case of tourism in rural areas in Greece. Journal of Tourism, Heritage & Services Marketing, 3(2), 25-29.

8Femenia-Serra F., Gretzel U. (2020) Influencer Marketing for Tourism Destinations: Lessons from a Mature Destination. In: Neidhardt J., Wörndl W. (eds) Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2020. Springer, Cham. doi: http://doi-org-443.webvpn.fjmu.edu.cn/10.1007/978-3-030-36737-4_6

9Xu, X., & Pratt, S. (2018). Social media influencers as endorsers to promote travel destinations: an application of self-congruence theory to the Chinese Generation Y. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 35(7), 958-972. doi: 10.1080/10548408.2018.1468851

10De Veirman, M., Cauberghe, V., & Hudders, L. (2016). Marketing through Instagram influencers: impact of number of followers and product divergence on brand attitude. International Journal of Advertising, 36(5), 798-828.

11Kowalczyk, C.M., & Pounders, K. (2016). Transforming celebrities through social media: the role of authenticity and emotional attachment. Journal of Product & Brand Management, 25(4), 345-356.

12Echtner, C. M., & Brent, R. (1991). The Meaning and Measurement of Destination Image. Journal of Tourism Studies, 2(2), 8.

13Breves, P., Liebers, N., Abt, M., & Kunze, A. (2019). The Perceived Fit between Instagram Influencers and the Endorsed Brand: How Influencer–Brand Fit Affects Source Credibility and Persuasive Effectiveness. Journal of Advertising Research, 59(4), 440–454. doi: https://doi.org/10.2501/JAR-2019-030

 

What makes or breaks the content on a good tourism website?

What kind of content works on a top-notch tourism website? What actually engages the visitor to stay on the page longer and better yet -develop a genuine interest towards the company?

When a few small things are taken into consideration, it is easier to capture the attention of the visitor. The most important thing to take into consideration is the customer value proposition.

The nitty-gritties

Who is your customer, what problem are you trying to solve for them, what are your customers’ needs and what will they gain from your services? By answering these questions you are well on your way of designing prime content for your website.

Answering these questions is also important because a website acts as a first impression -the first few seconds determine whether or not the visitor will stay on your site. The content on your website must be engaging not just for selling but for solving the customers’ needs in the best case. Also, keep in mind you may want to produce different content for your various target groups.

Make the first impressions count

Needless to say, what affects the first impression is the visuality of your site; pictures, videos, colours etc. Did you know that there’s research to show that visuality affects the customers ability to imagine themselves in your destination or using your product? Now you do. While it may not work to your advantage to have a 2 minute HD ad video on your site as it would slow it down, it will be beneficial to have relevant pictures and you may want to consider shorter clips.

Symbolic ideas for content

Convince, link and create

Whatever you produce onto your website, the content has to be persuasive as this affects the customers’ attitudes towards your company and product. The tone in which you present your written points should also be consistent -this way you maintain credibility in the eyes of the reader. In addition, you should sound confident but not intimidating and the tone must tell the story of your business and be in line with what you offer.

A couple of tech-savvy pieces of content that are good to have would be online chats, relevant calls to action as well as reviews from your clients and perhaps even photos taken by your customers. Don’t forget to include your contact details or social media links either! If you’re for example writing a blog, it might be an idea to include a snippet from your content there as well.

Above all, your website content needs to tell a story, as stories are what appeals to us and make us engage with a brand. Don’t just lay out the facts and service attributes but tell the emotional stories around them.

5 key learnings for a destination marketer

In the spring semester 2020 I attended a very interesting course called Destination Marketing, which is a part of the Tourism Marketing and Management master’s programme. The course gives an overview on different aspects of destination marketing in the rapidly changing world and offers interesting content for anyone interested in destination marketing. Here are my 5 key learnings from the course: 

Destination vs a company 

Traditional marketing approaches are a good basis for destination marketing. However, destinations are not companies, which makes a huge difference in their marketing. Every destination marketer should keep in mind a few differences between destination and company marketing. Marketing strategy for a company does not necessarily fit the needs of a destination. 

