The rise of User Generated Content (UGC) and How Marketers Can Capitalize on This Trend

By Lucy Campbell, Hills Balfour

The exponential rise of social sharing has changed the entire landscape as we increasingly look to our family and friends for advice, validation and recognition. In a world where cataloguing our lives has become the norm, there is an unprecedented opportunity for marketers to access the huge amount of user generated content (UGC) and utilise this to harness the brand story, in an authentic and personal way.  

By definition, UGC includes any story or piece of content created by a person about a brand that they share with their networks.  This not only includes all social media content, but can also include product reviews, videos, personal blogs and any other type of online comment from consumers, so it can work effectively to turn marketing messages into brand experiences. UGC is increasingly becoming an essential ingredient of all integrated content marketing strategies, because when done successfully it builds passionate communities to help spread the word.  

Due to the overwhelming amount of it, content production is in overdrive and therefore it is becoming increasingly difficult for brands to stand out from the crowd, so harnessing the power of UGC is an effective way of increasing engagement, consumer trust and ultimately driving sales.  There are a large number of UGC companies who are becoming increasingly in demand to help the brand “listen” to their audience.  Successful brands are encouraging users to share their stories and highlight experiences for other users to discover in various different ways.   In the world of travel, GoPro are the perfect example of a brand that has successfully harnessed UGC to create a lifestyle around the brand by turning customers into advocates.  Instagram is currently one of the most popular social media platforms for this type of marketing, with more than 98.5m photos related to travel being shared in 2016.

To reach your audience, it is essential to speak their language and with numerous studies showing that consumers now trust digital influencers nearly as much as their friends and family (70% and 92% respectively according to Nielsen) a simple endorsement from a brand ambassador has long since lost its influence.  Increasingly, savvy consumers are shunning conventional advertising in favour of influencer marketing, whereby you can focus on the entire buyers’ journey and successfully harness UGC to create a lifestyle around the brand by turning customers into advocates.  The rise of social media as a tool for brands to communicate their message has empowered and enabled a new breed of “influencers.”   According to Chute, 78% of millennials said they would rather see photos of real customers over professional photos created by the brand.

The principles behind influencer marketing aren’t new – celebrities and experts were the main influencers in the past and brands would partner with them to front their campaigns and deliver brand messages to the audience. However, this was a paid relationship that lacked the authenticity of today’s influencer marketing and whilst the issue of paid posts remains contentious, audiences value influencers, both micro and macro as the leaders and trendsetters of various online interests and subcultures.  In the travel world, where we are in an age of consumers preferring to make their own decisions, the creation of these brand subcultures are inspiring travellers and driving sales more than traditional content and advertising.

Working with influencers – whether it’s a celebrity, expert, blogger, vlogger or instagrammer, already plays a large part in most of today’s PR campaigns.  Increasingly marketers working with influencers aim to find content creators who have an engaged tribe of followers who carry real authority and respect amongst their target audience to be brand ambassadors.  Currently 66% of marketers, according to Chute have introduced an influencer marketing strategy to reach new and niche audiences and 87% plan to increase their influencer marketing budgets this year.

The real key is the relationship between the influencer and the brand, because honesty, unbiased views and transparency are all essential ingredients. They need to be relevant and true advocates, because if brands become too exposed with too many bloggers and instagrammers then both parties will suffer.  The credibility of the blogger declines and the effectiveness of their influence can disappear overnight.  Marketers have become increasingly aware about how careful they need to be when choosing the right creators for the brand because it is essential that the messaging is genuine.  The long term success of this style of marketing remains to be seen, but right now there is no avoiding the power these individuals have.

Tales From the Road: Lessons Learned Suring the California Travel Summit

I’m lucky to spend time on the road visiting customers all around the world - from New York City to London, but I also get to attend some of the industry’s best conferences. Every time, I walk away learning new things and feeling inspired. In June, I spent a week in Newport Beach (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it) along with all of the incredible DMOs and travel companies associated with the Cal Travel organization.

There were many memorable conversations throughout, but one presenter’s message really stood out for me - Peter Kageyama. Peter is the author of For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places and the follow up, Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places.

Today’s traveler is highly informed. With a few clicks, they can learn about every destination in the world and the least expensive way to get there. Plus, international travel has become very accessible. This means a beautiful beach town in Florida isn’t just competing with other coastal cities in Florida or even the U.S., but every beach town in the world. How can your destination compete? How can it stand out among all the places a tourist can visit? I think these questions can become increasingly daunting if you’re a smaller team or have a smaller budget.

