Every tourism and convention bureau wants to improve repeat visitation rate to the destination, both on the leisure and meetings side, but there’s never really been an effective strategy to do so.
Unlike the hotel, theme park, cruise, tour operator, and airline industries, destinations don’t have a point of sale. There’s no digital turnstile, so to speak, so there’s no way to develop a loyalty program around a series of incentives and rewards to help drive repeat bookings.
Over the last few years, however, some U.S. bureaus have developed a neighborhood marketing strategy to increase the rate of return visitors by leveraging the surging rise of interest in local travel experiences.
Basically, organizations like San Francisco Travel are positioning their city as a network of neighborhoods with distinct individual identities, versus a homogenous whole, in an effort to connect with different traveler segments on a more personalized level. Other urban markets are doing something similar — such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., Miami, and Dallas — but San Francisco is the first to diversify the strategy to also target the meetings industry.
Bureaus are promoting their neighborhoods by developing prominent online maps, usually on their website homepages, linking to content that segments and showcases the unique attributes of their major communities. A sample of that in San Francisco is this story about dining in the Mission District. The primary purpose is to help bureaus customize the search experience for the individual end user. The maps also work as effective navigation user interfaces, versus dropdown menus, because they’re visual and intuitive.
Customizing a consumer product to match a consumer psychographic is based on the academic concept of self-congruity, which has long been established in industries from automotive to apparel. The simple premise is that people prefer to associate with products and services that align with their aspirational self-identity. That’s how brands attempt to build long-term customer loyalty, or as marketers call it: customer lifetime value.
From a tourism standpoint, according to researchers: “The higher the congruence between self-concept and destination image, the greater the satisfaction of the tourists…. Potential travelers are most likely to select destinations that seem to reflect their self-image.”
“Destination image” is the key phrase there.
When tourism bureaus delineate their cities by their neighborhoods, it creates a more nuanced and layered destination image. Therefore, San Francisco can better attract repeat luxury travelers to Nob Hill and music lovers to the Fillmore District by breaking out each neighborhood into its own self-contained, local destination experience targeting specific traveler profiles.
That kind of personalized brand engagement, according to Hubspot, is considered one of the marketing cornerstones required to further drive customer loyalty and repeat purchase behavior in any sector.
Neighborhood destination marketing is the manifestation of that in travel and tourism, based on the motivations of repeat visitors.
Neighborhood Destination Marketing
Leisure travelers, specifically, who return to a city on a regular basis want to re-live the same emotions and memories that the destination provides them, specific to their individual personality. Typically, they want to strengthen their connection to the community over time to create a stronger sense of belonging.
So at some point, repeat visitors aren’t traveling as tourists anymore. Rather, from an aspirational perspective, they’re traveling as returning members of the local community. At the same time, they also want to explore new neighborhoods and discover new experiences within the same city, to varying degrees, just like most travelers.
That is exactly what underpins San Francisco Travel’s tagline: “Never the Same. Always San Francisco.”
“Everybody loves to go back to a place that they know and love, but there’s also a little bit of hesitancy to go back to a place you’ve already been because you want something new and different,” Howard Pickett, CMO of San Francisco Travel, told Skift.
“In our tagline, ‘Never the Same’ speaks to the nature of the city,” he explained. “Every time you come back, maybe it’s a different neighborhood you go to for different restaurants or different experiences, but they’re always evolving. Meanwhile, ‘Always San Francisco’ is a promise that when you do come back, it’s going to be the same beautiful, welcoming, innovative kind of place that you expect San Francisco to be.”
According to Pickett, he said the bureau’s research shows that previous travelers to San Francisco have an intent-to-repeat ratio in the “80s and 90s.”
“I’ve worked for Disney, I’ve worked for The Atlantis hotel in the Bahamas, and I’ve never seen a place that has such a high intent to repeat,” he said. “We really focus on what we call our core pillars of the San Francisco experience: the culinary scene, the cultural scene, and the diversity of the neighborhoods. In terms of trying to drive that repeat business, that’s what has really helped us.”
So what does that look like for the meetings and events industry?
Neighborhood Network Connections & ‘SFMeetCulture’
San Francisco Travel launched the Neighborhood Network Connections program last year to pinpoint five clusters of business-friendly hotels and urban communities in five different districts: Downtown, Moscone Convention Center, Nob Hill, South of Market (SOMA), and Union Square.
The website highlights the individual and aggregate guest room counts and meeting space volume for each, and it provides a downloadable map that meeting planners can save as a handy reference.
According to LaLene Shepherd, manager, sales & trade marketing at San Francisco Travel, the development of Neighborhood Network Connections was inspired by the success of the city’s leisure-oriented neighborhood marketing strategy.
“We have a meetings advisory council and part of their feedback is that San Francisco has such a rich environment, and our neighborhoods really do resonate with meeting planners too,” Shepherd said. “So we created the Neighborhood Network Connections to make it easier to plan meetings when you’re looking at one of those neighborhoods that’s interesting for your group, and everything that’s specific to them.”
Building on that last month, San Francisco Travel launched the new SFMeetCulture online platform to connect meeting and event planners with “the most historically significant art and culture venues in the city,” according to the website.
The three-tier portal provides a detailed search engine specifically for these creative venues, a downloadable map for planners, and a series of editorial posts suggesting options for different types of business events.
Shepherd said this is a continuing evolution of the bureau’s efforts to help planners customize their venue sourcing needs and personalize the meeting planning experience.
“There’s a demand for meeting planners to use our rich arts and cultural venues, especially for those who don’t necessarily want to use hotels or restaurants for event spaces,” she explained. “Rather, they might want to use something more unique to San Francisco, so we laid out these new meeting planner tools to help them find those cultural venues very easily.”
Some of the creative spaces are well known, like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, but others include the new Curran Theater opening in 2017 and the SPUR Urban Center.
Presently, the SFMeetCulture venues are predominantly located in the downtown core. This could get really interesting if the bureau eventually expands the inventory of arts spaces out into the rest of the city.
“We don’t know any other destination right now that’s doing this for meeting planners,” Shepherd told us. “We find planners have so many options these days, so we have to continually serve up something unique and different for our city.”