DMO Best Practices – Innovative Uses of Social Media

Destination Marketing Organizations around the world have realised the added value of using social media channels to market their destinations and increase awareness. There are certain examples though of DMOs that seem to have “broken the code” coming up with innovative campaigns and other uses of social media channels. Let’s have a look at a selection of best practices of DMO social media use.

The Banff Squirrel & Twitter

The fun element of destinations is definitely what social media can bring out and it should not get lost along the way. A viral sensation since 2009, the cheeky squirrel in Alberta’s Banff National Park became famous after stealing the spotlight in a tourist’s photo.

It all begun when Melissa Brandts, who was visiting from Minnesota, set up her camera on a tripod to capture her and her husband, in front of picturesque Lake Minnewanka. The little ground squirrel appeared, became intrigued with the sound of the focusing camera and popped right into the shot. The couple submitted the photo to a National Geographic contest and the magazine posted it to an online gallery on Aug. 7.

Within hours of the meme taking off, Banff Lake Louise Tourism produced “Banff Crasher Squirrel: The Movie” on YouTube and created the @Banff_Squirrel Twitter account which now has almost 7.000 followers. The squirrel has a continuously scrolling conversation with tourists via Twitter on the Real Banff page that many people find enjoyable to follow. As of April 2011, the Banff Squirrel is ranked # 4 among the 25 Most Influential Tourist Boards and DMOs Online published by

VisitPhilly, Twitter & 2-way engagement, is the official visitor website for Greater Philadelphia. Through @visitphilly, tweeter Caroline from leads lively conversations, publishes a Photo of the Day contributed by followers and encourages people to visit a branded page on Foursquare, the location-based social networking website and game. This sort of two way engagement has led the DMO to the 7th place of the 25 most influential DMOs online according to .

Many DMOs are using Facebook to promote their destination, however most are using their FB pages to promote events, throw contests and engage in short conversations. Few DMOs have used it in order to unite audience and stakeholders towards greater causes and strategic goals.

Anaheim/Orange County & Community engagement

Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau launched a Facebook sweepstakes program entitled “Share Our Sunshine” celebrating its 50th Anniversary. The basic idea behind the campaign was to involve the entire community.

Eighty of the hotel, restaurant and attraction partners of the Anaheim/Orange County bureau participated in the campaign thus extending the benefits to the entire tourism region. Another best-practice element was to target the prizes to various categories of winners: trips for men, trips for women, getaways for two and family excursions.

Visit Florida & Crisis Management

Visit Florida-the official tourism marketing corporation for the state of Florida – hosted the “Great VISIT FLORIDA Beach Walk”on November 2010 to clear up any doubts about the status of Florida’s beaches in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“One of the great elements of Florida Live was the activation of Floridians to tell the real story,” said Chris Thompson, President and CEO of VISIT FLORIDA. “We reached out to our ‘Share a Little Sunshine’ fans on Facebook and asked them to post date-stamped images of our beaches – and they proved to be great fans. Recent focus groups told us those real photos, taken by real people, were really powerful.” Studies that people who visited Florida Live were 31 percent more likely to visit Florida during and after the oil spill than those who had not been to the site.

Photos of Florida’s 825 miles of beaches appear in the “Florida Live” feature on so potential visitors can see the latest beach conditions for themselves. Florida Live was created in May 2010 to maintain consumer trust through the course of the crisis by providing real-time updates from destinations around the state, coupled with live webcams and consumer generated content. Recognized as a best practice for crisis management, Florida Live has proven to be an innovative use of technology and content to address the oil spill situation.

Toronto and integrated video technology

In Canada, the city of Toronto is using innovative video technology that taps into Facebook and other social networks via  informal “ambassadors.” Tourism Toronto in the summer of 2010 began setting up interactive video recording stations at a number of festivals and attractions and invited residents and visitors to record messages about why they love Toronto.

After each video is recorded, the technology compresses a copy and instantly attaches footage that adds music, imagery, Tourism Toronto branding and a call to action.If the consumer decides they want to share their video, the “brand wrapped” video clip is then uploaded to their Facebook page, YouTube and Twitter accounts or sent to them by email.

