Destination Marketing in 2023: Attract new visitors with Check-in Challenges

In today’s digital world, creative and engaging content is your ticket to drawing a crowd. But it’s a saturated market with many brands vying for the same attention – so you’ll need to think outside the box to drive big results.

Check-in Challenges are one of the most effective ways for destination marketers to create exciting content, engage target audiences, and reach new visitors. Designed for social sharing and organic growth, Check-in Challenges create buzz and make your destination stand out.

Here, you’ll learn how your destination can leverage Check-in Challenges to activate visitors, educate the market, and yield real economic impact.

Destination Marketing in 2023: Attract and Engage Visitors with Check-in Challenges, Passports and Trails

Types of Check-in Challenges for Your Destination

To begin, what are Challenges? Check-in Challenges, AKA passports, tours or trails, are gamified experiences that drive destination awareness and reward visitors with stamps, digital badges and prizes for visiting participating businesses and attractions. 

Let’s begin by looking at the primary types of check-in Challenges.

Timebound Challenges: Create urgency and buzz for your destination

Timebound Challenges are campaigns with a fixed start and end time. They are best-used to spark short-term engagement, increase awareness of your destination, and encourage people to visit during a specific event, holiday or season.

Here are two examples of campaigns that check all the boxes of a successful timebound Challenge:

Wanderfest Bar Crawl

This city-wide bar crawl, powered by Seeker, activated Wanderfest festival attendees with one-night-only discounts, freebies, and community building across New Orleans.

Why we love it:

  • Wanderfest Bar crawl participants were given VIP access to six of New Orleans’ most iconic bars. 
  • Photo check-ins offered the festival, the partnered bars, and the city of New Orleans tangible assets in the form of UGC and reviews.
  • Each bar provided one free drink, encouraging wide-spread participation.

The Kennebunks Holiday Trail of Lights

The Holiday Trail of Lights to illuminate the Kennebunks gives visitors access to over 50 illuminated homes and businesses throughout Maine’s Kennebunks region. Spectators were encouraged to visit as many as they could and vote for their favorites. The winning home or business received funds for their partnered non-profit. A win win!

Why we love it: 

  • Engages residents, local businesses and visitors in one regional holiday campaign.
  • A campaign focused on give-back fosters community support and loyalty.

Perpetual Challenges: Build brand loyalty for your destination

Unlike timebound Challenges, perpetual Challenges don’t have a fixed start and end time. These evergreen check-in Challenges are great for long-term campaigns or initiatives that require continual engagement to maintain their success.

These two passports are excellent examples of long-lasting, perpetual Challenges:

Tech History Trail

Explore Los Altos’ Tech History Trail takes participants along the paths of some of the most iconic tech companies. Visitors can explore everything from their garage startup roots to the utopian mega-campuses they are today.  

Why we love it:

  • Powered by Seeker, Tech History Trail participants will digitally check-in at 12 different tech stops in and around Silicon Valley.
  • With each check-in, visitors can track their progress on a responsive, location-aware map. Tech enthusiasts who visit all 12 stops arewill be awarded Seeker’s Tech History badge.

Passport to Your National Parks

National park visitors turn to this iconic physical passport to collect ink stamps from each of the US national parks

Why we love it:

  • The passport has been around since 1986, making it one of the longest-standing tourism trails in the world. With 63 US national parks (and more on the way), this pass will remain exciting and relevant for years to come. 
  • Passport to Your National Parks appeals to a large market and leverages each parks’ marketing teams to spread the word and keep this pass desirable and fun. 

Unique Challenges: Buzz-worthy experiences that attract both visitors and locals alike

Unique Challenges are, as the name implies, one-of-a-kind.  They accentuate what makes a destination great and leverage its strengths. What’s your destination’s personality? What about the culture? What is your destination’s perspective? Its goals? Its taste?

Why unique Challenges work:

  • Out of the box: Unique Challenges allow destinations to feature the people and places that set them apart.
  • Experience-based: Unique Challenges activate visitors to engage with destinations in ways they’ve never seen before.
  • Viral: Unique Challenges encourage organic, viral engagement and have the potential to spread quickly via press and word of mouth. 

For an example of a unique challenge that really stands out from the crowd, look no further than Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Cheese Curds Pass

Milwaukee Curd Pass participants sign-up to follow a digital curd trail that includes burger joints, breweries and bars around Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Why we love it: 

  • Uniquely captures the essence of Milwaukee.
  • Leans into the city’s most iconic (and quirky) local cuisine.

