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Editor’s Note: Skift is publishing a series of interviews with CEOs of destination marketing organizations where we discuss the future of their organizations and the evolving strategies for attracting visitors. Read all the interviews as they come out here.
This continues our series of CEO interviews that began with online travel CEOs in Future of Travel Booking (now an e-book), and continued with hotel CEOs in the Future of the Guest Experience series (which is also an e-book).
In Copenhagen where almost half of working adults ride their bikes to their jobs everyday, including in winter, the city provides both corporate and leisure travelers great accessibility to local independent businesses and the locals themselves.
With culturally immersive travel among the top megatrends in tourism, VisitDenmark CEO Jan Olsen says the country doesn’t really know anything different. Tourists and locals mostly visit the same bars, restaurants, city parks and cultural venues in Copenhagen, and walk or bike the same historic streets lining the same twisting canals, because there really isn’t a tourist zone like many other European capitals.
In an effort to drive more business to smaller companies that cater to tourists but don’t have significant marketing budgets, VisitDenmark is launching the nationally-owned DenmarkDirect.com booking platform this summer. Consumers will be able to purchase direct from large and small Danish travel suppliers in Copenhagen and the countryside.
Denmark Direct is being designed to provide the DMO and its partners with massive amounts of data by centralizing bookings at one online hub. For visitors, the platform offers the opportunity for more spontaneous and local travel experiences.
We spoke at length with Mr. Olsen to learn more about how VisitDenmark’s destination marketing efforts are evolving and their impact on the visitor experience.
Skift: Travelers today are relying more on their mobile phones and researching more heavily online before a trip, including content produced by people and brands. How is Denmark evolving to adapt to today’s traveler habits?
Jan Olsen: These days, everyone is looking for truly authentic experiences and getting to know the local society and culture of the destination they are visiting. That’s why we are developing a so-called ‘experience booking’ platform in Denmark, where tourists can get access to learn about and book the countless experiences and attractions at hand in Denmark. It’s a way we can showcase a wide range of fun and unique experiences across the country that aren’t bookable today or haven’t been promoted very much.
Skift: Do U.S. tourists travel outside Copenhagen very much, and if so, what are they most interested in?
Olsen: Apart from Copenhagen itself it’s the rest of Sealand. That includes the historic sites in Elsinore like Kronborg Castle [site of Hamlet], which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Roskilde for the Viking Ship Museum and the Cathedral, also another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some as well go for perhaps a day trip to Funen to visit Hans Christian Andersen’s birthplace and museum in Odense.
The main focus for most American visitors is history, the monarchy, Danish design icons, and gastronomy because of our New Nordic Cuisine and Noma in Copenhagen, which was voted numerous times as the world’s best restaurant. To a lesser degree, the gay segment is another important target group for us.
Skift: How is the travel consumer profile evolving in Denmark?
Olsen: Our tourist profile is changing dramatically at the moment. We see an increasing tendency towards more of what are called DINKS—travelers with ’double income, no kids’—and less families visiting. This is, for one, due to falling birth rates especially in Northern Europe where our key markets are. So that opens up new possibilities when it comes to short stays and city break products.
Traditionally, we have always been a very strong destination for families with child-friendly beaches and excellent attractions such as the original LEGOland amusement park, but there has been a major change over the last few years. In 2008, families with kids accounted for 53% of all bed nights in Denmark. In 2011, this figure has declined slightly and nowadays families with kids account for 47% of bed nights.
Skift: How are booking patterns changing?
Olsen: We also see that booking behaviors have changed dramatically. People are booking very, very short before they’re coming, so people are deciding where to go just two or three weeks before they come, which means we have to change our marketing efforts. Buying holidays is becoming increasingly similar to fast mover consumer goods patterns. From a marketing perspective, we have to be present on the platforms where the tourists are, and that’s 24/7, of course.
Skift: How are you shifting your marketing and branding initiatives to communicate more effectively with consumers in an era with so many changing travel behaviors?
