Why Destination Marketers Should See Rivals Differently Post-Covid

File under strange bedfellows

"We can all agree 1 + 1 = 2, right?" I asked. "Well, your 2 is different than my 2," my mother-in-law answered.

Let me back up.

My wife and I recently visited my in-laws. I may be in the minority of most "plus ones," but I enjoy visiting mine. They still live in the same community where their parents and grandparents called home. And now that everyone has been vaccinated, we are able to re-engage our lively, in-person conversations—the ones that are usually fueled by whatever the local microbrewery has on their menu.

And we could not be more different.

While my wife and I both grew up in small towns, we eventually moved away to bigger cities. And those different experiences have shaped us into who we are today.

Why am I sharing this?

Now that people are getting vaccinated and the country is opening up, there is a renewed desire to travel. After being "podded" away for so long, it is time to get out and try some new and different experiences. Different gets us out of our comfort zones. Different gets us to try new foods. Different starts conversations. Different is good.

This is especially true when it comes to travel marketing in the world of Covid.

Historically, with DMOs (destination marketing organizations), this often means focusing on what separates one destination from another in order to compete. Why is your destination a more interesting place to visit?

But maybe a different or better way to look at this would be for traditional rivals to get together under the common goal to get people out. After all, we want to encourage people to travel; to feel safe about travel; to have a good experience and to tell others and travel again.

Maybe DMOs need to think differently. Maybe keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

For example, what if neighboring states partnered and shared visitation? Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan could work together to promote the scenic Lake Michigan Circle Tour and push people to visit the much overlooked upper Midwest.

Or what if the airline, railway and automotive industries got together to encourage a "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" inspired vacation.

Or how about local healthcare providers, hotels and cities running joint campaigns to promote the safety of their hospitality offerings as part of health and wellness vacations.

And to those DMOs who are about to embark on agency reviews, how about looking outside of your city, state or community in order to invite a different perspective. Think of it like that friend who comes to visit and asks you what things to experience. Inevitably, you share your list, but you overlook something you take for granted because you see it every day. An outsider might have a sense of wonder and awe about that overlooked experience. I would argue that if we want to jumpstart the travel business, it's time to embrace our differences and find a commonality through conversations.

Yes, in the end, my mother-in-law and I still couldn't agree 1 + 1 = 2.

But that is a story for a different time.

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Mitch Markussen
Mitch Markussen is a creative director at Hanson Dodge in Milwaukee who has worked on a broad range of travel campaigns, including Maine Office of Tourism, Visit Milwaukee, Visit Nebraska and Visit Orlando.

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