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The Travel Industry Turns Places Into People

September 19th, 2016

Imagine a party attended by countries. Britain would probably be in the kitchen sipping a cup of tea and munching on cake. France might be sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine, explaining Proust and Stendhal. The Bahamas would be rocking out to some reggae in the living room, and America, in cargo shorts and waving a Bud Lite, would be talking too loudly… probably about sport.

These are stereotypes, of course. They’re never accurate, can never capture all the complexities of any destination but they’re the pictures that people hold about a place. And for content marketers working in the travel industry, they provide solid material to work with. On a digital platform that rewards personal contact and authenticity, those stereotypes are both a challenge and an opportunity.

Some travel marketers have grabbed that opportunity with both hands. In December 2011, the Swedish Institute and Visit Sweden launched a social media campaign called Curators Of Sweden. The campaign, which is still running and is maintained by Swedish marketing agency Volontaire, turns over the @sweden Twitter account to someone living in the country. For a week, they get to use the platform to say whatever they want as long as it doesn’t violate the law, promote a commercial brand or represent a security threat. “The expectation is that the curators will paint a picture of Sweden, different to that usually obtained through traditional media,” the project says.

The curators have been varied though they have largely shown the country to be diverse and progressive, a conscious decision made by Sweden’s destination marketers.

Other brands have also turned to individuals to represent destinations. Alaska Airlines runs a Weekend Wanderer series which chooses someone to fly to Alaska for a weekend and document their travels on the company’s Instagram account. In addition to getting to show some great pictures, the brand is also able to broadcast the authentic emotional reaction that a visitor feels when they see the beauty of the Jasper National Park or the Clavell Glacier.

AirBnB conducts its own personalization strategy through the Wanderlust series on its blog which invites locals to introduce their city to potential visitors. A chef might reveal his favorite markets and restaurants. Hosts take their guests on virtual walking tours of the neighborhood or show them around their gardens. Hilton’s Mom Voyage project takes a similar approach. The hotel chain picks 30 people “who have traveled by air, boat, train and car all over the world with their children in tow.” In return for free nights at Hilton Hotels & Resorts properties, they provide content about their trips to particular destinations as a family.

No destination ever matches its stereotype completely. Places are always too big to be crammed into a single individual’s characteristics. But using locals to represent places has allowed content marketers in the travel industry to build real relationships with audiences.

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