As senior tourism development advisors on the USAID-funded Business Growth Initiative (BGI) project in Kyrgyzstan between December 2016 to May 2018, we (Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott) fulfilled several different roles to develop five regional destinations. This included destination assessment and positioning, DMO development for sustainability, tourism product development, media campaign and content marketing strategy, and capacity building with stakeholders from the communities.
The results of these efforts in the first year and tourist season alone are remarkable: over 20 new tourism products developed and 50% growth in visitor numbers in the five regional destinations of Karakol, South Shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, Osh, Jyrgalan and Naryn in Kyrgyzstan.
Keep reading for more details as to the work we did in Kyrgyzstan on the USAID BGI tourism development project.
Destination Assessment and Positioning
- Rapid, ground-up evaluation of regional destinations (Karakol, South Shore, Osh and Naryn) for tourism development potential, including identification and analysis of key cultural, historical, culinary and natural characteristics and strengths which could be leveraged in tourism product development to align with leading experiential travel market trends.
- Developed and articulated detailed destination and DMO identity, positioning and branding to be applied across all product development and promotion, including marketing collateral and websites. Prepared destinations/DMOs to communicate unique selling proposition (USP) and differentiation from other destinations and experiences in Kyrgyzstan and worldwide.
- Worked with stakeholders across private, public and non-profit sectors to develop buy-in and cooperation across all parts of the community.
- Created “Experiential Guides” that incorporated strategic destination positioning and highlighted experiences and tourism products in that destination that are aligned with that positioning. The guides were also printed and used as promotional materials at trade shows and at the DMO visitor centers. These included: Karakol Experiential Guide, South Shore of Lake Issyk Kul Experiential Guide, Osh Experiential Guide, and Jyrgalan Trekking Guide. Results: These Experiential Guides not only rank high in Google (usually page 1) for each destination, but they remain one of the top referral websites for each DMO website. This not only drives traffic to the DMO websites, but it also drives sales of the DMO tourism products.
- Implemented a rapid tourism product design and development approach that delivered over 20 innovative and immersive tourism products with local stakeholders in regional destinations (Karakol, Osh, South Shore and Naryn) within two to three months. This enabled destinations an experiential tourism offering to feature in blogger promotion campaigns and to appeal to and market to independent travelers and small groups.
- Product development strategy included coaching and training stakeholders in understanding the connection between their unique destination strengths and leading experiential and adventure travel trends and sustainable tourism practices.
- Delivered strategic, tactical and implementation advisory across a range of products in the areas of food/culinary tourism, outdoor adventure, experiential travel, and cultural and community-based tourism products. Impact: increased awareness, tourist traffic, length of stay, daily and overall spend of travelers in the destination — with a focus on benefitting local providers and small businesses.
- Training for DMO staff and local stakeholders in rapid product development, including: concept assessment, organization, costing and pricing, packaging, testing, iteration, and marketing. Developed templates for use across DMOs for packaging, pricing, product structure, brochure/marketing material structure.
- Developed a “Voice of the Customer” testing and feedback process across DMOs and products which offered new DMO products to international tourists in exchange for feedback on how to improve product experience, pricing, operations and promotion.
Marketing Strategy and Implementation
- Assisted Kyrgyzstan (national level) and the DMOs in destination re-positioning to trade audiences at ITB Berlin and other events as a leading adventure travel destination combining the key elements of nature with outdoor, cultural and culinary activities.
- Advisory on partnerships and FAM trips with travel trade companies and organizations (e.g., Adventure Travel and Trade Association).
- Drafted strategy for blogger cooperation to align BGI’s marketing goals with select bloggers in key target market areas.
- Coordinated media outreach and press event at ITB Berlin with leading travel journalists, press and bloggers.
- Advisory on and creation of marketing collateral aligned with destination positioning and branding.
- Advisory on outbound marketing strategy for international tour operators currently running departures to Kyrgyzstan and DMO destinations.
DMO Websites and Digital Strategy
- Implemented and leveraged DMO websites as an organizing principle to surface, structure and present information relevant to the accomplishments of the project in a way that simultaneously demonstrates the work of USAID BGI, and local contributors and communities. The DMO websites include: Destination Karakol, Destination Osh, Destination South Shore and Destination Jyrgalan Valley.
- Delivered and implemented a strategic vision of DMO websites as an online representation of the destination to attract more travelers to the destination, provide them with easy-to-book activities to make them stay longer, and make travel planning easy.
- Implemented a content strategy and coordination with travel content marketing and SEO expert Shannon O'Donnell to enable DMO websites to rank highly in Google (SEO), earn the trust of travelers, represent destination positioning and encourage travelers to book tours and experiences through the DMO and trade to inquire regarding integration of experiences into existing and new itineraries.
- Technical strategy to develop website framework using only open-source, publicly available software to enable easy update and modification, extensibility and growth, and sustainability of the websites.
- Websites currently drive both traffic, bookings and business to all DMOs. Results: In less than one year all DMO websites rank highly in search traffic for targeted travel related keywords and the DMOs are receiving a majority of bookings and inquiries through their websites.
Capacity Building and Facilitation
- Facilitated discussions with DMO staff and boards to identity core problem definitions and statements, destination positioning and development, and DMO sustainability.
- Conducted DMO-specific workshops on destination branding and positioning, storytelling for marketing, and experiential and adventure travel market trends
- Delivered training to DMO staff and key product development stakeholders on the tourism product development lifecycle, product packaging, DMO operations and costing, product operations and costing, and product and destination marketing.
- Delivered training to DMO staff on website updates, maintenance and content strategy.