Earlier this month we released our annual travel industry trends forecast, Skift Megatrends 2018. You can read about each of the trends on Skift, or download a copy of our magazine here.

These days, it takes more than pretty palm trees and beaches on paper pamphlets to entice an increasingly sophisticated consumer. People want more out of their travels. They want more local culture and experiences, transformation and authenticity, and unique gastronomy with high-touch amenities.

For the most part, tourism bureaus have wised up to these trends. The quality and tone of their ads reflect this. They also know that attracting the right kind of visitor now requires a personalized and digital touch. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Google have made it easier to set the right ads with the right emotional triggers. Hotel and retail brands and others in the private sector have gotten quite good at this process. Arguably, government agencies have been slower to adapt. This is starting to change, however.

In 2018, we will see an overall broad improvement in the level of sophistication in digital destination marketing strategy. In Latin America, we also expect marketing budgets to balloon, as tourism bureaus make good on executing the campaigns developed in 2017. Tourism has become a critical driver of economic development for the region as destinations increasingly depend on leisure traveler dollars for growth.

Competition between country brands will intensify as Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and others promote local gems that have yet to hit the mainstream. Armed with fresh creative touting the region’s rich diversity, campaign managers will likely put their budgets on social media marketing first, and offline channels second. Hyper-local culture will be a leading hook.

With iconic events like Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival and historic cultural monuments like Peru’s Machu Picchu having already become household brands, efforts will now focus on promoting second-tier destinations typically reserved for locals and savvy travelers. And while 2017 was a year of theme and campaign development, 2018 will be the year of campaign execution.

Places like Traslasierra in north-central Argentina will showcase its spa towns and resorts. In Colombia, the tiny Caribbean island of Providencia, with its scuba diving and local charm, will pull travelers from Bogotá and Medellín. More adventurous travelers will be inspired to visit places like Chan Chan in Northern Peru. Meanwhile in Mexico, rather than beach and sun, tourism efforts will focus on promoting towns like Cuernavaca in the region of Morelos.

Coming out of a Slump

Part of the rise in visitors to the region will likely be a comeback effect from a few difficult recent years when the tourism sector took a series of hits. The crash in crude oil prices in 2015 depressed many Latin American economies. Intra-regional travel declined as individuals and businesses tightened purse strings. Political upheavals and scandals in Brazil and Venezuela also likely turned off would-be visitors.

More recently, the situation has marginally improved in the region. Riding on the coattails of a stronger global economy, Latin America will likely see more consistent macro performance. Despite a rosier outlook, we believe that certain industries will lag as nations work out their deeper institutional challenges. Here, tourism will become a bigger draw for many of the countries going forward. Tourism ministries will feel the pressure to attract more tourism dollars.

The region still has some deeply rooted social challenges to overcome. That includes corruption and histories of violence, but also things like bureaucratic red tape and lagging investments in education. These maladies will challenge countries to compete in the modern global knowledge economy. Governments and local officials will thus focus more on tourism as an economic driver. Even politically and socially torn nations like Venezuela are now looking to tourism as a core economic driver. “Tourism has become the first engine of economic development in our country,” said Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, while inaugurating its 12th International Tourism Fair, called FitVen, on the island of Margarita.

As other exportable industries hit headwinds, tourism will garner more focus from economic development bodies. This will likely translate into bigger marketing budgets for immersive campaigns and digital advertising. Part of this uptick is also a result of better marketing metrics for destination marketing organizations.

Tools like ad targeting and high-performance marketing, geofencing, and mobile device tracking means that destinations can measure campaign return on investment more effectively. Traditionally, this has been difficult to do for entire countries and cities. Greater visibility into ad spend effectiveness will empower destination marketers to go after more government dollars.

The destination brand arms race now taking place in Latin America reflects a broader shift in global culture, driven by mass tourism and the convergence of the local economy with the visitor economy. As destinations increasingly depend on global reputation for economic growth, living the brand will become more important. Countries will need to match visitor expectations with ad campaign promises.

Hopefully, this puts pressure on governments and enterprises to find solutions to other, bigger structural challenges. Political transparency, personal safety and security, environmental stewardship, better access to fresh foods, and improved infrastructure will build stronger place brands. Increasingly, politicians, businesses, and governments will be held accountable for delivering on their campaign promises, both to improve the basics of daily life, but also the reputations of their countries for generations to come.

Download Your Copy of Skift Megatrends 2018

This year’s Megatrends are sponsored by our partners at AccorHotels, Allianz Worldwide Partners, Hilton Garden Inn, Intrepid Travel, onefinestay, and Upside.

Photo Credit: Expect destinations throughout Latin America to spend more on marketing and pursue more sophisticated strategies. Bett Norris / Skift