top of page

The best tool for marketing your destination might just be your culture.


Tourism marketing has gone through a sea change in the last fifteen years. For many destinations, the focal point of the marketing efforts was a full-page ad in Sunset magazine and booth at a trade show. A lot has changed for sure over the past two decades. Technology, including the internet and interactive advertising, and social media long ago, reshaped the tourism marketing landscape to include various tools and channels to distribute destination content.

These technology marketing tools have brought real benefit to destination marketing organizations in having the ability to target desired customer segments and measure the effectiveness each of the channels has in connecting with those desire target segments.

Basic Destination Technology Marketing Model

Overall the system has become a boon to tourism destination is creating a simplified and practical approach to getting a message out. To improve the system's effectiveness, much effort has been placed on creating efficiencies in reaching target segments. Media planners are constantly looking for an improved "cost per thousand" or CPM to improve the efficiencies for their DMO clients. The basic model stays the same but with the ever-increasing emphasis on more efficiency.

The challenge with this approach, which can be found in just about every DMO in the country, is that many assume that this model is "a strategy." Many a DMO marketing executive or ad agency executive will wax poetically about their marketing strategy designed to increase awareness and generate visits to their destination. They will, in large part, be talking about this basic approach.

Most destination marketing organizations have an arsenal of tools and channels to consider getting their message out. The tools and channels have become the best way to implement strategies but are not strategies in and of themselves.

DMO Marketing Tools and Channels

Content is King, But What Kind of Content?

For years, advertising has been the primary message or voice of a destination, but advertising has been seen to be inauthentic and self-serving over time. Consumers have for years been bombarded with messaging that has gone by the wayside. In turn, Social media, public relations, video, and photos have all be part of the marketing mix. To maximize those channels, DMO's have developed content messages that can be "pushed" to consumers.

Typically, when a DMO pushes its content, it looks to see a response, either a visit to w website, a "like" on Facebook. These responses can be measured, and thein lies one of the challenges. As one Facebook post gets posted, liked, and counted as is often the case, the thinking goes to imagine what ten more would do?

This presents a problem in that the quality of content pushed out by DMO's can vary from poor quality to excellent quality. The common denominator is the volume of content that is pushed out. We have seen far too often DMO's posting low-quality content, including everything from pancake breakfast to little league tournaments, often content that does little to position the destination authentically.

Destination Marketing Redux

For decades traditional destination marketing was selling what you have. Talk about the list of attributes a destination has and message them to consumers. The list is a familiar one:

· Fine dining

· Casual dining

· Attractions

· Special events

· Golf

· Hiking

· Bike trails

· And on and on

The trouble is most destinations now have a similar list, and differentiating one destination from another has needed to go beyond the list. The real point of differentiation lies with the culture, values, and characteristics of your community. Those are the authentic elements that define each destination differently. If you are authentic, you don't have to spend your advertising dollars differentiating your destination. You are. At that point, your destination attracts visitors who can "connect" with your destinations look, feel, culture, and vibe.

The most important part of this approach is understanding and connecting the culture of your destination with consumers. Additionally, it is a culture that fuels content.

Culture of Marketing Strategy

In essence, culture marketing is a way to translate the culture of your destination into compelling content that creates interest, inspires consumers, and helps your destination form a stronger relationship with them. Most importantly, it's a way to promote what your destination cares about and attract visitors who share your community's values.

Consumer Insights and Cultural Marketing

Tourism marketing has grown up with efforts to gain consumer insights through traditional marketing research efforts. You know these visitor profile studies a destination cranks out every couple of years or a market study of a specific target market.

This research helps Destination Marketing Organizations develop insights on the basic information needed to understand existing and potential visitors. This kind of research can help predict response to new marketing programs. It cannot account for the local culture and the ability of local culture to connect with potential visitors authentically.

Every destination/community has its vibe. It is a complex amalgamation of local manners, norms, social behaviors, rituals, community events, and values. These elements make a destination interesting and authentic, differentiate the destination in the marketplace, and enable a genuine connection for potential visitors to connect with the destination. Consumer insights alone will not increase the destination's competitiveness, but integrating a destination's culture and making is a cornerstone you ensure a differentiated and authentic destination positioning in the marketplace, creating a clear space in a very competitive industry.

From Attributes to Culture

The stronger a destination's local culture, the more interesting the destination and the more competitive the destination is. By understanding the connection between local culture and tourism marketing, the destination aligns itself with the ideals of the community and the message of the marketing effort.

To better understand how powerful the cultural connection is, we can look to the corporate world and the tourism world for examples. In their book "Culture Strategy," Douglas Holt and Douglas Cameron provide a detailed understanding of how culture shapes marketing strategy. For tourism marketing, much can be learned about how these examples created an authentic feel and connection to culture.

Each of these examples leverage culture to create an original position in the marketplace. The culture is the backdrop, the voice, and the tone for all communications that emanates from each. As such, authenticity is found in the voice and tone of each and not necessarily the attributes. The same hold proper for a destination, the ones that start their strategy with culture instead of attributes are building a long-term sustainable competitive advantage.

A New Model for Consideration

This paper started with the basic content, tools, channels model used by most DMO's to market their destination. We suggest adding a component to the model—local culture.


Smart destinations will dig deep in understanding their local culture and values, capture them and effectively communicate them. For example, In South Lake Tahoe, the guiding values of the community protect the environment and outdoor recreation, the mantra is "never waste a day." These offer insight into the values of the destination, and when those values align with the messages and communication to potential visitors, the best opportunity for sustainable connection exists.

Destinations that understand that true competitive advantage lies in a destination authenticity and culture and not necessarily the size of the marketing budget know how to connect with the local culture and not just on a superficial level by attending local events. But by understanding the passions and values at a much deeper level. Suppose you want to build a sustainable competitive advantage, worry less about visitors, and dig deeper into your residents. In that case, it's their insights and how it manifests itself in the local culture that will give you all the content you will ever need to connect with visitors.


Carl Ribaudo President and Chief Strategist

As a strategist, Carl designs breakthrough insights, sustainable strategies, and plans that help leaders lead and get the change and results needed to be more effective. As the President and Chief Strategist of SMG Consulting, Carl has developed new destination tourism strategy approaches that tap into its creativity as a unique competitive asset. He also develops effective change strategies that link a DMO's capabilities to the ever-changing market environment. Carl is a trusted advisor to CEOs and senior executives throughout the industry.

Carl is also a writer who has written extensively on business and strategy issues for the tourism industry. A frequent guest speaker and panelist at industry conferences, Carl serves on two different State Tourism Committees, including Vist California's Research and ROI. Committee and the Travel Nevada's Tourism Marketing Committee. Carl is also a partner in the OHV Partners Consulting Group, and he is a strategist in the Insights Collective, a national tourism think tank.

Carl currently serves as the President of Tahoe Resources Conservation District and served as a key member of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) pathway planning group that developed the twenty-year Lake Tahoe Basin regional plan.

Carl obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from California State University at Northridge. He received his master's degree in Business Administration (MBA) from San Francisco State University Graduate School of Business. He also completed a certificate program at Cornell University in Organizational Change Leadership and a certificate program in strategic thinking from Dartmouth College.

He enjoys riding his BMW motorcycle on two-lane roads throughout the west, trap shooting, river rafting, and downhill and cross-country skiing.

15 views0 comments


bottom of page