Bill Obreiter
Oct 13, 2020

New KPIs for destination marketers

Covid has thrown a spanner into the works for destination and tourism marketers, and a shake-up in measurement is vital.

A tourist in Ho Chi Minh (Shutterstock)
A tourist in Ho Chi Minh (Shutterstock)

The tourism industry has had the opportunity to see what the world was like without it, and it is far from great. As travellers begin to return to destinations, so do opportunities for destination marketing organisations (DMOs) to grow accountability within their communities. We need to embrace these new responsibilities by changing how we measure success and our relationships with travellers and residents.

For destination marketers, the time has come to shake up how they manage a destination. The metrics for how we define success need to account for more than just hotel beds. If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

A good exercise for any DMO looking to create meaningful success now is to ditch at least five KPIs and take on five new ones that help to ascertain community value. Of course, every destination has its own challenges, starting points post-COVID-19, barriers to success and USPs—but the need for a shake-up is consistent. Here, I’ve outlined how and why this is critical and some examples of the new KPIs DMOs should consider.

Nurture resident relationships

Benchmarking year-on-year growth is now null and void—this is the time to put in true long-term goals for the post-pandemic era. It’s clear that relying on one metric as the key indicator of success belies reality. You may be filling hotel beds, but what is the relationship with residents in the local community like? Are they empowered and do they understand the benefits tourism can bring to them? Are visitors spending with local businesses? It’s crucial to take a more holistic view of tourism KPIs and to tell a meaningful story about and with the community there.

Relationships with residents are, in fact, key for any DMO, but they’re often ignored. Balancing resident sentiment and travel demand are vital, especially for reopenings during the current pandemic. Understanding barriers and drivers for residents and local businesses can inform reopening and community plans to welcome back guests and out-of-town visitors. DMOs should measure resident sentiment: how it tracks over time and in response to evolving travel restrictions and regulations or DMO initiatives.

Discover new data streams

Relying on old data sources or statistics is a tempting trap, but one that hugely limits the understanding of a DMO (and once-in-a-generation events such as Covid have proven that those are not enough when looking at the future). It’s crucial to spend time investigating data that you may never even have known existed and work out how it can be used successfully for your destination. Simply put, it is key to identifying your goals and vision so that you can decide on what data sources will help you measure success.

For example, look into geolocation data such as leveraging heat maps to understand people’s movements and where they congregate. Some destinations are even leveraging CO2, water and electricity consumption to analyse traveller behaviour. In Taiwan, crowd control measures such as a service website to inform the public about crowd levels are in place to prevent locals from congregating at tourist attractions. Similarly, enforcement measures were quickly implemented in Singapore when the government realised that people were flocking to the beaches once lockdown restrictions were eased. Recognising potential hotspots and swiftly employing crowd control technology is crucial in ensuring that people are not gathering in large groups.

Understanding real-time intent is also key. DMOs can leverage sources like search data and airline capacity to help forecast recovery and capture market share through driving interest in critical booking periods.

Beyond the bed tax and sustainability

As we take a more holistic view of benefiting the community through tourism, it’s clear that success goes far beyond hotel tax. A more holistic understanding is gained through visitor spend—visits to restaurants, petrol stations, retail, leisure attractions, museums, or shops that generate huge revenue, and are a key source of value for local businesses and residents. Communities have felt the pain of a drop in tourism far beyond the hotel industry, and we must reflect that in how we interpret revenue gains through tourism.

We are already seeing talks underway between countries with improving Covid situations, such as Singapore and New Zealand, to establish reciprocal green lanes to entice travellers. According to a report by Trip.com and Google, 70% of travellers in APAC have intentions to take short-haul trips in the region once relevant restrictions are lifted; these important visitors must not be discounted. Measuring this overall positive impact is also a huge boon towards proving value to the community and encouraging a positive attitude towards welcoming back visitors.

We need to consider “place management” rather than “destination marketing”. This means accountability for responding to resident and business concerns and building community relationships, while leveraging data to ensure maximum market capture with maximum benefits to the location. Furthermore, we need to embrace sustainability goals and promote circular economies in the sector in order to build a true community understanding, as well as assess current data sources and uses, replacing with immediacy where a metric falls short.

We are at a new beginning in travel; our measurement of success can, therefore, start afresh, too. Accountability ties a community to the commitment of good results.


Bill Obreiter is global director, tourism & hospitality division, ADARA.

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