Measuring the incremental impact of marketing spend on tourism in New Zealand

Andrew Waddel, Emil Petrov / February 2020 / Search, Travel and Hospitality, Data & Measurement

Tourism New Zealand’s innovative Project Kia Ora experiment marked the first time the national tourism board was able to measure the incremental impact of display ads on consumer travel choices and confidently attribute impact to marketing activity at a deep and granular level. Here, Tourism New Zealand’s Andrew Waddel and Emil Petrov explain how their team adopted an experimental mindset and creative approach — and what it means for future marketing efforts.

When New Zealand Māori greet someone, they mark that initial connection by saying “Kia ora.” The phrase is an acknowledgement of them as a person, who they are and where they came from, and this greeting embodies a sentiment that resonates with us at Tourism New Zealand.

As the organisation responsible for marketing New Zealand as a visitor destination to consumers all over the world, Tourism New Zealand knows that more travellers are turning to digital throughout their decision-making journeys. This means we are constantly evolving our award-winning 100% Pure New Zealand campaign to engage the right audience with relevant and motivating content.

We run our full marketing mix in Australia — one of our top three visitor markets — to encourage Aussies to choose New Zealand for their next holiday. But the sheer volume of visitors makes interpreting the behaviours of tourists challenging.

Drawing from a deep understanding of consumer behaviour, we wanted to use those insights to better understand the impact of our marketing efforts on global consumers and New Zealand’s visitor economy to determine whether and how we are contributing to enriching New Zealand through tourism.

Adopting an experimental mindset

Tourism New Zealand’s core values of courage, care, and connection inform how we approach new projects. It requires courage to create extraordinary work and push boundaries, which is what we set out to do when we partnered with Google to measure the impact of our display ads on tourist visits.

In order to take the risks associated with developing a long-term solution to marketing attribution, the whole team had to adopt a test-and-learn mentality. After all, you can't innovate without a willingness to change.

You can’t innovate without a willingness to change.

As a government-funded agency, we don’t take travel bookings directly from consumers. Instead, the incremental revenue we drive goes into the local economy, so we have to take extra care to link what we do with what’s coming through the door. Our goal is to enrich New Zealand and the lives of Kiwis — economically, socially, environmentally — and that means getting more high-value consumers to visit for the first time or return to explore more parts of the country. In the spirit of “kia ora,” we wanted to establish a personal connection with tourists, acknowledge what brings them to New Zealand, and guide them to amazing experiences.

Establishing a connection with Project Kia Ora

In early 2019, we launched Project Kia Ora. We focused on Australia first because Aussies make up the greatest footfall of international travellers into New Zealand. We started by running display ads in Australia and randomly split audiences of prospective travellers into two groups. The main group of consumers was shown an ad from our 100% Pure New Zealand campaign, while a smaller group was shown a non-promotional ad to measure the impact of our advertising by comparing the difference between the two groups.

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Then, we launched another display campaign in New Zealand to connect with tourists while they were visiting the country. These visitors were served an ad promoting sustainable tourism. To determine where to run the ads, we had to think about how Aussies would behave once they arrived. Travellers still take everyday actions and consume content like their local news while they’re on holiday, so we ran offshore ads on those websites to reach users while they were in New Zealand.

We used Campaign Manager to match aggregated, anonymous travel signals in New Zealand to marketing audiences in Australia. Each match was counted as a country visit or arrival. We also used BigQuery to compare the number of visitors who came to New Zealand after seeing an ad from our 100% Pure New Zealand campaign to the number who visited after seeing a non-promotional ad.

Measuring the incremental impact of display ads

The validation of our hypothesis was a great endorsement of our marketing approach and generated significant momentum in our thinking and future campaigns. When Project Kia Ora concluded after three months, the team saw an 11% incremental lift in tourism. We also saw a 12X higher return on ad spend (ROAS) for incremental visits based on average visitor spend.

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We were hoping for single-digit results, but this result smashed it out of the park. Starting with a minimal test was important so we could first prove our idea and then adapt. What started with one person and a minimum viable budget grew into a project that will get bigger and shape how we innovate in the future.

We kept asking, “How far can we go?” Every step we took gave us the confidence to move to the next one. The experiment helped us better understand the impact of our marketing and increased the value of each visitor to New Zealand.

At Tourism New Zealand, we challenge ourselves to go beyond, to do things differently to consider how we will show up in the future. Creativity and innovation are part of that, and our experimental mindset gave us license to test, fail, and try again. That’s the practical execution of innovation, and that spirit will carry on with our team.

Experiment: How Tourism New Zealand measured the incremental impact of display ads on tourist visits