When I moved to Huntsville, Alabama, as a surly teenager in the mid-90s, I never thought I'd be returning 17 years later to attend a professional conference on social media and tourism. Mainly because there was no such thing as social media then and I was largely consumed by door slamming, journal writing, and comic books. And, to be honest, I thought Huntsville was a drag.
Things have changed. Huntsville's CVB proved that Rocket City USA has legitimate tourism cred and serious social media chops.
The Social Media Tourism Symposium, referred to as #SoMeT in both Twitter and spoken parlance (soh-mee-tee), is an annual conference hosted by Think! Social Media that brings together the best and brightest tourism marketers. Each year, the conference's location is crowd sourced online. The perspective attendees vote in a bracket-style competition for which destination is best suited to host the pack of social media nerds and tourism geeks. Huntsville triumphed over much larger and more convention-y places like Indianapolis, Cleveland, and St. Pete's.
Huntsville's process to win #SoMeT13US became a case study used throughout #SoMeT13US to highlight new trends at the intersection of social media and tourism. It was very meta.
It was also really inspiring. At Solimar, we work a lot with what we lovingly call "undiscovered destinations." These are the places that are sought by the more "adventurous". They're sometimes located in developing parts of the world, but increasinlgy for us they're places like Huntsville: slightly off the radar and looking for a little boost to gain that coveted widespread brand awareness. Here are a couple themes that emerged from #SoMeT13US and Huntsville's selection as host that were especially relevant.
1. The DMO is dead. All hail the DMO.
As Fred Ranger of Tourisme Montreal put it, "destination marketing has been about brand expression. Destination management is focused on the brand experience." The visitor's online experience during their dreaming and planning phase is just as important as their offline experience when they arrive - and the DMO/CVB has a critical role to play. In Huntsville's quest to land #SoMeT13US they blasted their social networks with calls-to-action. But it was their offline work that pushed them over the finish line: they deployed street teams to educate and engage locals and visitors and posted signs in highly-trafficked areas. The campaign might have been born on Facebook and Twitter, but it lived and thrived with real-life people-to-people contact. This took work and planning and investment and it wasn't easy, but it was successful.
2. Less Volume, Better Engagement
We've come to a beautiful time as social media marketers where we can focus on quality not quantity.
I presented a case study of our work in Namibia where we realized very quickly that our destination was highly specialized and creating a huge online community was not in the cards. And that was okay. Because, the people that are attracted to Namibia are the super-enthusiastic people that are social media dreams. The online community growth has started to slow, but the level of engagement continues to get deeper and deeper. We're able to get to know our community and give them the kind of content that they're looking for - the kind of content they want to own and share with their networks. We also know that these folks are the ones who return time and time again to Namibia and try to get their friends to come along. We can use our social platforms to communicate directly to the dune hikers, the rhino lovers, the extreme photographers. We're not trying to create campaigns for Johnny McCarnivalCruise or Sarah O'AllInclusive. We want to speak directly to Namibia's biggest fans and give them every possible reason to book a trip.
Mack Collier thinks you should probably be more like Taylor Swift. Or Johnny Cash. Or Lady Gaga. Basically, any kind of "rock star" - because they understand the importance of developing real connection with their fans. Incentives for the "superfans" doubles down on engagement and creates newsworthy opportunities to re-connect with casual participants.
Fred Ranger also spoke about how typical ROI should be replaced with RQE - return on the quality of engagement. Reporting on the number of Facebook fans, Twitter followers, are good... but are you actually creating brand interest and attracting visitors to your destination? Measuring this is easier said then done, but it's getting better. And if social media wants to start justifying the same kind of cash that traditional tourism marketing is pulling - then we need to think about conversions.
3. If Content is King, then... this Metaphor is Hard. Be Smart with Your Content.
So, how dow we create conversions? My delicate vocabulary sensibilities were assaulted when Tom Martin threw "propinquity" at me all willy-nilly. If you consult your SAT vocabulary flash cards, you'll be reminded that propinquity means proximity and similarity. As tourism marketers, we can get lost in inspiration. The idea is that your main content piece - be it a video or blog post - should be complimented with actionable, related content. Someone is really digging a post on your new bike trails? Give them a call-to-action to book a bike tour.
This idea isn't new: think the popup boxes on YouTube or Amazon's "You Might Also Like" feature. This inbound marketing strategy is an important component of successful tourism websites and new flexible website designs means there's no excuse to turn your destination site into an opportunity for sales.
Inbound marketing is content driven. Many of us create content calendars that include hundreds of individual posts - all with an active shelf life of a couple of days. We come up with ideas and then distribute them. Tom waves his finger at us. Tsk Tsk. "Every content piece should be re-purposed at least three times." Invert your content creation strategy: think first about all the places the content live (affinity blogs, media placements, newsletters) and then build your content from the ground up. Once the main piece has been create, dissassemble and distribute.
4. This isn't Easy.
Peppered throughout the successes, were plenty of stories of failures. Sometimes ideas that are hammered out in a conference room, that seem perfectly logical, fall flat. Social media is people driven and people - jeez - they can be fickle. Platforms can change on a dime (I'm looking at you Foursquare badges), what you ask your community to do can be two clicks too onerous, and sometimes - something more shiny pops up somewhere else. Playing it safe doesn't work - it's important to take risks and try something new.
