Travel the Way U Want: How Uniworld Powers Personalized Travel with User-Generated Content

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, the world’s only authentic boutique river cruise line, provides travelers with the ultimate luxurious cruise experience. Offering trips throughout Europe, Russia, Egypt and Asia, Uniworld cruises guide travelers through beautiful excursions while offering gourmet cuisine, top-notch hospitality and unforgettably unique vacations. U River Cruises, a subsidiary under the Uniworld umbrella, offers experiential travel experiences tailored to each traveler where visitors can hop-on, hop-off and adventure through new cities as they please.

The Uniworld travel experience is personalized to each traveler’s needs and preferences, and it’s that attention to detail that sets a Uniworld cruise apart. In order to reflect the wide variety of activities that can make up a Uniworld cruise, the team looks to user-generated content as an authentic inside look through the eyes of the customers in real-time.

“We wanted to make sure we had great images of travelers, images of people doing the activities on the ships and really showing the experiences they’re having,” says Dan Christian, Chief Digital Officer at The Travel Corporation (TTC), Uniworld’s parent company. “That’s why people go on trips — to have those experiences. We really want to showcase that.”

Now in their fifth year partnering with Stackla to effectively leverage traveler UGC, Uniworld continually focuses on what’s most important: marketing with their customers. Putting authenticity at the heart of their marketing strategy, Uniworld has implemented UGC across social campaigns, web experiences, live events, email and print — and the results speak for themselves.

Cultivating a collaborative content experience across social channels

For travel brands, inspiring consumers to take a break from the hustle of daily life and take time for themselves is challenging. But, according to a recent Stackla report, 86 percent of people have become interested in traveling to a location after seeing images from friends, family or peers. Uniworld sees the power of that authentic content to drive inspiration — and bookings.

“It makes clear and total sense that social media is a key driver for word-of-mouth marketing,” says Christian. “Even before social media, we used to print off pictures of our trips and show them to people. Now, it’s done in real-time and it’s trackable and measurable, which is exciting for marketers. It’s always been there, now it’s just about ensuring we’re leveraging it successfully.”

By featuring content that actually resonates with everyday consumers — real content created by travelers just like them — Uniworld offers immediate visual proof across its social channels.  “We want to inspire our followers with real and authentic adventures that our guests are having on our cruises,” says Christian. “User-generated content is critical for us to engage and convert customers and get them traveling with our brands.”

We want to inspire our followers with real and authentic adventures that our guests are having on our cruises. User-generated content is critical for us to engage and convert customers and get them traveling with our brands.Dan Christian, Chief Digital Officer, The Travel Corporation

With Stackla, Uniworld is able to seamlessly source all of this impactful traveler-created content — to date, the team has sourced over 50,000 UGC photos. “We encourage UGC from our guests,” says Christian. “Capturing that content was where it started for us, and now it’s about showcasing that content in the most impactful way.” With hashtags like #ExploreUniworld and #TravelForU, both the Uniworld and U brands foster a community of passionate travelers who are excited to share their experiences across social media — organically contributing to their content strategies.

Expanding their UGC strategy to the web experiences

After seeing success with UGC engagement on their social channels, the Uniworld team looked to expand their uses cases across more of their marketing touchpoints. “We started to incorporate UGC into our website and into our advertising, and ultimately into our print collateral,” said Christian. “Now we’re at a point where most of our content is UGC.”

The homepages of Uniworld and U feature galleries of user-generated content, inviting visitors to explore potential trips through the eyes of the guests and crew members. And, placing this content on the homepage is driving results. In the first quarter of 2019 alone, the UGC images received 360,000 impressions and 99,000 interactions.

Uniworld doesn’t just stop at showcasing that content; they also ensure the content is actionable by implementing ShopSpots on the UGC images they feature. “We’ve built out Stackla-powered UGC tiles on the homepage and trip pages, and going forward, we’ve made sure every single image is linked to a booking. So, people see these UGC images, and they realize they want to learn more or take that trip, and with Stackla we make that really easily accessible for them,” said Christian. “We’re seeing real immediacy in the bookings.”

The ShopSpots feature the exact trip the UGC is showing, along with an “Experience This” button. That call-to-action draws customers through to the product page, offering a seamless path to more than a purchase — it’s a one-way ticket to an unforgettable experience.

From there, visitors can delve even further into the authentic traveler content by clicking through to Uniworld and U’s Community Pages and individual ship pages, web pages dedicated completely to impactful UGC from guests across all of the trips that Uniworld offers. For visitors to the site looking for the inside scoop of what a trip with Uniworld is actually like, the Communities are a hub for real and trustworthy content — essential social proof that potential customers look for when booking a trip.

