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Why Traveler Content Leads to Success in the Experience Economy

Today, we live in an experience-driven economy. Consumers prefer an opportunity to create memories more than they value the acquisition of material possessions. We’ve heard of this shifting consumer behavior for a while, but increasingly it is becoming a quantifiable reality. In fact, since 1987, the share of consumer spending on live experiences and events relative to total U.S. consumer spending increased 70%! While the travel and hospitality industry has increased its overall share of wallet, this hasn’t lessened the challenge for individual brands looking to engage consumers in a world with so many options. Disrupters like Airbnb and Uber have leaned into consumer preferences and created new categories for the experience economy. Online travel agencies (OTAs) have amplified the voice of the consumer, so that marketers are no longer the sole authors of their own brand narratives.

In many ways, the travel industry has become the wild wild west. And not the awesome one portrayed by Will Smith in 1999 (Kidding). Certainly, with so much noise in the marketplace, many brands are left wondering how to identify their top audiences and engage them in authentic, meaningful ways. Still, when modern marketing is dictated by analytics and ROI, the reality of this new landscape has given travel brands authority to become truly creative again.

Smart travel marketers are cutting through the noise by listening to the only voices that matter: Travelers themselves.

Recently, Adweek released its “Travel Marketing Report,” a comprehensive look at changing travel trends, and how brands are adapting accordingly. At Olapic, we work with many of the top brands in the travel vertical, and wanted to reflect on a couple of the trends we’re seeing in the space as well.

Influencers Are Driving Engagement and Bookings

One of the trends highlighted in Adweek’s report is the rise of travel bloggers and Instagram influencers on motivating travel behavior and brand loyalty with their content. They use the example of the #FollowMeTo Instagram project, created by (now) married couple Murad and Nataly Osmann, which began with a simple travel photo and has led to over 337,000 photos with users sharing their experiences with one another.

The engagement and amplification of projects like this one is staggering. But as we’ve learned with our clients, this “earned” content can also be used by travel brands to increase bookings and entice travelers to contribute content of their own. Recently, we conducted a webinar with Phocuswright to review their “U.S. Traveler Technology Survey” which found that the top sources for information that travelers are turning to when planning trips are:

59%: Online travel reviews found on websites such as TripAdvisor
54%: Vacation pictures and videos posted on social media networks

From there, there is a considerable drop-off. Brands hoping to engage, inspire, and convert travelers should turn to this traveler-generated content as a way to build better marketing experiences for visitors pre, during, and post vacation.

Ephemeral Content Is Becoming a Priority

Another trend that Adweek cited was the increase in new and emerging content formats being used by hotels, restaurants, and especially tourism boards. For example, Philadelphia’s tourism department launched a Snapchat channel earlier this summer as a way to engage younger visitors and residents. Over the past few weeks, the city has been averaging over 4,000 views per post, and has received over 5.3 million views on just seven Live Story snaps. With the Democratic National Convention coming to town soon, there are plans to ramp up the activity. A couple of years ago, it would be crazy to think that travel brands would be investing resources in ephemeral content that would disappear the next day, but travelers have dictated how they want to be marketed to, and so brands are following their lead. Also interesting to note, local governments are turning to their residents to help identify messaging for potential visitors. Olapic has worked with Texas Tourism in a similar capacity, engaging residents on social channels and through email to ask them to share unique experiences using #TexasToDo on Instagram. Using our technology, all of these initial images were gathered, moderated and programmed to appear on a single gallery page on TravelTexas.com. The page was filterable by interest, region or trending city. To date, Texas Tourism has received over 24,000 images to the branded hashtag, and aside from the fantastic content, has uncovered new experiences to potentially offer visitors to the state.

Of course, there are many other trends we could discuss in the travel sector, but one theme is consistent. Brands that turn to actual travelers to help create content and drive messaging are succeeding at a much higher clip than those resisting behavioral trends. They are able to balance creativity, engagement, and conversion, at scale.

One more note: To remain as authentic as possible, I’ve written this post from an airplane!

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