Content Marketing Institute recently released a great piece on content marketing in the travel and tourism industry space. It caused us to pause and reflect on the past two years. You see, over these years, we’ve lead tourism marketing a small Texas town at the top of the Hill Country called San Saba. (Shameless self-plug, next time you’re planning an overnight escape, you’ll want to visit San Saba – the charming small town that’s more than you imagined. want to escape for a night or two of hospitality). The article articulates our internal observations perfectly.
“With so many different touchpoints to engage with, so many ways to facilitate and enhance the travel experience, and so many pain points to help customers overcome, this field offers tremendous opportunities to create content-based connections, build trust, and add value for intrepid world travelers, road-weary business travelers, and everyone in between.” – Content Marketing Institute
Building trust in the travel industry is, naturally, a slow process. However, when towns buy into a marketing plan collectively, we’ve seen them accomplish significantly more much more quickly. Why? Travel experiences that are seamless, consistent and meet (or, preferably, exceed) expectations create the organic trust that encourages word-of-mouth advertising. Only this advertising now exists predominantly as a digital web of peer-to-peer experiences. Because these subjective first impressions are incredibly accessible and prevalent, it’s imperative that marketers control, or encourage, content that aligns with brand voice. Additional, they need to sell without over-promising on what they can deliver. How do you tell your story and shine alongside the rest of the tourism markets clamoring for increased tourist activity?
Naturally, competition complicates exposure. When you’re competing with other Hill Country destinations like Fredericksburg, Wimberly, Austin and Dripping Springs – which are considerably bigger and more established as tourism hubs – marketing successfully means getting creative. We focused heavily on experiential content for the first two years. We’ve generated video, photography, look books, blog posts and more to be shared and boosted through social media. This content allowed us to create an experience for our target audiences (and bolstered organic search rates with cohesive SEO strategy). The strategy resonated with measurable impacts: hotel taxes are up more than 75 percent and we’ve seen a correlated increase in sales tax revenues and citywide event ticketing.
A large focus of our advertising efforts shifts the city from traditional advertising to social media. Travel is no longer inspired solely by the Travel Channel or magazines. Today, the world lives online. Instagram and Facebook – and the savvy influencers who pioneered those channels — are the leading influencers. In March 2017, Entrepreneur Magazine published “5 Ways Social Media Has Transformed Tourism Marketing” illuminating some of the dramatic effects that social media has had on the tourism industry.
“Social media has fundamentally changed the way that many companies communicate with and market to their target demographics. For the travel and hospitality sector, in particular, the rise of the Internet and the increased popularity of social channels have altered travel marketing. From the way that travelers research potential destinations to the activities that they participate in once they arrive, the new ways that consumers use social media to make purchasing decisions has influenced tourism marketing from start to finish.” – Entrepreneur Magazine
The article mentions the power of social media reviews, which have proven to have a profound impact on the industry with 89% of millennials choosing their travel plans upon peer-reviewed content streams. These reviews, which are highly accessible, provide an experiential preview of tourism activities, one that is partially out of a marketer’s control. A third party marketer loses control both with subjective content posted by users, but also in their limited capacity to influence business practices. This is the point at which client buy-in becomes gold; as you see themes that need to be addressed to increase organic positivity, a client who has bought into the strategy will implement necessary changes. When the majority of businesses in the town share the “we’re all in this together” sentiment, change occurs and problems are mitigated. Having a strategy for controlled engagement is also necessary (more on that coming in our next post). Another cornerstone of social media is the facilitation of a social sharing phenomenon. Today over 97% of millennials share photos and videos of their travels in social media forums. This network creates an organic “web of peer-to-peer content” that is both authentic and free for businesses.
“Travel-industry marketers must go the extra mile to create content to earn bookings, not just lookings.” – Content Marketing Institute
Though a downside to the social nature of tourism marketing is sheer volume and din, social media is advantageous in that it offers concrete data. Use these analytics, insights and social media listening to hone messaging, increase campaign efficacy and build trust with your audience. With time, your owned content and strategic engagement will enable you to
leverage the peer-to-peer based content (like reviews and influencer impressions) to inspire audiences past lookings to bookings.