As two novice spacemen from MMGY remind us, "Proceed and Be Bold."
If you're in the tourism industry and you're already on Pinterest - nice work! If you're not, now is a great time to start. You've heard the cliché, "Pictures don't do it justice," and that could not be more true than with travel.
Which catches your attention?
"A glass bottom boat with a thatched roof
anchored in crystal-clear, calm, blue water."
The image, of course! Words can be very descriptive - great content is key in successful online marketing, after all - but images are more descriptive, leaving an imprint on minds and covering every language on the planet. Graphics rapidly fill the human mind - cognitively and emotionally, according to Mike Parkinson at Billion Dollar Graphics. Humans are very visual creatures - telling stories ages ago by painting images on rocks. We still use images today to tell our travel stories.
Pictures are much easier to process and much more compelling. Images are a great way to quickly and effectively express an experience, fact, or description. Not to mention that people are more likely to remember what they see. Even more importantly, images are an important part of the travel buying cycle. This graphic from Google is one of our favorites:
Travel starts with dreaming, and a lot of times, dreaming starts with images. A photo of a picturesque beach, delicious local cuisine, or a breathtaking landscape have all launched travel experiences. And images are just as important in the sharing phase. After a traveler has returned from a trip, the sharing of their photos helps inspire others and launches them into the dreaming phase of the cycle.
How can a tourism business effectively use images for destination marketing? How can your business or destination engage travelers in the dreaming and sharing phases of travel? One great answer is by using Pinterest. This social media platform is incredibly useful to the tourism industry because it encourages the dreaming and sharing phases of travel through images and storytelling. In fact, Pinterest counts about 1.5 million destination pins every day, and now there are more than 750 million destination pins on Pinterest!
For tourism destinations, Pinterest can be a centralized photo space to show off destination highlights and discoveries. It is like a very large, continuous, and easily-updated scrapbook. For travelers, Pinterest provides a place to gather and organize destination images that represent ideas for future travel, thus, providing destination marketers a look into potential customers 'usually secret' travel bucket-list. Tourism destinations can use Pinterest to influence travelers to add their destination to travel dream-lists. When a tourism business analyzes their followers they can interact with potential customers at the top of the travel planning funnel and work to move them down the booking phase using tourism destination inbound marketing techniques. Interacting with potential travelers can influence their emotions about your destination, and everyone knows how emotions influence decisions!
An even more valuable, and very recent addition to Pinterest is the use of Place Pins. Pinterest created 'place pins' to combine a picturesque travel magazine look to a useful online map. These 'place pins' can even include information such as addresses and phone numbers, making it easy for inspired travelers to seek out their bucket-list travel locations. For tourism destinations, this means that your Pinterest boards take on a whole new meaning. These Place Pins provide a visual plan for visiting your destination, and move your inspired travelers one-step closer to actually planning a visit!
All tourism destinations want to tell their stories, and 'pinning' images on Pinterest is the best and easiest way to tell these stories in the most basic language known to humankind - pictures! Facebook and Twitter, alone, can not do this for your destination. If you aren't on Pinterest or need help utilizing it more effectively, here are some great ways to get started. By taking just a few minutes each day to follow these steps, you can start growing your Pinterest audience immediately.
Pin new content
Content can come from a variety of sources - blogs, photos, webinars, slides, eBooks, or website screenshots. Make sure the pin description uses your SEO keywords and that the pin links back to the appropriate page on your main website to encourage increased website traffic. Pick images that will capture visitors and descriptions that tell a unique story about your business or destination. Try not to pin more than five images within five minutes - think quality over quantity!
Monitor your news feed
Start by following relevant pinners. Some great places to start searching would be a local tourism board, other area tourism businesses, local travel enthusiasts, or industry leaders. Once followed, their pins will show up in your news feed. Re-pin anything useful to your relevant boards.
Engage with other pinners
Search out and comment on pins posted by pinners (relevant to your destination and product) who are not yet following your boards. Reply and/or thank pinners who comment on your pins and boards.
Follow your followers
Discover your new followers and start following them. Aim to follow 5 new Pinners each week. Getting to know your followers is an important part of the process, and can help you refine your strategy for reaching your target audience.
Search for your SEO keywords
By searching for your keywords in Pinterest, you can find new pinners to follow or new material to repin. It's also a great way to keep a pulse on what's currently inspiring people about your destination or business.
Promote your Pinterest page
Encourage people to start engaging with you on Pinterest by promoting your page on your other social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.
Place your pins
Pinterest is starting to recognize that their brand is very popular among travelers. Just this week, they introduced Place Pins to help travelers more easily "turn their travel inspiration into reality." By adding your pins on the map, you'll help future and current travelers connect with the treasures in your destination.
It may be the year of the horse in the Chinese Zodiac, but in the travel industry, 2014 should probably be marked as the year of the local. Mass travel is out, and local, personalized experiences are in. Destination campaigns that emphasize local travel like 'Visit Philadelphia' and 'London and Beyond' have already been wildly successful.
Who is driving this trend in travel? Millennials, of course - those who were born in the early 1980s - 2000s. Is your tourism business ready for the Millienials? Let’s start by looking at a few key features of this generation,as reported in this extensive study about Millennial travelers, & some ways tourism marketers can reach this key demographic.
