SkiftX recently published The Rise of Transformative Travel in partnership with Singapore Tourism Board. The trend report takes a close look at how travelers are shifting toward meaning, purpose, and personal fulfillment. For more insights, explore the full report here.

Cities like Singapore, Vancouver, and London have traditionally relied on their iconic imagery and popular experiences to market themselves to leisure and business travelers. Each city has welcomed record international arrivals in recent years, so it would seem their well-funded tourism development strategies are succeeding as they’re intended.

However, there’s a fundamental shift taking place in terms of how destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are engaging travelers, due to increasing competition from emerging markets and changing consumer expectations across all segments.

It’s a pivot from selling cities as places to selling them as platforms for inspiration.

Looking ahead, the next generation of destination marketing strategy is based on building community between locals and visitors around different passion points. The idea is that both travelers and residents can learn from each other to help them achieve their personal and/or professional aspirations by sharing their collective knowledge.

As such, the destination becomes more than a physical environment with a lot of tourist experiences for travelers to enjoy. Instead, the city is positioned as a living social platform to connect like-minded visitors and locals.

For that to work well, according to representatives from the above cities, the “city as a social platform” strategy requires some kind of identity based in the cultural DNA of the destination.

Singapore Tourism Board was the first DMO to really own and invest significantly in this idea when it launched its Passion Made Possible rebranding initiative last year.

Much more than a marketing campaign, Passion Made Possible identifies and promotes what Singapore stands for — a national mindset embracing the idea that anyone can accomplish great things with the right focus, inspiration, and support system. That mindset is born from Singapore’s transformation from a fishing village into one of the world’s leading economic centers in the mere span of five decades.

From a consumer-facing perspective, Passion Made Possible celebrates local Singaporeans who best represent that spirit of optimism imbued in the national psyche.

They include a wide range of people among different disciplines. For example, Mark Ong is the founder of the streetwear brand SBTG, who has designed sneakers for Kobe Bryant. Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai has been instrumental in protecting local forests; Jahan Loh is introducing pop art to Singapore; and Chef Malcom Lee was awarded a Michelin star for elevating local Peranakan cuisine on the world stage.

Each has contributed to the quality, diversity, and growth of Singaporean culture by following their passions.

Therefore, Passion Made Possible is designed to inspire travelers to embrace a similar optimistic and creative spirit that these Singaporeans all share. In turn, a traveler’s particular passion can then be further fostered (or “made possible”) by visiting Singapore.

“I think this whole exercise of defining who we are is really a process that allows us to look within ourselves to communicate the essence of Singapore,” said Kershing Goh, Regional Director of the Americas for the Singapore Tourism Board. “The inspirational stories behind Passion Made Possible come from individuals who have strived to make a difference. We then harnessed all of these stories of these individuals to tell that cohesive story of what Singapore stands for.”

So how does identifying that cultural DNA translate into a destination marketing strategy that can increase engagement with travelers? In other words, why should international leisure travelers or conference delegates care what Singapore represents that will ostensibly convert into new bookings?

“We’re moving beyond selling the destination by saying, ‘Hey, come discover your passions and be part of our community in creating and experiencing new possibilities around those interests,’” Goh explained. “I think it is really about this energy in Singapore. Whether you’re a conference delegate or a leisure visitor, we really hope that this energy will awaken something deep inside you. I think that’s what many travelers are looking for now beyond the physical attributes of what we can experience within a destination.”

The Rise of Transformative Travel

This idea that destinations can be positioned as incubators for self-discovery and self-expression, based on one’s individual passions, is the basis for the rise of interest in transformative travel in recent years.

It represents a shift in sparking consumer motivation and intention earlier in the travel decision-making process.

In effect, there are often meaningful outcomes derived through travel as a happenstance by-product of a person’s trip. Today, however, more travelers are seeking opportunities for personal growth when they’re researching travel options, thereby influencing where one decides to visit, how to visit, and most importantly, why to visit.

“In that case, travel is no longer about where you can go or what you can do,” said Goh. “It’s about who you can be.”

That sentiment is informing how a growing number of DMO leaders are pivoting their marketing strategy to engage travelers on a deeper, more personal level earlier in the marketing funnel.

