Web attracts new wave of travelers

As the Internet becomes a more popular research tool, digital tactics are an important part of many travel and tourism campaigns

With the ease of Internet searches today, it is becoming increasingly common for consumers to use the Web to research and plan their travel. Because of this, digital media is becoming a crucial element for travel and tourism campaigns across the board – whether to promote a destination or specific brand.

The Zimmerman Agency is working on a campaign that brings digital mapping to the Web site of its client the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Looking for a way to keep consumers engaged and interested when they are doing online travel searches, Zimmerman built an application similar to Google Earth. By January 2009, the tool will allow prospective travelers to search on the site according to specific niches – such as beaches or sailing – to obtain photos and videos of the BVI.

One idea behind the campaign is to make additional information directly available on the site so consumers do not have to go elsewhere to find out more about the destination, explains Carrie Zimmerman, co-president of Zimmerman.

“If they ultimately stay on the site longer,” she says, “there's a higher propensity to book.”

The application includes a social networking aspect where consumers can post comments about their unique BVI experiences to specific locations on a flash map on bvitourism.com.

“Today, the consumer is the third-party credibility,” Zimmerman says. “The validation is moving away from the media and into the consumers' hands.”

The user experience provided on the BVI Web site will also provide a much more visual roadmap of the destination, Zimmerman explains.

“It is less about surface PR promotions and much more about using the intelligence of the Web to make it entertaining [as well as] illuminate content,” she says.
 
Online techniques

While the BVI campaign is highly interactive and innovative, campaigns using basic online techniques can be equally effective at getting consumers engaged with and excited about a destination or brand.

Last spring, Edelman crafted a digital campaign for the Illinois Bureau of Tourism that centered on a contest on its Web site, which offered photos of different destinations in seven specific regions around the state. Visitors to this site could nominate their favorite destinations in the state, and then were encouraged to vote during four elimination rounds.

The $75,000 campaign, titled “The Seven Wonders of Illinois,” spanned about two months and aimed to drive awareness and increase travel to different attractions throughout the state.

After designating a winning destination in each of the seven regions around the state, the PR team created Web pages for each location, complete with videos, images, information, and links to three-day getaway vacation packages.

Utilizing the Web in the campaign “really allowed us to put the brand in the hands of consumers... and allowed consumers to choose... their favorite destinations to visit in all the... areas of the state,” says Mia Casey, SVP at Edelman.

Jan Kostner, deputy director of the Illinois Bureau of Tourism, says crafting the campaign around an online contest was helpful for gathering intelligence regarding consumers' favorite Illinois destinations.

“Some really interesting things came out of it that we found really exciting and fun,” Kostner says. “People helped make us more aware so we could promote some of the [destinations] that were more new to us on the menu of what we have to offer.”

The campaign also provided an excellent opportunity for the PR team to talk with the media about the state of Illinois. Casey says a strong digital program will ideally help “bring awareness directly to consumers, but then also help support your general media efforts, whether they are online, in blogs, or print or broadcast.”

Indeed as part of the campaign, the PR team formed a partnership with Chicago's WLS-ABC Channel 7. The destinations from the campaign were discussed on the station's morning show during the eight-day period that the winning destinations were announced.
 
Twitter presence

Also capitalizing on the popularity of social media, M Booth & Associates is working on a campaign for Travelzoo, in which it is creating a Twitter presence for the brand.

Brad Laney, VP in the travel and lifestyle practice at M Booth, says Twitter is a powerful way to reach the target consumers, particularly because many of Travelzoo's deals have a short shelf life.

“Twitter really helps in that aspect for sharing information very quickly,” he says.

Mindy Joyce, senior marketing director of brand and PR at Travelzoo, adds that the Twitter page is a great way to interact with consumers and members of the media, as well as establish the company as an authority on travel.

“It establishes a one-on-one relationship with the brand,” she says. “That's something you can't get... through our own channels, like our Web site and... top 20 newsletters.”

Joyce says listening to consumers' comments and concerns on Twitter provides insight into what steps can be taken to improve Travelzoo's offerings. Additionally, the Twitter presence portrays the brand as innovative and taking its offerings to the next level.

She adds, “I really think if [you want] a conversation and a relationship with your audience, and your audience is on Twitter, which ours is, then it's a real advantage.”

Turning to the Web
  • More than 59 million adults in the US have used the Internet to make travel plans in the past year
  • Search engine Web sites are used by 77% of travelers who go on the Internet to make their plans
  • Company-run Web and destination sites are each used by 63% of online travelers
  • 52% of online travel planners use online travel agency sites
Source: Travel Industry Association

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