Nothing makes the case for change more strongly than a reliable set of data applied to a problem.

The digital age is awash with data, and today you and your marketing team can track every email opening, every booking and essentially every click your visitors give you. But all this data and insight won’t be useful unless it is applied directly to your destination’s strategy. Are your business decisions based on intuition or on facts?

For tourism, this is a tough topic. Since many destination marketing organizations (DMOs) operate high in the sales funnel and don’t handle the point of sale, collecting and using data in a meaningful way is a challenge. Furthermore, all of your data points need to be aggregated and interpreted to provide insights for your whole organization.

This is the start of the journey toward data-driven decisions, where things begin to become more complex. Here’s how your DMO can start to gain expertise and gain valuable consumer insights that can help you improve your strategic decisions:

4 steps on the DMO journey toward a data-driven approach

1) Begin to collect data

Most DMOs track big numbers, like monthly visitors and web visits, but the journey toward a data-driven approach means tracking even more. This means constantly measuring how your visitors and potential visitors behave online.

Your web team has information on web visits and their locations, you can pull insights from Facebook and analytics from Twitter – the list goes on. For example, if you post links to your blog on your social media channels, you should be tracking the referral through to the blog. What is the click-through rate (CTR) of your average post? Maybe your blog has links to industry partners. Are you tracking the referrals to their sites as well? Start to identify all the places people are interacting with your destination and set up a process to begin measuring that.

2) Analyze data to make it meaningful

As you begin to track more data, you can start to put it all together into something much greater that can reveal insights into trends that can affect your strategy.

Google Analytics is a great tool to help with analysis, as your team can place trackers that monitor the effectiveness of your social media posts through to the blog and other pages people visit. Google’s conversion funnels will become your best friend as they help monitor the flow of web visitors.

This is where you can start to connect multiple channels to work seamlessly together and see real results, as Regional Tourism Organization Four Inc. (RTO4) has in Ontario, Canada by tracking data generated through their destination’s online user experience.

3) Let data drive change

Now that you’re measuring and analyzing your data, you can optimize. In this step, you will deploy fundamental tactics of testing, changing and optimizing across your teams. Let the data affect the decisions your organization makes in order to continuously increase the effectiveness of your efforts. Many DMOs already do this with digital ads to improve efficiency and conversion.

This approach means that you will be making more decisions based on the increased amount of data available. This will shift decisions away from “creative” and intuition and toward data-driven approaches. This is the relentless pursuit of knowing your consumers intimately.

Now that you are focusing on results, how are you going to change and optimize your business? You need to compare data and results across different channels and activities to drive your bottom line.

For a simple example, look to your email newsletter software. At a macro level, you may report on how many users are in the database. But at a micro level, your team is using A/B testing on the layouts, subject headers, timing, content, themes, images and myriad other factors. All of these micro-KPIs help drive visitation to your website, leads to partners, and more. But is someone on your team tracking the cumulative knowledge? How are these insights being applied across the business? What are the relationships between the e-newsletter and your website, your social media efforts and your conversions?

For a more complex example, look to Google’s systematic use of data to test 41 different shades of blue on their webpages.

Google’s example is overkill for a DMO, but the lesson is the same: DMOs need to find new and better ways to gain meaningful insights about their consumers. The digital channels are the easiest way to track this for now, and the insights should begin to influence your traditional channels as well. Data should not be constrained to a silo, but shared across the organization.

4) Hire a data analyst

To really evolve your journey, you are going to need someone to make sense of the ever-increasing amount of data and avoid analysis paralysis. A DMO needs a data analyst to translate its data into meaningful and actionable recommendations for the organization. This needs to be done across multiple data points, not just on a website or your Facebook channel. Instead, ask how all those visitor touch points inform the overall direction of the organization? This is a big task, and you need access to the right knowledge.

A good data analyst will help your DMO determine relationships between direct and indirect success measures. For example, if tourism expenditures in your destination are down, is that a direct result of your efforts? Or is it a combination of several external factors, like changing currency rates, weather or world events? How do you measure the direct contribution of your efforts? Understanding the correlation between complex indicators is an important skill. Bringing clarity to this will help a DMO’s marketing efforts become more effective.

Data is about more than numbers

The modern drive toward data is quickly becoming a reality for many businesses and the shift toward data-driven thinking will only become more complex over time. This change represents more than just numbers; it’s a pivot in business strategy, and it requires the right resources.

Open rates and click-throughs don’t sound like much individually, but putting these together to map the consumer journey across your digital ecosystem will give you valuable insights about your potential visitors. With big data, DMOs can start measuring what matters and, more importantly, adjust strategies based more on collected data and less on what feels right.

Related reading: Two critical corporate metrics for any destination

Featured image credit: Jay Gorman, Flickr


  1. Zafer Cengiz

    Dear Aaron Nissen- Your article is quite attracting since “there is still not much people” to write and also read(?) about these vital aspects of Travel & Tourism Industry (TTI) although the time has come for considerable change to re-deisgn TTI in accordance with the heavy requirements and pressures of the growing industry. In terms of MiCRO Scale, you are absolutely right in details but let me underline that “you have been in contradiction with the title of MACRO Expression and the content in Micro approach” where this is also quite normal. We must gradually start to realize that real DMO must cover Management which surely comes before Marketing. Hence nowadays we are actually trying to market before organizing the main Management requirements of Destinational Organization as a whole. Best Regards for all & please take note that I’m planning to deep-dive within these vital concepts soon.

  2. Aaron

    Thanks for your comments Zafer. We certainly believe in a balance of Marketing and Management for DMOs. Tourism is a competitive industry that is fueled by word of mouth and it’s imperative destinations look beyond just promotion. I look forward to your deep dives.

  3. Nicolaas Pereboom

    Hi Aaron,

    1. We have been looking at a destination management/marketing organisation focussing on online marketing and doing exactly what you have described. We asked a simple question: given that the end goal and the reason of existence of any DMO is increasing economic value to the destination (e.g. more visitors, higher expenditures), please tell us how your online marketing and data analysis efforts have actually led to achieving such end goals. How did you measure success? How did online visits lead to actual visits of your destination? They have no clue.

    2. As DMO’s (and their channels) only account for a very small (and decreasing) percentage of visitors’ access to overall destination-related content and is and will never be able to map the whole (online and offline) customer journey which makes any decision-making based on such data collected to say the least questionable.

    3. Since you rightfully say DMOs don’t handle the point of sale, and up to now cannot and do not collect and use data generated at such we have argued that deploying online marketing and data mining as you have described solely at DMO level is a waste of time and money. Where DMOs CAN help is helping businesses to set up online marketing and data mining at the points of sale themselves. The DMO could also chose if they have all the online marketing and data mining in house to set itself up as a Google Adwords agency for such businesses and the online marketing/data mining partner.

    This does not mean there are no other forms of data mining which do work and can be applied at DMO level. I am thinking for instance of analyzing the effect of campaigns on mobility of tourists visiting your destination. There are some fine tools in the market for this nowadays.

    PS: also in Europe ‘DMO’ is Destination “Management” Organization and often an organisation in which government is involved). There is a lot of confusion here in our industry. In our view anybody can set up a destination ‘marketing’ organisation. In our view the best destination marketing organisations should be and are the businesses themselves. The businesses create the experiences about which the visitors write, tweet, blog, vlog etc. , they know their customers best, they are in the best position to collect and use data to take business decisions to transform their business. See the New Models for Destination Marketing LinkedIn Group for some nice discussions on this subject.

    Looking forward to your answers!



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