Statia Elliot on the Evolution of Destination Marketing and DMOs

Statia Elliot, Director of the School of Hospitality, Food & Tourism Management at the University of Guelph in Canada, in this interview discusses the evolution of destination marketing, DMOs and their convergence with the field of place branding.

Learn about:

  • Current trends in destination marketing;
  • Challenges in the development and management of destination brands;
  • Place branding research priorities, from a tourism perspective;
  • The role of place branding for DMOs, as part of their adaptation to new realities;
  • The five most important ingredients for successful destination brands.

Statia, how did you first become involved in the management and marketing of tourist destinations?

I was hired by the tourism department of the province of Manitoba as an analyst to research and provide market knowledge to support their marketing efforts. After a few years of developing an understanding of what made the destination brand work, I moved up to the position of Marketing Director, just in time for the Winnipeg Pan Am Games – in 1999!

What trends are you seeing in destination marketing?

It’s essential to be market-driven and to base decisions on research and analytics, which are now more available and immediate than ever before. Google Analytics and social media metrics often replace the traditional traveler survey. What may be lost in research rigor, many argue is gained in timely, cost-effective, in-situ traveler information.

In today’s market, both rigor and timeliness are needed, and this is where research is headed.

What challenges are you noticing in tourism linked to the development or management of destination brands, and how are some of these destinations responding to those challenges?

Early in a destination life cycle, a DMO’s prime function is marketing to attract visitors. With growth and development come new challenges, such as environmental sustainability and social equity. At that stage,  DMOs must shift their focus from marketing to strategic management.

For decades, public agencies have either moved away from the development side of tourism to focus solely on marketing, or, they have created separate units for each.

Yet, in a destination’s mature phase of life, which many have reached, DMOs are recognizing the need to realign all facets of management to be effective.

The recently established International Place Branding Association is a sign that the topic is slowly but steadily emerging as a field of study in its own right. From a tourism management point of view, which would be the research priorities?

As our understanding of the traveler experience broadens, so too must our understanding of brand. Building and managing brand equity will be a priority for destinations.

Tourism brands have the potential to influence not only destination choice, but also supplier selection during the planning, transportation, and visitation phases of a trip. This calls for a more holistic understanding of the complete travel experience.

Do you think destination branding – the strategic development, management and monitoring of a destination’s brand – will become more important for DMOs, perhaps as an answer to the destination marketing crisis?

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.

Which are the most important ingredients for successful destination brands?

Based on my study of the most influential tourism brands, the top five brand dimensions are:

Guiding Light

This top dimension reflects a leading brand that understands travelers’ needs and helps them to enhance their travel experience through smarter decisions;

Virtual Dream

This dimension reflects a brand’s online presence (i.e. drawing people to search for the brand, watch its YouTube videos, visit its website, and click its online ads) and customers’ desire for information online;

Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone, like a travel version of comfort food, reflects more traditional yet important facets of brand trust, honesty and relevance;


Connectivity reflects brand engagement, such as using a mobile application, connecting by smartphone while traveling, as well as sharing and buying online.

Big Shot

This dimension reflects how well-established a brand is perceived by travelers.

Product-Country Images book by Heslop and Papadopoulos3 books every destination manager or marketer should read…

A few solid academic reads are:

Wang and Pizam (2011). Tourism Destination Marketing and Management: Collaborative Strategies []

Morgan and Pritchard (2007). Destination Branding: Creating the Unique Destination Proposition []

Papadopoulos and Heslop (1993). Product-Country Images: Impact and Role in International Marketing []

Do you agree with the differentiation between place branding and –marketing as outlined in our recently published quick guide?

I agree that place branding is a process, but to me, a sense of place comes first and is more organic. It can be a starting point from which to build a brand, and then subsequently, market.

Thank you, Statia.

Connect with Statia Elliot on LinkedIn or learn more about her work here.

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