Why destinations should turn visitors into advocates through user-generated content

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Destinations are increasingly moving towards user-generated content and authentic experiences as part of their digital marketing strategies, shared several speakers at the recently-concluded PATA Destination Marketing Forum 2018 in Khon Kaen.

Damian Cook, CEO and founder of Kenya-based E-Tourism Frontiers, said: “Travel has become a shared experience. When people travel, they have an intense desire to share that experience constantly. Put smartphones and Wi-Fi into the mix, and you will have constantly shared content. That content is by-and-large publicly posted, accessible and visible to us.”

Cook: the best destination marketers are the travellers that visit the destination, and who share their experiences on social media (Photo credit: Ernelsa Villalba-Abelgas)

As the average social media user has an audience of 250 people, Cook urged destinations to think of every visitor to the country as someone who is going to share that experience with 250 people, which would make up a very large potential audience.

Previously, a traditional marketing model was to hire a marketing company to come to the destination and take photos or videos, and then delivering that specific content to the audience through paid channels.

“We now have people paying us to come to the country and take the best possible photo, from the food to the experience and scenery, and share it via predominantly free channels to an audience who knows and trusts them. This content is being shared in real time – and that’s where its power lies,” Cook added.

Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office has created a platform that drew articles and reports on destinations from various sources, driven in part by marketing budget constraints as well as a desire to tap user-generated content, revealed the DMO’s executive director, Jen Thraenhart.

He shared: “What better way than to get travellers to share their experiences while travelling around the region? Everyone’s already taking photos and videos for their own Facebook, Instagram or WeChat. The content is out there, but it doesn’t drive tourism.

“So we created a collaborative storytelling platform called Mekong Moments. This platform brought together the six countries (in the Greater Mekong Subregion), and six private sector organisations as founding partners.”

Mekong Moments was further developed to leverage visual content sharing. Beyond just pulling content, the platform also connects the content to commerce. For instance, visitors to the platform would click on a picture that interest them, and this picture could be by someone who tagged Mekong Moments, the destination and the business – for example a river cruise.

“Call this social commerce, but for this river cruise company, the more they encourage their guests to share their experiences, the more content is being created, the more the Mekong region is being promoted. This in turn also drives exposure for the business, and the region as a whole,” Thraenhart noted.

He added that there was a large amount of resources available, from hotel companies and tour operators to restaurants and development agencies. This platform was a way to motivate all tourism stakeholders to collaborate and contribute, where anyone, from a tuk tuk driver to a souvenir shop owner, can have their own presence on Mekong Moments.

Cook agreed: “Once these (active links) start working, and people receive booking enquiries, that really incentivises the industry to get their customers to take more photos, and tag them because they know the photo may end up being used by the DMO, which in turn drives business to them. This is a win-win relationship.”

Another example, related by Michael Goldsmith, vice president of marketing, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, was Brand USA’s Ask a Local programme, which used a documentary approach to share travel experiences and points of interest through the eyes of a local.

“As each US destination uploads information about their destination, the cost is extremely low as most of it is user-generated content, that is submitted by individuals in the destination,” he said.

Cook concluded: “Our best destination marketers are our visitors, and our priority has to be working with them to give them good shareable experiences – and they will.”

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