How to Develop an Effective Destination Marketing Plan

The Development and Structure of a Marketing Plan: Towards the Development of Marketing Strategies

1. The Situation Analysis

In the planning process there are steps that must be taken prior to the development of the marketing strategies; the first one is conducting a situation analysis. A situation analysis is “the overall process of collecting and interpreting internal, competitive and environmental information.” It presents a summary of these environments and summarizes the company’s current marketing objectives and performance in the market. Through the situation analysis business is provided with a systematic way of viewing marketing activities by analysing the customer, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) in relation to the competition. The situation analysis according to Gartrell includes internal, external and customer analyses, also known as the product, position, and prospect analyses.

The product analysis includes a review of the current objectives, strategies, and company performance. Product capabilities are examined as well as the limitations of the tourist product. The whole destination and its facilities are examined to determine what is there to be offered to the potential traveller. This analysis eliminates poor performance since through this the marketing goals and objectives are reassessed in order to determine their effectiveness.

Second is the position analysis, which addresses issues such as how the destination is “perceived” by the market, an analysis of the strength and weakness and how these can be compared to the threats and opportunities in the external environment, as well as the previous success of the destination shown in statistical reports. Also, the position of the destination in relation to the marketplace, the competitors’ products, services and their position in the market are examined. Position is important, since marketing strategies are developed based on the kind of image that the company expects to maintain in the eyes of the customer.

Next is the prospect analysis also known as the customer analysis, which involves the selection of the best target markets, likely to increase the usage of the destination’s products and services. In this analysis factors like potential demand in certain markets, the criteria for selecting the competition, emerging markets, and what political, social and economical factor may influence the markets are examined.

It must be noted that one of the major steps for conducting the situation analysis is the collection of research. Research is pertinent because it is the tool that allows the organisation to become aware of the customer needs, wants and preferences. Marketing research “monitors and evaluates marketing actions and performance, and communicates the findings and implications to management”. Its importance is even more highlighted since it allows for the collection of the necessary data and information to conduct a thorough prospect analysis. In an effort to thoroughly collect accurate and up-to-date data and information from the external environment, an organisation should also have strong marketing intelligence. Marketing intelligence includes “everyday information about developments in the marketing environment that helps managers prepare and adjust marketing plans and short-run tactics.”

Besides, the product, position and prospect analyses, Gartrell speaks of a fourth, known as the promotional analysis, which examines the image of the destination in comparison to the competition and the allocation of resources of the two destinations. The bureau’s marketing budget, sales material and marketing programs are also compared to that of the competition.

On completion of the situation analysis, this information is fed into the SWOT analysis, which provides a framework for viewing the company’s actual strategic position and developing appropriate marketing strategies. When performed correctly, “it can be especially useful in uncovering strategic advantages that can be leveraged in the firm’s marketing strategy”.

2. Program Planning: Development of Marketing Objectives and Strategies

After analysing the information presented in the situation analysis, the next step is to develop effective marketing strategies and in order to do so, marketing objectives must be developed first. This step is a very vital part of marketing planning because without set objectives the marketer is unable to “measure their success in fulfilling the marketing strategy”.

Marketing objectives according to Malcolm H.B McDonald are generally concerned with the 4P’s. Therefore, marketing objectives should be set for each one of these variables of the 4P’s and then the most effective strategies or means of achieving the marketing objectives should be developed for each variable of the marketing mix.

The first variable, “product”, focuses on developing the right product and satisfying the needs of the target market. A product is “anything that can be offered to a market for attention, acquisition, use, or consumption that might satisfy a want or need. It includes physical objects, services, places, organisations, and ideas.” In the tourism industry, the product is “intangible, variable, inseparable and perishable”. The product is more of an experience put together in a package.

The “place” element on the other hand, refers to the channel distribution. It is imperative that a product be available to the customer and in order to do so there must be a channel of distribution that will bring the customer to the product as opposed to taking the product to the customer. This channel usually consists of “travel agents; tour wholesalers; specialists; hotel representatives; national, state and local tourist agencies; the global distribution systems; the internet; and concierges”. They must be very knowledgeable about the destination because they represent the main source of information for the tourists.

In order for a traveller to know of product offerings of a destination and make the decision to travel to that destination, continuous communication with present and potential travellers is necessary. On developing effective communication strategies, the target audience must be understood and the most important communication channels for this audience must be known. Secondly, communication objectives must be developed. The response sought from the target market must be identified through objectives.

It is believed that since the tourist product is intangible and cannot be tested beforehand, promotion “acts as the product as far as the potential tourist or leisure consumer is concerned” since through this, the customer receives a mental image of the destination, as its experiences are promoted. Images are portrayed through advertising and promotion as the only means of pushing the potential tourist to make a purchase decision. Therefore in tourism marketing heavy interest is placed on the promotional efforts of the bureau.

Ferrell & Hartline make reference to the classic AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) model, which sets the basis for the development of the communication or promotional objectives. The model holds that the first goal of the communication campaign is to attract the attention of the target audience. Interest in the product must then be built through telling the customer about the components of the product. If the product matches the needs of the customer, desire for the product is stimulated, which pushes the customer toward actually purchasing the package.

