Destinations that are most desperate for the return of tourism but have lost marketing budget or tourism leadership due to their own set of challenges, are finding it hard to make themselves heard in the din of intense destination marketing today.
I started the New Year with a short trip to Sri Lanka, at the behest of Chamintha Jayasinghe, co-founder of Ayu in the Wild experience curator and friend, who charmed me over with stories of her projects that support local community and environmental causes through her earnings as well as the steely persistance of her peers in the travel and tourism industry to revive international arrivals in their own ways amid widespread misconception of the country’s tourism readiness.
Chamintha showed me some of her favourite places to dine, socialise and recharge in Colombo, Galle, Tangalle, Weligama and Hambantota. Everywhere I went was as peaceful and inviting as equivalents in Bangkok, Penang and Singapore, yet at the same time so different in sights, sounds and flavours that they left me making mental notes to return with the family for a long and proper vacation soon.
What a gem! But also, what a hidden gem. Sharing my experience with friends and industry colleagues, I realised that not many know that Sri Lanka can provide a great holiday for gourmands, nature lovers, adventurers, romantics and more. The versatility of the destination also means it is possible for one to have a wildlife adventure, cool highlands retreat, beachfront sojourn and heritage deep-dive all in a single trip.
My time in Sri Lanka got me thinking about the value of destination marketing, especially to correct misconceptions, instil travel confidence and inspire exploration. We saw how destination marketing played out throughout the pandemic and the progressive return of travel freedom. Savvy NTOs continued with marketing to keep the travel dream alive, and when restrictions eased messaging fired up to spur people into action.
However, many of these savvy NTOs have big marketing guns. They ride on the star power of celebrities like Charlie Puth (Singapore), Rose Byrne (Australia), Lee Jae Wook (South Korea) and Roger Federer (Switzerland), splurge on visually-stunning exposures on global media platforms, and invest in numerous travel influencers.
Destinations that are most desperate for the return of tourism but have lost marketing budget or tourism leadership due to their own set of challenges, are finding it hard to make themselves heard in the din of intense destination marketing today. Unless travellers actively seek out the unusual or have a social circle of first-movers, most will likely go for destinations that are most visible or talked about.
As travel returns, we will see who will emerge as winners in this marketing fight.