Are you familiar with the next generation of travelers?
They are tech savvy. This almost goes without saying. Having grown up in a digital age, Millennials are now heavily tech-dependent. They consume information on a rapid and almost constant basis. In terms of travel, this means they book trips faster and, in turn, often share their own travel experiences in real time.
They are good citizens. Nearly half of Millennials show more interest in destinations that offer volunteering opportunities. Moreover, compared with the people over 30 years old, Millennials are more willing to engage in sustainable practices and care more about environmental issues.
They like to learn. Travel isn't just about fun with this generation. Millennials are attracted to authentic destinations where they have the opportunity to learn something new. They also prefer hands-on, interactive experiences.
They are spontaneous. Many airlines and hotels have begun offering last-minute online travel deals targeted at digitally savvy Millennial travelers. A host of apps like Jetsetter and NextFlight have emerged to help travelers find a flight or a hotel on a whim.
They rely on word-of-mouth recommendations. 8 out of 10 travelers say they are likely to trust the recommendations of a family member or friend via social media when it comes to travel. However, more and more recent studies tend to report that travelers trust reviews from peer reviews and strangers more than those from friends or colleagues.
What does this mean for your business or destination?
All of this is great news for sustainable and community-based destinations. And it's a call to action for all destinations to begin focusing on more authentic experiences. Here are some things every destination can do to help reach this desirable group of travelers:
By far the best brand ambassadors of any destination are the people who live there, work there, and just love being there. Collaboration with local residents in destination marketing yields enormous results. Millennialls flock to this type of information because it's authentic, insider information that stands out in a sea of mundane reviews. Millennials want to travel like locals, and there is no better way to do that than by connecting them with the local people of a destination.
Facilitate Relationship Building
All travelers want to feel special and welcome. It's no different with Millennials. By making them feel welcome before they even touch down in a destination, you'll already be establishing a positive experience. Visit a Swede is one great example of this relational marketing. The website aims to connect visitors with a local Swede before they even arrive in country. It's takes the idea of involving locals to a whole new level - by promoting them as tour guides, coffee buddies, dinner hosts, and so much more. Bewelcome has also opened up channels of communication between the locals and the visitors.
The last takeaway is the most encouraging: focus more on authenticity. The best part is that this is also the easiest lesson! Instead of focusing on what your destination lacks, you should find ways to celebrate what it has. You might be surprised by the response to some honest marketing that highlights the unique or quirky about your destination. Not every desirable destination has to have sunshine and beaches. Millennials are open to learning & relish new opportunities so don't be afraid to embrace the off-the-beaten places within your destination.
Late last year, we began working with the Rwanda Development Board to help promote one of Africa's hottest destinations to potential travelers in the East African Community (EAC) - Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi. The timing couldn't have been better: Rwanda appeared in some of the world's top travel publications as a must see destination in 2014, including National Geographic Traveler, Conde Nast Traveller, and Rough Guide.
Rwanda's most well-known attraction is their mountain gorillas. These iconic creatures gained world renowned in the Dian Fossey biopic Gorillas in the Mist and are front and center of just about every piece of Rwanda marketing collateral that's out there. But the country has so much more to offer, and our job as destination marketers is to help the Rwanda Development Board get the word out.
Our first social media campaign alongside the Rwanda team was aptly named "Discover Rwanda". It ran for three weeks in late December and featured a Facebook app that revealed one new amazing Rwanda travel experience a day as a countdown to the New Year - fifteen adventures in the "Land of 1000 Hills" and fifteen chances to win a free, all-inclusive trip to Rwanda. Prizes were sponsored by our partners at FCm Travel Solutions, Serena Hotels, and the Ruzizi Tented Camp located in Akagera National Park.
We also selectively used Facebook targeted advertising and boosted posts to increase the visibility of the contest and drive additional traffic directly to the fan-gated Facebook app.
How'd We Do?
|Number of times a piece of campaign content was seen by the target audience||
|Number of people who saw campaign content||
|Number of people who liked or shared campaign content||
|Number of additions to the Facebook community||
|People that entered the contest||
Why Facebook Campaigns?
Very few small and medium-sized destinations are working with monstrous marketing budgets these days. A Facebook campaign is a cost-efficient way to build and talk to a highly targeted audience. While our campaign was open to view for anyone, our proactive advertising was aimed just to users in the EAC countries that have already demonstrated through their posts and profile that they're interested in travel. We like to call these folks our "brand advocates" and we want to speak to them because they're the ones that want to hear what we have to say. We're also able to see - in real time - if they like what they're hearing.
Traditional media campaigns are a lot more expensive and a lot less reliable. An advertisement in a magazine or a television spot is a one-off attempt to reach a broad audience. There is no follow-up and no way to reliably track its effectiveness.
With our Facebook campaign, we can provide a clear incentive-based call-to-action ("Enter to Win a Trip") followed by an informational hook ("Click here to learn more") in multiple ways, multiple times. We can test and tweak the messaging throughout the campaign to better resonate with our target audiences. Once we've established a relationship with them, we can continue to place our messaging in their social stream. Each post couples more inspiration with more education - stunning photos and coloful stories alongside trip planning guides or tour opreator directories featuring seasonal deals. This composite effort is destination marketing with a clear purpose: SALES.
