Tourism marketing, Maslow and his heirarchy of needs

The entire bundle of marketing, place knowledge and experience are what form a destination's long-term success.

People want to feel special and also be part of something special. More and more, people are travelling to develop themselves —intellectually and culturally as well as spiritually. For these travellers, visiting places that re-inforce these feelings is becoming an essential part of travel.

Abraham Maslow defined a set of needs in which self-actualisation occupies the highest and narrowest set of needs. People firstly set out to meet their own basic needs but gradually, as these needs are met, elevate their methods to seek out higher and higher objectives. Travel is seen as an important way to attain to these goals.

This is key to understanding why people travel to where they travel to. People will often travel to the places that they perceive as most likely to satisfy their need to self-actualize. These people will select their destinations based on their own criteria for what best fulfills these needs. The criteria might include things like cultural factors such as historical sites, museums and art galleries. They may be ancestral or cultural roots. Or they might be physical properties such as biosphere, environmental properties or flora and fauna. They might include events such as music, food or religious festivals. It might be the perception of the place as unpeopled, quiet or mindful.

Steps towards self-fulfillment are first defined and then designed by each individual to achieve, as well as to sustain, self-fulfillment. In each case, the individual is seeking ways to feel that they are fulfilling a deep inner need and to become a more complete person. They may be seeking out contemplative spaces or like-minded people, in either case with the purpose of feeling like they are attaining to personal development. These goals are unique and highly personal.

It should be stated that if the needs of the individual are for simple 'fun n sun' kind of experiences then the deeper goals of self-actualisation don't enter the minds of these people. These people are not on the track to self-actualisation, either because they are not yet aware of this need, or are taking a temporary detour. There are myriad destinations appealing to this class of traveller. This market has little to no profit potential by appealing to a customer base whose needs are already being met by low-priced suppliers. Clear examples of these types of travel are all-inclusive and cruise travel. However, for those where 'fun n sun' is not fulfilling enough, eventually even these travellers will seek out ways to a more complete experience.

So, the goal for destinations is to appeal to the deep, inner needs of people to self-actualise as well as developing a better understanding of this as a path to successful marketing and advertising. More successful destination have learned how to attract visitors on their path to attaining self-actualisation as well as for the Nirvana of marketing —the possibility to retain these visitors for longer stays or to return for more, as long as the perception has not been irreparably damaged in some way.

Three things must be made generally available in order for any destination to place itself on the cognitive map of people's desire to travel to a place.

All of these things are expensive, time-consuming, difficult, competitive and essential. They are also changing rapidly, so keeping up to the current trends is also demanding. Travel to a place cannot happen without them. People need to know about a destination, how it fits their needs and also how they can get there.

After these three basic components have become part of the potential visitor's roadmap, then marketing will fill in the details of why the person should travel to the destination.

It has been said that marketing to everyone is marketing to no-one. Destination marketers need to know who they are trying to reach, understand the needs of this segment, or segments, and then tailor their message to reach them. The more the message resonates, the higher the chances of attracting that person.

Within the marketing blend that will create appeal to the individual is the perception that to experience a place, its people, culture, food, music, and so on, delivers the fulfillment of some part of self-actualisation for that individual, easy or more complex. The perception of the proximity of the delivery to the goals of the individual is what will ultimately elevate the destination in the list of places to travel to.

Authenticity is key to this perception. Also, merging into authenticity, is the quality of environmental, physical and social parameters that the destination, or the tour provider deliver. If the delivery is not consistent with the message, there is a higher probability of the visitor being disappointed.

While travelling, the individual is ingesting experiences and this is why experiences are the most important component of travel. Experiences are always delivered in destination and many of these experiences are delivered by the people living there. These may be intentional, such as in delivery of tours or personal services but they might also be unintentional, such as a good —or bad, encounter.

It is critical for local people to understand these aspects of a visitor experience. Sustainability of tourism is also about the quality of the people-to-people exchange. In all cases, when delivery exceeds expectations and residents make visitors feel welcome, regardless of personal feelings, each will contribute to a positive visitor, as well as resident, experience.

There's also no getting around deceptive practices that only send out hollow messages with dis- or mis- or incomplete information. Fooling some of the people some of the time won't cut it in today's marketing realm. Social media sees to exposing or weeding out false messages fairly quickly. However, any misgivings about a destination's authenticity or ability to deliver personal needs will drop the destination from the person's list. After this happens, the game is over. A destination will likely never recover from this kind of damage, however slight it may appear. A destination will also never recover from a disappointing experience while travelling there. The visitor's goals of self-actualisation have been undermined.

Destination marketers will often place promotional articles in key media in feeder markets. While these articles are useful, they may not be enough, on their own, to entice people to visit. A single article is but one facet of the presentation and further marketing is needed, such as by travel agents, tour operators or direct to the consumer. This is because there are too many competing distractions and the viewer's impression, once established, needs to be strongly reinforced.

