Data helps B.C. tourism marketers hone campaigns

Targeting demographics online seen as most efficient way to attract visitors

International tourists are increasingly using smartphones to research tourism destinations, book plane tickets and reserve hotel rooms | photo illustration by Rob Kruyt 

The cover of an issue of The Economist magazine in May struck a chord with Destination British Columbia executives.

“The world’s most valuable resource,” read the headline above cover art that showed what appeared to be oil rigs that were emblazoned with corporate names, such as Facebook (Nasdaq:FB), Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) and Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN).

While faith in oil as a long-term valuable commodity has waned, data has started to emerge as a business requisite, particularly for marketers.

Getting the biggest bang for the buck when marketing tourism destinations increasingly requires being savvy with digital tools, said Destination British Columbia’s vice-president of global marketing, Maya Lange.

“I’m enormously proud that we’re the only destination--marketing organization in Canada that has a direct relationship with Google and with Facebook,” she told Business in Vancouver. 

“We are well on our way to establish relationships with other large platforms, like Amazon. We have a direct relationship with Expedia [Nasdaq:EXPE]. We have a direct relationship with Ctrip, which is China’s largest online travel agency.”

What Lange means by “direct relationships” is that Destination British Columbia pays those companies in exchange for advice and training on how to use analytics tools within their platforms.

The large platforms tend to ask their web-surfing users’ permission to gather data about what their likes and interests are.

Cookies are placed in users’ browsers so the company can track their use of the web.

Sometimes users voluntarily provide their gender or age to a site. Other times, those factors can be predicted based on the websites that are visited.

“Maybe this person is on dating sites,” Lange said.

For Destination British Columbia, the ideal target customer is affluent and loves the outdoors, adventure and wildlife.

Exact identities of people are not known but once someone with appropriate demographics is identified, Destination British Columbia can place advertising on websites that the person visits.

Lange’s plan for the next year is to work with the digital agency Noise and increase Destination British Columbia’s data capabilities to include tracking data from its own YouTube videos and other advertising.

(Image: Scan of an edition of the Economist, May 6-12, 2017)

“We’re building our own infrastructure and our own capabilities in-house,” she said. 

“When I have an article written through a publisher in Mexico, or I have content articles and video on the Google platform, people in Mexico engage with that content and, through that, I begin to collect data on them.”

Better data tracking on an in-house platform will still be augmented with analytics from various global data companies to provide Destination British Columbia with a more detailed analysis of how users are engaging with content.

The approach is similar to that of applications such as Hotjar, which enables e-commerce merchants to see exactly where an anonymous user’s cursor is located on a web page, how that user scrolls through the site and at what point the visitor either makes a purchase or leaves.

While some may view these methods as a violation of privacy, Google does enable its customers to turn off activity tracking.

For Destination British Columbia, this is only the beginning, Lange said.

(Image: Destination British Columbia's vice-president of global marketing, Maya Lange, was in California last week meeting with Google representatives to learn how better to use data to lure tourists | submitted)

A November 8 report from Travelport (NYSE:TVPT) ranked countries according to the online activity of travellers.

India topped the list while China and Indonesia came in second and third.

Canada ranked well back, at No. 15, possibly because of roaming costs and telecom fees that a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission study last year found to be the highest in the world.

“We’re not as active [in India],” Lange said. 

“Our focus markets are China, Mexico and the U.S., particularly the western states. A second-tier market that we focus energy and attention on [includes] Australia, U.K., Germany and Japan.”

China presents challenges in that Google, Facebook and Twitter (Nasdaq:TWTR), among other platforms, are blocked. Chinese instead search on Baidu (Nasdaq:BIDU) and network socially on WeChat or Weibo – platforms that Lange said Destination British Columbia will in time also have partnerships with. •