Over the course of the next year, we'll keep trying to grow the Rwanda Tourism online community with brand advocates all while engaging, re-engaging, and re-re-engaging these fans of Rwanda - getting to know them better and giving them the kind of inspiration that they need to make Rwanda their next travel decision.
Destination marketing is a marathon. You spend months putting together an extensive marketing plan. Stakeholders are engaged, brands are developed, ads are prepared, content is finalized, etc. - and that’s before the real work of implementing the marketing plan even begins.
As a destination marketer, it’s pretty easy to get so wrapped up in the big, shiny strategy that you forget to pay attention to the here and now. It’s an easy mistake to make, but it’s a big one! While you’re busy making plans for next year, you’re missing the conversation that’s happening right now. What are people currently saying about your destination? How are you using that in your marketing?
Destination marketers need to be prepared for anything at any time. Whether it’s taking advantage of a TV show reference or counteracting some negative press with self-deprecating humor, it’s important to engage before it’s too late. It’s destination marketing at a sprint, and it may just end up being your easiest, but most rewarding campaign.
Here are a few innovative campaigns that have done just that. By deftly playing the cards they were dealt (some good, others bad), these destinations took advantage of quips, perceptions and pop culture references and turned them into marketing gold.
In August, during an episode of the popular TV show Breaking Bad, a reference was made to doing away with a character by “sending him to Belize.” It wasn’t the most flattering reference for the country, but that didn’t stop the Belize Tourism Board from using the line in a creative way. They immediately released a letter to the entire cast poking fun at the mention & inviting them for a relaxing visit after the season was over.
The timely and lighthearted response drew further attention to the destination. It was a smart way to quickly turn the conversation from a negative to a positive. The phrase “send him to Belize” continues to be used.
Americans love football. When quarterback Peyton Manning began yelling “Omaha” at the line of scrimmage earlier this year, everyone wanted to know “What’s up with Omaha?” That remains a mystery, but the city of Omaha is no longer a mystery.
Instead of letting the conversation revolve only around football, Visit Omaha quickly reminded everyone that Omaha is an actual destination with a fantastic tweet that went viral.
It’s a small destination, but for a few weeks, everyone was talking about Omaha.
Now this is being dealt a bad hand. Years ago, Sioux City, Iowa’s small regional airport was given the 3-letter airport code, SUX. After years of trying to change the sad moniker, the city finally decided to just embrace it. “FLY SUX” became an official motto and even the website was renamed www.flysux.com. T-shirts were printed, coffee mugs were sold, and a billboard went up on I-29 advertising the airport and the town.
As the airport commissioner put it, “It’s better to be memorable than to have three initials no one can really recall.” By embracing the quirky code, Sioux City has certainly become memorable.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board knows a good thing when they see it. In this case, it’s the TV series Game of Thrones, which has a huge cult following. The series is filmed in Ireland, and has become a central part of Ireland’s 2014 tourism campaign. There are already tour packages and driving tours established around the show’s various filming sites. We can’t wait to see what they will come up with next - we’re hoping a branded ad will follow!
Since 2009, Visit Philly has been writing “letters” to all kinds of people, places & things. Signed, “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO” the entire campaign has been one of our favorites in recent memory. There have been several perfectly timed letters, but just one example is this snarky ad poking fun at the reality TV show “Jersey Shore.” It’s a great example of an adaptable campaign that can immediately respond to anything happening in pop culture.
And don’t think this only works for television references. Music can also be a great jumping off point for marketing material. You have probably heard the song Oklahoma from the musical of the same name. If you’re really lucky, you may have starred in this musical in high school. Either way, it’s probably the most recognizable thing associated with the state. This ad, which was released in 2013 and has over 2 million views on YouTube, took an old, familiar song and made it new again.
It’s officially springtime, and that means the start of music festival season! Millennials across the globe are gearing up for their favorite events, whether they prefer EDM festivals like Tommorowland in Belgium, local music showcase festivals like Donauinselfest in Austria, or headline concerts like Lollapalooza’s offerings in Chicago.
As we’ve noted, destination marketing for millennials can be challenging, but ultimately this tech-savvy generation is willing and ready to travel to destinations that establish personal relationships with them, and music festivals are a great place to start. Marketers from all industries are turning their attention to music festivals, as through-the-roof ticket sales continue to rise. Brand sponsorships for music festivals, tours, and venues totaled $1.22 billion in 2012 and are projected to increase in the coming years. Connecting with millennials isn’t easy, but brands have a wide range of opportunities to engage with their target audiences at festivals. Crowds of attendees obviously mass around the entrance gates and stages, but successful brand activations, located throughout the festival grounds, are often just as popular as the beer tents!
According to Nielsen’s Music 360 report, 51% of consumers and 76% of festivalgoers feel more favorably towards brands that sponsor a tour or concert. Marketers attempt to capitalize on the powerful associative nature of music by becoming a memorable part of the festival experience through luring crowds into their air-conditioned tents, giving out free samples and souvenirs, hosting celebrity guests, or holding contests and sweepstakes.