The program is unique from several standpoints – the instant branding video technology has never been used before and Toronto is the first DMO to use this new technology and this kind of approach to promoting a destination. “The combination of community-based engagement, video footage and social networks wins on a number of levels,” says Clifford Ward, chief creative officer for, creator of the technology.

#InCostaBrava blog trip

Costa Brava recently organized a bloggers trip to the destination under the tagline 16 Bloggers.  7 Days.  1 Amazing Destination

#InCostaBrava brought 16 bloggers to the region for a week to sample the best experiences of the region, pulling together businesses and resources from all levels to create a major online buzz.  The event culminated with a social media workshop where bloggers and tourism providers discussed tactics and strategies as well as a reflection on the week.

According to Andy Hays, one of the invited travel bloggers , the #InCostaBrava group trip proved to be a successful model of social media tourism outreach due to the following factors:

  • The organization trusted the bloggers not just as content providers, but as “digital ambassadors”
  • They found the right people for the trip with a good mix of styles and backgrounds
  • There was a high level of teamwork in the destination, where all stakeholders, from tourism board to hotels and museums opened their doors and were on board to provide their best service
  • #InCostaBrava drove traditional PR and outreach opportunities beyond Social Media
  • The ambassadors were given what they needed in order to complete their “mission” successfully. #InCostaBrava wanted people to tweet and share photos and on-the-go coverage.  So they provided Wifi throughout the entire trip

Do you have other best practice examples in mind? Share them with us at the comments below!

Destination Crisis & Disaster Management on the Web: Lessons from Iceland, Greece, Thailand & the Gulf Coast.

The tourism industry is arguably one of the most important sources of income and foreign exchange for the global economy. However, national and international crises have huge negative economic consequences since tourism is especially vulnerable to crises & disasters and, being fragmented, often its response is difficult to initiate and coordinate. Tourism is also information intensive and when in crisis its information needs are increased. Destinations are extremely vulnerable to public perceptions of health and safety and need knowledge for responding successfully though effective response, recovery, and resilience strategies.

To this direction, social media have already proven their value to many destinations, not only to promote some of the world’s most popular tourism campaigns, but also as a powerful tool in their toolbox when dealing with a crisis.

Surprisingly few destinations, however, have included social media into their strategic communication frameworks – even those that have sophisticated crisis management protocols in place.

With the scale and abundance of recent crises, effective response through social media has become a highly topical issue within the tourism industry. However, while leading DMOs, industry bodies and destination marketing professionals advocate the introduction of digital media into risk/crisis management strategies as a means to better respond against adversity – the operational capacity and efficient reaction of any destination is only truly determined in conditions of pressure.

The experience of recently crisis badly affected destinations such as Thailand, Greece, Iceland and the Gulf Coast provide an opportunity to examine destinations’ social media response strategies and the common objective of destination brand recovery.

Thailand and Greece are two significant tourism destinations, which have had the misfortune of experiencing their reputations as tourism destinations suffer as a result of heavily-publicized episodes of politically-motivated violence.

In Thailand, nearly three weeks after the army crackdown on anti-government protests, many continue to use the Web as a convenient place to unload their emotions and thoughts about one of the most painful moments yet in modern Thai history. A political analyst and blogger who goes by the handle ‘Bangkok Pundit’ says that an “information deficit” had pushed people into cyberspace.

The Thai Tourism Authority (TAT) was understandably anxious to restore tourism to Thailand, and its web site has done an excellent job in addressing the protest issue. However, TAT made the error of launching a mass-marketing campaign too early while protests and the military response were at their height. While it is true that most of the Red Shirt-related violence was confined to central Bangkok, the global perception built by media coverage and heavily cautionary travel advisories was that the entire country was dangerous. TAT needed to engage a recovery alliance, which includes media, key tourism stakeholders from source markets, airlines which service Thailand, and the national carrier Thai Air.

As David Beirman (senior lecturer at the University of Technology-Sydney) successfully points out “Regrettably, TAT lost a lot of credibility from its overzealous mid-crisis destination marketing campaign so its will need to rely heavily on its stakeholders to be its messengers. TAT should certainly make a major effort to host travel-related media and opinion leaders among the tourism industry of its source markets to deliver a positive message to the tourism business and to consumers.