Whereas a company can control basically everything they do in terms of marketing, a destination management/marketing organization (DMO) has very little control on the execution of a marketing strategy. A destination is a complex entity consisting of different actors and stakeholders, which are not bound to any strategies or plans made by the DMO. A DMOs goal of course is to make a marketing plan that benefits all.  Still there might be companies in the area that have completely different goals and business objectives. Those are very likely not to follow the strategy by the DMO.

Probably all destinations try to communicate some kind of brand. A company can control quite well how they communicate their brand to the customers. The image of a destination among visitors is however strongly dependent on the encounters between the visitors and the local operators. A DMO can’t control the quality of the actual visitor experience.  

 

Operant resources 

Every destination has some tangible and intangible resources that it can use for competitive advantage. However, the resources as such don’t create competitive advantage. Firstly, operand resources, such as sun and sea, exist in other destinations, too. Secondly, the destination has very little control on them. There is nothing a destination can do to get more sunny days than it already has.  

The potential sources for competitive advantage lie more in the interaction between the destination and its stakeholdersA destination must recognize, which are the potential competitive advantages it can create with stakeholder collaboration and how to do that. The knowledge and skills to do that are called operant resources.  The heart of a destination’s competitive advantage lies In the operant resources. In conclusion, a destination marketer must understand the difference between the two types of resources and enhance the use of operant ones in the destination marketing. In many cases this requires the collaboration between a variety of different stakeholders.   

 Smart destinations and data sharing 

Digitalization is inevitable in tourism business. It is changing also the function of destinations and how destination marketing and management organizations are working. Smart tourism and smart destinations are very popular concepts in tourism business of today.  

The core of destinations has traditionally been something physical, e.g. attractions, activities and availability. Nowadays, technological aspects are more and more important. A  more customer-oriented approach in destination marketing is needed But it’s wrong to think that technology is all in all. After all, technology is just a tool, it’s not the core of destination marketing. Leadership, innovation and collaboration are also key issues if a destination wants to be smart. Real time engagement, mobile technology, online inventory and co-creation are just a few examples of the features of smart destinations.  

Purchasability and online inventory have traditionally been a problem in many destinations. Luckily, destination managers have realized this and are working on making the buying of activities and other services easier online.

Another problem many destinations still face is data. One key feature of smart destination is the use of data that they are getting from customers. The problem here lies in the collaboration. It would be crucial for the individual tourism companies to share the data with other companies and the DMO.  This way the whole destination profits from the data. In real life, most of the companies keep the data to themselves. This is quite understandable – many companies fear that they lose their competitive advantage against other operators in the area. Here the help of the DMO is needed – trying to change the attitude and view of the companies. Even though being competitors, the companies must still learn to collaborate with each other. That is the only way to a customer-oriented, smart destination.   

 

Impact of consumergenerated content on the brand 

Most of destination marketers recognize the importance of consumergenerated content in their marketingSocial media posts about the destination and online reviews by customers are free marketing and visibility for a destination. Destinations often encourage consumers to write something about their destination. The possible threats are in many cases taken into account. Consumers can post something negative, which of course is not desirable but with an action plan can be managed.  

However, the impact of consumer generated content on the destination brand is something that destinations might overlook. Because of Web 2.0 and social media, destinations no longer are the major controllers over their brand and message. Nowadays, the branding content on the internet is based on interaction and participation of the consumers. Consumers can post whatever they like on social media, whereas in the past the destinations controlled the distribution of information. Nowadays, a brand can even be totally created in social media by consumergenerated content 

For destination marketers it’s important to notice that consumergenerated content does not necessarily match the brand that the destination wants to communicate. It can be totally different than marketergenerated content. For example, consumer generated content rarely includes the formal elements of the brand, such as slogans and logos. After all, those are important elements in marketer-generated content. What should the destinations do when the control of the brand is largely outside of the company?   

Authentic content 

Last but definitely not least I want to highlight the importance of authentic content. Internet and other media are full of marketing content created by marketers. From the highly scientific and empirical research we conducted on our lectures (discussing in the classroom), we got the results that traditional destination marketing videos are not interesting enough. No one wants to look at nice views with peaceful background music for longer than a few seconds. People are interested in authentic content with local people. Visitors don’t come to a destination with the main reason of spending money there but to learn something and educate themselves. This means that destination marketers need to shift their mindset from consuming to learning.  