Why Travel Brands Should Consider Music Festivals:
- Thousands of millennials will be confined to the same area for two to eleven days- a captive audience for brand messages! 74% of music streamers prefer brands that engage them through music giveaways, sweepstakes, and sponsorships. Red Bull took advantage of this opportunity and created a music blog on its website to complement its festival sponsorships.
- Festivalgoers most likely have some disposable income to spend on travel and experiences. Music festivals and concerts can be quite expensive, and many attendees even pay to travel to faraway events. The type of person who is likely to attend or travel to music festivals is likely to travel for other reasons as well and have the means to do so.
- Brands have the opportunity to present themselves as relevant to millennials. Marketers that can naturally integrate themselves into events can become cool by association with the music and festival. Of course, brands must be careful to choose brand messages that fit within the overall theme of the festival so that their activations are natural extensions of the spirit of the event.
Creative Music Festival Marketing Examples to Apply to the Travel Industry:
Social Network Interaction:
Lacoste offered free flower garland crowns in exchange for social media postings. While this the corporate equivalent of buying friends is no substitute for quality social media engagement with fans, it did succeed in generating buzz and brand impressions with Millennials.
Gap partnered with a variety of music festivals and tailored their offerings according to the audience in attendance at each. At Sasquatch in Washington State, "Camp Gap" included a DIY cut-off shorts station, face painting, and a penny press machine to cater to the hippie, alternative, carefree crowd. They ran contests on Pinterest, Twitter, and their website to win free tickets and other prizes and encourage social media interaction with the brand.
Pitchfork Music Festival created a free mobile app with a schedule, map, and other information and partnered with Rdio to provide a feaure that allowed attendees to take pictures at the event and attach songs to them. Festivalgoers could print their photos and receive a free trial of Rdio at the sponsor's tent. For apps to be successful, consumers need a compelling reason like this one to download and interact with the app.
PopChips created a "Rescue Hut" which was stocked with music festival necessities like cell phone chargers, games, and a prop fram for photos. Experiential marketing is about creating a personal connection between the consumer and the brand. PopChips' activation positioned the brand as a rejuvenating and essential product in a way that resonated with festival attendees.
Samsung's tent provided free henna tattoos. Festivalgoers could scroll through henna designs on Galaxy products while they waited in line. Samsung was able to offer a desirable service while simultaneously and quite naturally exposing its target audience to its product line.
Our Favorite Global Music Festivals:
- Paleo (Switzerland): Despite its limited funding and all-volunteer staff, Paleo drew crowds of over 230,000 last year to see 200 acts on 6 stages. In addition to headliners and local acts, the event showcases a different region of the world each year. In 2013, Paleo featured food and music from Indian Ocean region.
- Outlook Festival (Croatia): Outlook is an up-and-coming festival that takes place in a fortress in rural Croatia. Its sound systems and stages displaying hip-hop and electronic musicians are hidden throughout natural tunnels, abandoned ruins, and other unexpected sites.
- Glastonbury (Glastonbury, England): If for nothing else but the expected muddy and wild music festival environment, Glastonbury is worthy of consideration for anyone's festival bucket list.
- South by Southwest (Austin, TX): SXSW music festival runs concurrently with its film festival and interactive technology conferences to create a unique and vibrant atmosphere focused on up-and-coming talent.
- Przystanek Woodstock (Poland): With an overarching theme of "Love, Friendship, and Music", Przystanek Woodstock emulates its namesake in its emphasis on rock music and inclusiveness. Entry is free for the crowds of over 550,000, as the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity hosts the event as a thank-you to its volunteers.
- Sweetlife (Columbia, MD): SweetGreen supports its mission of developing healthy, sustainable lifestyle options through sweetlife, their music and food festival dedicated to celebrating wholesome food and thoughful living. The event is carbon neutral, emphasizes composting and recycling, donates leftover food and swag to local shelters and food banks, and draws an incredible line-up. Lana del Rey and Foster the People will headline the 2014 festival.
- Mawazine (Morocco): Although it drew over 2.5 million attendees last year, Mawazine remains almost unheard-of in the English-speaking world. The festival features mostly African artists from French-African countries, although international superstars also participate. The 2013 concert series was headlined by Rihanna.
- Governor's Ball (New York City, NY): With on-site amenities like Luke's Lobster, Mexicue, and Cool Haus, this music festival has a decidedly upscale New York vibe.
Instagram is nothing new - it’s long been one of our favorite social media platforms - but it still lags behind other tourism marketing tools. Don’t neglect this simple app that offers huge potential. Photos are a big part of travel marketing, and this humble app specializes in nothing else so there is no reason it shouldn’t be part of your tourism marketing plan.
But where should you get started? Luckily, Instagram is a very straightforward platform. Here are a few tourism players who are doing great things on Instagram, and some quick lessons we can learn from their success.
Highlight User-Generated Content
Why does Australia always make our lists of the best of the best? Because they are terrific tourism marketers. But don’t be fooled - you don’t have to have a huge budget like Australia to see results. In fact, Australia’s Instagram success does not come from employing hoards of photographers. Instead, Australia came up with an innovative way to crowd source their photos. Their entire social media strategy is aimed at enabling fans to build upon their platforms, like Instagram. They essentially turned their fans into marketers. Now, they receive 900 photo submissions each day and choose the best 4-5 photos to share with their 600,000+ Instagram followers.