On the other hand, the Greek unrest was relatively short-lived and almost entirely confined to the parliamentary district of Athens. The City of Athens Official Tourist Board ( has managed to utilize its social networks immediately and provide real-time information about the incidents that were taking place at the time. On the contrary, the Greek National Tourist Board preferred to stay inactive throughout the demonstrations period without trying to inform travelers neither to promote Greece as a safe destination.

The City’s tourism authority moved even further by actively promoting a Twitter hashtag – #ATHsafety – for followers to use and share information on the ground. In addition to that the interaction with followers was also carried over to the Breathtaking Athens Facebook page, where – once again – the organization posted links to news stories about the protests and also offered advice to visitors. Moreover, a new on-line campaign will be in place within the next two weeks to further promote the City’s USPs and its brand as a safe city break destination and an ideal base for island-hopping to the Greek archipelagos.

On the same course, most of the US destinations which were affected from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill approximately seven weeks ago, are now starting to acknowledge the event after their initial hesitation. While the Florida Tourist board had a vivid reaction through the web by informing the travelers and placing pressure to both BP & the US government for helping them to recover, all the other affected states such as Louisiana, Alabama & Mississippi preferred to stay silent on the facts.

The local tourist boards have now placed messages and links to further information on their homepages, while Florida went even further and began a $2.5 million emergency response campaign in 15 of Florida’s summer drive markets on May 15. The emergency response campaign directed consumers to Florida Live on to watch live webcams, read Twitter feeds and view up-to-the-minute photos posted by real people in real time from beach destinations throughout Florida. The existing ad buys in those 15 markets will now shift to the new messaging featuring Northwest Florida. In addition to that, Florida announced an aggressive 90-day marketing campaign, pumping $7 million into the first three weeks of new advertising. The campaign is in response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and its mission is to encourage vacationers in other parts of the country to continue their plans to travel to Florida. Finally, Visit Florida has launched a blog site to respond to the travel industry’s request for information on the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill— the site can be found at

Last but not least, the example of the European ash crisis and the airlines social media response has been probably has probably been the most important one. As Kevin May/Tnooz nicely states:  “If the US presidential election of 2008 was the first occasion that social media played a major role in politics, then perhaps the ash drama of 2010 will be the most significant so far in travel.”

Most of the major European airlines turned to Twitter to get their message out, perhaps not due to having hundreds of thousands of followers but because it became apparent very quickly that any official status from an airline was quickly retweeted by countless Twitter users

(read the full article at:

Unfortunately for Iceland, after the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted earlier this year, the number of visitors to the country dropped significantly. This dip in tourism has been the driving force for the “Inspired By Iceland” campaign which aims to boost the image of the country and its tourism industry. The campaign hopes to show the rest of the world that Iceland is still a safe place to visit and since the volcano eruption began only a small percentage of the country has been affected by the ash.

Further to this initiative, At around 1400 GMT last Thursday (June 3), the residents of Iceland, Trade Council of Iceland, Tourist Board of Iceland and various other travel companies, such as Icelandair, logged on for an hour in support of the new “Inspired By Iceland” online campaign. Iceland’s 320,000 inhabitants have been using the Internet to send personal messages describing what they love most about their homeland and now they invite the rest of world to do the same. Yoko Ono, a long time fan of Iceland, also helped to urge people to back the “Inspired By Iceland” campaign via her Twitter and blog, as well as numerous other musicians and entertainers from Iceland and across the world. The campaign had a massive coverage from both web & traditional media and managed to draw back the attention to the country, but this time for a good reason.

It can be perceived from the above that Digital crisis communications is a new aspect that needs added to a Crisis Management plan. Social media, blogging, and tweeting have proven to be viable, usable communications tools with far reaching uses- some of which are still being defined or refined. Having examined the aforementioned cases, it derives that in the digital world a) everything happens in a lightning speed b) people demand hyper-transparency c) dialogue is as important as message delivery and d) silence won’t handle a crisis. DMOs will need to carefully incorporate social media into their crisis management plans and make sure that they have appropriate and sufficient resources for this purpose.