Onthe destination marketing course  we had an interesting workshop with the CEO of VisitKarelia Jaakko Löppönen. He pointed out an issue with this approach that they as the destination marketers are facing: If the marketing material can’t be made by marketers and agencies but rather by the local people, who is willing to produce this content? And what kind of content should it be? The resources they as a DMO have are limited and often the more traditional content by agencies is the only option. This is an important question for us students as the future destination marketers to think about. We should totally forget the traditional destination marketing and focus on something new and innovating. Skills and knowledge to do that will be the competitive advantage of destination marketing and marketer of tomorrow.  

VisitKarelia Destination Destination Marketing Workshop with University of Eastern Finland

University of Eastern Finland (UEF) and Visit Karelia are partnering to develop destination marketing innovations for North Karelia region. This partnership is part of the Destination Marketing course at the International Master’s Degree Programme in Tourism Marketing and Management (TMM), at UEF Business School in Joensuu. VisitKarelia is the local destination marketing organization (DMO), focusing on raising awareness of North Karelia region as a tourism destination.

These destination marketing innovations are divided into three workshops. The first workshop focuses on destinations as media. In the second workshop, we examine what it means for a destination to be a marketplace. The third workshop then discusses what kind of experience North Karelia could be for a tourist.

We also want to invite tourism stakeholders to participate in the workshops with us. If you are working in the tourism industry, studying tourism, or interested in destination marketing you are most welcome to attend these workshops with us. If you are going to participate, please register at https://elomake.uef.fi/lomakkeet/25238/lomake.html two days before each seminar.

The timetable for the workshops is as follows:

24.02.20 AG106 Agora-building Monday 12.15-16.00: VisitKarelia Workshop: Destination as a Media
10.03.20 N101 Natura-building Tuesday 12.15-16.00: VisitKarelia Workshop: Destination as a Marketplace
17.03.20 CANCELLED Tuesday 12.15-16.00: VisitKarelia Workshop: Destination as an Experience

Language in the workshops will be English and they are held at UEF Joensuu campus (Yliopistonkatu 2).

Descriptions of the workshops:

Every workshop starts with a 30-minute keynote from VisitKarelia CEO Jaakko Löppönen and Head of e-tourism research Juho Pesonen, from UEF. They will frame the workshop topic from their own perspectives and provide instructions for the group works. After the keynotes and discussion, the participants are grouped together and in groups, they can develop answers to these workshop topics and questions. After two hours of working time each group will have five to ten minutes to present their ideas. At the end of the workshop, the best ideas are selected.

Destination as a Media

Marketing has moved mostly to digital channels, but it is often supported by other, traditional offline channels. In digital marketing, the importance of interesting content is emphasized. Consumers spend hours watching digital media with their mobile phones, tablets, computers, and other devices. There is constant competition on the attention of the consumers. Those brands and businesses that are able to create content that people pay attention to are also the ones that consumers remember the best when they are making decisions. Being a media that people want to consume increases the mental availability of the destination.

This increasing media usage in digital channels is also changing branding and destination marketing. Destinations cannot just rely on marketing campaigns aiming to promote various seasons in the tourism destination but have to be constantly in the minds of the consumers. This requires DMOs to transform from marketing organizations into media organizations. The key questions are for example:

  • With what resources content is created?
  • How to create interesting content?
  • What kind of content works the best?
  • How to distribute content in various channels?
  • How to analyze the success of media-based destination marketing?

 

Destination as a Marketplace

It is not enough that people are aware that the destination exists. They also need to be able to buy services and trips easily. When it is easier to buy tourism services, people are more likely to do so. Destinations need to think how they organize distribution so that it is the most convenient for the tourists to buy the services they are interested in. There are various possibilities to do that. Visit Rovaniemi is using Bokun platform to make booking services easier (https://www.visitrovaniemi.fi/fi/) and Turku is using Doerz to help people find interesting things to see and do in the region (https://fi.doerz.com/turku). How could Visit Karelia be a marketplace for tourism products or is it even reasonable for the DMO to be the platform? What other options are there to make it easier for consumers to buy tourism products and services they are interested in?

