Destination Marketing Explained: Meaning, Trends and Challenges

Destination marketing has received considerable attention over the last couple of years – and not always positive, especially in times where popular destinations are threatened by overcrowding, or “overtourism.” As a reader of The Place Brand Observer, it is quite likely that you either are a destination marketer or are interested in the topic, in which case you might be curious how this area of professional practice is responding to pressure to reinvent itself and to redefine its purpose.

Reason enough for us to take a closer look by asking questions such as: what does destination marketing actually mean? What benefits does it bring? And which major trends and changes should destination marketers and DMOs be aware of, to ensure their future viability?

Below a few extracts and answers from our interviews with leading place professionals, to offer you a snapshot of expert views on the meaning and future of destination marketing. In any case, we strongly recommend you to read the full versions of the interviews. Professionals’ views on destination marketing can be quite diverse, depending on their academic “home” discipline or school of thought.

What is destination marketing?

Thulisile Galelekile, South Africa:

“Destination marketing is about engaging with key players in order to drive awareness of the destination, thereby driving interest so that people visit the destination. It is about finding creative ways of communicating the destination’s value proposition, therefore creating the reason for people to visit your destination.”

Gregory Pomerantsev, Latvia:

“Destination marketing (or marketing of a place) is a managerial process, a demand driven research, advertising and communication activity with the focus on potential external consumers. It mainly focuses on attraction of visitors – tourists, investors, university students or skilled labor force.”

Tom Buncle, Scotland:

“While destination branding is about who you are, destination marketing is about how you communicate who you are.”

Michael Gehrisch, USA:

“At the end of the day, destination marketing is all about turning tourism into a key driver of socio-economic progress in communities through export revenues, the creation of jobs and enterprises, and infrastructure development.”

“A destination marketer is also an advocate for tourism, a cultural champion, and connects the visitor experience with the quality of life of residents in the community.”

Destination marketing: worth it?

Chris Fair, USA:

“The biggest issue for destination marketers and branders continues to be figuring out a way to justify the return on investment to politicians and policy makers. The equation used to be relatively simple: x media spend = y visitors or investment. It’s no longer that simple.”

Michael Gehrisch, USA:

“We recently commissioned Oxford Economics to help measure the real impact of destination marketing organizations. Their research provided credible evidence that communities with substantial and growing visitor economies tend to outperform their peers. They were able to show that a 10% increase in a destination’s visitor-related employment that is achieved through an increase in that destination’s share of total US visitor-related employment (i.e. a market share gain), tends to be followed by a 1.5% increase in employment in other sectors in that city in the short run (approximately two years).”

“The reason is that in addition to attracting visitors, destination marketing drives broader economic growth by sustaining air service, creating familiarity, attracting decision makers, and improving the quality of life in a place.”

Destination marketing trends and future directions

The following quotes give an idea of where destination marketing is headed:

Gordon Innes, USA:

“London & Partners is London’s destination marketing company and economic development company, combined. Its purpose is to build London’s international reputation, attract investment and visitor spend and help London businesses expand globally in order to create additional jobs and economic growth for the city. It replaced three existing agencies: a private sector business attraction/ foreign direct investment company; a public-sector tourism agency; and an education sector-controlled international student attraction office.”

Joao Freire, Portugal:

“Destination marketing is becoming smarter, more efficient and less dependent on public money and more focused on the private sector. The budgets allocated for advertising are being reduced since there is less public money available.”

John Cooper, USA:

“Destination marketers largely just market a place. Destination managers do that, but are also active leaders in community development and preservation efforts. It also means a fundamental change in the culture of the DMO. This philosophical realignment definitely has a bearing on what our job is, how we do our job, the team involved and their skill sets. DMAI’s Destination Next initiative addresses these challenges and cultural changes [and] I think sets a good blue print for community success and the future roles of DMOs.”

Manolis Psarros, Greece:

“Destination marketing has never been the same since the economic recession and the rapid evolution of digital tools such as social media, analytics, and mobile apps. The rise of personalization in travel experience has also highlighted the ‘social’ dimension of destination marketing from both a global and a local perspective.”

“A model shift from government agencies and nonprofit organizations to public-private partnerships is expected to shape the operational environment of DMOs in the near future.”

“Destination marketing cannot ignore the transition from the Internet of things to the Internet of everything. We are part of an era made up by the capacity of technological advancements to facilitate the networked connectivity of people, processes, data, and things. The implications of this transition touch upon the core of service production and consumption, changing the perceptions of visitors throughout the stages of tourist experience and creating significant challenge for all tourism stakeholders.”

Michael Gehrisch, USA:

“DestinationNEXT is intended to serve as a road map for the future of destination marketing. The outcome of that research was three transformational opportunities that were outlined for DMO: engaging consumers in the new marketplace, evolving the DMO business model, and building and protecting the destination brand.”

Destination branding and the concept of placemaking are at the heart of the future of destination marketing and economic development.”

Mike Fabricius, South Africa:

“The time has arrived for the ‘next surge’ in destination marketing – for Governments to not only pay lip service to tourism as an economic force but to practically place it high on the agenda through resource allocation, political power, public-private partnerships etc. This means moving from planning to implementation – many of the excellent plans that have been drafted for national and local destinations lie idly on the shelves and are in urgent need of practical implementation.”

“The only way in which true, sustainable tourism development can be achieved is through a solid partnership between government and the private sector. I have been privy to the power of such partnership marketing initiatives while working at senior level in post-apartheid Government service in South Africa and have since been a strong proponent of a partnership approach in destination marketing.”

Sebastian Zenker, Denmark:

“Maybe we should broaden the tasks of place marketing in terms of a mediator and translator between the customer (residents, tourists, etc.) and the producer (urban planners and politicians).”

Statia Elliot, Canada:

“As DMOs evolve their business models to stay relevant and to become more self-sufficient, brand monitoring will be one of many important facets. DMOs will be challenged to go beyond marketing, to take on expanded roles from advocacy to network management.”


Clearly, a lot is going on in the destination marketing scene. Our key takeaways from those views expressed by leading professionals in our interviews are that DMOs either are merging with other organizations – especially EDOs (Economic Development Organizations) – such as in the case of London, or are redefining their purpose, adding managerial responsibilities to the task of promoting a city or region. In both cases, business models change and with them funding sources.

The two main membership associations serving destination marketers – European Cities Marketing and Destinations International (formerly DMAI), both play an active role in helping their members through this transition period, and in turn are supported by leading destination marketing consultancies, such as Toposophy.

DestinationNEXT and Future of DMOs: European Cities Marketing Manifest are their respective programs and road maps towards a sustainable future for destination marketing. Keep an eye on those organizations to stay up to date on latest destination marketing developments.

Please note that the information and views set out in this article are those of the authors (interviewees) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the organizations they work for.

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