Travel Dives Deeper Into The Digital Space
Until three months ago, the travel industry was known for moving at a slower pace in the digital space. After all, the concept of planning a trip takes time and often research - it’s not a product that allows for instant consumer gratification like retail does. And then we have seasonal trends to keep in mind. Travel as we knew it was largely predictable. Meg Towner, Senior Digital Director at Hawkins International, shares her insights as travel dives deeper into the digital space.
In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, travel came to a screeching halt. With a roster of clients ranging from hotels and resorts, to cruise-lines, aviation companies and hospitality “start-ups,” we were faced with unprecedented challenges to overcome. With cities effectively shut down, borders closed to non-residents and organizations limiting all but essential travel, our clients were left with vacant hotels and villas, passenger-less cruise ships and airlines, cancelled tours – and no end in sight. Our challenge? How to keep these clients relevant. It’s been fascinating to see the resilience of the travel and hospitality industry. Those who didn’t go dark, stayed busy and the digital content and media space just got more creative...
How did we crank it up for clients in the digital space?
With the world outside in a constant state of flux and life seemingly shaped in 24-hour news cycles, it has been and continues to be challenging for hospitality businesses to grasp when, where, and how to communicate with their audiences. It became clear in March that we needed to pivot more than ever. We could no longer pitch our clients for the best places to travel or leverage seasonality and timely holidays as reason to visit a destination.
The first step was to work with our hospitality clients highlighting ways they could make elements of their travel and brand experience virtual and how to shift social media strategies to capitalize on the increased use of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and hosting educational and fun webinars for media and industry friends! Our goal was to make them see they could still reach travelers - At Home - and continue to engage with their current fan-base, while reaching new audiences through meaningful and tone-aware communications - providing both informative and wanderlust content. At the end of the day, we know there will be a pent-up demand for travel when the world opens up and brands who remain active and engaged will be front-of-mind.
Digital Success Examples
Beyond traditional media relations, our digital team of experts helped our clients pivot their digital and social strategies. Among the many campaigns we ideated and executed over the last 90 days, we:
- Developed a ‘Lay Low with Arlo’ Instagram Story content series for Arlo Hotels, enabling them to continue to build brand affinity with their audience by providing WFH tips, at home cooking recipes, painting tutorials and other value-add content for travelers who were stuck at home. Overall, the 42 Instagram Stories that the team published in March generated 36k+ impressions, with an average reach per Story of 825 users, 101 sticker taps and 117 link clicks.
- Capitalized on the ultra-luxury cruise line, Seabourn’s, popular on-board ship activities of trivia and bingo nights, developing an Instagram Stories series that leveraged Seabourn personalities to serve as trivia hosts and utilized the platform’s native polling features to allow an interactive user experience. In addition to trivia, the team developed a sharable Bingo board of Seabourn experiences that fans could fill out and re-share on their Stories to engage in a fun, virtual game night. These content series have boosted Stories engagement for the brand over 400% and had impressions over 150k.
- Implemented a targeted influencer strategy for Sorriso Modern Italian Kitchen, aligning The Woodlands, Texas restaurant with local influencers to promote its new curbside service and menu items. Over the span of two weeks, we secured seven partnerships reaching a combined total audience of 500k+ and collectively, the influencers generated 207 link clicks to the restaurant’s to-go menu while driving 1,140 new potential followers to its Instagram account.
Sorriso Modern Italian Kitchen
What have other travel and hospitality brands done in the digital space that we love?
- Hospitality brand in the private home rental market, onefinestay, launched its IGTV channel with a content collaboration program with leading interior designers and stylists Laura Butler Madden and Jen Pinkston, who share tips on their design inspirations.
- Leaders of sustainable tourism in Africa, Wilderness Safaris created a virtual campaign #IDreamOfAfrica. Its purpose is to champion Africa and the company’s ongoing conservation efforts. Wilderness Safaris is continuing to engage with guests and loyal followers online featuring an exciting line-up of riveting stories, from poetry readings on Facebook Live, to recipe sharing, recitals, storytelling and more on a weekly basis.
- Rosewood Hotels and Resorts launched #JourneyInPlace on instagram, bringing many of guests favorite hotel experiences home. Their innovative IGTV episodes have included workouts for #GlobalWellnessDay, cooking classes, cocktail tutorials and even guided meditation.