 

Destination as an Experience

It doesn’t matter how great a destination is in marketing or sales if the customer experience in the destination does not meet and surpass consumer expectations. Customer experience is the sum of dozens if not hundreds of encounters between the tourist and the destination and people living and working in the destination. Tourism businesses are responsible for staging memorable experiences for consumers. Destination marking needs to be able to identify those experiences and make sure the tourists find the best things to see and do in the destination. However, what is best for whom differs from one tourist to another. Also, destination brands need to be experienced in tourism services in the region. What would be the key things to improve in North Karelia region in order to ensure that the experiences tourists have in this region are ones that make them happy and delighted to tell others, not to mention coming back to the destination in the future.

How to better interact with your customers on social media?

 

If there’s something a business can’t ignore these days, it’s the social media. All the businesses should be present at social media as it’s the way to reach out and communicate with their customers, increase awareness and boost their sales – after all, there are more than 3 billion social media users worldwide so it’s better to take advantage of that!

Social media has significantly changed the way people and organizations communicate and interact with each other (Ngai, Tao & Moon, 2015). Social media allows businesses to communicate with their customers in a more personal level which helps to build stronger relationships with them. Interacting with customers creates better engagement and value for the customers. Because of this, interacting with customers should be also included in the company’s social media marketing plan. But what can you do to effectively interact with customers on social media?

Be where your customers are
To be able to interact with your customers, you need to be where they are. This requires knowing your customer. When you know who your customers are, you’ll be able to figure out how to reach them and identify the right social media channels to use. So, there’s no point on being on every social media channel there are available but instead, focus on the ones that matter the most.

Be easy to find
When you have chosen the right channels to be at, you should make yourself as easy to find as possible. You can achieve this by using simple profile names, relevant profile pictures and hashtags that relate to your business. Also, you should add links to your social media accounts on your company’s website.

Post interesting content regularly
Don’t just make your content about sales and product promotions but instead try to provide value for your customers by posting interesting and entertaining content. Think about the following questions; What interests them and brings more value for them? What kind of content would attract attention?
Also be sure to post a variety of content – photos, videos, link shares, contests etc. Post user-generated content to make your customers feel more involved. Use storytelling as a way to increase engagement and attention. Ask questions and feedback. And remember to post regularly.

Be responsive
When thinking about better interaction on social media, one of the most important aspects is the communication and responding to your customer’s requests, suggestions and messages. Consumers expect to get fast responses when leaving their comment on social media. That’s why you should try to reply to them as quickly as possible. Reply to all questions, comments and feedback – both positive and negative ones. In this way, you can create better relationships and improve brand loyalty.

Show yourself – “behind the scenes”
People want to connect and interact with other people. Therefore, it would be a good idea to show the people working behind the company’s social media profiles – and not just the ones who are dealing with social media but other employees as well. For example, you can post pictures of the staff, introduce the team members and reply to comments with your name. This builds trust and reliability.

Reference:
Ngai, E., Tao, S. & Moon, K. 2015. Social media research: Theories, constructs, and conceptual frameworks. International Journal of Information Management. 35(1), 33-44.

How has technology influenced the rise of LGBT tourism?

 

 

What is LGBT tourism all about?

LGBT tourism is the process of tourism product and service development and marketing that caters the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. This specific segment of tourism provides opportunities to select destinations, accommodations, transport, events and so on, which are LGBTQ+ friendly. These create options for LGBT tourists to travel while feeling welcomed and respected. As the modern world moves towards a more inclusive and open-minded attitude, this area of tourism keeps growing with potential and is one of the fastest-growing tourism segments. For more information see https://www.iglta.org.

Technology and its impact on LGBT tourism

Technology has had a significant effect on awareness and attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people and issues relating to them. UNWTO: Global Report on LGBT Tourism (2012) shows that countries with progressive policies towards LGBT individuals gain more economic benefits from tourism. It also shows that there are improved social benefits resulted from LGBT friendly brand image. This image is formed by inclusiveness, tolerance and diversity.

