Tourism Sentiment Index by Destination Think! Interview with Rodney Payne

What do people say and think about a destination? The tools for answering this question used to be surveys at the point of check out, or questionnaires as follow up by email, after a visit. Those times are now over. Destination Think!, a leading destination marketing consultancy, just launched its Global Tourism Sentiment Index, benchmarking destinations in terms of buzz – quantity and tone (positive or negative). But how does it work, and which destinations are the most admired? To find out, we caught up with Rodney Payne, CEO of Destination Think!.

Rodney, what is the Global Tourism Sentiment Index about?

Destination marketers know that word of mouth influences travel behavior. Today, destinations can learn so much from what people say candidly online about the places they visit or live in. The Tourism Sentiment Index (TSI) gathers that enormous amount of data and presents it in a way that destination marketers and their stakeholders can instantly understand how their destination is performing. The initiative provides destinations with the most comprehensive consumer sentiment data available, in order to foster confident leadership. The index helps destinations explain what is going well in their place or destination, and what the challenges are.

The Global report that we published aggregates data across 100 different destinations that have received their own TSI report. The global index gives the industry a peek at what is performing well, what is performing not-so-well, how they might compare their performance to other destinations, and a taste of the data available to them.

This is only the beginning, this first report was a snapshot from our earliest partners. We’re heading towards a much more comprehensive report across hundreds of destinations in Spring, 2019.

Why did you launch it?

In many of the large recent brand, strategy and marketing projects that Destination Think!’s team has led in recent years, online sentiment analysis has proven to be the most valuable research from which to draw insights. The Tourism Sentiment Index offers a report that makes this data available to any destination; simply and affordably.

For nearly a decade, Destination Think! has been helping destinations adapt to a world where word of mouth, amplified by technology, is the most powerful force impacting their destination’s future. We’ve seen the power of word of mouth first-hand during our work with hundreds of tourism destinations.

Now our industry can measure and begin to manage that word of mouth. The data in TSI acts as a catalyst for destination management, and meaningful conversations with stakeholders.

Which are the top-performing destinations in terms of volume and overall sentiment?

Chicago has the highest volume of conversation of the 100 destinations that our analysts have measured so far. There were over 18 million tourism-related conversations about Chicago in 2017. Orlando, Toronto, Atlanta and Portland (Oregon) also had a high volume of conversation.

Our methodology attributes a Tourism Sentiment Score(TM) to the conversation, using artificial intelligence to gauge the positivity and negativity of conversation. Tourism-related conversation about Port Douglas Daintree (Queensland, Australia) had the highest level of positivity, followed by other Australian destinations: Hervey Bay, Noosa, Sydney and Sunshine Coast.

Which tourism assets generate the most positive and negative word of mouth?

This is an exciting question, because it lets us dive into the data in new ways. When our team reviewed 625 million conversations about 50 different tourism assets across the 100 destinations, we see some interesting things.

Conversation with the highest positive sentiment is driven by assets like surfing, dog sledding, hiking + rock climbing, weddings and restaurants. On the other hand, access + transport, front-line staff and accommodation are resulting in the most negative conversation.

Simple findings like these present an incredible opportunity for destination marketers looking to allocate their resources to impact their economy.

Which findings did you personally find the most surprising?

The most valuable insight I’ve taken from the data is about the gap we’re seeing between the tourism brand and the brand of a place. Without fail, every single one of the 100 destinations we’ve analysed to-date has had a much stronger tourism brand.

This isn’t surprising, anecdotally the concept has been talked about for years; ‘tourism is the front door to economic development.’ Seeing this so clearly in the individual TSI reports for destinations, and across all of the data, is powerful.

Smaller or less-visited places are performing very well in terms of positive sentiment. One hypothesis we have here is that there is strong alignment between the interests and psychographic make-up of visitors and the Place DNA(TM).

It is fascinating to see surfing and dog sledding at the top of the list, in terms of experiences that are resulting in positive conversation.

Focusing destination development and promotion on specific experiences, aligned to visitor interests, is another opportunity that is presenting itself.

Thanks, Rodney.

More about the Tourism Sentiment Index here.

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