Tourism Marketing's Future: The Rising Tide of Social Media Advocacy

 

Advocacy marketing has changed the game for industries from customer service and restaurants to packaged goods and electronics. Nowhere is this more evident than in the $7.6 TRILLION tourism industry. In a growing industry, to stay top of mind and compete for a finite amount of tourist dollars, tourism brands need to do more than simply promote - they need to build social advocates.

 

For Most Tourism Brands, Paid Advertising Doesn’t Work

Paid advertising has traditionally been tourism's go-to marketing tactic. Huge full-page ads in newspapers and 30-second commercials on television did the lion's share of the work, building awareness of the travel possibilities being provided. As with all media, television and billboards expanded to include digital advertising with the rise and adoption of the internet.

While these paid tactics still have a place in tourism marketing, they aren’t producing the same ROI they once did. This is due to several factors including:

  • The cost of digital advertising rising 5x faster than inflation
  • An increase in the use of ad blockers (up to 18% of all US consumers use ad blocking technology)
  • A rise in ad blindness among millennials and heavy internet users
  • An increase in the sheer number of options available for vacationers

Most importantly, paid advertisements aren’t trusted as much as they once were, and trust is key in tourism.

 

Tourists Need to Know They’re Going to Have a Great Time

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Vacations to new destinations are a huge risk to potential tourists, especially American tourists, for a variety of reasons.

First, there are few people with an infinite number of vacation days. Whether you’re a European taking all of August off, or an American deciding where to spend your only two weeks of vacation, paid time off is a finite resource. Additionally, vacations are getting more expensive. The average US household spends around $1,700 on a family vacation. Of that, $1,108 of that will be financed through a credit card or other debt vehicle.

Tourists run the risk that they are going to spend a large amount of money and most of their time off, and possibly not enjoy themselves. This is something every tourism brand needs to take into consideration; for tourism marketing to be effective, it needs to mitigate this risk as much as possible.

Enter social media advocacy.

 

Advocacy Impact #1: Third-Party Reviews

Every vacation begins with online research. Gone are the days of simply going with the recommendation of a travel agent or professional concierge. As we discussed above, there is no room for error with vacation planning, so the individual taking the vacation is going to put in the leg-work to help ensure they have the time of their lives. People don’t see a billboard and instantly book their vacation. They take the time to go to the internet to ensure what they’re seeing in the ad is fact, not fiction.

While people are losing trust in paid media, 84% say that they trust recommendations made from friends and family as well as other credible 3rd party sources. The rise of review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, combined with location-based hashtagging and Instagram check-ins, means that your potential tourist is going to base their evaluation of your site on the experiences of their peers.

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Pro Tip: Regularly encourage your brand advocates to share their honest feedback on select review sites. While you can’t incentivize the review through a reward, you can make the simple request. The SocialToaster platform makes it easy to manage your Superfans and advocates and encourage them to provide feedback on your brand.

 

Advocacy Impact #2: Sharing Experiences Not Locations

Over 97% of millennials share photos and videos of their travels online. Many do so during the actual vacation - while staying at your hotels, eating in your restaurants and touring your attractions. Their friends and family are experiencing their trip with them in real time. This sharing has a huge impact on potential vacationers: 84% of Facebook users say their friends’ posts influenced a future travel plans.

Tourist brands need to use these findings to their advantage by creating and highlighting unique experiences that promote and encourage social sharing. A traveler can get a good meal in any city and there are thousands of beaches across the world, but maybe your brand is the only one to offer monthly candlelit dinners served to guests on rafts while floating in a calm bay. Whatever the unique appeal, these “Instagrammable” moments can provide a lift to your marketing by:

  • Highlighting experiences that make your tourist brand unique
  • Providing social proof to a vacationer’s friends and family that your experience lives up to the hype
  • Tapping into the sharing motivation of the vacationer by allowing them to brag to their friends and family about their vacation – a powerful tool for encouraging trial

 

Advocacy Impact #3: Experiential Content

In addition to supporting the vacationer’s content needs, tourist brands also need to create their own confidence-building content. No more stiff TV commercials with cliched sunsets over pristine beaches, your content needs to go a step above to showcase the full experience. Create content that immerses your future tourists in the experience you’re providing.

Some examples of this immersive content are:

  • Candid video that shows real people enjoying their vacation
  • Virtual reality, 360-degree photo, or drone footage that allows a researcher to get the full scope of your location
  • Introductions to key staff to help reassure would-be vacationers that their needs will be taken care of by a friendly face
  • Highlights of specific aspects of your brand that address common vacationer fears: too complicated, not enough time, worry, bad food, etc.

Once this content is created, encourage your Superfans and brand advocates to share your content with their friends and family. Even if it’s the same video as on your website, it’s going to mean more once a trusted individual has put their personal endorsement on it.

 

Trust in paid advertising is falling, while paid media costs are on the rise. Tourist brands that want to succeed need to be focused on the conversations happening about their brand on social media. Control the conversation by mobilizing your fans to share the best aspects of your brand as a vacation destination.

Ready to start your advocacy marketing campaign? SocialToaster is here to help.