Using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) enables tourism businesses to gain competitive advantages in promotion and marketing, in addition to reinforcing the operations and strategies in the industry. Development of ICTs has enabled tourists in the LGBT segment to actively participate in the creation and sharing of their tourist experiences. This is done by activating conversations in social media with friends, family and others. Development of ICTs has created an opportunity for people to connect despite geographical and physical boundaries. This has decreased the effect of isolation commonly associated with the LGBTQ+ community.

Social media has had an essential role in strengthening the formerly silenced and sidelined voices. Various online, brand and marketing campaigns such as “It gets better” and Spotify: Pride stories, have carried out hope for a better future for the representatives of LGBTQ+ community. However, while the positive awareness and acceptance get better, the negative backlash is fueled. Specially targeted hate campaigns towards the LGBTQ+ community showcase the popularity of homophobic and transphobic convictions people still hold.

LGBT tourist behaviour

As a tourist segment, LGBT tourists have fairly high spending power and more opportunities to travel off-season. Tourists in the LGBT segment utilise all available ways of communication, with a high focus on channels and online platforms developed for this community in particular. These channels and platforms include such as online forums, specified websites, apps and various social networks.

As tourists, LGBT people like any other tourists connect to and use technology, digital and online tools before, during and after travel. Before travel, they utilise the internet to search for LGBT friendly places to visit and while travelling engages with the rest of the community through posts and pictures in social media. After travel, they evaluate the services and use e-WOM to share their experiences. Some applications are specifically catering for this tourism segment, like Misterbnb. This is similar to Airbnb but the accommodation hosts are LGBTQ+ friendly. Another great mobile app is Wimbify. It combines Couchsurfing and Airbnb with a way of meeting other people in this community.

What are the ways to grow as a destination for LGBT tourism?

The question arises; how the tourism industry can gain an advantage of the positive impacts of technology to grow LGBT tourism and is there a way to minimize the negative impacts? Destinations should jump on the bandwagon of creating awareness on inclusiveness and tolerance towards this community. If not existing already, they should develop tourism products and services that are authentically LGBT friendly. Additionally, creating specified marketing campaigns plays a huge role in attracting these tourists and getting the destination on the map as an LGBT friendly tourism destination. This can be achieved through smaller actions as well. It is as simple as using a small rainbow on websites or advertisements. Website design should include inclusive visuals to welcome this segment of tourists. Destinations can add a section for options focusing on LGBT tourists, such as LGBT events calendar in the destination.

It all comes to education and understanding, ensuring that all staff members understand, respect and value all customers equally. Taking the time to research how other LGBT friendly destinations are performing and learning from them is worthwhile. Because there is various online platforms and channels specifically for the LGBT community, tourism product providers should utilise them to engage with tourists. Additionally, they can be used to co-create tourist experiences by involving LGBT customers in every step. Including aspects for LGBT tourists in the company strategy and values, regardless of which tourism segment the business caters creates the potential to emerge in this tourism market.

Overall, the key is to utilize the endless opportunities technology and digitalization has provided in more open-minded, inclusive and tolerant fashion.

 

References:
  1. British LGBT Awards (2019). Winners 2019 – British LGBT Awards. [online] Britishlgbtawards.com. Available at: https://www.britishlgbtawards.com/winners-2019/ [Accessed 25 Oct. 2019].
  2. Last, M. (2019). How technology has changed the LGBT+ experience. [Blog] Available at: https://technation.io/news/how_technology_has_changed_lgbt/ [Accessed 25 Oct. 2019].
  3. Liberato, P., Liberato, D., Abreu, A., Alén, E. and Rocha, Á. (2018). LGBT Tourism: The Competitiveness of the Tourism Destinations Based on Digital Technology. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, pp.264-276.
  4. UNWTO (2012).Global Report on LGBT Tourism. AM Reports: Volume three. [online] Madrid: UNWTO and IGLTA. Available at: https://www.e-unwto.org/doi/pdf/10.18111/9789284414581 [Accessed 25 Oct. 2019].
  5. IGLTA (2019).The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association > Home. [online] Iglta.org. Available at: https://www.iglta.org [Accessed 25 Oct. 2019].