Pay Attention to Hashtags
If you feel a little overwhelmed, step back and focus on doing one thing really well. Instagram has a variety of common hashtags that encourage sharing among users. The most popular one, by far, is #tbt or #throwbackthursday where users post older photos on Thursday. Within the tourism world, nobody does #tbt better than Delta. In fact, most of their Instagram content is throwback photos from the earlier days of the airline. Your photos don’t have to be new and shiny. It can be a great marketing tool to reflect on the nostalgia of a different time – especially since so many people have vivid travel memories. It also inadvertently emphasizes the long tradition of your brand and highlights innovation over time.
Throwback Thursday isn’t the only hashtag around either. Read here for a list of other great daily hashtags, and don’t forget to pay attention to current trends. Specific hashtags pop up all the time to celebrate events, holidays, and other happenings.
Don't Neglect Other Aspects of Your Brand
Yes, gorgeous travel photos are an easy sell on Instagram, but don’t neglect to highlight other aspects of your brand. Everything can’t be photos of sunsets or beaches! And those won’t necessarily help your brand or destination stand out in the crowd. Virgin America has found creative ways to highlight other aspects of the traveler experience. Their Instagram feed is full of passengers and cabin crew doing everything but taking themselves too seriously. Their photos help display the mood of the airline by emphasizing people and candid moments over scenery and posed shots. They always look like they are having fun, which is a huge feat for a company that deals in an area of travel most people consider to be a pain.
Virgin also runs some great contests, like this social media one from 2013. They offered 15 minutes of free in-flight wifi for Twitter, Instagram & Vine and encouraged passengers to use these social media platforms & a specific Virgin American hashtag to enter to win airline points. The easier you make it for users to interact with your social media (free wifi!), the more results you’ll see.
Educate Your Audience
Instagram isn’t just about gathering likes and follows. Like all social media platforms, the ultimate goal is to grow your audience and generate more customers. Sharing beautiful images is a great way to showcase your destination and inspire future visitors, but it’s also important to help nudge them down your sales funnel. You want them to go from aspiring traveler to actual traveler.
One way you can help this process is by focusing on educating your audiences with key pieces of information. This will also help set your destination apart. I know this is a huge need in tourism marketing because I had to look outside the travel world for a good example.
NASA’s Goddard Space Center does an outstanding job of marrying their breathtaking images with equally intriguing information. Each photo helps inform the viewer with interesting facts, tidbits and stories. You can do the same thing with your travel-minded audience. Rather than share a photo of a lake with only its name and location, mention a unique fact about it. Maybe it’s great for fishing or swimming. Maybe it hosts an annual festival. Maybe it’s a hidden gem that most visitors would be surprised to learn is easily accessed from a nearby hub city.
You should still try to be concise, but by adding one extra sentence, you can help move your traveler from the dreaming to planning stage of travel.
As we've discussed in previous posts, Pinterest's successful strategies for the tourism marketing industry capitalize on the "a picture is worth a thousand words" consumer mentality. Its ability to drive traffic and sales stems from its ability to provide content that users want to consume and even share with others. In fact, the value of a single pin is worth more than a tweet, and has 100 times the chance of going viral! The value of Pinterest to generating interest and sales is too large to ignore, particularly since Pinterest has announced plans to launch promoted pins, opening up new opportunities to attract customers.
Pinterest is an aspirational medium.
Pinterest's visual and aspirational nature lend itself to use by the travel industry. Destinations already have the stunning visual content that performs well on Pinterest. Consumers are searching for and sharing these beautiful pins that reflect where they would like to be, rather than where they are in the present moment. Other visual sharing sites like Flickr and Instagram showcase the past and the present (and Instagram is even coming out with a competing sponsored advertising program), but Pinterest allows users to share the places and activities that they would like to do in the future.
Because of its aspirational nature, Pinterest offers marketers the unique opportunity to influence travelers before they choose a destination. Travelers use Pinterest both for inspiration and for planning trips, giving DMOs the chance to show them where they should go and why. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter that are feed-oriented and reflective of the present can't offer the same influence as Pinterest. Destinations can put themselves on consumers' radars, move from awareness to bucket list status, and move from bucket list to actual travel plans all on one website! Even more exciting, marketers can see when consumers have added destinations to their consideration sets (when they pin or re-pin your content!). This powerful signal of intent to travel is difficult to uncover through any other social network.
Pinterest includes desirable, visual, shareable content.
Pinterest’s addictive nature is largely due to the vast amount of incredible content that exists on the site that users actually want to consume and share with their networks. Consumers are actively searching for travel images and inspiration, which marketers can happily provide.
An important feature of Pinterest is the ability to re-pin content. Users can and often do save your content to their own boards to either share with others or keep as reminders for themselves. Over 80% of pins are re-pins. Because users will always be able to see the original source, traffic can still be driven to your own boards or to your website. Destinations should pin pictures from their website and blog so that each pin will carry a link to drive traffic back to the original site.
Pinterest has a broader audience than Twitter or Facebook, but the audience does skew towards 25 to 39 year-old women. The visual nature of the site transcends language barriers and has wide appeal to a broad base of consumers predisposed towards traveling.