Olsen: We have to be authentic and trustworthy because that’s the key to success. A huge part of destination marketing is, and always will be, to showcase real stories from the destination. Rather than us describing what you can do and see in our country, we need the visitors to describe, recommend and share their experiences, and thereby assist us in passing on the best stories.
One of the determining factors for choosing a destination nowadays is other travelers’ experiences and recommendations of a given destination. That’s why we work a lot with user generated content, both on social media and other conventional communication channels, such as our VisitDenmark site and e-newsletters and campaigns. Without doubt, user generated content creates the most engaged users.
So we try to engage tourists when visiting Denmark to make them share their experiences from our destination. One such example being the #Share campaign in 2014, which I believe Skift has mentioned previously. [Click here for story]. By inserting hashtags at various places of interest, that made it easy for tourists to upload and share pictures from Danish destinations on social media.
Skift: So VisitDenmark is attempting to spur more personal visitor recommendations on social media?
Olsen: A visitor’s personal recommendation is key, and we believe that has an ever-increasing importance in kickstarting a travel dream in the trigger phase, and influencing those who are looking for good advice in their travel research. Because the value chain is changing. Digital development is dictating where we need to be as a destination if we wish to influence a travel decision.
We are primarily digital and VisitDenmark.com is our international content hub, so we focus a lot on the tourist’s touch points, on decision-making processes, on what drives the different processes in the tourist’s digital journey, and on how these patterns or processes change all the time.
Skift: How do you see DMOs’ roles in the travel industry changing in the next five to ten years?
Olsen: We expect to a higher degree to function as curators and facilitators of information and to inspire people with regards to why they should choose Denmark as their next travel destination. We don’t have a goal that all tourists should access information about Denmark via our own channels or platforms, but we do have a goal about increasing the knowledge and preference for Denmark no matter through which platform.
We also expect to strengthen the amount of unusual partnerships even further in the future too, with partnerships where we collaborate with sectors other than the tourism industry. In the past three years, for example, we have successfully collaborated with Danish export brands, and cultural and sports organizations, and we expect this part to only increase further.
Skift: Why is it so hard for DMOs to get funding even as travel grows and its economic significance is better realized?
Olsen: With DMOs, the financial power is often with the government so we’re always competing with other sectors, such as hospitals, schools, etc. We know for a fact that we can only influence 7-10% of tourism through marketing. The rest will be factors from outside. What we can measure, however, is the return on investment on tourism to Danish society, and to use this to persuade the government to offer the funding.
For a more fact-oriented approach, we have in recent years developed an impact measurement model, which shows us that for every one Danish krone invested in tourism, society gets it back 17-fold. That is something that politicians understand. Also in relation to how to finance other societal needs, the tourism sector, for example, assists in growth and employment in rural Denmark too. We focus on communicating to our stakeholders how many people are employed in the tourist industry in Denmark. It’s more than 125,000 people, so it’s the fourth biggest industry in Denmark.
Skift: Are you concerned about the growing number of travelers who stay in Airbnb and other sharing accommodations, without paying taxes?
Olsen: I’m concerned about them not paying taxes, and I know the minister is concerned about it too, but I’m not concerned about Airbnb in terms of tourism. I think the new sharing economy is here to stay, and it often gives visitors a more authentic and local experience when traveling through Denmark because you’re getting so close to the Danes. I don’t think the hotels are concerned about that either because it’s a different segment of tourists that are coming to Denmark.
We are measured on the number of bed nights we create in Denmark each year, and in 2015 bed nights generated from Airbnb are being included to give a more realistic picture of the total number of bed nights. But so far they only account for a very small part of the total figures, and they only boost tourism as such in the country.
Skift: If you had 10 times more funding, what would you do with it?
Olsen: We would use that on branding Denmark abroad and increasing knowledge and visitor preference for Denmark. Then there is the whole business events sector, which is big business for our destination as well, and where we are world-leading in developing and using strategic meeting design concepts and sustainable meetings management. I would definitely boost that part of business, especially toward our main markets in the U.S., Europe and Russia, but that’s entirely a separate story in itself.
Greg Oates covers hospitality and tourism development. Email him at email@example.com.