Digital Tourism Think Tank 2019 – Day 1

#DTTT 2019 What did I learn?

 

I had a great possibility to participate in Digital Tourism Think Tank Global 2019 on 4rd and 5th of December, which this year took place in Espoo. DTTT Global is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting conferences as it gathers a bunch of tourism DMO’s and other professionals to hear the latest innovations and good practices made around the globe. As it was my first time in participating anything this big of an event, it was a great chance for me to test what I have learned during my year in UEF Master’s Degree studies and put that knowledge in practice.

The overall impression from the two days was, well, impressive! Both days were all about technology and digitalization, but the theme was viewed from different angles; the first day was all about how technology can be used in sustainable destination design and the second-day topic was all about AI and digitalization. We saw great examples from around the globe on how to do things a bit different view. The repetition, which still rings in my ears, was: DMO’s role is shifting, DMO’s role is changing. I will try to cover a few examples of how this topic emerged during those two days. You can see the whole program and key take-aways here

DMO’s shifting role – What’s this about?

Traditionally DMO, a Destination marketing organization, focuses on MARKETING. Building a brand, getting the stakeholders together, promoting the place and focusing on tourism flows. However, in most presentations, you could hear how DMO role was merged as DMMO (destination marketing management organization) or DxO where x stands for anything that the future holds for us and tourism organizations must be ready to modify their actions on how the digitalization and travel behavior change. As written in the article at Atta.travel

“A DxO is better-equipped to manage disruptive business methodologies, to pivot when it comes to times of change and to be agile in the face of challenges. For example, A DMO in a time of water shortages cannot simply sit back and continue to market a destination as if oblivious to the challenge faced by locals and, ultimately, visitors. A DXO tackles the challenge head-on, collaborating with relevant bodies in the private and public sector to drive tangible change, having a positive impact on the very environment in which tourism takes place.”

As the growth of tourism flows has not only had a positive effect, UNWTO, (United Nation’s World Tourism Organization) has instructed DMO’s not only to focus on marketing and sales but also to the elements of government and coordination towards collaboration. Therefore, DMO – or should I say – DxO’s role is constantly shifting towards more holistic governance of the area and tourism flows.

So, how this is seen in practice?

Case: East Iceland

I was impressed by the work done in East Iceland (Austurland) and in the Faroe Islands on how they have managed to do collaborative work together with the locals, aiming at the commitment and destination loyalty and most importantly – that the locals are proud of their destination. East Iceland current destination strategy and branding building process started in 2012 when they got familiar with Swedish Destination Designer Daniel Byström. Two years later East Iceland DMO together with Byström started to blueprint the touchpoints and putting the stakeholders in the center of the whole design process.

They did a lot of workshops and interviews with local residents and formed a brand tagline “Think outside of the circle” referring e.g. to the circle (1-road) going around Iceland and from which you have to deviate from to get in most of these cities in East Iceland. (I accidentally visited Seydisfjördur and Egilsstadir in 2017, as we were circling the ring road and thought on do a day-trip to this city, and especially first mentioned it is worth stopping by!). They build a strong brand around local people, around emotions and storytelling. The brand was build and communicated openly with stakeholders and local people. The brand mission is as follows:

Our mission

“We are communicating experiences and emotions with a personal the approach that inspires and surprises the audience, while working with every visitor, resident, and company as a part of the Austurland story”

I think they have done a splendid job in brand building and designing collaboratively with visitors and locals. They’ve managed to build up the communal spirit and “proudness” towards their homeplace. One great example from creating value together was one walking road to church, which became a “landmark” of Saydisfjördur after a bit of a fine-tuning. The story behind it was that there wasn’t enough money to repair the old brick road. Therefore, instead of repairing the road, they painted the road with rainbow colors together with residents and local artists.

(Source: María Hjálmarsdóttir & Daniel Byström’s presentation in DTTT 4.12.)

