In today's crowded travel market, promoting a city as the ideal destination can be a hard enough sell. Promoting an entire country takes it to a whole new level.

I recently spoke with Charlie Smith, director of marketing and digital at VisitScotland, to get an insight into the biggest challenges facing a national tourist body.

Here’s a summary of what he said along with some further insight into the topic in general.

Promoting the bigger picture

VisitScotland’s aim is to become more than just a traditional tourism website. While it is still very much focused on attracting new people into the country, as well as providing sufficient information during their visit, its strategy is also to sell Scotland as part of the global marketplace.

Its core aim is to build equity within the nation based on factors like heritage and history. Its second is to demonstrate other attributes – such as innovation or an inclusive society – that people outside of Scotland might not know about. 

Luckily, one facilitates the other, with Scotland’s biggest assets – i.e. its people and place – providing a natural halo effect for other sectors and products, such as academia or trade and investment.

Forging strategic partnerships

Alongside marketing via its own channels, a big part of VisitScotland's strategy is to increase visibility through strategic partnerships.

It has recently signed a deal with TripAdvisor to work on a joint marketing campaign, designed to target potential travellers who aren’t necessarily considering Scotland as a destination. For example, if a user is researching other places associated with golf or hiking, they'll be served ads promoting similar activities in Scotland.

By capitalising on TripAdvisor’s large and loyal customer-base – those who typically visit the site to seek advice – it will be able to reach a new and untapped audience. 

At this point, we're less concerned how people come across Scotland (in terms of channel) - only that at the point of research or booking they’re getting the very best experience possible. 

Getting social users to take action

While partnerships provide a platform, VisitScotland also heavily relies on word of mouth as the ultimate marketing tool. After all, 92% of consumers are said to trust a recommendation from a friend rather than an ad. When it comes to the inspiring nature of travel, nothing beats hearing about someone else’s first-hand experience.

With the aim of nurturing the existing goodwill that exists for the country, VisitScotland increasingly invests in channels that enable people to spread the word. However, it also recognises that being active on social media is not enough. The key is in mastering the technical aspects of social that prompt people to take action.

So what exactly turns a passive social user into an actual consumer?

Charlie suggests that it is never one great campaign or a single viral video, but an accumulative experience people have over time. This also falls into the mind-set of the millennial audience – a traveller who is much more interested in experiencing a culture from a local's perspective than that of a holiday-maker or tourist. Channels like Instagram, where users can upload and share their own authentic experiences, are highly effective for driving advocacy.

Using the political climate to its advantage

So, what about marketing a country in the midst of political upheaval?

Charlie says that, instead of being a negative, politics can actually make people more engaged in a country or the conversation that surrounds it. This is because modern travellers are also increasingly interested in finding out about socio-economic or political factors – e.g. a sense of fairness or opportunity – as an integral part of travel. To ignore this would result in a less authentic experience. 

Any negative sentiment that exists could provide the ideal opportunity for us to talk about Scotland and what is has to offer in a positive way. 

Creating an emotional pull

When it comes to attracting consumers, the problem for most national tourism bodies is direct competition from travel providers such as Skyscanner or Expedia and indeed sites like TripAdvisor. 

One reason people might naturally turn to these instead is likely to be a perceived lack of digital innovation. In the past year or so, VisitScotland has been working hard to dispel this notion, combining new technology with emotive or story-focused content to engage potential consumers. Its VR app, which allows users to explore iconic locations in 360-degrees, is just one example of this.

Lastly, instead of fighting against the competition, the brand also recognises that greater opportunity arises from working together. By creating and providing quality content to consumers, regardless of where they come across it, VisitScotland ensures it is able to spread its message to as many people as possible.

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Nikki Gilliland

Published 9 May, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (1)

Simone Kurtzke

Simone Kurtzke, Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Robert Gordon University

I was VisitScotland's first Social Media Manager (2011-13) and had strategic and operational responsibility for all things social (all channels / markets / platforms), we started from nothing and at the time it was just one person (me) - great to see it's come on leaps and bounds since I left, with more emphasis on WOM and recommendations (= key to influencing purchase decisions). Good job!

about 1 month ago

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