Opinion

For travel marketers, the game has changed: Storytellers are more important than TV and print

Ahead of her panel discussion at Mumbrella Asia's inaugural Travel Marketing Summit on April 16 in Singapore, Lauren Quaintance of Storyation examines the role of the travel marketer in a world when the consumer has become the key storyteller

There’s no question that travel has changed. In Australia 20 years ago, a summer holiday meant packing the family station wagon and driving for a few hours to a beach before spending two weeks swimming, cooking on a BBQ and getting sunburnt.

If adults went overseas at all, they rarely took their kids with them. In contrast, my own children stage a revolution if they don’t get at least one overseas holiday a year. They are even coming with me to Singapore in April for Mumbrella Asia’s Travel Marketing Summit, where my big question to those attending will be: Is traditional marketing and public relations still relevant to today’s generation of travellers?

Lauren Quaintance: ‘Nobody wants to be a tourist. Everyone is a traveller’.

Everybody is a traveller now

Not only is international travel more accessible thanks to low-cost carriers, easier access to visas and technological devices, but we are demanding more from our holidays.

There’s a growing desire for rich, authentic and transformative experiences. No one wants to be a tourist anymore – everyone wants to be a ‘traveller’. That might mean learning to cook rogan josh in a back street in New Delhi or watching green turtles hatch on an island in Queensland. More often than not a ‘fly and flop’ beach holiday is seen as being one-dimensional and even quite shallow.

‘Local’ experiences are the expectation

Smart marketers know the best travel advertising now talks as much about people as it does about destinations. SO they focus on the emotional journeys of consumers, their experiences and the human connections made while on the road.

Airbnb has been attempting to ‘unlock the true character of a city’ by giving travellers real, local experiences and a sense of community – if only for a few days.

Through the firm’s ‘Experiences’, travellers can spend a few hours in the company of a local who will share their unique take on a destination. Options include anything from taking a tour of Melbourne’s coffee shops with a caffeine aficionado or discovering Havana by bike with a lycra-clad local.

Marketers no longer own the story

Tourism marketing departments no longer have control of the message in the way that they once did. In the past, a beautifully-shot television commercial was the main way to send out a narrative to the masses. While there have always been word-of–mouth recommendations, social media has made it so that today’s consumers are constantly bombarded by travel content and offers.

A school friend just taking a trip to Iceland can suddenly have a great influence on a peer’s travel decisions. As a result, every destination marketer or operator needs to understand that their customers are the co-creators of their story.

Tourism Australia, for example, receives more than 1,200 photos every day via social channels from travellers, locals and those in the industry. And many many more photos than that of Australia as a holiday destination are being circulated on social media. It’s not a one-way conversation anymore.

Same, same but different

That said, there is still a role for traditional marketing and public relations to play in tourism marketing. A really great TVC, such as this below video from Jackson Hole, can dramatically shift perceptions whether the audience watches it on television or on their mobile phone.

Equally, as a former journalist, I believe independent and expert recommendations from a media publisher are hard to dispute. Nevertheless, the job of the tourism marketer has undoubtedly become much more complex than it was a decade ago. Attention is fragmented; there is no simple way to reach mass audiences in the way that TV and print previously allowed you to do.

Perhaps, in this constantly shifting landscape, the most important thing to keep sight of is the psychology of the travellers. It’s essential to understand why and how we travel, and how a destination acts as a means of transformation, self-discovery and human connection. When you’ve truly grasped that, you can start to worry about what channels to use to tell that story.

Lauren Quaintance is the head of content for Australian content marketing agency Storyation. She will be speaking on a panel at the upcoming Mumbrella Asia Travel Marketing Summit in Singapore on April 16

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