I think this is a great example of DMO’s shifting role: instead of just marketing, DMO’s role is also bringing local people together, coordinate and encouraging and committing them to build up a destination in where they are proud to live alongside tourists.

Case: Faroe Island

Another marvelous example from that what DMO could do with literally 0-budget – do it as they do in Faroe Island – Do it viral. It was ridiculous to see how many viral hits the Faroe Islands got just being creative. Google Sheep View and Faroe Islands Translate have got. However, it is not all. Collaboratively with locals, they built up a strategy and a brand “Preservolution” – aiming not to have over-tourism, but sustainable tourism.

Unique and authentic experiences are in the focus, instead of mass-events. As for one another example, they did a one-day event where the stage was in private homes. Over 20 concerts in local’s home sound like an experience you can’t get from anywhere else!

However, after successful viral hits and events, it became clear that not everyone wanted Faroe Island as a playground for tourists. Tourists were not always welcome and landowners mind their land to getting ruined by a tourist. Added to that, complicated legislation was ambiguous in topics liability and who takes care of the land if tourists “ruin” it. It created opposition within landowners creating their way of doing things and creating e.g. cash per visit -systems

(Source: Levi Hanssen’s & Jóhan Pauli Helgason’s presentation on DTTT 4.12.)

For that, they built up an idea: Closed for Maintenance – open for voluntourism. The whole country is closed from “ordinary” tourists but open for volunteers who construct and help locals to preserve nature. Collaboratively with locals landowners, local people and tourists they build more sustainable destination and have less annoyance from residents towards tourism. All these actions created by a DMMO of Faroe Island created proudness towards the home country, and willingness to move back and do things for it. More importantly, it connected people to do things together with tourists and destination stakeholders. Another great example of DMO’s shifting role.

Wrap up #DTTT Day 1

This was just a scratch from Day 1 of DTTT. After the first day, my head was filled with ideas and I got the same inspirational feel what I got after their presentations and immediately I started to compose ideas: Could we do something similar in Finland and around Saimaa Region? Maybe we can start a project around these issues to develop a strong place brand around Lake Saimaa and ECoC –process, to build a stronger feel towards the place – for example. Do open workshops and interviews and build a strong destination brand and strategy around Lakeland and Saimaa region. Well, even these cases could not be modeled in these contexts; the key thing for me was realizing how wide scope DMO has to control. I do not envy you guys, who are doing this as your daily job!

For me, these two above-mentioned presentations were the ones, which stood up from the ground from the first day, as there were many touchpoints where I could relate. Not to say that other presentations were bad – the opposite! For example, Lyon have done a great job as a sister “smart city” to Helsinki on the year 2019 in connecting technology to culture by creating a “visitor database” which is shared by the entire destination stakeholders to maintain loyalty and understanding visitors better and communicating with them, referring visitors nearby activities during city visit. That’s how you use technology to create collaboration with destination stakeholders!

(Source: Camille Lenoble & Blandine Thenet presentation in DTTT 4.12.)

Finally: Finland as a sustainable and smart destination – how are we doing?

I cannot end the post without mention our dear beloved Finland. I was proud to see how good work we’ve done in Finland. Comparing to strategies, sustainable travel goals and such things that were seen during the few days. The place, Dipoli in Espoo was a great spot for this kind of event. Espoo in many ways surprised me with all the tech innovations that the “happiest city in the happiest country” had come up to. Automatic transportation pilot Gacha, Uber-style boat on-demand –service Bout, Airbnb-style rent your boat – SkipperiAutomated helicopters which deliver food just to mention a few examples to which I immediately could see business models in Saimaa region as well.

We are ahead in building a sustainable tourism destination, where e.g. MyHelsinki has focused on by encouraging stakeholders to act more sustainable. However, to be frank, in Finland collaborative work still needs some work to do – but we are slowly getting there and seeing the benefits of what we could achieve by creating and innovating our tourism flows sustainably and responsibly. This is also a recognized problem by Visit Finland and noticed in for example in a report where they dive deep to examine the operating models of Finnish tourism agencies (in Finnish).

When we identify and speak out from our problems, it is much easier to solve and develop them together.

Read more about the event on my Day two recap.