- And finally another example, where a hotel has gone beyond digital communications is Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, who introduced tech-oriented protocols for health, wellbeing and peace of mind. They’ve launched new, cutting-edge technology to support sanitizing rooms and public areas with the usage of Electro Static and Fogger Machines. Additionally the hotel will introduce touchless spa services with new partners like Halotherapy Solutions and offer telemedicine and virtual consultations with their health experts while closed!
Moving On - The Road to Reopening…
Now even as the travel industry starts to emerge from the peak of COVID-19 lockdown and economies begin to re-open, everyone is experiencing events of the day differently, so it is important to be mindful and create digital communication strategies that relate to broad audiences and take action quickly. Navigating this takes finesse and thoughtfulness. As situations around the world continue to evolve, so should your social strategies, which will vary from location to location and business to business as local policies and advisories allow. While no one “best practice” fits all, grasping the options is the first step toward successful communications. Hawkins International has curated some helpful tips to allow you to execute the strategy that works for your business.
General Tips and Tactics
Creating a new social strategy can seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind as you dive in.
- Use the talent you have and what you know. You likely have staff whose role has changed in the last few months, but that doesn't mean their knowledge and skills aren't still valuable at this moment. Leverage your team in a social content series on IGTV or Instagram Live to foster an emotional, human-to-human connection with your audience.
- Get a gut check from your team. Everyone is experiencing and processing this global pandemic differently – when building out a content calendar, source a few opinions to ensure your posts resonate.
- Don't try to be something you're not. Just because everyone is doing the TikTok dance challenge, doesn't mean you have to launch a new platform. Play to your brand's strengths and build content based on what you and your in-house experts know. From there, you can decide which platform will best serve your audience.
- It doesn't have to be perfect. Now is the time to use cell phone cameras, go live, and play with Instagram Stories. Get out and start conversations, and you'll learn that you can connect with your audience even without highly produced final products.
- You don't have to post every day. In fact, we recommend scaling back your posting cadence to two-to-three times per week. This way, you won't create audience fatigue or seem like you are capitalizing on a global crisis.
- Don't hard sell with any 'book now' messaging. That time will come back; now it's time to pivot to service.
Deciding what content to tackle can be a difficult choice. We recommend starting with whichever platform currently has your most engaged audience – whether it be YouTube, your company’s blog, Instagram Stories or a newsletter. Test the waters with a platform you are comfortable with before expanding your content elsewhere and optimizing for different platforms. To keep yourself organized and on a regular cadence, we recommend creating a schedule (also known as a content calendar – see more below) to help you plan ahead. Lastly, don't be afraid to get a little trendy; if you see a surge in cocktail recipes one week, and you have a killer signature cocktail, go ahead and share it! Audiences naturally latch onto what's trending, so you can ensure your brand is a part of the conversation.
Here are a few easy content marketing tips:
- Audit your existing asset library. Before spending time and energy on developing new content, review existing photos and videos to see if they are usable in this time. Do you have a series of consecutive photos that can be transformed into a stop motion video? Raw video footage that can be edited and shared on IGTV? Old videos can take on a new life with new text overlays or simple graphic intros and transitions.
- Develop a regular content calendar. While this requires a bit of extra planning, a content calendar will help streamline your social media posting efforts. Tap into topics that are trending every week – #TastyTuesday, #WellnessWednesday, #ThursdayThoughts to strategically plan out content efforts at least a week in advance. This also trains your audience on what to expect and keeps them returning for the content they like best.
- Take advantage of free resources. Many platforms and tools have opened up complimentary access during this time. Here is a comprehensive roundup of various marketing platforms that are currently accessible at no cost.
- Follow notable platforms. During this unprecedented time, brands large and small are learning from each other and optimizing content plans in real-time. To stay up to date on content trends, follow a variety of accounts. We've included some of our favorites below that provide our team with inspiration:
@Creators – a channel that Instagram developed to help creators learn best practices.
@InstagramForBusiness – another Instagram-managed channel that gives advice to businesses that use the platform.
@Forbes – they've been producing a lot of interesting Instagram Live content recently.
@IAmWellAndGood – the wellness publication has latched on to trends very early but does an excellent job of tailoring to their audience.
As things trend towards a “new normal”, being increasingly present and engaged with your audience online won’t be considered a side-line effort but rather a key component of a truly integrated marketing plan post Covid-19. Brands who lay a solid digital marketing foundation now, will be set for success.
As you change your digital communications plans to meet the changing times, don't forget to turn to trusted advisors for help and guidance. And remember: When the world changes, you can always change them again.