Harnessing UGC for Boutique & Independent Hotels
It wasn’t too long ago that wonderlust and the social power of sharing destination photos arrived on the digital scene and we’ve been addicted ever since. In 2015, by the time that National Geographic leveraged this theme with its successful hashtag campaign, travel bloggers and destination marketing influencers numbered in the hundreds of thousands, giving wide reach to a new voice of travel and new ways to search for the truly authentic travel experience.
Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube have taken a front seat in the research stage of the customer journey. In fact, 52% of people turn to social media for inspirations on their travel plans. Of those under 34 years old, 87% look to Facebook specifically. Everywhere we look there are millions of photos posted under hashtags like #PassionPassport. Large travel brands like Marriott and Hyatt are identifying loyal influencers and encouraging photo and content for campaigns like #TravelBrilliantly and #InAHyattWorld. Marriott has even partnered with GoPro, giving out cameras at specific locations prompting guests to share quality photos of their travel adventures.
DMOs and boutique hotels are now getting into the UGC space and it’s changing the game.
Why? One reason is that consumers respond favorably to peer created content. 92% of people trust earned (authentic) media over any other form of ad campaign. A second reason is that the conversations and the stories are already out there, whether there are specific campaigns to encourage them or not. In a recent study we found that out of 20 boutique and independent hotels that did not have an Instagram account, on average fans were creating 152 posts for them, posting to hashtags that included hotel name, hotel name and amenity (such as #HotelRooftopBar) and hotel and location. Fan posts increased even further when the hotel did have an Instagram and were promoting active hashtags. On average, out of thirty independent hotels, fans posted 304 content pieces, roughly two times that of hotels that weren’t self-promoting.
By bringing this content onto your hotel website, within a UGC hub, boutique hotels and DMOs are able to narrate these stories and partner in owning the shared guest experience. With 95% of people reading online reviews before booking, this is a way to provide that authentication within your owned digital space. That means that visitors don’t have to leave the site to search for earned media, allowing for further engagement and reduced bounce rates all while staying closer to the sales funnel and engaging with your brand. Loyalty programs and direct bookings are another great way to leverage UGC by rewarding top influencers to hashtag campaigns. Millennials especially, want to be part of content creation with the brands they identify with, in fact, 46% reported having already created unique content on behalf of a brand.
In a marketing space that is increasingly competitive against large ad budgets that can run into the trillions, think OTAs, leveraging UGC content on individual brand websites is a way for smaller travel brands to increase market share. In a recent article by Skift, Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, was reported to have said, “Look at us as the cheapest source of referrals that you could imagine. If they come through me, you pay me once, and if they come back to me again and again, shame on you. You should make them a loyal customer.” By connecting with brand ambassadors and co-creating the guest experience with them, we take his advice. After all, nothing rewards loyalty better than a great destination experience.