It’s old news that social media and the “connected world” are changing traveling – businesses like AirBnB and Unsettled and communities like Couchsurfing and Workaway are springing up everywhere, but how has social media changed how we market traveling? How can traveling agencies, whether innovative, or old fashioned, use social media to brand themselves and find customers? A lot of different ways, as it turns out.
Image candy, as the story goes, goes a long way. Travelers like to find new destinations by following Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts with lovely pictures. Traveling agencies can use this to their advantage by posting gorgeous pictures of destinations of interest to them. A great success story is Jetsetter Travel on Pinterest, which has a whopping 4.18m followers (they won the 2015 Shorty Award for Best Brand on Pinterest). They only post images relevant to “the discerning traveler,” thereby branding themselves as an upscale travel agency.
To bring awareness to a certain location, some travel agencies let the hotels/agencies they work with “hack” their account for a week to post pictures and blogs, or collaborate with social media influencers to post for them. For example, they might give an influencer a week’s paid vacation in one of their new locations. A few photos on Instagram, or a well written blog, and the “secret escape” will no longer be a secret.
To give an example: adventure traveler Jay Alvarrez who has 5.3m followers on Instagram has, in the past, teamed up with Island View Hawaii to promote them and well known traveler Chris Burkard has promoted sailboats that do cruises in the Westfjords of Iceland. When a post gets over 64,000 likes it’s easy to see why influencers are useful for promotions. And someone like Jay also allows agencies to be more specific in their targeting/branding as he focuses on adventure travel and his overall image will appeal to a certain segment of the travel market.
Kid World Citizen, a.k.a. Becky, on the other hand, has an Instagram account with 21.4k and focuses on journeys with kids. Using someone like her is perfect for a traveling agency targeted towards families. Of course, brands can also use an influencer who lives in a certain region to promote that region for travel. In short, there is no shortage of influencers to work with who can target specific markets and ensure you enhance your brand by collaborating with someone who has the same brand values.
Another use for social media is videos as “previews” of tours. Intrepid’s Urban Adventures brand revealed to Travel Age West that they use Periscope to show what some of their tours in different cities are like. In other words, rather than paying for a pricey commercial, they create a preview of a tour themselves that they upload to their social media accounts. On Instagram they have 10k followers, Facebook 14k and Twitter close to 7k. If they post good material, word of mouth is sure to do the rest.
John Montgomery, owner of Mosaico Travel in Salt Lake City, has more than 24,000 followers whom he gained on Instagram by spending at least an hour a day following relevant hashtags, commenting and liking other feeds, without ever soliciting business. In an article on Travelmarket Report Montgomery revealed one of the things he does to attract new and existing clients to various destinations is to go there with his own family – by posting pictures of his kids visiting Colombia people suddenly start asking questions and realizing there are safe areas in Colombia to visit with the family. Similarly pictures of the Galapagos Islands led to people getting curious about bringing their kids there.
Hashtags on Instagram aren’t only good for finding relevant people to follow – you can also ask people traveling with your agency to use a certain hashtag so that all other potential customers can browse the web and see what previous customers discovered on their trips. Not only that, the posts will also work as excellent word of mouth marketing, especially if you’re lucky enough to get a traveler who has a large following.
Elite Travel International (3.1k followers on Instagram), for example, uses the hashtags #EliteTravel (5.9k posts) and #ETIStyle (3.7k posts), while The Smart Flyer (18.6k followers on Instagram) uses #SmartFlyer (12.3k posts) and #SmartFlyerAU (1.7k posts).
As an incentive to post pictures with hashtags, many businesses give perks in return, whether featuring the images in their feed, or giving some other bonus. It also allows for travel agencies to truly engage with their customers online by commenting on the photos.
Sam McCully, vice president of marketing for Avoya Travel, says in an article on Travel Age West that connecting and engaging with prospective and current customers is key for the company’s social strategy. “Social media is a mechanism that allows for two-way interaction,” McCully said. “It offers a way for us to tell our story and also to hear stories and experiences from our customers.”
Information is still king when it comes to marketing and branding. People who research an intended travel destination and find articles written by a travel agency, will no doubt look into using that agency for their travels. What’s more, an active blog leads to better SEO and we all know what it means to be on the first page of Google.
Blogs are also great for social media – by writing interesting blogs you may very well lure one of your followers into booking a vacation in a location they’d never considered before. A blog about nonna’s authentic spaghetti bolognese or unusual houses in Iceland may very well lead to your next booking. For example Ministry of Villas, a travel agency in Singapore, recently posted a blog about the best time to visit Koh Samui, which got over 140 likes on Facebook.
In conclusion, people these days are more likely to find their next dream vacation online in their social media feed (or through their children’s social media feeds) than in a catalogue. By posting gorgeous pictures and interesting blogs about your destinations, as well as connecting with fellow travelers online and possibly collaborating with an influencer, it will help the marketing and branding efforts of any travel agency.