Timely Challenges: Resonant experiences that drive engagement

Best intended to celebrate holidays, events, and other special occasions, timely Challenges are designed to capture the enthusiasm of your audience as immediately and thoroughly as possible. 

If you’re thinking of hosting a timely Challenge, consider the following advantages:

  • Anticipatory: Timely Challenges build anticipation. Visitors eagerly await the Challenge to be revealed year after year. 
  • Sentimental: Timing your Challenge to sentimental holidays and special occasions creates an emotional connection between your destination and its visitors. 
  • Sense of urgency: For those who don’t have a lot of time to spare, timely Challenges can be a great way to engage them in a short-term activity.

Here, Nebraska leverages the spirit of the holidays to deliver an experience that resonants.

Nebraska Holiday Passport

On this mini Nebraska Holiday Passport, visitors will find 20 unique holiday stores and experiences in Nebraska. The passport is available for a limited (November 19 to January 1), and prizes include 2023 lottery tickets and limited-edition holiday ornaments. 

Why we love it:

  • The limited time frame creates a sense of urgency.
  • Visitors look forward to participating in Nebraska’s holiday passport all year long. 

Niche Challenges: Target specific audiences and drive better results

Simple and sweet, Niche Challenges speak to a specific audience. Destinations that know their niche, and how to harness it, benefit by getting noticed in an unsaturated market. Niche content has less competition, more engaged visitors, and higher conversion rates. 

Niche marketing offers the following benefits:

  • Reduced competition: By their nature, niche Challenges target a smaller audience and are less competitive to market. 
  • Engaged visitors: Niche travelers are passionate about what they do, and travel the world to seek experiences that align with their hobbies, interests and values. 
  • Higher conversions: By tailoring marketing efforts to a niche demographic, destinations can benefit from less ad spend while enjoying better conversions.

A niche experience we love:

Elvis Presley Self-Guided Walking Tour

This self-guided Elvis Presley walking tour takes visitors to see the house Elvis lived in, the legendary Sun Studio where he recorded, the bronze statue of Elvis on Beale Street and other memorable places around Memphis associated with the King.

Why we love it:

  • Appeals to visitors who prefer self-guided or DIY experiences.
  • Targets a niche that stretches across markets (travelers, music lovers, history buffs) and stands out from the crowd.

Promoting your Check-in Challenges, Passports and Trails

Promoting your Check-in Challenges on Social Media

We live in an internet era, and social media is a golden ticket for destinations that aim to reach both your current audience and new ones. Promoting your destination’s Challenges, Passports, Trails and other types of experiences on social platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok is tables stakes in 2023.

According to Google, close to 50% of smartphone users in the U.S., France, and the U.K. plan travel on their phones. Since social channels have made it convenient to make travel decisions, destination marketers need to put social media at the top of their initiatives, and challenge marketing is no exception.

Benefits of Social Media Marketing for your Destination Campaign

  • Destination discovery: Travelers use social apps to find and save destination inspiration for future travel. 
  • Travel research: Increasingly, travelers are relying more and more on UGC and consumer-based reviews to make travel decisions.
  • Customer service: Social media is a two-way street that humanizes destinations and allows them to listen to, and directly respond to, travelers’ questions and complaints.

When it comes to promoting your Challenge on social, remember to keep it concise and engaging. Use hashtags, visuals, and humor where possible so that potential participants are drawn in to learn more about the Challenge you’re offering. Consider hiring influencers and content creators to boost impact and tap into new audiences.

Timing your social media campaigns

  • Leading up to Challenge launch: Tease the Challenge to existing audiences and incentivize pre-launch participation to generate buzz.  
  • When the Challenge launches: Announce the start of the Challenge to stimulate press coverage and organic shares.
  • To feature places/businesses: Over the course of the Challenge, tag and feature participating businesses to excite audiences and encourage reshares. 
  • To highlight the leaderboard/new participants: Reward new and active participants by featuring them with tags. Gamify the Challenge by sharing any/all movement on the leaderboard.
  • To share prizes and prize announcements: Over the course of the Challenge, tag and feature the prizes and incentives.
  • A few days before the Challenge ends: If the Challenge is timebound, offer last chances and opportunities to engage before the Challenge ends. 
  • When the Challenge ends: Close the Challenge and, if the Challenge will take place annually, tease next year’s.

Promoting your Check-in Challenges with Email Marketing

If social media is your golden ticket, then email is your bread and butter. 

