Leverage the Great Outdoors for Your Destination

By David Allred

Leverage the Great Outdoors for Your Destination

As Americans seek healthy, responsible ways to travel, communities with notable outdoor assets and those “along the way” to notable outdoor attractions have opportunities to capitalize on traveler’s “outdoor” interests. Here we discuss how your DMO can leverage increasing interests in exploring the Great American Outdoors with a deliberate digital strategy. Read time: four minutes

Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt recently signed a proclamation designating August 4th “Great American Outdoors Day”. While this designation was in celebration of the passing of landmark legislation to provide a permanent funding mechanism to help ensure the long-term maintenance of and public access to America’s beloved national parks, this recognition was also a win for the travel and tourism industry as a whole.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw 12.5 million visitors in 2019.

A new national park visitation trends tracker from U.S. Travel Association, Rove Marketing and Uber Media shows that visitation at select national parks is climbing as Americans seek healthy, responsible ways to travel during the pandemic. An August 3rd Destination Analysts study also found that, among those traveling in 2020, nearly 23% plan to visit a national park.

The national parks and their gateway communities are not the only beneficiaries of tourism and travel expenditures fueled by consumers’ increasing interest in exploring the Great American Outdoors. Communities with notable outdoor assets and those “along the way” to notable outdoor destinations have opportunities to capitalize on travelers’ increased “outdoor” interests.

Take stock of your outdoor assets. Your destination likely has quite a few outdoor activities and adventures to meet the desires of today’s travelers. Some examples of typical outdoor recreation activities include fishing, hunting, backpacking, horseback riding, hiking, birding, camping, mountaineering, cycling, canoeing, caving, kayaking, paddle boarding, rafting, rock climbing, walking, running, sailing, skiing, sky diving, and surfing. Use these examples to take stock of outdoor venues in your destination that allow for these activities. If your destination is more of an urban setting, try equating some of your area’s attractions to more traditional outdoor activities. Assemble these outdoor activities on a landing page on your website and digitally promote “Enjoy the Great Outdoors in (your destination).”

Take stock of your location. There will be a lot more travel by car over the next year and likely often over much longer distances than consumers have traveled by car in the last 20 or so years as air travel has become more affordable. What are you between? What national parks and other popular outdoor attractions are between your destination and other major population centers? These locations are likely farther away than your traditional drive markets would typically travel (2 to 4 hours). So, consider markets that are 6- to 8-hour drives from your destination and where your destination would be "on the way" to these popular outdoor attractions. Some of these travelers are likely already passing through your destination so the work here is determining who they are, where they are coming from, and where they are going. Once you have a general sense of "where from" and "were going", you can target digital advertising to these target population centers with very specific keywords including “halfway to (insert major outdoor attraction)”. If you run pay-per-click campaigns with multiple feeder markets and/or outdoor attractions, over time you can see which ones attract the most attention and potentially narrow your campaign and concentrate your ad spend on the combinations that are drawing the most attention. Bonus: Keep in mind that you have the potential to earn repeat visits from travelers on the road to this major outdoor attraction by “bouncing them back” on their way home. And think about all the recommendations that your destination could receive as travelers share their itinerary with their friends and neighbors. 

So, whether you are promoting your own outdoor assets, what outdoor attractions your destination is on the way to or are able to promote both, now is one of the best times we have ever been in to promote all that the Great American Outdoors has to offer to a much broader and more receptive audience than we have seen in recent history.