Features of Pinterest for the Travel Industry
The map feature allows users to change the format of boards to include a map on the right side of the screen. Although the map dominates the board, reducing the space available for pins to 2 of the usual 6 columns, maps can successfully and immediately convey a sense of place and allow followers to zoom in and easily click through to pins in their desired locations. Pinterest partners with FourSquare to provide location information for pins, so it's important to be sure your favorite locations are listed! If they haven't been added to FourSquare's database, add them using this simple form.
Using the map feature, destinations can share itineraries, categorized into boards by length, trip category, season, or tour package. Similarly, maps can be ideal showcases for restaurant guides, historic before and after pictures, and photo contests for destinations an organization has pinned.
Pinterest users who are following each other can add each other as collaborators on their boards. This feature has a variety of applications, from restaurants and tour operators partnering up to collaborate on destination boards to showcase a location's diverse offerings to DMOs reaching out to directly interact with consumers.
A great example of using collaborative boards for travel and hospitality marketing comes from the Four Seasons Hotels' Pin-Pack-Go campaign. The hotel chain invited its followers to create a Pin.Pack.Go board on Pinterest and comment on which hotel location they planned to visit. The hotel would then follow the user on Pinterest, and when the user followed back and invited the hotel to collaborate on the board, local experts from the hotel would pin recommendations and insider advice.
New! Promoted Pins
With the upcoming launch of promoted pins, Pinterest hopes to create a a valuable way for marketers to connect with consumers. Promoted pins will blend seamlessly into Pinterest streams and be indicated only with a small icon in the bottom right corner of the pin.
Pinterest now allows marketers to reach users through a paid boost, much like other social networks. In such a visually-rich and aspirational industry, these new tools will be extremely valuable to travel and tourism marketing strategy. The hospitality and travel industries are already some of the most active on social networks, and adding promotional tools to a visually stimulating platform like Pinterest will only increase this trend. In fact, Tnooz reported that 20% of web referrals on e-commerce sites come from Pinterest, and 26% come from Pinterest's mobile site!
If that's not a reason to start pinning, we don't know what is.
In the two years since Solimar started working in Namibia, the landscape of online marketing has changed dramatically, both in Namibia and abroad. Instagram and Pinterest, two platforms not included in our original strategy from 2011, have become central ways we track conversations and engage with potential travelers. Meanwhile, in Namibia, introduction of 4G internet, made our lives much easier!
But some things haven’t changed, travelers are still seeking value and turn to the internet for inspiration as well as research and planning.
In 2010, traditional source markets for Namibia were declining. European arrival numbers were lagging due to economic recession and market saturation. The Namibia Tourism Board (supported by donor funding from the Millennium Challenge Account - Namibia) decided to double up online marketing efforts and Solimar International has been implementing this project since early 2012.
Our task in Namibia was leveraging all online assets to create a competitive presence online for Namibia. We wanted to provide value to the traveler at every step of their journey – our job was to keep Namibia top of mind with travelers from initial awareness phase down to the booking. The key to closing the loop was linking interested travelers with those in the travel industry (tour operators, travel agents, hoteliers, airlines) who could facilitate their experience.
We recently handed the project over to the newly created online marketing unit in March 2014, who is continuing to explore new platforms and campaigns for creating an online buzz and inspiring more travelers to visit the land of endless horizons.
Snapshot of Key Results
Over two years, Solimar:
- Increased inbound links to the website by 1685%.
- Consistently kept 170 keywords in the top ten
- Increased the online community size from 109 to 38,055
- Facebook community size increased from 109 to 35888 over 26 months
- A total of 1015 highly visible Facebook posts were created over two years.
- 1.2 million viewed or interacted with Namibia Tourism content on Facebook (not including advertising)
Here are five key lessons that we learned during the implementation of the Online Marketing Campaign:
Lesson One: Content Really is King
If you are a frequent reader of the Solimar blog, you’ll know that we truly believe content is one of the best marketing tools available to destination marketers. Our experience in Namibia proves this to be true. We saw website visits and engagement increase as we created niche content pieces, targeted at specific interests, like destination weddings or photography. We created 248 blogs posts in 2 years, with valuable info that was easy to find for travelers in the planning phase. Because we knew that search is #1 source for leisure travelers (and in fact, 58% of leisure travelers “start my travel booking and planning process with search.”) we made sure the blog posts were easy to find, including strategic keywords and optimizing each post.
We also made significant efforts to always have fresh content by sending our team out on content collection trips around the country. There are some experiences, some hotels and some amazing guides that just can’t be found by trolling the internet. We found some of our most popular stories through strapping the tent on top of the car and traveling around Namibia.
We also published seven planning guides as free downloads available to travelers. The guides focused on special interest activities, like wildlife, adventure, photography or family travel.
Lesson Two: Partnerships Will Take Your Message Further
We knew that if we partnered with influencers, we could take our message even further than the reach we had through our own platforms. Over the course of the campaign, we partnered with various content providers including World Nomads, Virtual Tourist, the delegates who attended the 2013 Adventure Travel World Summit in Namibia as well as media.
Examples of NTB Content Partners
Lesson 3: Keeping Up with Facebook is Worth it
Throughout the campaign, Facebook remained one of our most useful tools to inspire and help community members out through direct messages or through wall posts, sharing Namibia pride and sparking conversation. However, one of our challenges was keeping up with their frequent changes to its interface and functionality. We stayed up to date by reading the Facebook blog and other online influencers to stay up to date on how to use the platform to ensure maximum engagement.
