The most recent State of the American Traveler research shows that, when planning their next trip, 45.5% of travelers seek out reviews, ratings and user-generated content both for ideas and to validate their selection, and 48.1% use social media in trip planning. According to the research, the average traveler uses dozens of websites and a range of offline media when deciding where to go and what to do when they get there.
I know my own travel planning behavior certainly embodies those statistics. I usually start surfing the web and perusing travel magazines before I even have an idea of where I want to go, and I often use Facebook posts as a way to poll my friends on how to make the best use of my time off. In fact, it was my friends’ replies to my recent Facebook post asking about ideas for Puerto Rico that ultimately decided my itinerary. Specifically: the recommendation for Vieques, a small island eight miles off mainland Puerto Rico replete with beautiful beaches, wild horses and a bio bay that glows in the dark.
Three weeks later, I was boarding a matchbox-size airplane in San Juan (where I’d just spent four days exploring Old San Juan, El Yunque and Luquillo Beach, thanks to Facebook recommendations from friends, reviews on TripAdvisor and the SeePuertoRico.com website) to fly 30 short minutes to Vieques. The pilot tucked his large frame into the tiny plane with reassurances (“Don’t worry, I like my life”) and off we flew on the somewhat-bumpy 30-minute flight.
Vieques delivered on all my friends’ and other random travelers’ reviews, and exceeded my expectations. I’ve continued the cycle of sharing content myself, posting photos and posts about my trip. (Coincidentally, I learned from sharing posts on Facebook that, not only had a few of my friends already been to Puerto Rico, but some of them were visiting the same time I was!)
Much like friends on Facebook and other social media channels, DMOs need to ensure the content on their websites and social media channels become yet another trusted source of information for travelers. Having strong social sharing capabilities and curated social feeds on your website is a key way of doing this.
Here are a few examples of ways that some of our clients that have capitalized on this trend in creative ways:
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater has a fun, interactive Social Hub that allows filtering by social channel.
The Branson/Lakes Area CVB found creative ways for social content to do even more: After getting permission from Instagram users who had snapped pics in Branson, together we curated Buzzfeed-style lists as new content for the website.
Being social has never been more important, and should be a key part of any DMO’s content strategy for reaching new visitors, as well as giving past visitors new reasons to return.