Today’s tourists interact at every stage of their journey.
A great experience – and, conversely, a bad one – is likely to be exposed much more than ever before through social networks.
So how do travel destinations do this?
The Seychelles in the Indian Ocean increasingly lets influencers temporarily take over its own social media accounts.
The national tourism board says that influencers are not paid. What they get is the country’s beauty as a backdrop to impress and to enlarge their following.
“What they do for us”, say Sherin Francis, CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board. “Is they drive a lot of their traffic to our social media page. And once the people are on there, they stay on there. They are now our followers even if after one week the influencers give us back the page. “
Yet tourists can become advertisers. Visitors were asked to film their experiences. The prize for the winning Romanian couple: another trip to the Seychelles – this time to the presidential villa on the North Island.
It might be a bit wobbly at times, but the entrants sure generate plenty of free of charge footage.
“The amount of content it’s amazing,” says Francis. “We would have had to pay $50,000 dollars to get a company to produce this content. And we did it through a competition and of course we will be doing more of this. “
So how do you get your target group involved? It’s a key question for the travel industry today. The larger the potential audience, the bigger you have to think.
“People are glued to their phones,” says Cathy Domanico, Vice President, Global Trade Development, Brand USA. “So we created apps, we created large-screen movies to help people learn about destinations.”
The US has just launched not just a website or a social media page but an entire first-of-its-kind connected TV network called Go USA.
It is a source for on-demand video content about travel experiences in the USA, in single episodes or even travel series.
Brand USA say its aim is to generate three million views in the TV network’s first year.
“It’s a great platform,” says Domanico. “It’s loaded with destination content and the audience can stream it.”
Kazakhstan is launching an online game through which tourists can explore 100 holy sites.
“There will be an app you’ll be getting certain currency, like coins,” says Kairat Sadvakassov, Deputy Chairman, Kazakh Tourism. “The more you progress with visiting and travelling these 100 spots, you’ll be getting titles. The highest title will be Khan, the coins you’ll get while travelling you’ll be able to monetize, to upgrade your flight, depending on the partners we have on this program.”
The app will have both content for virtual play and content closely tied to geo-location, which means you can only discover it on the ground by visiting Kazakhstan’s diverse landscapes.
Although the game will be mostly for a home audience to begin with, Kazakh Tourism says engagement is a field with great untapped potential – both domestically and internationally.
Fun in the sun for your holidays seems to be a thing of the past. Travellers today want more.
User experience, personalization and proactivity are the new watchwords.
And destinations such as India are aware of these changes.
Alphons Kannanthanam, Indian Tourism Minister: “Today actually people don’t just travel for the sake of travelling. People want to have individual experiences. So, it all depends on a whole lot of feedback. So I think that influenced the decision making of people. This is true about younger people, but when you mean young people, anybody up to 60 is pretty young today.
It’s all about motorcycling and yoga. How do you relate to that? So this is how we are trying to kind of relate to people and say: “I’m bringing an excitement”. Bring yoga to motorcycling rules… How do we do that? You’ve got to use a little bit of imagination and I think it’s possible to make fantastic stuff”.
With expectations getting ever higher, travel destinations need to produce large volumes of content – and also update it continuously.
“Our presence is almost real time”, says Dr. Nitin B. Jawale, Director of Tourism for the Government of Indian region Odisha. “When something of importance happens, for example when we’re here at ITB Berlin, our stand was inaugurated by the honorable Tourism Minister of India, we send those updates real time and this is how we get a lot of followers.”
Virtual Reality – a technology poised to change our daily lives – also excites the travel industry.
The interesting thing about VR is that you can go to places you might not necessarily want to go to yourself but still want to see somehow, such as Chernobyl.
A VR project on Chernobyl by a Polish company isn’t just visual – It tells the story of the people involved. So the tour of the reactor and its surroundings is educational.
But if virtual exploration is increasingly important for the tourism industry it’s not just for educational purposes. It becomes relevant for tourism when it comes to talking virtual tours: that’s to say discovering new potential holiday destinations at home.
The Dominican Republic provides virtual tours of its beaches. Petra Cruz of the country’s Tourism Ministry for Europe says it’s just a beginning.
Giovanni Bastianelli, Director of the Italian National Tourism Agency, says the key is to have a narrative: “In tourism, what is important at the moment, is to tell a story. It’s what a tourist feels after having visited a certain region, the feeling of having seen something unique.”
The Friuli Venezia Giulia region gets its own people to do the job. 300 selected local writers from different backgrounds take over the marketing by telling their authentic domestic experiences. Travellers can speak directly to them on social media.
Bruno Bertero is Marketing Director for the region:
“They write about their experiences, in three languages, Italian, English, and German. This is uploaded onto a blog and fed to all Facebook channels, not only of the destination but also to those of the bloggers. This leads to strong engagement, to a widespread sharing of content, which reaches out to many more people than through classical advertisement.”
Hospitality in tourism is a key element to success. The Internet has had a disruptive influence with the likes of AirBNB turning the business upside down. – And it’s a change which is being embraced in some countries.
“AirBNB is a platform that actually gave an immense opportunity for a community to grow in the market,” says.Dato Sri Abdul Khani Daud, Deputy Director General of the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board. “So, we welcome them to operate in Malaysia. They have been operating in Malaysia. It actually also contributes to the community in terms of the economy. “
With 27 million tourists visiting Malaysia each year, the South East Asian country recognises that many will seek alternative forms of accommodation and prefers to go with the trend rather than fight it.
But is digitalization truly global?
In China for example, Western social media often don’t work and the Chinese multi-purpose social media platform, although used by a billion people, still has significant limitations for foreign visitors.
Luo Jian Zhang, Director General, Guilin Municipal Tourism Development Commission: “We have developed our own application, that gives access to Guilin’s attractions and hotels, you can explore Guilin on your mobile phone, but it’s only in Chinese. And our next step is to develop it in English, which will enable tourists from Europe to use it as well. “
Travelling to China in the future could become much more accessible for Westerners.
And digitalization could then be potentially a huge tool when exploring regions such as Guilin – which is one of China’s most popular destinations but still somewhat unknown in the West.
But does everything really have to be digital? What about traditional ways of marketing?
And: what about the cost of all this?
Nikolina Angelkova, Tourism Minister of Bulgaria: “It is not costly to go digital this is what surprised me. It’s very cheap to go digital compared to traditional advertisements on television. But definitely the combination of both is the most profitable one in terms of advertisement and in terms of result. “
So it’s not all about preparing, spending, and reviewing our holidays digitally. And no 360 degree video can replace a living experience – such as the century-old tradition of rose picking in Bulgaria.