You think you know your destination better than anyone. But when’s the last time you saw it from your visitors’ point of view?

Design thinking can help destinations gain this fresh perspective while giving them an opportunity to collaborate with industry to improve the visitor experience and word-of-mouth promotion. A big part of a typical design thinking process that we incorporate into our work with destinations is to interpret and analyze your data through a set of tools. One of these tools is called Customer Journey Mapping. This process brings a visitor (or “persona”) with defined goals, beliefs, motivations and characteristics through a path that shows how they interact with the destination, its touchpoints and stakeholders.

Benefits of mapping the customer journey

Mapping one or more of your destination’s customer journeys can reveal how your visitors interact with your destination and where their pain and pleasure points are. It puts you in your visitor’s shoes, allowing you to see the destination the way they do. A good customer journey map shows you areas of improvement or opportunity that touch on every aspect of your destination: from marketing and promotion to destination experience, the role and place of partners and stakeholders and even the way your destination marketing organization (DMO) is structured and organized.

In my presentation at the 2015 Social Media Tourism Symposium in Amsterdam, for instance, I mapped out my customer journey during a visit to a French ski resort. This map showed, among other takeaways, that there is an opportunity for this resort to work more with user-generated content (UGC) to inspire travellers, and that the ski lift poles are an excellent spot for communicating a hashtag.

5 stages of travel and the customer journey

It’s a common mistake to confuse the customer journey with commonly accepted stages of travel. (Google has identified five stages of travel for marketers: dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing and sharing). These stages are more or less the same for every DMO, but the actual customer journeys within those stages can vary a great deal from destination to destination and from persona to persona. If you’re a diving destination, for instance, a highly experienced diver is probably looking for something completely different in every stage throughout the entire journey than a novice who wants to get certified.

This is why research into a deep understanding of your destination and what drives your personas is such an immensely important foundation for creating a customer journey. Your DMO needs to immerse itself in its visitor behaviour, because what people say they do within traditional research tools like surveys and focus groups is often a very different reality than what people actually do. To be able to understand your visitors’ motivations, barriers, wants and needs, you need to instead conduct thorough interviews and observations in order to uncover what people are doing, and constantly ask why they are doing it.

Continuously mapping out your customer journeys can be one of the most valuable, foundational things you can do as a DMO. This design thinking approach perfectly combines insights on your visitors and your destination, which allows you to identify improvements and opportunities in all areas of the path to purchase, from consumer engagement, to experience design all the way to business and organizational strategy.

Could your destination benefit from a deeper understanding of your visitors’ needs? Destination Think helps DMOs research and map their customer journeys through design thinking to improve visitor experiences, marketing activities and organizational effectiveness. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

Featured image credit: Nicki Mannix, Flickr


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We work with the most innovative tourism boards in the world to create a vision for each of their destinations, solve business challenges and execute brilliant, integrated campaigns. The expertise we apply to that work is shared in the articles published here and in our DMO Matters newsletter.

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