Dek: How to market a damaged destination brand in a losing environment and win!
By: Eda Özden, Director of Business Development, MEP Destination Business Solutions
(This article was first published on the Kongres Magazine web site, 5 February 2018)
These days our world is in a state of constant flux. Trends are changing even faster than they arrive and global forces are affecting our local affairs in ways we cannot control nor predict. Despite full awareness of these factors, losing business is never easy. Especially when it is almost entirely beyond your control.
Despite not having an effective marketing plan, Turkey became one of the top 10 visited countries and doomed massively without one. Business was so good - inbound traffic to Turkey increased from 8 to 42 million from 2000 to 2015 - that nobody, including us, prepared a doomsday plan.
As one of the oldest, largest and most awarded DMCs in Turkey, MEP’s inbound business has often fluctuated in its 40-year experience. However, nothing prepared us for the drop in business we faced after the dramatic events that spanned (and hopefully ended) from 2013 onwards. While shying away from politics is Business 101, we were faced with having to explain a complicated situation to oblivious outsiders. Rather than focusing on the “why”, it was much more productive for us to focus on how to win in such a losing environment. Here are some lessons we’ve learned on how to best market a damaged destination:
Lesson #1: Remain multi-faceted. Read news, be a global citizen – it’ll help you in dialogues and marketing strategies.
Due to our busy schedules, MEP had stayed out of the official destination marketing efforts and had not gotten involved with the CVB, besides exhibitions. This hurt us when we realized we wanted to have a say in the messaging strategy in response to damaging news.
Lesson #2: Embrace digital, it will help you with its low costs and effective results when your marketing budget falls down the drain.
Rather than reducing our marketing efforts we decided to become more digitalized. We set up a new mobile device friendly website, developed a rich CRM program, sent out regular newsletters with consistent messaging and enriched our social media presence and online advertising.
Lesson #3: Make sure you partake in efforts set out by industry organizations and government officials.
You’ll be sorry when you cannot affect change when you want to. Our involvement in SITE and with local tourism authorities helped us stay relevant and remain in people’s minds & hearts.
Lesson #4: Stay creative, downturns are a great time to make fundamental changes that prepare you for the future.
The desperation of the times turned out to be a big catalyst for creativity. We found ways to leverage our knowledge and experience so that we stayed relevant and would be remembered for the future. We never got too greedy in accepting force-majeures, for we believe in long-term relationships. We put a twist on the challenges. For example, after extensive preparations we were able to say, “While we understand your concerns, we at MEP are better prepared to protect our guests than other destinations.” We also emphasized that opportunities stem from the experiences we’ve had like our unrivaled gratitude for business and the great value that Istanbul offered.
Lesson #5: Build bridges, with anybody and everybody!
We understood that no sales or marketing efforts, no technology, and no brilliant minds could substitute human relationships. Machines do not feel empathy, yet! The bridges we’ve built with clients, partners, friends and suppliers have proven to be our strongest anchor – people have gone above and beyond to help us through these times. They offered us a part in their projects and invited us to present and exhibit for free.
Lesson #6: Do not take anything for granted. Prepare for the worst & hope for the best!
Bio: Eda Özden is the Director of Business Development at MEP, a Destination Business Solutions Company based in Istanbul, Turkey. She heads the Sales & Marketing Team of MEP and is in charge of all CRM efforts as well as Global Accounts and Brand Management. Having embraced the ‘travel bug’ early on and embodying the passionate aspirations of the Millennial generation, Eda has focused her career on digital and creative mediums for promoting her destination and company. She’s been an ardent supporter of SITE, who was instrumental in her joining the industry. Having served as the co-chair of Young Leaders Program for two years, she is now one of the European Directors on the SITE International Board. She is also on the SITE Turkey board and the board of World of DMCs, an association of global DMCs.