But here’s the good news. Travelers are more informed because they merely turn on their phone and receive messages from friends and family on social about a new place to go. They can also search by activity, budget and even geo across social platforms and review sites to pinpoint the perfect place to spend their precious PTO. And that’s an opportunity for every destination and travel brand. The question is: how do you make yourself more easily discoverable?

First, a couple of basics. Be active on social media platforms and travel review sites. The #1 reason travelers don’t follow destinations on social is because they don’t know the accounts exist. Of course you can and should promote your posts on social platforms for discoverability, but you also need to promote across channels:

  • Make sure your website links to your social accounts and even potentially showcases some of your posts and the hashtag you want people to use.

  • Make sure all of your emails include links to your social accounts and highlight the hashtag you promote (this even includes your employee emails - be sure all official signatures include links to your social accounts).

  • Make sure your printed materials promote your digital properties, including social.

  • And your visitor centers? Yep, make sure your social feed is displayed, and perhaps feature some traveler posts as well.

Now that you have promotion figured out, what about the content? What should you post? The #1 reason travelers don’t follow hospitality brands on social is because they are too promotional. So it’s not surprising that you’re on social - it’s expected. But the content isn’t appealing. It’s important to approach social like you would any friendship or relationship - if you make it all about me, me, me - you start to lose friends. Instead, make your social feed inspiring, educational and entertaining. Social is about discoverability and inspiration, not for closing the deal.

But even with a strong social presence and great content - how can you stand out? That’s where Peter’s presentation really struck a chord with me. He spoke about placemaking - finding what makes your destination or your hotel unique and telling that story. What can people do there that they can’t do anywhere else in the world? Today’s traveler is looking for a unique experience. They are seeking one of a kind adventures. And what makes a place unique doesn’t have to be the Grand Canyon - it can be something much, much smaller and come from unexpected places.

One example he shared was Greenville, South Carolina. A young high school student was working on his senior project and approached city council with the idea of having nine mice placed on Main Street. He was inspired by his childhood favorite, Goodnight Moon. He managed to raise the funds and hire a sculptor. These little bronze mice delight locals and tourists alike, as they hunt to find all nine (don’t worry they’ve made a map with hints in case you run into trouble). The quest to find the mice inspired author Linda Kelly to write a child’s book about the Mice on Main. This simple idea not only inspired a book but also tourists to buy t-shirts and other memorabilia featuring all nine of the little mice.

There are two things that I find incredibly inspiring about this story. First, this unique experience brings in tourists. It has instilled a great deal of pride with the local community while also costing very little to do. What makes your destination unique doesn’t have to be a neon strip in the middle of the desert (looking at you Vegas), but instead can be something much more simple. Second, this idea came from a teen that didn’t go to school for community development or marketing, but he was proud of his hometown and it’s historic and beautiful Main Street and shared an idea. And the city of Greenville listened.

The idea of tapping into locals to help identify what makes your destination unique or asking your employees about why your hotel is unique is a worthwhile exercise. Locals know better than anyone what they love about their community and are often very proud of the place they call home. Understanding how they came to be in your destination and why they’ve stayed may help you uncover what makes your destination unique, and how it can connect with others. Similarly, asking your employees, who are the at the front lines everyday, these questions can offer some inspiration also. What do you love about our brand? Why do you think guests come back? What makes us different from all the rest?

An example, I was staying at the Keystone Inn a few years ago, and they allow dogs. Now if you own a dog, you understand dogs are family, and figuring out lodging that accepts them can be very stressful. And not just allows them, but will your fur baby be happy? Will it be easy for you to care for them? Not only does the Keystone Inn let you know how they’ll spoil your pooch, they actually host a happy hour for the dogs. It takes place at the bar, so the humans can grab a cocktail while the dogs munch on treats at the same time. It’s such a simple idea but one that is very memorable. And it’s not just for hotel guests -- you’ll find locals there with their dogs too!

To summarize, uncover what makes your destination and brand unique and tell that story. Create a connection with locals and tourists. And finally, be receptive to ideas that come from anywhere - you never know where you might find the next Mice on Main.


Travel for Good: How Is Spearheading Social Impact Travel

Today, out of the $2.3 trillion spent in travel and tourism annually, only about 5% stays in local hands, but one company is on a mission to change that., a for-profit social enterprise, launched in 2015 to give travelers an opportunity to have authentic local experiences that also directly benefit the places and people they’re visiting. We got to speak with the co-founder and CEO of, Michal Alter, to learn more about’s mission.

