Content, your new travel agent

The way we plan our trips has changed, and content is guiding the way...

By: Nicola Robey,   5 minutes

A Google search and a Rough Guide used to cut it when it came to planning our time away. But now travel brands themselves are stepping up to produce more creative, more conscientious content that acts as our trusty travel agent. 

Even if you spring to your desk every morning with unbridled enthusiasm, we’ll wager you also relish the freedom that comes from clocking off and embracing your annual leave.

The type of freedom associated with ordering an Aperol Spritz before lunch, unearthing enclaves of the unknown and making friends with a local bar owner who you promise to make godfather to your children.

Holiday time is a very distinct window of opportunity. A sacred space where the sole intention is to enjoy yourself.  For many discerning travellers, eating in the same hotel restaurant for two weeks, or getting trapped on an antiquated coach tour for hours on end just isn’t part of the plan anymore. We want to get out there, grasp those hidden holiday gems and put them in our travel treasury ready to gloat about when we get home.

Creative, considered content as our guide 

Where our parents would have walked into a travel agent to be guided by those ‘in–the-know’, our go-to tactics for discovering where we want to spend our work-free window has completely transformed. And the world of content is leading the way.

Our work free window has transformed and content is leading the way.

Long gone are the days when a travel brochure or Michelin Guide would be the first port-of-call to whip up our wanderlust. For many of us, travel research now starts with sources closer to hand. Sources that are both convenient and trustworthy. For me, and many like me,  the first stop is Instagram.

Why? Because it offers a genuine window into an experience; be it a recommendation of where to eat, drink or lounge like a shrivelled lizard. In fact, according to CNN 52% of travellers said that social media influenced a change in their travel plans. Instagram’s user-generated content, helps us make decisions based on real life because it feels more authentic – even if it’s overlaid with a whimsical filter.

Stepping boldly into the (partially) unknown

As modern consumers, fluent in the dynamics of the digital age, we’re more aware than ever of the underhand ways companies have historically tried to sell to us. Setting out to garishly snare our attention with all the subtly of an East London market stall holder.

Clever travel companies have cottoned on to our desire for authenticity above overt selling, by creating content that has true value – and that feels more insightful and useful. They’ve realised that by giving readers stuff to genuinely elevate their travel experience, they’ll in turn benefit from shaping our choices – becoming that helpful, go-to guru of travel-based wisdom. Oh and they just might happen to have a hotel suite too! Excellent.

Because when it comes to travelling, part of the allure is the romantic notion that you’re stepping into the unknown. And while this might be an exciting prospect, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to make sure that the unknown has been at least partially explored before you touch down or check in. We might want to know what the weather’s going to be like, where the local’s hang out or which animals in the vicinity can deliver the deadly blow of death.

So when helpful content, offering genuine value crops up, such as this handy guide to budgeting by STA travel, or this useful content series by Virgin Atlantic coined Between Meetings – which helps business travellers get a little more from their destinations when they’re on the hoof – it’s a breath of fresh air.

Helping audiences make more of their time before they pack up or take off is the new focus of Airbnb’s marketing efforts. Their clever team has recently launched a new value-based content campaign called ‘Live There’.

Their updated app contains over three million localised tips from hosts in 35 cities worldwide. Like one big ‘little black book’ to all of the authentic experiences hidden away across the globe. Airbnb has commented that their new strapline, host-generated content and app development, was “designed in response to the growing dissatisfaction and disappointment with standardised tourist offerings that have become the hallmark of modern tourism.”

The focus on generating authentic and insightful information, doesn’t only speak to the Instagram-centric audience searching for genuine unbiased content, but offers more layers of engagement, boosting brand appeal, and marking them out as a trusted source of information.

Destination ---> content

When it comes to this shifting focus on content, the boldest travel brand has to be Marriott.

Based in their Florida offices, Marriott has now established M Live – a media content hub, or as they call it: a ‘Global Marketing Real-Time Command Center’.

“We are a media company now,” said David Beebe, Marriott’s Emmy-winning vice president of global creative.

It’s here with their swivel chairs and wall of widescreens that they’ve sown the seeds for a wealth of branded content. Their back catalogue now includes a successful TV show, a short film The Bellmen, Oculus Rift virtual reality experiences, personalised travel magazines, and live user-generated content. Together this content push has led to stratospheric engagement metrics, millions in direct revenue and even content licensing deals.

Because life is really a series of stories, driven by our choices, and punctuated by connections, characters and experiences we interact with on the way.

With smarter publishing models, more intelligent content strategies, and above all better stories that people want to share, Marriott has shown just how effective these methods can be at engaging audiences. What’s more by keeping things varied, in media and channels, they’re demonstrating the value of stepping away from the basic blog, and branching out into new ways of approaching content. FullSizeRender_3

Creativity in branded content 

What Marriott and others progressive travel companies, such as Jet Blue (with their Human Kinda campaign) are also showing us, is that great travel content isn’t always geared solely towards insight and knowledge sharing. And this is where things are getting extra exciting.

These companies have successfully crept into the world of the creatively conceptual. They’re making imaginative, intelligent and compelling content that asks for more than a 10-second attention span – because the ideas and stories behind it, really deserve it. Such as this short film, Eugene by W Hotels and Intel. They’ve understood, like many other brands outside of their industry, that the marriage of authentic insight and creative endeavour is a surefire way to propel yourself into the customer’s heart, mind and ultimately pocket.

Because life is really a series of stories, driven by our choices, and punctuated by connections, characters and experiences we interact with on the way.

If this means seeing content driven by a desire to tell better stories and give more of a genuine window onto the world, then that’s an adventure I think most of us would like to be on.

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