How Travel & Hospitality Brands Can Keep Consumers Engaged with UGC During & After the COVID-19 Crisis

By Megan DeGruttola - May 7, 2020
7 mins read time
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Like many others around the world, travel marketers have had to quickly press pause and reset on all their activities in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

With travel at a sudden halt, tighter budgets and public safety of paramount importance, travel and hospitality brands are being forced to completely rethink how they market going forward.

As travel marketers, you need to keep anxious and distracted consumers engaged with less resources while the world is shut down and then have a game plan for recovery in a post-pandemic world where the rules have undoubtedly changed.

Change can be hard. Unexpected, rapid change can be even harder.

Although the travel industry has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s also historically one of the most resilient industries.

You may feel like you’re in the eye of the storm now, but by taking this time to put smart strategies in place, your marketing team can come out the other side stronger, more agile and more in touch with your customers than ever before.

And your customers are the key.

Why User-Generated Content is the Key to Immediate Engagement & Long-Term Recovery

Now, more than ever, people are looking for ways to connect with others, and they’re doing it by creating and consuming massive amounts of content on social networks. Daily usage of Facebook is up 27 percent, YouTube is up 15.3 percent and TikTok is up 15.4 percent.

Not only are social networks optimal channels to reach growing and captive audiences, but the content people create there — user-generated content (UGC) — has the potential to reinvigorate all your marketing activities.

User-generated content is seen by consumers as trusted, authentic and influential, it’s freely available and it’s constantly being created by millions of people everyday.

For those reasons and more, marketers across industries have been strategically leveraging UGC for years. But these times of uncertainty and constricting resources are serving to make UGC even more essential to marketers success.

Whether you’re struggling to break through the noise, boost sales, strengthen customer trust or build an active online community, UGC can help your brand cost effectively feed all your content needs while making the human connection people crave in this moment.

Here are just some of the ways user-generated content can help to keep your audiences inspired and engaged now and prepare you to welcome them back to your airline, hotel, destinations or tours after COVID-19.

How to Engage Consumers Now

Reminiscing on Past Trips

Since we’re all stuck at home, staring at the same four walls for days on end, spark positive thoughts by inviting people to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce on some of the best trips they have taken in the past. Ask them to share their favorite photos or videos from their last holiday or memories from the best destination they’ve visited.

Hamilton Island, a top Great Barrier Reef destination, has run a successful campaign in the past with this approach. After passing the one million visitor milestone, they used Stacka to launch a social competition asking past guests to share their Hamilton Island memories using the hashtag #HIRememberWhen on Instagram, Twitter or via direct upload on their website.

As their Director of Online, Aida Merdovic, said, “We hoped that by asking past guests to reminisce about their experiences we would evoke a feeling of nostalgia that would compel them to re-visit the island and, overtime, inspire new visitors to book a Hamilton Island holiday.”

They received thousands of photo submissions that were shared over 2k times, reaching 6.7 million impressions and resulting in 4x the average web traffic to their campaign page.

In the end, their #HIRememberWhen campaign re-engaged audiences, expanded their visual content library with authentic assets for future campaigns and achieved an impressive 3,814% return on investment (ROI).

Encourage Future Travel Plans & Fantasies

In trying times like these, people need something to look forward to. Help inspire those who are bored, going stir crazy or simply itching to plan their next trip by encouraging them to daydream about future travel they can (hopefully soon) embark on.

Customizable value travel tours company, Costsaver Tours, is doing just that with their #CSTravelChallenge. Asking people to create their dream trips from the comfort of their homes, Costsaver Tours’ UGC competition calls on people to get creative by crafting their ideal travel destination in their living rooms or backyards. Upon submitting photos or videos of themselves in their homemade fantasy travel locations on Facebook, Instagram or via email, people have the chance to win £2000 Future Travel Credit with Costsavers.

The submissions are already pouring in for this ongoing, Stackla-powered social contest, with tons of people creating, capturing and sharing their dream travel spots from the safety of their homes.