Email is an effective way to reach potential participants in your Challenge, as it allows you to directly target your desired demographics and local partners.

Benefits of Email Marketing for your Destination Campaign

  • Quality leads: Email helps destinations catch warm, quality leads and turn them into visitors and brand advocates. 
  • Flexible: Run multiple campaigns to multiple segments and adjust based on reports and findings. 
  • Personalization: Collect and leverage data about your subscribers to create personalized emails based on their interests, preferences, and past experiences.

When to Use Email Marketing to Promote Check-in Challenges

  • When the Challenge launches: Announce the Challenge start and include relevant links, rules and conditions. 
  • To feature partners/businesses: Over the course of the Challenge, feature the places and businesses in your List to excite audiences and encourage participation.

Launch a Microsite or Landing Page Dedicated to your Check-in Challenge, Passport or Trail

A targeted website, or microsite, dedicated to your Challenge is the foundation for building awareness and engagement. Destination microsites provide active and potential participants with key information about the Challenge, including rules, prizes, timeline, and week to week updates. Your microsite will also serve as a landing page for ads, social posts, and other promotional materials. 

Make sure your destination’s microsite is user-friendly, SEO-friendly, easy to navigate, and contains a clear call to action (CTA). Measure your landing pages conversion rates (what percentage of visitors join your challenge) and experiment with messaging and layout to optimize the site for sign-ups.

Leveraging Partners to Promote your Check-in Challenge

For a holistic campaign that leverages all that your destination has to offer, look no further than your destination’s local businesses and Challenge partners. Not only are these businesses, attractions and events what makes your Challenge sing, but they can also provide access to resources and knowledge that will help you market to wider audiences. 

Promote Check-in Challenges with Onsite Signage and QR Codes

First, ask all participating businesses to display onsite signage and QR codes that link back to the Challenge. These can be placed in the store window or at the entrance, helping customers easily find their way to your Challenge.

Onsite signage allows brands and partners to:

  • Cross-market: Co-branding on physical promotional materials and digital campaigns can help you reach new audiences while providing your partners with additional exposure.
  • Grow your reach: By partnering with local businesses, you can reach a wider audience with your message and create more opportunities for visitors to experience your destination.
  • Easy sign-up for participants: A streamlined sign-up process makes it easy for new and recurring visitors to join your Challenge without having to manually enter information.
  • Group think: Onsite signage encourages friends to join together and challenges are always better with friends

Engage Partners on Social Media to Promote Your Experience

Next, it’s important to leverage social media to uplift both the Challenge and your destination’s participating businesses. Tag each business and ask them to reshare. Post content that encourages engagement from your audience, like quizzes or polls featuring local businesses. Provide free templates and suggested messaging to make posting and sharing easy for your partners.

Engaging with partner businesses helps:

  • Generate free content: The new content your destination and your partnered business create together can be used for your marketing efforts, as well as theirs.
  • Grow your reach: By working with a local business, you’re not just able to reach a new market, but your current market can engage with other customers, naturally expanding the potential for your new partnership.

Empower Partners to Cross Promote Check-in Challenges Across Channels

Lastly, encourage businesses to independently promote your Challenge. This could include sharing the Challenge on their own social profiles, encouraging customers and followers to join, or even offering exclusive deals for those who participate. 

Not only will this increase awareness of the Challenge, but it can also help you incentivize high-value participants. Plus, these promotions are usually free – a win-win!

Encouraging partnered businesses to run their promotions helps:

  • Give partnered businesses ownership over the Challenge: Your local business partners can tailor the Challenge messaging to their business, their customers, and their neighborhood, increasing awareness and leveraging brand loyalty. 
  • Increases value: Added discounts, freebies and other incentives sweetens up your already-solid Challenge. 

Launch your Check-in Challenge, Passports and Trails with Seeker

Ready to gamify your destination? We’re here to help

Seeker Challenges, help destinations create and manage gamified experiences that attract new visitors, drive engagement and build brand loyalty.

With Seeker Challenges, you can:

  • Create Challenges, Passports and Trails in a matter of minutes
  • Empower visitors with a mobile-friendly, location-aware map
  • Gamify experiences with prizes, badges and leaderboards
  • Capture interest with seamless user registration
  • Easily promote your experience across social channels
  • Launch a dedicated landing page, search engine optimized and designed for conversion 
  • Measure traffic, participation and ROI
  • Boost impact with the Seeker Creator Network

Ready to launch? Contact us to see a demo or get started for free today.

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