Understanding geographic scale is crucial to developing destination-marketing strategies that bring visitors back again and again. At regional levels, marketers need to think about destination branding using points of interest as part of a package that draws attention to the destination whole. At local scales, marketers need to treat points of interest as integrated components of hyper-local, neighborhood economies—the very economies and activities that become relevant once a visitor hits town.

It’s hard to overestimate the critical importance of neighbor-think. My own experiences help explain. My wife and I love Baltimore. We always stay at the same hotel. We don’t do this because the hotel is better than the alternatives. That perception is a matter of hotel branding and service that hit its mark in our minds years ago. We also don’t stay at the same place because we can get a sudden discount. While such a discount may cause us to suddenly decide to get away, it is not the driving force for upsetting our destination habits or apple cart by wandering off into uncharted territory.

We stay at the same hotel, year after year, because we have built as sense of community around it. We still explore, to be sure. But mostly, we are comfortable knowing where to get our favorite sandwich or bowl of mussels. It is this accumulated, hyper-local awareness or knowledge that brings us back two or three times a year.

Like all visitors, our sense of adopted community is the driving force in our decision-making process. In fact, its remarkable how fast people identify with their new location. Their new hotel becomes a place with which they instantly identify. In my opinion, it becomes the psychological epicenter from which fun, enjoyment, and discovery radiates outward. Recognizing this simple human tendency to identity becomes the foundation for a powerful strategy called “inside-out marketing”.

Expert marketers influence a traveler’s desire to come to a destination. Once a traveler arrives at their landing point, opportunities across town are as remote as mountains on the dark side of the moon.

Let’s look at hotel destinations. At one scale, hotels are small points at large destinations. At the neighborhood level, the scale at which people interact, they are large destinations surrounded by small points. Understanding the essential realities of scale is the key to successful destination marketing from without and from within.

For example, our Baltimore Hyatt is a small point among many other equally sized points at an urban scale. As such, it is classified as an “accommodation” for the purpose of helping visitors navigate among hundreds of diverse opportunities within a disproportionately large space. Since the Hyatt is only one of many hotels within the accommodations class, destination marketers treat it as one of many without regard for its surrounding markets or opportunities.

The Hyatt becomes something completely different as map scale changes. Looking at a close-up map, the Hyatt is so large within is immediate surroundings as to become a destination in and of itself. At this larger scale, surrounding points come into play. On the large-scale map, visitors immediately see Houlihans, Hertz and Papa John’s within a more compacted and energetic activity space. In turn, a good marketing strategy for Hyatt’s neighboring businesses might be to show them in the context of their larger and more well-known neighbor. In either case, the links between hubs and peripheral opportunities present the keys to effective marketing at all scales. In some instances, the best strategies drill down from the outside in. In others, the best strategies build from the inside out showing visitors what to do and where things are once outside-in strategies have landed them in a particular “inside” location.