Another way to help people fantasize about future travel is by letting them pretend to be there as they work from home. Brands like Alaska Airlines and Omni Hotels & Resorts have created downloadable Zoom backgrounds of their top destinations to help teleport people temporarily to sunny poolsides and relaxing beach locales. And since everyone’s sharing Zoom content on their social channels, these backgrounds are helping to keep these brands top of mind with their audiences’ coworks and social networks.

Make a Human Connection

Travel companies are integral parts of our local and global communities, and many are using this time to demonstrate that in their marketing — choosing to communicate not as brand to consumers, but person to person.

Omni Hotels & Resorts, for example, has been adding a human touch to their recent marketing emails, showcasing UGC of the good work their team is doing to support local food banks during this crisis, because “hospitality goes beyond the hotel walls.”

Create Shared Virtual Experiences

As soon as you land on Discover Puerto Rico’s homepage, you’re greeted with the message, “Soon enough it will be time for paradise. All in good time.” They’ve brilliantly carried this hopeful message throughout their site, inviting people to “Experience Puerto Rico from Home” with a series of virtual vacay tours and events.

From virtual salsa lessons and cooking classes to off the beaten path and natural wonders tours, they’re bringing the “soul of the Caribbean to you” via Facebook and Instagram Live Streams. Not only is this creating a fun and interactive experiences for potential visitors, but it’s also helping them grow their social following while inspiring their audiences to create #VirtualVacay UGC that’s tagged with their @discoverpuertorico social handle.

How to Engage & Convert Consumers When Travel Reopens

Build Trust with Visual Social Proof

Once travel restrictions are lifted, hospitality and tourism brands will need to reestablish trust with wary consumers. Traveler priorities will be different on the other side of this pandemic. With people looking for more physical and financial security than ever before, travel brands will need to clearly communicate cancellation policies and booking flexibility as well as the steps they’re taking to ensure visitors’ health and safety.

Visual social proof in the form of employee and traveler UGC can go a long way towards assuaging people’s doubts and providing the validation they need to book that first post-pandemic trip.

Something many DMOs have already started doing is providing accurate and up-to-date information on COVID-19 health news, travel and business restrictions from local government organizations and officials. In Australia, both the City of Sydney and the City of Adelaide have created centralized destinations for locals and travelers to look to for real-time information directly from the verified social accounts of local authorities.

As businesses are allowed to reopen and travel allowed to start flowing again these information hubs will serve as crucial third-party validation that it’s safe to begin visiting and frequenting stores and restaurants again. To keep this content fresh and relevant once we’ve entered our new normal, DMOs and hospitality brands should tap into content locals will be creating since they will be the first group to start venturing back out into their communities. If you can prove that it’s safe for them, others will follow.

How Outrigger Hotels & Resorts responded to the 2018 eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano. When the volcanic activity broke out, it naturally caused a lot of traveler panic. How bad was it? Was more than the big island affected? Should they cancel their trips? How soon would it be safe to visit?

To answer all these questions, Outrigger decided to show, not tell. They created a landing page with a visual UGC gallery of guests enjoying themselves at their four hotel properties on the Island of Hawaii. Concerned travelers could see for themselves that it was safe there and the sun awaited them. As Outrigger’s Social Media Strategist, Laura Essenberg, said, they knew that “UGC would be the best way to authentically and truly show that things were going ok.”

Post-COVID, the content will need to change, but Outrigger’s approach should remain. Instead of showing people at a crowded pool or beach, hotels will need to demonstrate that they’re taking disinfecting and social distancing seriously. Share content that shows the added precautions your employees are taking — wearing face masks and gloves — and the ways you’re enforcing social distancing — signs, screens or other markers you’re using to keep guests safely separated — as well as how visitors are enjoying their stays.

Create Long-Lasting Customer Connections

On the other side of this global crisis, most of you will be forced to do more with less; many budgets have been reduced, teams have become smaller and the ability to produce new visual content has significantly diminished.

Your marketing will need to strike a delicate balance between demonstrating strict health and safety measures and highlighting the comfort, fun and relaxation people seek when traveling.

User-generated content is the best tool to help you overcome these challenges, reassure people that it’s safe to travel again and meet this moment with the kind of humanity that deepens customer bonds for decades to come.

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