How Travel Brands Can Stand Out with User-Generated Content

How Travel Brands Can Stand Out with User-Generated Content

In the crowded world of travel and hospitality, it can be challenging to grab (and keep) people’s attention.

It’s easy to get caught in the “just another hotel” trap or end up playing the price game with people who now visit up to 38 websites before booking their travel.

Whether you’re an airline, hotel or online travel agency (OTA), if you want to stand out and really connect with travelers, you need to create digital experiences that inspire, engage and motivate them. But how can you do that in a way that truly resonates?

User-Generated Content: The Travel Game-Changer

Every travel marketer knows that if you want to sell a destination or accommodation, you need to sell the experience. And there is no better way to do that than through visual content.

But staged photography and stock images lack the realness today’s travelers look for when researching trips. Not to mention they are costly to commission.

Meanwhile, social media has become one of the most critical marketing channels for travel brands. Eighty-four percent of Millennials and 73 percent of non-Millennials are now far more likely to plan a trip based on someone else’s social media photos than any other form of media.

84% of Millennials are more likely to plan a trip based on someone's social photos than other media.Click To Tweet

And this organic social content, also referred to as user-generated content (UGC), isn’t just a new, vital source of travel inspiration. Today’s leading travel brands are using UGC to fuel every stage of the traveler’s path to purchase.

Why? User-generated content is the most trusted, relevant and influential content marketers have at their disposal. And there is plenty of it to choose from with over 208 million Instagram photos tagged #travel and 72 percent of people posting photos to their social networks while traveling.

As The Travel Corporation’s (TTC) Chief Digital Officer, Dan Christian, said in a recent webinar, “User-generated content could not be more important in the travel industry. Everywhere you look, it’s having a significant impact on decision making.”

Here’s how top travel brands are using UGC to stand out and authentically connect with travelers.

Separate Yourself From Your Competition

No brand wants to be in a position where they’re competing purely on price. To shift the conversation from price to perception, you must be able to translate in-person experiences into your online channels.

This is something TTC has been successful in doing across their brands. As Dan said, “We knew travelers were having an amazing time traveling with our brands. If you were on our website, we wanted to make sure that [those experiences] could come to life.”

For example, their renowned Uniworld river cruise line has incorporated real guest content throughout their website to help potential guests explore their ships and cruises before booking their trips. “There is nothing that compares to a Uniworld river cruise, it’s really in a class of it’s own. But the way to show that is not from the exterior of a ship; it’s to show [people enjoying] the interior rooms and the food – really highlight the amazing experience.”


With UGC, Uniworld can effectively tap into the moments of happiness, excitement and relaxation people feel when they’re on their cruises and use them to inspire and motivate visitors on their website. They’re focusing potential travelers on the wonderful trips they could be taking instead of how much it will cost in comparison to others.

“The differentiator is not price, it’s the complete experience,” Dan said. “You can look at Uniworld through the eyes of our guests and see what an amazing time they’re having. It gives a real inside look at the trip.”

Build a Library of Unique Visual Content That Resonates

A picture can be worth a thousand words, but if it’s the same old professional photo you’ve had on your website (and in your ads, emails, social networks, etc.) for months, those words might not be so kind.

Consumers have become harsh brand critics and most now prefer photos that are real over ones that are perfect.

Take Expedia, for example. As the largest travel brand in the world, they have no shortage of picture perfect professional photos. But they also have thousands of destinations and webpages they need unique content to support.

As Expedia Singapore’s Rebecca Pinnavanam put it, “We want the local Singaporeans to be able to relate to our content. We want them to say ‘this brand understands me; they understand what I like when I travel.’ Because user-generated content is created by real travelers, it’s much more relatable than what a brand can produce.”

To build a library of authentic UGC, Expedia launched their #EyeWanderWin travel photography contest, calling on travelers to submit their best travel images for a chance to win a free trip to a mystery destination. Not only did the contest activate their existing customers, it also helped them reach new audiences (including local travel influencers) and generated over 4,350 authentic traveler photos they could use throughout their marketing.

This content was critical in helping them create a more personal online booking environment. As Rebecca put it, “Because we’re a travel company, we don’t normally create content around food. Yet, food is an important part of traveling for many people, so there’s a gap there that UGC can be really effective at filling. With this large library of authentic traveler content, we can better localize our online experiences for our Asian markets.”

By leveraging the millions of authentic travel photos people post online everyday, travel brands have a massive opportunity to create engaging digital experiences that grab people’s attention and move them along the path to purchase.

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