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Santa Monica’s Kim Sidoriak Shares why Destination Marketing Organizations Should Invest in a Perception Study.

By Alexandra Reese

Kim Sidoriak, Chief Marketing Officer, Santa Monica Travel & Tourism

More than 8 million visitors flock to Santa Monica, California each year for its renowned Pier, broad beaches and laid back lifestyle.1 Since eight out of ten travelers make decisions about where to go and what to do based on advice from their friends and family, Santa Monica Travel & Tourism (SMTT) wanted to know what its visitors were saying about their time in Santa Monica.

SMTT partnered with the City of Santa Monica to embark upon a destination perception study to understand how visitors and residents view the city. A destination perception study provides rigorous and detailed information about the conversations happening outside and inside of a destination. It enables travel and tourism organizations to:

  • Know with absolute certainty what residents and visitors are saying and identify key factors driving perception
  • Validate hunches about destination challenges and opportunities
  • Develop destination management strategies that target strengths and weaknesses in visitor perception
  • Make marketing decisions and customize messaging to maintain positive perceptions of the destination and address negative perception

We sat down with Kim Sidoriak, Chief Marketing Officer of SMTT, to discuss why they chose to invest in a perception study with Coraggio and Sparkloft Media and some key takeaways from that work: 

Why would a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) invest in a destination perception study?

  • Amplify your DMO’s reputation as a leader and influencer: “Embarking on a study like this is another way to position your organization as the steward of your destination brand. It puts you in a leadership role to bring multiple stakeholder groups together to steward the destination experience. A hot topic among DMOs today is having a seat at the table. A destination perception study enables you to not just have a seat at the table, but also set the table. We can facilitate the process, share the information, bring people together—that’s the way to lead and still maintain a sustainable workload.”
  • Test and validate assumptions about what visitors care about: “For us who live/work in Santa Monica, the homelessness situation and the perception of safety that comes with it is something we all experience on a day-to-day basis. We wanted to see how that was affecting perceptions of the destination as a whole. While it did show up, it wasn’t to the level that we expected—that was one of the big surprises. However, benchmarking against other competitive destinations was important because it told a cautionary tale. It gave us an opportunity to speak to our stakeholders and say, ‘We are not at the tipping point yet, but if we don’t do something, we’re going to be in the same situation as these other destinations.’”
  • Drive smart investments in the destination: Santa Monica hotels have among the highest occupancy and average daily room rates in the region. But the stock is aging and facing renewed competition from neighboring areas like Downtown LA and West Hollywood. “A few our hoteliers had said, ‘My owners are, of course, asking me to grow rate. But I’m trying to make the case for investing in the property. Can you help?’ The perception study provided the perfect third-party qualitative and quantitative data to help make a successful case [for significant updates to local properties].” 

What made the Destination Perception Study process successful for SMTT?

  • We ensured accuracy and built buy-in by using multiple data sources and tools: “I think the most important part of the process was the breadth of research methods used. We did a combination of social sentiment analysis, surveys, focus groups, stakeholder interviews, and residential interviews, and the diversity of methods allowed for a really tight group of findings. Because we used this combination of research methods and encouraged community stakeholders and residents to be a part of the process, we didn’t get a lot of challenges to the findings from our stakeholders.” 
  • We converted insights into strategies: “A key insight from the perception study was the deficit of conversation about things to do. When we dug into the why, we found that a number of barriers exist in Santa Monica to starting and operating an attraction, event or other experience. The combination of the perception that there’s nothing new and fresh to talk about along with the high cost of doing business has been the fodder for discussions about—and new strategies to address—changing ordinances, exploring new ways of doing business, and easing restrictions on events. The perception study gave our business improvement district leaders, the Economic Development Department, and other stakeholders that third-party case to say, ‘let’s look at this differently.’”

Gaining a comprehensive understanding of how visitors and residents perceive your destination is fundamental to a successful tourism strategy. Coraggio has worked with DMOs of all sizes to develop customized perception studies that identify their most pressing opportunities and challenges. Call us today for more information about how we can help you understand what your visitors are saying.

1. https://www.santamonica.com/visit-santa-monica/