Upskilling executives - a 2024 trend in digital marketing


The Current State of Digital Travel Marketing


The relentless evolution of digital technologies is driving the entire tourism marketing industry towards online platforms. Achieving satisfactory profitability in tourism without effective digital marketing strategies is virtually impossible. Tourism marketers require a comprehensive set of digital skills, expertise, and knowledge, without which any online endeavor becomes either expensive, ineffective, or both.

While the market offers such specialists or online advertising agencies, they often rely on standard mass marketing methods and lack the capacity to develop unique winning systems or strategies. This is primarily due to the unique characteristics of the tourism industry:

  • Geographical Distance: Customers are typically located a significant distance from the tourism product and cannot physically experience it.
  • High Cost and Trust Building: Tourism products are generally expensive, and in addition to price offerings, gaining customer trust and establishing a strong brand are crucial for sales. This results in a longer sales cycle compared to mass-market goods.
  • Intense Competition: Competition is rapidly increasing as both large and small brands flood the internet with their offerings.
  • Extensive Research and Comparison: Before purchasing a tourism product, individuals typically research and compare numerous options. It’s common for potential buyers to visit at least 50 websites before making a decision.
  • High Search Volume: 25% of all Google searches are related to tourism and travel.
  • Low Purchase Frequency: Tourism product purchases are infrequent due to most customers only having one or two vacations per year.

Furthermore, educational institutions produce a limited number of digital tourism marketing specialists. Most individuals in this field transition from traditional marketing roles through self-study and experience accumulation, which can often be a trial-and-error process.


Peculiarities of Digital Marketing for Small and Medium-Sized Tourism Businesses


According to data from UNWTO and WTTC, over 80% of businesses in the tourism industry are small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Often, the owners of these businesses also serve as directors and managers.

However, the limited budgets of SMEs make it financially infeasible for them to hire qualified travel marketers, who typically command high salaries. Consequently, the responsibility of online marketing and advertising often falls upon the shoulders of business owners themselves, or they may hire a single individual to fulfill the roles of marketing director, digital director, internet marketer, SEO specialist, and SMM specialist.

Through consultations and research, we have consistently observed that many business leaders lack a comprehensive understanding of the digital marketing tasks they face. Due to this absence of a systematic grasp of digital marketing principles, they often jump from one tool to another without evaluating their efforts or comprehending the effectiveness of their actions.

Furthermore, our dedicated research on the digital skills of business leaders  confirmed the low level of qualification among those surveyed.

Often, due to a lack of skills, strategies, and systems, small businesses are unsure whether their online efforts are aligned with their overall goals.

Therefore, we believe that there is an urgent need for in-depth training for business leaders and owners, at least in the fundamentals of online marketing.

While self-learning is an option, there is a scarcity of readily available textbooks on this subject. To address this gap, we have developed a specialized textbook on the basics of digital travel marketing


Challenges Faced by Small and Medium-Sized Tourism Businesses


Ironically, one of the root causes of low qualification among tourism business leaders is the relatively low barrier to entry into the tourism industry. For instance, establishing a hotel or a travel agency may only require renting a space, obtaining a basic license, and seemingly, that’s it.

This ease of entry contrasts sharply with other fields, such as driving a car worth $10,000, which necessitates specialized training, knowledge, and passing an exam. If such requirements are deemed necessary for operating a relatively inexpensive vehicle, why shouldn’t managing a business, which often costs more or has the potential to generate significantly more revenue, demand similar levels of knowledge and skills?

Another prevalent issue is the tendency among business leaders to attribute low revenue to external factors rather than their own marketing shortcomings. They may blame factors such as low tourist influx into the country, market downturns, or the unpopularity of their destination.

This mindset stems from a lack of understanding of the underlying causes of their problems. Without a clear grasp of the root issues, they are less inclined to engage in self-learning or seek out educational resources such as textbooks or training courses. This lack of self-awareness and inability to identify and address their shortcomings perpetuate low levels of business literacy among these leaders, leading to poor online positioning and limited opportunities for improvement.

Furthermore, many small business leaders prefer to operate based on intuition rather than data, numbers, and analytics. This approach leads to an inaccurate assessment of their business performance in the online realm.

While this may stem from traditional practices where physical marketing materials like posters and catalogs were the primary means of promotion, those times have long passed. The digital era demands a data-driven approach to marketing and business operations.

Another challenge lies in the misconception among business leaders and owners that marketing is solely the responsibility of hired employees, while their own role is limited to management. This erroneous belief leads to a neglect of marketing efforts, hindering the overall growth and success of the business.

As marketing guru Peter Drucker famously stated in 1954:  “Because its purpose is to create a customer, the business has two basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results, all the rest are costs.”


Strategies to Address Challenges in Tourism Digital Marketing


Addressing the challenges faced by small tourism businesses in digital marketing requires a two-pronged approach:

  1. Promoting Self-Learning and Skill Development:
    • Encourage and support self-learning among small business leaders to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge in digital marketing.
    • Foster a systematic approach and a comprehensive understanding of online marketing strategies for tourism businesses.
  2. Leveraging the Support of Key Organizations:
    • Industry and Business Associations: These associations can provide valuable support to small businesses, offering guidance, resources, and networking opportunities to enhance their digital marketing efforts.
    • Destination Management Organizations (DMOs): DMOs, as stakeholders in effective marketing, can play a crucial role in promoting the destination through the digital marketing activities of local tourism businesses. By utilizing state funding for tourism promotion, DMOs can invest in improving the marketing capabilities and overall quality of businesses within the region.
    • Educational Institutions: Tourism educational institutions can contribute by offering relevant training programs, workshops, and certifications that equip tourism professionals with the necessary digital marketing skills.

Investing in Knowledge Over Financial Assistance

Instead of providing direct financial aid to small tourism businesses, which may have limited long-term impact, a more sustainable approach lies in empowering them to generate their own revenue through knowledge acquisition and skill development in digital marketing.

By investing in self-learning opportunities, collaborative partnerships, and targeted training programs, we can empower small tourism businesses to navigate the digital landscape effectively, enhance their online presence, and achieve sustainable growth.


Poor Marketing and Tourist Dissatisfaction


The problem is not only that tour businesses sell little. Due to poor digital marketing, the entire internet is filled with low-quality, unverified and irrelevant information. Therefore, tourists often cannot find what they need, cannot find a guide, cannot find a hotel to their liking, do not receive the necessary information about attractions, etc.

In other words, with poor representation on the Internet, no smart tourism is possible in principle.

 And this already affects the quality of the resulting tourism product and leads the industry as a whole to a deterioration in the position of tourism in comparison with other areas of business.

It should be noted that this problem is not only in travel agencies, but in other tourism activities such as museums, restaurants, attractions, transport, etc.

In general, the described problems and trends have already begun to be recognized by the tourism community and improving digital marketing through training owners and managers of tourism businesses is becoming a reality.

For its part, Center Smart Tourism also participates in this process and periodically publishes various textbooks in different languages ​​here.

Author: Dmitriy Tin