Online Advertising Options for Destination Marketers

No doubt about it, I like to travel. As an advertising professional, though, wherever I travel to, I can’t help but think about how I came to find the location and assess how well (or poorly) I feel it’s promoting itself. How is their Web presence? Can I find them in the search engines? Did I see some sort of ad for them in a booking engine? Did I read about them on TripAdvisor or some other user review site? Is this tourist attraction or restaurant listed in my favorite mobile app or mapping program? So much of today’s travel planning is dominated by a digital experience that I thought it useful to check in with the destination marketing industry and see what kind of new online media opportunities attract attention these days.

In the past decade, much of destination marketing has been turned on its ear thanks to the Internet. The number of U.S. travel agencies has declined from 31,000 to 17,000 according to Carlson Wagonlit Travel, as more and more travelers take planning into their own hands. The advent of booking engines like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity and comparison engines like,, Kayak, and IgoUgo have put the traveler literally behind the wheel of negotiating her own vacation. Many of these sites have taken a user community approach, incorporating reviews, photo-sharing, and social media integration. These sites, therefore, have often become the initial point of entry for travel planning.

Advantages of Booking and Community Sites

Many of the travel booking and user community sites allow users to register to save and share information. This registration plays a big role in providing media opportunities because it enables these sites to offer targeting by the user’s profile and activity. Publishers can tell, for example, how frequently someone travels, where they commonly travel from and to, and the standard of hotel they’re likely to book. Booking sites know, too, the path by which travelers tend to book (air, hotel, then car) and once booked, the content of the confirmation e-mail. All of these variables lend themselves to distinctly refined ad targeting. Booking and community sites can also build out ad-supported destination-specific content pages or e-mail information alerts. With so much content and possible reach, when it comes to size and type of travel destination advertiser, a booking or community site can come up with “something for everyone” – all you have to do is ask.


Speaking of community sites, destination marketers should also test Facebook advertising. Visit Baltimore has run a number of Facebook campaigns in support of different objectives, the most successful of which have been used to promote the city’s Restaurant Weeks.

Niche Travel Sites, Travel-Specific Networks, and Mobile

For just about any kind of travel destination, you can probably also find a matching niche portal or information site: luxury, family, tropical, sports (with many sub-niches within this category like golf, skiing, scuba, etc.), adventure, eco-travel…it’s a long list. Since most of these niche sites support themselves through ad sales, the media planner should consider a few when building a plan for a particular target audience.

If you’re looking to cut a wider swath with your media plan, you might want to consider including a travel-specific ad network like Travel Spike or Travel Ad Network.

Meanwhile, could mobile advertising be any more suited than for travel? Whether it’s through a mobile ad network like Jumptap or AdMob, or through a travel-relevant ad-supported application like WeatherBug or WHERE, hitting people when they’re seeking instant information couldn’t be any more relevant.

What’s Hot, What’s Trending

I reached out to publishers to get a sense of what’s generating high interest and traction these days among destination advertisers, and heard:

  • Larger ad units
  • Rich media content and video
  • Retargeting
  • Behavioral or interest-based targeting
  • Mobile opportunities
  • Demand for more metrics and analytics
  • Growing acceptance of the role of the ad view-through in driving later conversions

One personal and final observation on my part: I’ve noticed on several large and niche travel portals the under-utilization ad-wise of their site’s search results pages. As a media planner, I would love to be able to say, “Serve my ads to anyone who comes to your site and searches for ‘Baltimore’.” Talk about targeted!

The problem is that many of these sites rely on a Google-powered custom search, which doesn’t permit them to serve their own ads in this way. Let me openly advise these sites now to migrate to a more flexible on-site search technology so they make an easy ad sale!

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