Industry Update
Opinion Article12 August 2020

Out with the old: the new KPIs for successful destination marketers

By Sara Pastor, Managing Director Destinations EMEA at ADARA, Inc.

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The tourism industry has had the opportunity to see what the world was like without it, and it was far from great. As travelers begin to return to destinations so do opportunities for Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) to grow accountability within their community. We need to embrace these new responsibilities. Let's change how we measure success and our relationships with travellers and residents.

For destination marketers, it's critical to understand how to navigate this new world - and yes, the time has come for DMOs to shake-up how they manage the destination and what constitutes success. The metrics for how they define success need to account for more than just hotel beds. DMOs must embrace wider accountability, start measuring it, and start now. If you don't measure it, you can't improve it.

A good exercise for any DMO looking to create meaningful success now is to ditch at least five KPIs and take on five new ones that help to ascertain community value. Of course, every destination is different, with its own challenges, starting points post-COVID, barriers to success and USPs - but the need for a shake-up is consistent. Here, I've outlined how and why this is critical and some examples of the new KPIs DMOs should consider.

Resident relationships

Benchmarking year-on-year growth is, obviously, now null and void - now is the time to put in true long-term goals. It's clear that relying on one metric as the key indicator of success belies reality. You may be filling hotel beds, but what is the relationship with residents in the community like? Are they empowered and bought into the benefits tourism can bring to them? Are visitors spending with local businesses? It's crucial to take a more holistic view of tourism KPIs and to tell a meaningful story about and with the community there.

Relationships with residents are in fact key for any DMO, but often ignored - more so in the US, when compared to European counterparts like Amsterdam, Slovenia or Scotland. Balancing resident sentiment and travel demand is vital, especially for reopenings during the current pandemic. Understanding barriers and drivers for residents can inform reopening and community plans to welcome back guests. DMOs should measure resident sentiment; how it tracks over time and in response to changes in the market or DMO initiatives, they must focus on current barriers for residents and businesses as it pertains to travel.

Discover new data streams

Relying on old reliable data sources or just statistics is a tempting trap but one that hugely limits the understanding of a DMO (and "Black swan" events such as COVID has proven that is not enough when looking at the future). Now is the time to spend time investigating data that you may never even have known existed and work out how it can be used successfully for your destination. In this case, firstly, it is key to identify your goals and vision so that you can decide on what data sources will help you measure.

For example, look into geolocation data such as leveraging heat maps to understand people's movements and where they congregate. Some destinations are even leveraging CO2 and water/electricity consumption to analyse traveller behaviour. This can be incredibly useful in a place, for example, like Venice where we want to limit overcrowding, or in areas where we are trying to nudge behaviours towards new areas of the city. In the current pandemic, it's even more critical to understand how to ensure we aren't pushing people to one area of a small city or town. This can inform resident and visitor promotion and program development to focus on what is attracting people today.

Understanding real-time intent is also crucial; leveraging sources like search data and airline capacity, as well as working with data providers like ADARA who marry deterministic with probabilistic data to understand customer intent can help forecast for recovery and to capture market share through driving interest in critical booking periods.

Beyond the bed tax and sustainability

As we take a more holistic view of benefiting the community through tourism, it's clear that success goes far beyond hotel tax. A more holistic understanding would be gained through visitor spend - visits to restaurants, petrol stations, retail, leisure attractions, museums, shops, and more generate huge revenue and are a key source of value for local businesses and residents. Communities will have felt the pain of a drop in tourism far beyond the hotel industry, and we must reflect that in how we interpret revenue gains through tourism. We already are seeing a shift to regional and day driving trips; these important visitors must not be discounted. Measuring this overall positive impact is also a huge boon towards proving value to the community and encouraging a positive attitude towards travel.

We need to consider 'place management' rather than "destination marketing". This means accountability for responding to resident and business concerns, building community relationships; while leveraging data to ensure maximum market capture with maximum benefit to the location. And not only this, but also on how we embrace sustainability goals and promote circular economies in the sector in order to build a true community understanding and to assess current data sources and uses, replacing with immediacy where a metric falls short. We are at a new beginning in travel; our measurement of success can, therefore, start afresh, too.

Accountability ties a community to the commitment of a result.

Sara Pastor

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    About Adara

    ADARA enables consumer brands to make better decisions by delivering critical customer intelligence on intent, spend and value linked to an identity graph. We apply our proprietary machine learning and AI capabilities to ethically-sourced and ethically-deployed data from over 270 global data partners. ADARA drives how our clients personalize interactions with their customers at every stage of the lifecycle optimizing the revenue potential of each individual.

    More information about Adara can be found at

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