How to get started with user-generated content in tourism marketing?

When I booked my first ever holiday in 2001, I took a bus to the city centre and visited a student-friendly travel agency called Kilroy. With my friend, we had browsed their print catalog a hundred times and the salesperson at the agency helped us to book the cheapest flights to Prague and our hostel accommodation.

Kilroy still exists, but pretty much everything else around researching and booking a trip has transformed from back then. In 2018, 82% of bookings were completed without human interaction and online travel sales are expected to hit $818bn by 2020.

According to GlobalWebIndex research, travellers are more likely to discover travel destinations through social media than traditional advertising.

These are just some of the reasons why tourism organisations and travel destinations are active online, and in social media channels. The search for the next holiday often starts from Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube, and travel destinations are engaging travellers in sharing their experiences. The more people that share their fun holiday photos with a branded hashtag, the higher the reach on social media channels. Word-of-mouth from happy customers has always been the most effective way of marketing - and the algorithms of social media channels distribute recommendations from friends faster than ever before. For inspiration, see how NewZealand Ski gathers and displays social reviews on their website to increase conversions.

Over the years, we’ve been working with hundreds of tourism and travel organisations and lately we’ve started collaborating with crosseye, an agency that specialises in online marketing for tourism. We had a chat with CEO Evelyn Götz about how social media has changed travel marketing and why social reviews have become one of the most important marketing assets.

Evelyn, if you look back the past 5-10 years, how has the use of social media changed in tourism marketing?

Evelyn: Social media and user-generad content are playing an increasingly important role in tourism marketing. Today, guests are not just consuming your services – they are amplifiers of your marketing activities and they proactively share their experiences when visiting a region, hotel, or other tourist attraction.

And it’s not just the younger audience who are active on Instagram or Snapchat. With our customers, the statistics show that even guests aged over 60 are active in social media channels – in both budget and luxury travel segments. Because of these findings, the approach to social media and content marketing has dramatically changed. Instead of posting content on social media irregularly, even smaller tourism organisations are taking a more strategic approach to their content marketing and focusing on delivering added value. Here, the content that's published by travellers, such as user-generated content, images, and videos, plays an essential role.

How do you get started with user-generated content in tourism marketing?

Evelyn: The first step is to research the volume and tone of content shared by travellers and guests; what are people saying about your business or region in social media channels? With Flockler, we’ll get an overview of the content and audience by setting up Instagram feeds gathering images and videos. Depending on the business objectives, we then display the social media feeds on our websites and other digital services seen by our customers to increase the time spent on site and conversion rate. Despite the growing importance of social media and aggregated holiday booking services, the website is still the number one communication channel. Nine out of ten travellers obtain information from there. Also, social media feeds and user-generated content help with our editorial planning. By monitoring the most popular posts by our customers, we can develop inspiring stories that resonate with people.

Would you like to share a success story with one of your clients?

Evelyn: Zoo Herberstein is one of our top destinations. It's blessed with a picturesque location and sceneries, and it is exciting how many unforgettable snapshots visitors take and share with others. We have run regular marketing campaigns engaging visitors to create content. These include hashtag campaigns, supported with photo booths in which children stick their faces through a display designed as a lion, or competitions in which visitors can win an annual pass. We use UGC campaigns like these to draw attention to the zoo as a destination for a day trip. The social media wall feeding the experiences of other customers is an integral part of the website and encourages others to book their tickets too.

What are the key things tourism organisations should keep in mind when getting started with social media and user-generated content marketing?

Evelyn: Social media can never be a task that you assign to a person in your company; your social media content needs to have a recognisable voice aligned with your brand values and business objectives. Also, it’s a good idea to distribute the management of social channels with a team of people. It’s vital that the task is taken over by the company itself and that it is not just on the agency’s monthly to-do list. Despite a lively and close relationship with the business, agencies are usually too far away from the operational activities (and customers!) of the company. Social media users recognise inauthentic content that doesn’t align with the brand voice and their services. So, anyone who doesn’t have a social media manager in the company should urgently look for someone.

And you should never be afraid of making mistakes in social media marketing. What happens today is forgotten tomorrow and, within reason, the best results will be achieved with trial and error. Regarding user-generated content, tourism organisations should see social media feedback as an opportunity to improve their services, increase reach in social media channels, and drive conversions on their website. A survey by Expedia has shown that guest ratings carry more weight than the brand value when choosing a hotel for the trip. With high guest ratings, almost three-quarters of all customers are willing to pay more for a hotel night.

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