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One Way Ticket to Engagement: How UGC is Transforming the Travel Industry

Picture this: wanderlust has struck and you’re scrolling through Instagram for inspiration. Amidst a sea of branded stock images — hotel pools devoid of guests, immaculate rooms without a crease in their blankets — you spy images of friends sipping margaritas on a motel balcony; a bridal party beaming by the beach; a mother and her young children riding a roller coaster. These are not paid models but actual travelers exploring their diverse destinations, their images shared by the brands powering their excursions. In that moment, you start to picture yourself on vacation and your dream trip begins to take form.

Such a scenario is not uncommon. The influence of visual user-generated content, or earned content, is growing by the day — and of all industries, travel brands have perhaps the most to gain. In fact, social trends are already in favor of a visual UGC revolution — 72% of consumers post photos on social media while on vacation and 76% share content upon their return. With 400 million active users on Instagram publishing 80 million photos per day, the possibilities for hotels and airlines hoping to spur tourism and brand engagement are limitless.

By harnessing UGC photos, travel brands can showcase emotional elements that personalize the travel experience and encourage booking. In doing so, they’ll reduce the costs of producing stiff stock content and better engage prospective travelers with authentic images that help them visualize their experience.

Looking to give your brand a digital facelift? Here are some UGC and social savvy tactics to consider.

Personalize! Make Your Page Location Specific
Whether traveling to Miami or Timbuktu, each hotel property has its own unique personality and amenities — even locations within the same brand can offer vastly different experiences. Brands should tag specific locations in both internal and earned content, allowing travelers to filter specific locations and broaden their understanding of available offerings.

Travel brands also must select content with a 360-degree perspective in mind — while a hotel may have gorgeous rooms, a show-stopping lobby and a to-die-for pool, don’t neglect the other elements that make the property special. Staff members and local scenery and landmarks, for example, add texture and personality to a company’s visual story.

One of the primary benefits of UGC is that it can function as a built-in focus group, granting brands valuable insight into what travelers care about, which may differ from their initial understanding. Traveler’s cameras provide an inside look at the attributes they find most intriguing. While the ambiance is important, it may be a distinct fountain or unique table setting at the on-property restaurant that catches a traveler’s eye. In fact, at some resorts, Marriott has integrated “Selfie Spots” across the property, curating locations that are set up for the most powerful UGC opportunities. Travel brands should also post about special events around town as well. Local happenings are a great way for hotels to insert themselves into the surrounding spotlight.

Showcase Content
Want to give travelers a taste of paradise? Create a UGC gallery on your site to let them know what they’re in for. When a guest hashtags a visually stunning image, brands should ask for their permission to include the content on their site. Showcasing UGC in a separate gallery builds loyalty, showing visitors you recognize and appreciate what they share with your brand while adding a burst of authenticity and excitement for future travelers.

Exhibiting UGC also helps retain visitors in an environment where more than 8 out of 10 customers abandon online travel bookings. Tools such as bookable inspiration galleries and carousels of user images make websites more engaging, keeping users on the site while gathering information about their specific habits and preferences.

To encourage travelers to contribute content, brands should promote official hashtags on social profiles, property screens, confirmation pages, door hangers, and in-room menus. The more frequently a traveler encounters a hashtag, the more likely they are to use it with their own content. Hyatt in particular has done a great job showcasing the guest experiences across their properties, enabling experiential filters like beaches, golf, family friendly and weddings to help travelers book their next stay without having a specific destination or hotel brand in mind.

Host a UGC Contest
Looking to boost engagement? Brands can incentivize travelers to submit UGC using a contest-specific hashtag for the chance to win a free visit. To stand out and spur submissions, brands can be as creative as possible, latching onto timely events or simply asking travelers to share a selfie. Ultimately, asking for content deepens the emotional connection between brand and consumers, while a branded hashtag effectively generates authentic images and a stunning earned-content gallery for viewing submissions. Based on the creativity and visual appeal of entries, travel marketers will end up with a plethora of authentic content to utilize in future initiatives.

Though a great way to bolster brand interaction, UGC cannot exist in a vacuum. Brands hoping to accelerate their collection of high-quality content must strategically find ways to weave these images into their broader marketing efforts. As social media continues to play a vital role in the shopper journey, the travel brands that are able to forge meaningful relationships with consumers through content will be the ones that emerge on top, allowing guests to feel at home, no matter their location.

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