Obtaining content rights and transforming emails with content that converts

Across more than just social and web, Uniworld takes their UGC strategy to the next level. By incorporating impactful traveler content into its promotional emails, the U team shows firsthand how “other travelers do U.” With real photos from actual trips, Uniworld builds trust without frills — and influences consumers to click through to book.

By tapping into Stackla’s rights management workflows, Uniworld seamlessly requests and gains rights to content created by travelers — content they can then leverage throughout their email campaigns. “Stackla makes the rights management process simple by providing easy-to-use tools that allow us to obtain rights quickly and easily,” says Christian.

Prior to partnering with Stackla, one of Uniworld’s main challenges was ensuring they had enough content to use across their marketing assets. But, with a robust, Stackla-powered rights management strategy in action, Uniworld has more than enough images to choose from. “Now we’re in a good place with ample content. We have an asset library of images that we have easily accessible for any marketing campaign,” said Christian. “What’s been incredibly important, now that we have all of these assets, is being able to serve them at the right place, at the right time, to the right customer.”

Now we’re in a good place with ample content. We have an asset library of images that we have easily accessible for any marketing campaign. What’s been incredibly important, now that we have all of these assets, is being able to serve them at the right place, at the right time, to the right customer. 

Being able to implement these photos into their email strategy is making a difference, too.  Personalizing emails down to the UGC level not only inspires bookings, it supports customer loyalty. “We had personalized content before using UGC, but it wasn’t nearly as powerful. Now we’re seeing substantial gains and results from it. It’s clear it’s the future path and consumer behavior is responding to that. Now, they’re seeing the tired imagery our competitors are using, but it’s not effective. Our UGC is what they’re looking for.”

“There’s so much opportunity for us — segmenting our customers, looking at where they’ve traveled before, where they may be interested in going in the future — and then serving them the right images of other people who have had those amazing experiences. We want them to have that ‘Ah-ha!’ moment of “That’s where I want to go next!’” said Christian.

Digital first — Uniworld shifts to UGC-powered advertising and digital brochures

With all of these channels successfully leveraging UGC, Uniworld added another to the list to capture the attention of a scroller: social advertising. “In terms of the placement, whether it’s in a feed or in a story, we want to make it appear natural. UGC organically flows into a feed, and even though there’s still a call-to-action, there’s no affront.” Consumers are attracted to real traveler images, and that level of authenticity ensures they aren’t feeling bombarded by bulky advertisements.

“In any sort of marketing and advertising we’re doing, we’ve shifted away from stock imagery or staged photography to user-generated content, where we see increased click-throughs,” said Christian. “Across the board, we’re reducing costs by using UGC successfully, but more importantly, we’re increasing click-through rates and engagement.”

In any sort of marketing and advertising we’re doing, we’ve shifted away from stock imagery or staged photography to user-generated content, where we see increased click-throughs. Across the board, we’re reducing costs by using UGC successfully, but more importantly, we’re increasing click-through rates and engagement.

In fact, TTC is now exclusively serving user-generated images in place of traditional advertising creative across 90 percent of their brands.

Now, Uniworld looks to implement UGC across their print strategy as well. “We’ve come full circle by approaching our print strategy with digital content. We know how well it works in the digital space, so now we’ve shifted our print content strategy to UGC.”

Since the bulk of their marketing spend tends to be on brochures and print distribution, the Uniworld team saw an opportunity to transform their traditional print strategy with more cost-effective and engaging UGC. “The business is shifting for changing traveler patterns. There’s a need for us to be digital first. By shifting away from print-first strategies — one of our brands is moving completely to a digital brochure — the cost savings have been significant,” said Christian. “We’re moving away from the photoshoots, which are incredibly expensive and not nearly as effective, and instead focusing on UGC — and we’re seeing a significant cost reduction.”

Always innovating, Uniworld uses UGC to stay one step ahead in the travel industry.

A partnership that looks to the future

Together with Stackla, Uniworld looks to continue evolving their content strategies. “We consider ourselves to be leaders in the travel industry space with the direction our brands are innovating and evolving — part in parcel because of our relationship with Stackla and why we’ve been working together for so long,” says Christian. “As Stackla has evolved, so have we.”

With user-generated content as the foundation of their marketing strategy, Uniworld is always moving ahead, pushing the envelope and looking to redefine the ways in which people travel and share those experiences. “We can shape the UGC around our brand’s narrative. The customers don’t control our messaging; instead, they add to our brand’s story,” said Christian. By telling the story of Uniworld together, Uniworld and its customers create an ongoing, customer-centric experience like no other.

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