Lesson 4: Rich Media Portals Can be Used for Trade and Travelers
During the campaign, we built up the Namibia presence on Flickr, YouTube and Pinterest. The rich media on these sites can be an inspiration to travelers as well as a marketing resource for the travel trade who promote the destination.
Snapshot of Rich Media results:
- 3959 copyright-free images on our Flickr account
- 38 Boards on Pinterest
- 17 videos on YouTube Channel
Lesson 5: Campaigns Drive Engagement
Over the course of the campaign, we launched four thematic campaigns. Each campaign required greater “engagement” from our community. The table below shares the four campaigns and their results.
Conservation Destination: Four endangered species were brought to life with their own Twitter feeds, which shared stories about their fight against extinction. Facebook users could enter to win a trip to Namibia by submitting their email.
Share My Namibia: The stories of 11 regions of Namibia were shared by local residents of those places. Facebook users could select three regions on an interactive map to create their “Dream Namibia Trip”
Landscape Escape: Facebook users were invited to submit a picture of the “landscape they want to escape,” and then encourage their friends to vote. The most votes won a trip to Namibia.
Go Big Namibia: Designed to create content about adventure and distribute it within a wide network, we worked with 4 online influencers who went on an epic Namibian adventure. The Facebook app traced their journey.
During these campaigns, we implemented what we had learned:
- We developed a lot of unique, thematic content for each campaign. We collected content from relevant partners and used awe-inspiring images as much as possible.
- Facebook was the main platform for each campaign, because of the large existing community.
- Using our partners helped us reach exponentially bigger audiences. We syndicated customized Facebook applications to tour operators and other interested stakeholders who had an interest in promoting tourism in Namibia to their communities. During the Conservation Destination campaign, reach through the NTB platforms was 1.6 million, but the combined reach of all our partners was 20 million.
- One of the most valuable activities we undertook was regularly tracking a series of indicators to monitor the progress of our work. Although time consuming, monitoring and evaluation helped the project re-evaluate our strategies in the ever-changing online environment to ensure that our messages were resonating with the people who were looking for them.
Solimar has really enjoyed sharing Namibia’s amazing stories with the world – and we look forward to continuing to follow the story of this amazing country online!
In this generation, social media is more important than ever, especially for tourism marketing. People are spending over four times more time on Facebook than Google - today there are about 1.3 billion people on Facebook. Is Facebook really useful for businesses? Let this number convince you - 52% of businesses have acquired customers through Facebook. That’s a lot of potential for the tourism industry.
Needless to say, social media can be your destination’s magic megaphone. But do you know how to use it well? Here are some questions to ask yourself as you endeavor to amplify your roar.
Are You Connecting With People? No, Really Connecting?
A billboard does not listen. People listen. This is where social media differs from traditional marketing- as you can (and should) be interacting with your audience directly. Ask questions. Make it interactive. Reply to comments.
Another exciting thing about social media marketing is the way in which even one individual’s Likes, Shares, Comments, Tweets, Friends, or Tags are able to increase your visibility, diverting more and more eyes to you.
Are You Developing the Right Content?
60% of the sales process is over before a prospective buyer ever talks to a salesman or begins the process. What does that mean? It means that almost every single visitor will make a majority of their decision through online research before anything else. You want to create content that supports them in that online research phase.
So be sure to evaluate your content. Have you thought about keywords? How is the quality of your images? Are you providing a diverse enough array of multimedia content? What are you offering and are you communicating it in an appealing way? These are important thoughts to take into consideration.
Are You On the Right Platform?
It is also important to know where to roar. Find out who your target audience is, and where they spend their time in the online world. They could be on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, or maybe even all of the above. There is more to social media than Facebook and one of the best ways to amplify your roar is to increase your reach through these different, targeted social media platforms.
Are You Showcasing Personality?
Social media also offers you a unique opportunity to be human. Nobody wants to talk to a salesman who is constantly pitching; they want to build relationships with real people. The same principle applies when it comes to creating brand loyalty, trust and eventually sales. Don’t be afraid to show a little bit of humor and personality in your social media marketing strategy. Be relevant, not robotic. If visitors to your social media site are having fun, they will want to have fun at your actual physical site too.
What Does Your Unique Roar Sound Like?
Every destination, including yours, has something unique to offer. So there’s no need to spend all your time trying to imitate somebody else’s roar.
A destination assessment can go a long way in identifying your hidden gems and how to best conserve them. Many destinations have a diverse array of brilliant tourism products which have been overlooked. You want to be able to spot these with destination assessments and to also tailor social media marketing strategies to showcasing your best colors. Our projects in Rwanda, Namibia and the U.S. Gulf Coast, for example, have been integral in doing that: maximizing an active audience of followers, generating stunning branding content and increasing revenue by presenting destinations at the very peak of their potential.
With unlimited online space, the opportunities to multiply your untapped audience are limitless. Take the right steps with social media and you could have the loudest roar of all.
Feel free to learn about more innovative strategies through our free e-book, "Inbound Marketing for the Travel and Tourism Industry".
And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!