For example, Tourism Vancouver is launching its first-ever tourism brand this summer based on the city’s famous high-quality of living and progressive values. According to Ty Speer, CEO of Tourism Vancouver, the DMO has never specifically communicated the city’s unique cultural DNA before, beyond its spectacular physical setting.

Speer says the new overarching brand message revolves around how travelers can experience what it’s like to really live in harmony with other cultures and other perspectives, and where people prioritize the environment and celebrate the outdoors in a metropolitan region.

Vancouver, then, is positioning itself as a platform for living better, both as a member of a community and as an individual.

“We believe we are a place, if we go to the essence of the brand, that connects people and inspires them to live with passion,” explained Speer. “Based on our surveys and research in our origin markets, we’re pretty comfortable with the idea that people are coming to Vancouver to reconnect with themselves, reconnect with others, and have a bit of a small, medium, or large life-changing moment in time.”

Again, like Singapore, there’s this convergence of individual passions, human potential, and transformative travel springing from a grounded understanding in the local cultural mindset.

“One of the great things a lot of Vancouver residents often hear, which really brings home the message of why people want a taste of life here, is we get so many visitors who within a matter of hours say, ‘Wow. I could really see myself living here,’” adds Speer. “That’s such a Vancouver thing to hear, and that says a lot about the brand that relates to the growing demand for transformative travel.”

Rethinking What ‘Local Culture’ Means

The demand from travelers for more local and authentic travel experiences is now mainstream. DMOs have been answering that demand by differentiating their urban neighborhoods and promoting the unique types of experiences that travelers can explore in each.

Today, though, the definition of localism in destination marketing is extending beyond the neighborhood food truck, the local band, and the corner bar in a post-industrial district selling craft beer. That’s because lots of cities have their own homegrown food trucks, bands, beer, and hipster ‘hoods.

In the context of this conversation, a destination’s cultural DNA can’t be as easily replicated by others. Again, the first part of the process, as exemplified in Singapore and Vancouver, is defining some type of identity based in local community values, purpose, history, and other influences.

London & Partners, for example, has never really had to define to business and leisure travelers what London stands for. Everyone knows what London is all about. However, that changed following Brexit when suddenly the city wasn’t perceived as open and inclusive as was previously taken for granted, even though Londoners had voted overwhelmingly against Brexit.

“We’ve never really had to tell the story about what London stands for before,” explained Tracy Halliwell, director of business tourism and major events for London & Partners. “So now we’re thinking if we do have to tell our unique story, what is it? Our ‘London is Open’ message is a big part of that. That’s really about our values, and what drives Londoners to be Londoners.”

Moving forward, London & Partners is reworking how it promotes the city. The newest messaging is focused on selling London as a destination where a broad spectrum of global citizens have lived and worked together for centuries, bringing together an unparalleled level of creative, cultural, and intellectual capital.

Inherent in that messaging, London is a place where people can expand their perspectives and transform themselves, because Londoners actively embrace cross-cultural, multidisciplinary community engagement in a global context.

“London is one of the world’s most diverse cities, population-wise, so it’s important for us to go out and tell the world that,” said Halliwell. “That has spurred this whole idea that a city is about more than its assets. It’s about what people feel when they visit a city, and if they feel welcome…. Our storytelling is evolving about how London is, and continues to be, an incubator for new ideas and new ways of connecting people.”

That is the future of destination marketing. It’s simply a pivot toward connecting people — travelers and locals — around what’s important to them.

Singapore, Vancouver, and London are striving to accomplish that by showing the wellspring of cultural and creative inspiration that has fueled the success of their local communities.

“We see Passion Made Possible as our lighthouse,” explained Goh. “It forever reminds us of where we came from, and it also provides that ray of inspiration and guidance to where we are heading next.”

Download the Skift Trend Report, The Rise of Transformative Travel, to learn more about how you can engage the travelers who are seeking out deeper experiences, through case studies from some of the world’s most progressive brands.

This content was created collaboratively by Singapore Tourism Board and Skift’s branded content studio SkiftX.

Photo Credit: Singapore Chef Malcom Lee. Singapore Tourism Board