To use an analogy, if I see a car I really like, a seed has been planted that I might want to drive a car like that. But it takes more than that to sell a car. Advertising messages are needed to complete the sales pitch and for me to choose a dealer to purchase from. Literally, nothing happens until somebody sells something.

At the same time, news articles can be broadcast very widely and quickly in today's connected world. It has the potential to impact the decision-making of hundreds or thousands of people. Some of these people may have selected the destination as a place to travel to. A positive or informative article can definitely support this decision. But the appearance of a negative article may have enough credibility to dent the viewer's confidence. This has the potential to negate any amount of marketing investment already made.

In some news media that present articles about travel there, any sort of negative commentary may knock a potential visitor out of selecting that place on their list, now or later. Potential visitors can discover and read these articles too. Residents who are not even a part of the tourism product delivery may unwittingly be interfering with marketing initiatives taken in their destination. It doesn't need to be intentional, such as when a news article attracts negative comments.

After this has happened, the place can often be confronted by the near impossible task to make it back onto their list. Marketers, at this point, must restart the battle, re-engaging with an entirely new set of potential visitors. Anyone who might have previously considered the destination may have already been lost. Any expenditure at attracting the former set of potential visitors is wasted and a whole new investment in appealing to new visitors is needed. Not a very pro-active or forward thinking approach.

So, for example, bad-mouthing may have the effect of seriously undermining any marketing effort and must be stopped almost at any cost. Probably bad-mouthing mostly interferes with the perception that potential visitors might feel regarding personal safety. Perception of crime is another, whether the threat is real or not. Marketers may need to be specific about safety concerns within their destination. Personal safety, or the perception of it, is also one of Maslow's basic human needs and must be met before the higher needs are attained to. So, it is very important for destination managers to take a rapid, pro-active position to fend off or deal with negative perceptions.

Interestingly, this kind of publicity has no or very little impact on all-inclusive or cruise travel because if visitors perceive a threat they simply choose not to leave the resort, or cruise ship. Safety concerns are less of an issue in the 'walled-garden' tourist enclaves. The resort or cruise ship, for them, IS the destination and NOT the location where it exists. This factor may be why cruise and all-inclusive travel seem to be more resilient to negative sentiment. It is becoming increasingly difficult to penetrate or to compete with this mentality. The days of marketing to compete with this type of traveller mind-set are numbered for many destinations.

This is another reason why destination marketers need to up their game by selling other attributes that attract more sophisticated visitors. Successful consummation reaps rewards for both visitors, who attain to better experiences, and destinations, who receive visitors who are likely to stay longer and spend more money. A side benefit may be lowering relative carbon emissions related to longer stays, or by inference, fewer plane trips.

No single destination will ever execute all the steps perfectly every time. However, it is clear that fine-tuning marketing programs involves balancing a wide range of components. Successful destinations are better at doing this. These places funnel more resources into their marketing and are more pro-active in dealing with issues as they arise.

It is also key that any marketing program undertaken by a destination be linked and co-ordinated with local hotel and tour providers to deliver a clear and consistent message across marketing campaigns and media, or vice-versa. The message must be authentic and representative of real values and characteristics that the destination possesses.

Lastly, never give up. It may be tempting to overlook fixing problems in marketing your destination in the face of criticism or negative events. However, the problem is real and there is no getting around that potential visitors may see it too. The key is to be pro-active and to deal with the difficulty head-on. It is possible to learn from past errors and use this understanding to build better campaigns. No place is 100% safe and potential visitors may see being realistic as contributing to a destination's authenticity, or at least credibility. Unfortunately, once a destination's reputation has been damaged, it could take years to repair it.

Some examples of successful travel marketing campaigns: Some campaigns are mentioned in several of these articles:

Lessons from Creative DMOs: 11 Successful Tourism Marketing Campaigns: CrowdRiff

12 Destination Marketing Examples To Inspire you: Tremento

The 10 Best Tourism Campaigns of 2021 by Joslyn McIntyre, Tiquets

The 5 Top Tourism Campaigns of 2019: Break.the ice media

15 Brilliant Travel Marketing Campaigns That Will Inspire You For 2019: Big 7 Travel Team

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism begins new print campaign: Target Brand Architects

Which Are the Most Innovative Destination Marketing Campaigns? Place Brand Observer

But, as anyone can see, there's also a huge amount of marketing being done and to compete requires expending a great deal, both in effort and in money. Marketing is undertaken to attract visitors. Most of this is to attract first-time visitors. It becomes even more expensive and time-consuming when marketing needs to shift to repairing reputations or recovering from bad press.

A bit like election polls, the only result that matters is the one on election day. The successful candidate has committed —and has focussed, substantial resources to winning. Similarly in travel marketing, the true measure, in fact the only measure, of a successful campaign, one that meets the perceived needs of individuals, is when visitors start showing up and are having —and sharing great experiences.