All the way from Germany, our awesome intern and tourism marketing graduate, Vanessa, has written the first of two blog posts on branding and marketing in the travel industry. Here she looks at how and why travel bloggers rule when it comes to using digital word-of-mouth to sell destinations.
It's that time of the year when UK dwellers start to dream about sunny destinations with magazines and newspapers full of reviews about the best places to escape the winter. While travel journalists are paid to write these articles, there is now a new breed of travel writers who have built up readerships by working for themselves. Travel bloggers, digital nomads, adventurers full of wanderlust - we have all heard of them, read about them at some point and wanted to be them. So, what is it about travel that captivates so many? More importantly, what turns a travel blog into a successful brand and what can tourism marketers learn from them?
The first thing we associate with travel bloggers are the perks that go along with the job. Staying in fancy hotels? Check. Going on private tours? Check. All expenses paid by someone else? Check! There are the snapshots of perfect beaches at sunset, foreign places that seem mystical to us and the stories bloggers tell us about their adventures around the globe. It's these personal and honest accounts of experiences we would love to be a part of that feed our curiosity and keep us coming back for more.
People trust blogger opinions more than traditional types of media
In recent years, blogging has become a great way to visually captivate people. Many who create quality content have been able to channel the power of social networks to create brands of their own - mixing aspects of research, reviews and storytelling. Bloggers are right in the middle of it all, following trends within their communities and engaging with the people behind it on a constant basis.
Travel blogs are different to review sites because they act as a manifestation of the full travel experience. Looking at it from a marketing perspective, you can assess opinions about brands through the experience being communicated - the activities undertaken, the photos shared and the reactions from readers. In this way, travel bloggers' showcasing of uncensored experiences have led many people to trust blogger opinions more than traditional types of media. If we look at blogging as a type of digital word-of-mouth, it poses new possibilities for tourism marketers. Engaging with bloggers or their readers can serve as an effective way of collecting feedback, as well as gaining insights for future marketing strategies. After all, with all of us now using review sites such as TripAdvisor, isn't it only natural to evolve to more personal and social conversations?
What companies might see as a risk, the customer sees as honesty and authenticity
With digital technologies and social networks driving changes in the tourism industry and most notably in the tourist-host relationship, a number of destinations have started working with bloggers. The Scottish tourism industry has jumped on the bandwagon with travel collective The Scotlanders, who cover everything from cultural sights to the new Borders railway line. A key point to consider is that each blogger has a distinct and loyal following based on a travel archive that demonstrates their taste and areas of expertise. This also means that if the blogger fits your target group, their followers are likely to do so, too. This insight makes bloggers valuable to brands who are looking to raise awareness of their own offer.
Hearing professional travellers share their stories and expertise has become a crucial part of promotion
A word of caution - travel blogging is not about native advertising. Most bloggers will and do insist on voicing their personal and unfiltered opinion, so some bravery is required. Bloggers are influencers and want to take responsibility for the brands they endorse. Many make their own way through the destination, unafraid of leaving well-trodden paths behind. What companies might see as a risk for their brand representation, the customer sees as honesty and authenticity. What is important to realise is that brands represented by seemingly impartial people can appear more trustworthy in the tourism industry. Hearing professional travellers share their stories and expertise has become a crucial part of promotion. Social networks, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TripAdvisor, have given travellers greater power.
Tourism is one of the most important industries when it comes to selling feelings and stories
Yet, many in the tourism industry still concentrate on the material representations of destinations: built heritage and scenery. In fact, tourists are looking for emotional experiences. Understanding your market segments, means acknowledging the motivations and emotional responses to your brand. Interestingly, different people will experience the same place at the same time differently, so destinations can work with more than one blogger to showcase the different aspects of their offer. Engaging a wide audience means there is no need to limit yourself to one aspect of your brand.
Working in the experience economy, we have learned that customers are not just buying products anymore and tourism is one of the most important industries when it comes to selling feelings and stories. Great photos of destinations captivate us and get us excited. Mix them with the authenticity and expertise of a professional traveler and you have the perfect audience-engaging mix. The reader is given a feeling for what a destination can offer them and how it can satisfy their personal needs through the eyes of another. It is this interpersonal influence arising from exchanges between consumers that constitutes an important factor in making purchase decisions. With word-of-mouth ranking as one of the most influential sources of pre-purchase information, the internet provides new ways for individuals to learn directly from other consumers, making blogs essential tools for destination marketers.
Finally, the industry behind it all remains somewhat invisible to consumers. Full of professionals, savvy marketers and people who have worked years and years on establishing themselves on and offline. Looking at it from that perspective, it seems only fair that the work pays off.