After setting the communication goals, the product must be shown to the target audience and the ways to do so are as follows:

1) Advertising – This refers to the use of information to “persuade consumers to take a desired action toward a particular product”. The main purpose of the advertising plan is to ultimately increase profits and sales for the company and also “to provide information that will change consumers’ mental and behavioral responses in a manner favored by the advertiser”. When setting advertising objectives, the overall marketing objectives must be used as a base.

2) Public Relations – This refers to “the process by which we create a positive image and customer preference through third party endorsements.” The major activities of public relations include, press relations, product publicity, corporate communications and counselling.

3) Sales Promotion – This concerns “short-term incentives to encourage the purchase or sales”

Other communication strategy options include travel, trade shows, presentations, non-print media advertising, familiarisation tours, event hosting, site inspections, cooperative advertising and direct sales. In sum, for each communication medium selected, measurable objectives and detailed strategies must be developed.

The final variable of the marketing mix is price. Price refers to that of the overall package that has been put together for the market and includes issues like car rentals, hotel rates, transportation rates and possibly air fare.

3. Implementation

After the marketing strategies have been developed the programmes must be coordinated in an effort to achieve the plan’s goals and meet its objectives. Timing is a vital factor of consideration during the implementation stage. It “affects the placement of advertising and the degree of impact the marketing effort will have on the targeted market”.

Evaluating Marketing Strategy Effectiveness

4. Evaluation

After careful planning and implementation of the marketing strategies, they must be evaluated in order to determine how successful they have been in achieving the expected or projected. The strategies must be thoroughly examined so that appropriate adjustments may be made. Should marketing strategies prove to be ineffective, the redevelopment of objectives and or new positioning strategies may be necessary.

During the evaluation process the firm “tracks results and monitors new developments in the environment”. Constant changes in the environment might also force the marketer to adjust the marketing strategies in order to better attract the traveller.

Gartrell states that in evaluating marketing strategies employed in a marketing plan, first results must be quantifiable. In addition, weekly, quarterly, or monthly results should be used as benchmarks for evaluating the plan’s effectiveness. Besides meeting the objectives of the plan, there are a set of measurement criteria that must be used in order to determine the effectiveness of the programs implemented. These include: “total number of visitors to area, average length of stay, room nights booked / used, total economic impact and the total room-nights”.

In addition, other measurements known as process variables like: “number of trade/travel shows attended, number of prospects/leads, quantity of brochures distributed, consumer reaction to brochures, number of familiarisation tours, number of participants at familiarisation tourism, number of ads placed, number of travel agents contacted, total number of visitor inquiries, number of direct mail programs, distribution of visitor inquiries, number of media kits mailed, number of editorial inches in publications and total number of direct mail pieces distributed.

Undoubtedly, in order to make marketing programs a success, large funds must be invested into the communication strategies plan. This is why Gartrell highlights that for bureaus, “return on the investment” is yet another variable for measuring the success of marketing programs. The best way then to measure effectiveness is to examine the end result of the marketing campaign by using indicators of success generated by a plan, like “visitor expenditures, economic impact assessment and tourism employment”.

Simon Kirby and Mark Richardson from the University of Central England mention that measuring effectiveness in marketing, calls for an analysis of the effectiveness “of each element of the marketing communication mix…”

The communication mix as mentioned, involves communication vehicles such as advertising, public relations and sales promotion activities. In order to evaluate advertising effectiveness, since Nylen believes that advertising leads to sales, tourist arrivals in this case, then the more advertising done the more “sales” there should be. Therefore, increased tourist arrivals can be used as a measurement of advertising effectiveness. Since print or broadcast media can also be part of the advertising plan, Nylen adds that although the impact of this kind of advertising might be difficult, it is still pertinent to set “expected performance levels that can serve as evaluation standards”.

It is also believed that the effectiveness of the promotional tools in the communication mix also varies with the stages of the “Tourism Area Life Cycle” (TALC). In other words, at certain stages of the TALC certain communication strategies will naturally be ineffective. With the TALC, it is believed that the tourist destination, “moves from evolution through involvement, development, consolidation before reaching stagnation”. In other words, during the introduction stage, advertising and sales promotion are extremely pertinent in creating an extremely high level of awareness. In the growth stage on the other hand, advertising and public relations are to remain considerably high, while slightly decreasing personal selling. Next is the mature stage, during which sales promotion is again of great importance as compared with advertising. In the last stage, known as the decline stage, sales promotions must be kept strong and “advertising is kept at a remind level”. Managers and marketers must therefore be aware of which stage they are at in the tourism product life cycle when developing communication strategies, in order to be more competitive and improve the sustainability of the industry.

Clearly, companies have control over the development of effective marketing strategies, but as mentioned, in other instances, the external environment literally weakens this control. The external environment of marketing consists of the microenvironment and the macro-environment. The microenvironment is that part of the external environment which directly influences the organisation. The macro environment on the other hand, “refers to the broad environment outside an organization’s industry and market. It is generally beyond the influence of the individual organization” as it contains technological, economical, environmental and political influences that “affect the level and patterns of demand” for prodcuts.

Vicki L. Olton