Fresh off being named to PhoCusWright’s Class of 35, which recognizes the travel industry’s top 35 young leaders under the age of 35, Kristen Hall, Director of Brand Strategy for Olapic’s travel vertical, took some time to sit down and chat with the blog to help us better understand how visual media, specifically user-generated content (UGC), is altering the way we travel and how this is transforming the travel industry.
Olapic: Kristen, first of all congratulations on getting to go to Los Angeles in November to receive your award just as temperatures here in New York begin their precipitous drop. So, you’re officially a thought leader and as such I was hoping you could answer a few questions for me, the first being: how has visual media, specifically user-generated content being posted to Instagram and Facebook etc., changed the travel industry?
Kristen Hall: Thanks! It’s really a great honor and I’m super excited about going out to LA to meet the other honorees. But to answer your question, in great part UGC has changed how people are booking travel. With such a great number of sources of content available on the web today, travelers are visiting many different sites before booking. People visit an average of 27 different sites before they book a trip. One reason for this is that they want to make sure they’re getting the best deals possible, but also they want to see what they’re booking. So for example TripAdvisor has become a juggernaut by using UGC to lure travelers to their site by showing them authentic photos of what they are booking—and it’s been hugely impactful. This is especially true when it comes to hotels. Many people are booking through TripAdvisor rather than directly through hotels’ own sites—last year alone this cost the hotel industry $2 BILLION in booking fees.
Olapic: Are brands prioritizing this content or are they ignoring it?
KH: Every brand that I’ve spoken to recognizes the ongoing story in the space is that content is king and there needs to be more of it. It’s really difficult and expensive to create content from scratch. Something as simple as changing the bedspread in a room could require a multi-million dollar photo shoot. The cost of creating enough owned content is untenable for most businesses in the travel industry. So when you have people creating content around your brand, and you have data that shows that when hotels and airlines use this content people really respond to it, it makes sense to feature it on your website. And a lot of big brands are starting to realize this. Brands like Starwood and the Standard Hotels are bringing Instagram feeds onto their property pages. So there’s definitely a growing trend.
Olapic: Are there any brands that have especially impressed you?
KH: JetBlue, in terms of airlines, is doing the best job. They’re using content as part of an inspirational booking experience. So you can browse not only destinations but the whole JetBlue experience. They’re doing a great job of showing off what makes the airline cool and unique while driving people to the point of purchase. On the hotel side I think Hard Rock has figured it out. They really look at UGC as a way of building a community. They’re pulling in content from all across social and into one hub where people can browse, get inspired and book.
Olapic: It seems to me that travel is the most inherently visual “product” and therefore it’s natural for consumer and supplier to communicate visually.
KH: It’s true. And with everyone having a smartphone in their back pocket we have all become photographers. Everyone takes photos on vacation and everyone wants to show those photos to their friends and family. That’s everyone from young kids to elderly travelers. It’s a very visual experience. Look, there’s around 16.5 million photos hashtagged “vacation” on Instagram right now. That’s not to mention all the photos hashtagged around particular places and brands. It’s staggering. And what Olapic is trying to help travel brands do is to take that content and use it in the most advantageous way possible—both for the businesses themselves and for their customers.