If you find yourself suddenly wishing you were in Scotland, it may be more than just the whisky talking.
Perhaps you were swayed by a series of advertisements on TV, or in your taxi or on popular news websites, all aimed at getting tourists to consider the “Spirit of Scotland” for their next vacation. The campaignspent about $5.6 million this year on commissioned music, narration by Scottish actors and other promotional efforts involving “jaw-dropping imagery and stirring content.”
Scotland isn’t alone in hoping foreigners stop by with their tourist money. You may have also heard actor Chris Hemsworth asking you tocome to Australia, Usain Bolt promoting Jamaica or comedian Lewis Black wooing you to Aruba.
These aren’t just celebrities touting the virtues of their homeland, they’re big-budget ad campaigns. And in some parts of the world, overall spending on projects that promote travel and tourism (including things such as commercials, museums and keeping resort areas safe) can make up a hefty part of government budgets.
Total government spending on just tourism marketing, promotion and visitor-related infrastructure is expected to top $413 billion this year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. That’s up 10 percent from five years ago, and it’s expected to increase another 29 percent over the next decade.
The Seychelles, an archipelago northeast of Madagascar, spends more than 22 percent of its budget — excluding defense and welfare costs — on total travel and tourism expenditures, according to WTTC figures reported by the World Economic Forum. The Dominican Republic and Jamaica also spend a hefty portion of their national budget on tourism, 22 and 17 percent, respectively. Jordan, Iceland and Singapore spend more than 10 percent.
Spending millions on marketing campaigns makes sense for many countries, which rely on tourists for a significant share of their GDPs. A modest investment can also yield a solid return: The Visit Denmarkcampaign reported a return of $16 in revenue for each dollar spent, while Tourism Ireland found a return of 10 percent for its television and online advertising, according to a WTTC report.
Smaller nations may have little choice if they want to keep their economies working. Countries like Seychelles (21 percent of GDP comes from tourism), Malta (14 percent), Mauritius (11 percent) and Barbados (11 percent) are especially reliant on foreign visitors. Cape Verde, Croatia and Cambodia are also dependent for more than 10 percent.
“For many of these countries, if they didn’t have travel and tourism, they wouldn’t have the GDP or economies that they have,” said Rochelle Turner, director of research at WTTC. “It’s key to many small island states around the world. It’s so important and so integral.”
So we know which countries are most desperate for tourists, but where do they want the tourists to come from?
Many ad campaigns target the large, rich populations of places like the United States and Germany, but on average Americans don’t spend as much per capita outside the country as people in other developed nations do. People from Luxembourg, for example, spend an average of $7,000 outside the country. (Of course, it doesn’t take much of a journey to leave the tiny nation.)
Residents of Singapore spend an average of over $4,000 each every year on travel and tourism, far more than the global average of around $450. Norway, Kuwait, Qatar and Hong Kong are also at the top for per-capita travel spending.
Overall spending on tourism and travel by governments has recently recovered since the global recession started in 2008. But government are now more careful about how that money is being spent — they can use modern advertising methods to target audiences that are most likely to show up and spend money, piggyback on other media productions (think New Zealand and Lord of the Rings) and use public-private ventures to get the word out.
Competition is heating up, said Turner. European governments have long assumed that travelers will remember to stop by the Eiffel Tower or the Tower of London. But with so many other travel destinations available, they’re going to have to work harder to keep travelers from heading to a blue-watered Caribbean beach or remote Malaysian resort instead.
“Governments sometimes think that people are going to come anyway, and they need to see what would happen if the marketing is taken away,” said Turner. “They don’t quite understand the level of competition between destinations and the transferability of destinations in the minds of consumers.”
In other words, national marketing campaigns work, and for many countries they are an economic necessity. So there’s no reason to think the cheesy commercials or catchy jingles are going to end any time soon.