Africa Travel Week

Is culture central to destination marketing campaigns?

Travellers want opportunities for personal growth when they research travel options. To them – travel is no longer about where they are going or what they are doing – it’s all about who they will become? In a life after COVID, Miriro Matema asks, how important is culture to attracting domestic and international travellers?

Countries like Kenya, Egypt and South Africa often rely on their iconic culture and popular experiences to market themselves to leisure and business travellers. Each has welcomed record international arrivals, so their tourism development strategies are succeeding as intended.

However, there’s a shift in how destination marketing companies are engaging travellers, due to an increase in competition and changing consumer expectations. It’s a switch from selling cities as “places” to selling them as “platforms for inspiration and experience”.

Looking ahead, new destination marketing strategies will build community between locals and visitors around different passion points. The idea is that both travellers and residents can learn from each other to help achieve their aspirations by sharing their collective knowledge. The city is positioned as a living social platform to connect like-minded visitors and locals. For that to work well, the “city as a social platform” strategy requires some kind of identity based in the cultural DNA of the destination. This may include pop-art, cuisine and festivals that showcase the authentic culture of the destination. Look at Las Vegas in America – its identity is founded on adult freedom – that is – living in the moment and whatever happens there – no matter how crazy it is – stays there.

How does identifying that cultural DNA translate into a destination marketing strategy that can increase engagement with travellers? In other words, why should international leisure travellers or conference delegates care what a particular destination represents to convert into new bookings?

No matter why they are travelling – a destination’s energy will awaken something deep inside them. That’s what many travellers are looking for beyond the physical attributes of what we can experience within a destination. “How does this destination make me feel?”


Traveller demand for more local and authentic travel experiences is now mainstream. DMCs have been answering that demand by differentiating their urban neighborhoods and promoting the unique types of experiences that travellers can explore. The definition of localism in destination marketing is going beyond the neighborhood food truck, the cultural dance lesson or the signature wildlife.

In this way, a destination’s cultural DNA can’t be as easily copied by another. Africa has far more to offer than majestic wildlife. And that’s the unique selling point. The industry is at the go-slow due to the COVID-19 pandemic and this is the opportunity to refresh campaigns and define destination values, purpose, history, and other influences in preparation for the arrival of travellers driven by wanderlust. That is the future of destination marketing. It’s simply a pivot toward connecting people to the destinations that inspire them.

Miriro Matema

Passionate about Africa’s development and having a heart for travel, Miriro spends her time discovering the nooks and crannies of Africa’s least explored destinations, meeting the beautiful people that call Africa home while analysing the future of Africa's dynamic travel industry. Miriro is currently a writer with Gallivant Africa as well as a host on Gallivant Live on Instagram.