Place-Based Strategy: A High-Resolution Lens for Your Destination

Everything in travel happens in or about a place. In order to effectively manage or market your destination, you first have to understand the relationships among these places and the different ways that people engage with them.

This is very different from other industries where understanding consumer behavior is much more straightforward. A grocery store chain, for example, knows exactly how much product is purchased in each of its locations on a monthly, daily, and likely hourly basis. And thanks to loyalty programs, they can see detailed shopping habits down to the individual level.

By contrast, a destination doesn’t have a cash register or a loyalty card. Some metrics, such as hotel revenues or occupancy rates, offer a tiny peek into the state of the visitor economy, but even that view is significantly limited.

At Zartico, we license the world’s largest commercially available stream of geolocation data, then pair it with spending data from 90 million credit and debit cards and event data to provide an alternative to the cash register.

The power of these combined data streams, linked together by our Integrated Data Model, goes beyond reporting basic metrics to empower destinations in understanding their visitation trends and using these insights to lead and influence their communities.

Integrated data in harmony

The core data sets within the Integrated Data Model are designed to work together. 

Imagine this example from the world of digital photography. On your digital camera’s sensor, there's a photodetector to capture light for and generate each pixel in the finished photo. Each of these pixels only captures red, green, or blue light. The camera’s software then blends these together for the full-color, full-resolution photos you enjoy. 

Our Place-Based Strategy and Integrated Data Model perform a similar task — combining the three signals of geolocation, spending, and events into a complete picture of your destination. 

Relying on a single data set — just hotel data, for example — is a lot like telling your digital camera only to capture blue pixels. The end result will still be a photograph, but it will be heavily biased toward blue and will not accurately depict the subject.

Interpreting the full picture of your destination

The next step is to take this “full-color photo” of the destination and apply some context for understanding it. This is what we call the Place-Based Strategy.

One way to think about the Place-Based Strategy is to think about layers overlaying a map. At a foundational level, a map is just a way to visualize the collection of places that make up a community and the relationship those places have to one another in geographic space.

Zartico’s three core data sets add the human element to the map, illustrating how people and places interact with one another.

Then the elements of the Place-Based Strategy — boundaries, regions, categories, and POIs — layer on top of the map. Each offers a different way to organize this collection of places in order to learn more about the human engagement that happens there.

Here are the main elements, or “layers,” that we apply to each destination’s data.


A boundary typically refers to the political boundary — usually a city, county, or state — that contains all of the places that make up a destination.

The boundary is used to determine whether a person actually visited or spent money within the destination, and it’s also critical for normalizing the incoming data streams.


Regions help you to understand the ways that people engage with groupings of places that are related to one another geographically. 

Regions could be neighborhoods, specific business districts, or different parts of a state with similar travel patterns and travel experiences.


If regions group places by geography, categories are used to group places by some other commonality. Categories could include groups of restaurants or accommodations, outdoor recreation, or transportation. 

Analyzing visitor data by category begins to reveal some behavioral trends and is often the first step to discovering visitor preferences and personas. Categories apply to geolocation data, spending data, and website content.

Primary and Contextual POIs 

Points of interest — or as we call them, places of impact (or POIs, for short) — are those individual buildings, businesses, or parks that appear on your map. But we know that not all POIs are created equal.

Some POIs represent key travel drivers, the main reasons that visitors leave home to travel to a destination. These are the top attractions and locations that a destination is likely to market on its website such as the Grand Canyon, a ski resort, or a university. These are primary POIs.

The rest of the POIs — restaurants, hotels, gas stations, hospitals, etc. — are contextual POIs. These places make up a critical part of any visitor’s experience and help you understand where visitors spend their time and money.

Contextual POIs provide you with a more complete picture of your destination and complement the picture you receive from spending data. When twinned together, these two datasets provide extraordinary insights into the movement of people and spending in your destination.

Maps matter 

Tailoring each destination’s map to accurately capture and categorize POIs is critical to successfully applying the Place-Based Strategy. 

Geographic data is used for a wide variety of applications today — everything from navigation to property records. But Zartico has developed a destination management-specific methodology for matching geospatial data to geolocation observations. We employ a team of highly skilled geographers who are well-versed in the intricacies of our core data sets and experienced in building data insights for 200+ destination clients. 

They assemble each client’s unique place-based map, then hone it with the help of the client’s irreplaceable local knowledge — resulting in unparalleled visibility into what’s happening within the destination.

What we’ve learned 

Linking powerful data sets and connecting them to the Place-Based Strategy allows destinations to market more strategically and manage more effectively.

With these insights, destinations can understand their origin markets and get a peek into visitor behavior like never before.

Layering in this behavioral signal in addition to raw visitor volume also helps answer critical management questions, such as how people are using public lands. With this knowledge in hand, communities can begin to drive higher-quality visits that align with community values and offer stability for the future.