Episode 163: The Oft-Overlooked Key to Visitor Experience

By Emily Christman on February 02, 2023

Visitor experience can make or break a destination’s marketing plan. Regardless of the success of their marketing, if tourists don’t enjoy their stay, they won’t be coming back. This is especially true in interactions with locals. “You can do all you want externally but if your residents don’t believe it, you’re not going to get too far,” says Wes Rhea, CEO of Visit Stockton, CA, on episode 163 of the Destination Marketing Podcast. DMOs have begun acting on the importance of catering to their locals to improve the experience of their visitors. Here are some of the reasons why destinations shouldn’t forget the importance of their locals when developing their marketing plan:

Increase A Sense of Community

By including residents and local businesses in their marketing plan, destinations can foster a sense of community and belonging. This can help residents feel more connected to their home city, resulting in increased pride and positive word-of-mouth recommendations to their friends and family. DMOs like Stockton have started implementing events that aren’t specifically marketed toward tourists. Local artist nights, farmer’s markets and other local-focused events can establish a strong connection between residents and their home, but still be interesting to tourists who happen to be in town at that time.

Improve the Destination’s Image 

Residents are the prime ambassadors of your destination, and when they are happy with their home, they are more likely to spread positive messages and encourage others to visit. Rhea explains that Visit Stockton had started their push to cater to locals as a way to combat their place on the Forbes list of ‘most miserable cities.’ Social media posts or good word-of-mouth from residents is a form of earned media that is exceptionally influential in raising awareness and interest. 

Gather Insight into the Destination

Emphasizing the local experience can also help destinations better understand how to best communicate with their target audience. By engaging with residents, destinations can learn about their needs, interests, and preferences, which can inform future marketing efforts. Conducting a resident sentiment survey is an important step before developing a new marketing strategy or rebranding. This can provide information about the destination’s strengths and weaknesses which is crucial for DMOs to consider going forward. Including residents and stakeholders in every step of the process is integral for a successful, holistic marketing campaign.

Partnering with locals is important for the growth and development of a destination’s tourism efforts. By focusing on the needs of residents, destinations can foster a sense of community, boost the local economy, and improve their image and reputation. Ultimately, this can lead to a stronger and more sustainable destination that residents are proud to call home, are more likely to invite others to visit and will be better equipped to host tourists in their city.