North Dakota's efforts to increase awareness of the state are complicated by a relatively limited tourism marketing budget, but it believes it's found the right mix of digital and print ads to boost visitor numbers.
“Tourism marketing is critical to improving the awareness of our state,” North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum said at the campaign launch. “Increasing awareness of all North Dakota has to offer attracts visitors and elevates our state as a potential new home for workers, businesses, and families.”
The campaign was developed in response to a 2022 national awareness and perception study by travel marketing firm Development Counsellors International that found travelers across the U.S. were generally unfamiliar with North Dakota despite it attracting 23.7 million visitors in 2019, a record for the state.
“As a result, the industry strengths, career opportunities, and the lifestyle across North Dakota are largely unknown,” said Sara Otte Coleman, the tourism and marketing director for the North Dakota Department of Commerce.
Coleman acknowledged that North Dakota’s efforts to promote itself are made challenging by a tourism marketing budget she said is small compared to most states. North Dakota’s Tourism and Marketing Division plans to spend $3.1 million promoting the state this year, including an increase on digital ads from 2022.
While Coleman said the division’s most recent return on investment study revealed digital ads were its most effective means of advertising, it isn’t shunning print guides. The division plans to distribute 275,000 travel brochures and 40,000 hunting and fishing guides by mail and at locations like visitor centers and rest areas.
Why is the state making such a big investment in print guides with a limited budget? Coleman believes they can help build trust with prospective visitors and increase the likelihood of repeat trips.
“For a destination with low familiarity, it’s important that we provide visitors with the insights, tips, and stories that can help them not only choose North Dakota as their vacation destination but expand and extend their stay,” Coleman said.
“Many states have eliminated these, but we feel it is important, especially for our rural destinations. Research continues to show high trust levels with printed materials. So we pair the production of a really high-quality piece with distribution methods.”
North Dakota tourism officials and its creative agencies the state works with are still seeking inspiration from the travel industry and other sectors. Coleman referenced destination marketing organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador that which she believes set the bar for storytelling.
“For lesser known destinations, it is important to showcase what sets you apart and build around intrigue. Our ‘follow your curiosity, not the crowds’ tagline is an example,” said Coleman.
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Photo credit: Bison crossing the Little Missouri River in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, USA North Dakota Tourism