National Tourism Offices (NTOs) are discovering digital. It wasn't such a long time ago when NTOs shared prime real estate with airlines downtown of the world's major cities. It wasn't such a long time ago that tourism was a card played by the 'less fortunate' nations which tended to be remote, poor in resources yet which had an attraction for the stressed out populations of the first world. Post industrial nations had, as the theory goes, became affluent from industrialising processes and there was nothing left than to enjoy the fruits of it. The information age, the leisure society were labels toyed with earlier. 'Clean' white collar occupations were to generate wealth here on in, with finance and insurance at the helm.
Then the tsunami hit; the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).
One sees the post industrials clambering to play the tourism card in any source country with potential. They join the considerably less-resourced as all and sundry combine to produce a bewildering environment of clutter. It is the consumer who benefits in such an environment.
What now is the ultimate NTO mandate, and how is it to be carried out in such an environment, and importantly, just how can the 'less fortunates' compete ?
With these new arrivals seeking tourist revenue have come buzzwords. One talks of a 'digital backbone' to national tourism promotion. Where once it was branding, now it is conversion.
Whether the consumer ordered it or not, change is now the main dish of the day. The once rigid 'seasonality' is being replaced by dynamic pricing and price discrimination, turning the act of purchasing travel into something akin to a casino. This demands systems which can deliver on a real time basis. The beauty of a digital platform is that information distributed is the most-up-to-date. It allows its promulgators to be more flexible and to promote material based on relevance and proximity, among other variables and it makes it possible for tourism operators, irrespective of location, to feed offers into the pipeline, where formerly this was the domain of the select few which had paid their dues.
Syndication and aggregration are now the norm, with all content available across all platforms, amplifying the thrust. Formerly channels were chosen based on the supposed medium favoured by any given target segment. With digital, while a medium is now spoken of in terms of device, linkage and cross fertilisation is imminently more workable.
We are not seeing a wholesale dumping of traditional media and neither should we. The use of traditional media remains, and becomes a subset of digital. NTOs talk of 'tools to marry their content to collateral', meaning ways of linking the overall digital campaign with such media as print and TV. With attention spans being measured in seconds, it is surmised that this 'increases the stickability', meaning it retains the attention of the audience for that much longer. Long enough to move to the next stage which NTOs are now dealing with, and a stage which was the sole interest of the private sector, conversion.
Dynamic packaging was a (industry) buzzword earlier this century, and it referred to the action of consumer assembling ones own itinerary from different sources (read platforms) disregarding the efforts of tour companies. Information it is said is power, and it became possible once the end user of travel had wholesale access to information. It happened around about the time Google was born.
Industry feels it has let the consumer down in 'not educating to create one's own package, but labels aside, consumers are savvy and connected enough to create their own itineraries, whether industry facilitates this or not.
Until the Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) arrived, noone had the technology, insight and vision to provide this platform; a one stop shop to use the old cliche. The world's leading OTAs such as Priceline, Travelocity and Expedia have very recently been seen to be heading towards this, away from just hotel provision, but it is the NTO that perhaps rightly could emerge as the best aggregator of them all.
Savvy NTOs are seeking to tie together the inspirational and functional aspects of planning a holiday. The technology has been around for a decade. From an industry view, "consumers have been trained to buy flights in one place and then a last minute hotel style deal somewhere else.”
It is now the best-resourced visionary NTOs which stand to benefit.
We will over the year be addressing topics such as the use of QR codes, NFC, mobile applications, the latest in content marketing, and whether social media is after all the panacea some are making it out to be.