Sojern releases insights on destination marketing in 2024

Sojern launches “State of Destination Marketing” report for destination marketing organizations. This new report, produced through a partnership between Sojern and Digital Tourism Think Tank, and supported by Brand USA, Destination Canada and the European Travel Commission, sheds light on the latest industry trends and challenges. 

Based on insights from nearly 300 DMOs, government departments and affiliated tourism entities worldwide, the report explores effective marketing strategies for engaging travelers and offers a glimpse into the future of destination marketing. Sojern commissioned this report so its global destination clients have access to the most comprehensive marketing insights.

The report found that economic uncertainty, inflation and the cost of living are all having a significant impact on strategies, with more than 50 percent of respondents considering these to be areas that require careful planning. 

"As the travel industry undergoes rapid transformation, we remain committed to empowering destinations to navigate these changes effectively,” Sojern Chief Revenue Officer Noreen Henry said in a statement. “The insights uncovered in our report highlight destination marketers’ strategic priorities and overall approach to digital marketing, while also highlighting the significance of promoting sustainable and diverse tourism and meeting consumers' increasing desire for unique experiences. Working with strategic technology-powered partners like Sojern ensures success in an increasingly dynamic and competitive environment.” 

Adopting AI and Disrupting DMOs

AI is revolutionizing marketing and will have a monumental influence on how destinations market to travelers. According to the findings, DMOs anticipate that AI's impact will be most pronounced in content creation, with nearly half (49 percent) foreseeing significant impact. A growing number of AI tools are transforming creative processes, from long-form content to social media posts.

In addition, 40 percent of DMOs see significant potential in AI for predictive analysis and forecasting, 38 percent for data analysis and interpretation, and 37 percent for marketing content personalization. However, 71 percent are currently less confident and see little potential impact in AI’s ability to shape their teams' web, app and platform creation, and 63 percent in conversational marketing. DMOs perceive the least impact when it comes to AI on campaign creation and optimization (29 percent), creative media (25 percent) and web, app, platform creation (25 percent). 

Prioritizing Digital Paid Media Investments 

Ninety-six percent of DMOs are making significant investments in paid media as an essential component in achieving their marketing objectives. Notably, 58 percent take an always-on approach, investing year round, while 38 percent invest seasonally and only 21 percent invest when specific opportunities arise. Social media advertising maintains its prominence, as does search engine marketing, with 96 percent and 95 percent of DMOs rating them as having a high or average importance, respectively. 

The most important channel formats comprise 94 percent native advertising or sponsored content, 85 percent display and video advertising, and 78 percent in-stream video ads. Additionally, Connected TV shows promise, with more than half of respondents considering it of mid to high importance. 

Instagram and Facebook remain the most important platforms when it comes to prioritizing media and content investment, with 45 percent and 35 percent respectively of all respondents ranking Meta’s channels as their top channel of importance. While TikTok has become a global sensation, media investment hasn't yet grown to the level some might expect, with only 5 percent ranking it as their most important channel.  

Shifting Strategies Around Data and Privacy

Fifty-four percent of all respondents stated that data provides the most value in marketing planning. Demographic data (88 percent) is used most frequently to guide decisions, followed by behavioral data (79 percent). However, increased reliance on data also brings its challenges. Given the three most pressing obstacles to success are the lack of data integration across channels (52 percent), the high cost of acquiring data (46 percent) and limited access to quality data (42 percent), it becomes clear why demographic data currently serves as the primary proxy for decision making in digital marketing. 

With Google’s deprecation of third-party cookies scheduled for mid-2024, 37 percent reported a significant impact, while 15 percent of respondents said that these changes have a small impact on their current strategies. DMOs are taking actions to mitigate the effects of these data privacy changes, with 60 percent planning to focus on social content and 58 percent prioritizing obtaining more first-party data. The report found that the inability to track the right data is a significant issue, with the importance of obtaining first-party data now higher than ever. DMOs can capitalize on the current focus on demographic data and data-related challenges by partnering with a trusted travel marketing expert who offers high quality data that can be seamlessly integrated and activated across channels and devices.

Prioritizing Environmental, Social Goals

DMOs are adapting their strategies in response to trends such as sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion. European DMOs are leading in prioritizing environmental sustainability (62 percent for climate change, 56 percent for biodiversity) compared to Canadian (29 percent for climate change, 24 percent for biodiversity) and U.S. DMOs (8 percent for climate change, 33 percent for biodiversity). 

Many DMOs are emphasizing both social diversity and sustainability in their strategies, with figures showing that 42 percent of all those surveyed prioritize gender equality, and 45 percent of European and 40 percent of U.S. DMOs strongly prioritize accessibility for visitors with disabilities. Around 35 percent of all respondents said that LGBTQ+-specific strategies (i.e. sexual orientation) were strongly prioritized, with similar importance (34 percent) placed on promoting social and economic diversity.

Embracing Co-op Marketing Priorities

Seventy-eighty percent of global DMOs are actively investing in industry partner campaigns, or co-op marketing, a collaborative approach where DMOs partner with local business stakeholders to promote travel destinations. 

Motivators for co-op campaigns include boosting overall marketing investment (58 percent), expanding audience reach (54 percent) and cost-sharing (46 percent). Notably, 70 percent of DMOs are embracing “full funnel” marketing campaign activities. As the travel industry keeps changing, DMOs need to remain adaptable, focus on data and cultivate robust capabilities with their destination marketing strategies.