Tracking Digital Tourism Marketing Efforts

Measurement is the foundation of a strong digital campaign. It’s what lets us know when we’re successful, and when we need to make adjustments. Without numbers and data, we’re relying solely on anecdotal evidence. And just like everything else, the measurement landscape is constantly changing and evolving. Cookies are phasing out, QR codes are back and pixels may be the next item on the chopping block. It’s another aspect of tourism marketing that we need to keep track of, and evolve with. Here’s everything you need to know about tracking digital tourism marketing efforts.

Taking the time for tracking

Everyone always wants to know the numbers. I don’t think I’ve met a tourism marketer who didn’t want to know their stats. Whether they are the Tourism Director at a DMO, Marketing Director of a museum, Owner of a Tour Operator company or anyone in-between. When things feel rushed, it can be difficult to get campaigns up and running with the proper tracking in place. Measurement can take time to set up properly. Sometimes we have to choose between setting up detailed tracking, and launching a campaign on time. In our strategic planning, we plan out the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure. If we can set up the KPI data quickly, we can launch in a timely manner. Then we’ll set up more detailed measurement later (if we’re pressed for time). Fall is the perfect time to start planning for next year, because it leaves extra time to set up strategy and measurement ahead of high-season launches.

The evolution of tracking

Measurement is evolving, with quite a few significant changes rolling out in recent years, and more to come. Privacy updates with Apple’s iOS 14 changed what data we can see, especially with pixels, and rumor has it that more restrictions will come out with iOS 16. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) changed what data is tracked, how it is tracked and how reporting is done. That’s not all Google is changing – within the next 6 months, it will start to disable third-party cookies for some Chrome users.

Digital tracking tools

Now, pixels and cookies are still effective tracking methods overall. Google Analytics is still one of the most powerful and accessible measurement tools, even though it may look different from before.

Google Tag Manager

GTM is a great way to track activities on your website, but you will likely need the expertise of a web developer to implement it.

Meta / Facebook Pixel

The Facebook Pixel got an upgrade in recent years with the addition of the Meta Conversions API. Again, you’ll probably need developer help to set it up. Other social media ad platforms now have their own pixels and tracking methods, and each need to be set up individually to measure ad performance.

UTM Codes

UTM codes are a universal way to bring activity from any digital place back to your Google Analytics. Meta even has a built in tool for adding the parameters, but Google also created a UTM builder tool I use all the time to easily set up these parameters to use in ads. The only exception is you don’t need to add UTM on your Google Ads urls, those are already included as long as you’ve linked your GA4 property to your Google Ad Account.

Honorable mentions in the world of tracking include link shorteners, QR codes and offline data trackers. Offline data is actually more than an honorable mention – for more on what this is and how it helps in tourism, check out Destination on the Left episode 351 with Mike Sladony of Semcasting.

Working around measurement challenges

When I think about tracking for our clients, there are commonalities between the types of organizations we work with and the challenges they face.

DMOs

DMOs are often challenged with being the go-between. Their websites and digital campaigns are doing big work to attract visitors into their destination, but they don’t usually have a direct way to track bookings and purchases. Those offline data models are popular for this reason, tracking mobile data and movement of people who saw the campaign. There are also instances where the destination takes the reins and does the bookings, like Genesee County does with their golf program, acting as the receptive agent. They also have a co-op program with one of their major accommodations that gives more conversion data since we can track the off-site clicks to the lodging partner, and see how many people used the promo code.

Attractions

Attractions, especially museums and cultural institutions, often use third-party booking tools that simply don’t have external tracking built in. How these tools are operating without that is beyond me, but here we are. Sometimes we can add Google tracking, but that’s actually been pretty rare. But we can track actions taken on the website such as form submissions, downloads and clicks. We recently ran a campaign for Plimoth Patuxet Museums to gather email signups for niche groups like homeschool parents that worked really well. Since lead generation is built right in to the platform (Meta) or the website (Google), we get to know how many people we’re adding to their audience with our campaign.

Tour Operators & Private Businesses

Tour Operators and private businesses have a leg up on measurement. They are typically working with several resources like CRMs and booking platforms that do allow for measurement. The tricky part here is getting several disparate systems to talk to each other. If the systems don’t talk to each other already, there are tools like Zapier and Make that will create connections. These tools are relatively easy to use, again it’s just a matter of taking the time to set them up.

Effective measurement allows tourism businesses to make informed decisions and optimize their marketing strategies for success. The advent of web3 means more privacy and more focus on the individuals. Despite the obstacles, there are still effective ways to track our efforts. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, digital tracking methods will continue to change and adapt. And we will change and adapt with them.

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