What are some of the experiences travelers might choose to take part in? One example Alter gave was a half-day authentic cooking workshop with refugee women in New York City. The experience costs $50, which would then be invested back into local women empowerment programs. Another is a coffee-making course with a coffee farmer cooperative in Guatemala with that ticket price going directly back to the farmer cooperative.

“The same people that you just interacted with and created an emotional connection with, they are going to benefit directly from you having this experience with them,” she said. “There has been really amazing feedback from travellers. A lot are saying how they came in not even realizing that they had such a preconception about the local  population and left completely changed after their experience. They shared humanity, even though there is a lot of differences, there is always a lot of things are common. That is exactly what is celebrated in our experiences.”

As of today, the company has grown to offer more than 600 experiences in 70 countries with a customer base of mostly millennials along with hundreds of volunteer ambassadors from around the world. Alter credits this to the millennial prioritization of social responsibility paired with their desire to have more authentic cultural experiences when traveling. According to a recent report from Topdeck Travel, 86% of millennial travelers said experiencing a new culture is what motivates them to travel. Plus, according to Omnicom Group’s Cone Communications, 70% of them will spend more on brands supporting causes they care about.

“Millennials are always looking to see how their purchases are going to have some kind of positive impact, and this includes when they travel,” Alter said. “Today, some may want to have philanthropic components to the trip, but it’s really hard to do. There’s volunteer tourism, but that usually requires a couple of weeks or more of your time and can cost a couple thousand dollars or more to participate. That is where’s innovation lies. We created a new product which is consumable, affordable and can easily be added to any trip that you wanted to do anyway. I think that is why it speaks so much to the millennial generation.”

However, as many travel marketers know, cutting through the noise and reaching millennial travelers can prove difficult. Alter said relies on heavily on authenticity and community to do this.

“For us, we focus a lot on the authenticity of our community and the content they share,” she said. “We send [our ambassadors] on pilot visits, and they take photos and video, and they write their own blog posts and stories about their experiences that they share with their own audiences. That is also content that is being shared with our providers as well. We focus on making sure that that same community feeling and authenticity gets across to potential travelers.”

And the platforms they focus on to accomplish this? Instagram and Facebook.

“We produce a lot of videos that we then post there,” she said. “We use Instagram Stories a lot now, and we also let our ambassadors do takeovers of our Instagram and instagram Stories to report live from wherever they are in the world.”

These ambassadors are social influencers who not only create content about the experiences but also pilot many of the potential programs.

“These are travellers and locals who are passionate about travel and making the world a better place through travel,” Alter said. “We identify local organizations that we think would be a great fit, send an ambassador on a pilot mission and they then give us an comprehensive report of their experience. We’re able to use this to help the local organization improve the experience they offer.”

Alter credits their success with influencers on more than just getting to go on a free excursion.

“Honestly, a lot of the travel influencers today who are passionate about travel also want to affect the world positively,” she said. “Today, is the main home for this kind of influencer. It is a community of people who have been looking for one for awhile.”

What does the future hold for Alter said that their next milestone is to grow from 600 to 2000 communities around the world by summer 2018 along with focusing on partnering with others in the travel industry to offer social impact experiences to even more travelers.

Murky Waters: Earned Media and Legal Rights

Today, thanks to the rise of social platforms and mobile devices, the practice of creating and sharing real-time content is becoming more ingrained in our daily lives. With this in mind, travel brands and destinations are looking to user-generated content (UGC) as a gold mine of authentic and evergreen media. Hotel groups are using guest photos to complement standard property shots, events are displaying real-time tweets showing live reactions, and others are simply re-gramming or re-sharing content to showcase genuine traveler experiences and stories. And for good reason: this type of earned media is 84% more effective in improving consumer engagement according to Nielsen. Plus, in a blind selection, 74% of millennial travelers chose this authentic media over professional or stock imagery as inspiring them to visit a destination.

However, while the use of UGC has boomed, the intellectual property laws underpinning use of third party materials by brands remain much the same. Yes, most social media platform terms and conditions grant broad rights to the platform itself to use creators’ posts for other purposes. However, these terms do not grant those rights to brands for commercial purposes. In this article, we’ll highlight some of the key takeaways that every travel marketer should keep in mind when delving into the world of authentic marketing. For a full guide to rights and earned media, head to


Images publicly available on the internet are not necessarily in the public domain, and many photographs posted on social media are covered by copyright law, as are videos (or any content such as music contained within a video) posted on sites such as YouTube.


Attribution or giving the source of the photo is not a defense to a copyright claim and does not mean that you do not have to obtain permission. While damages for copyright violations usually range from $740-$30,000 (for works registered with the Copyright Office), damages may be up to $150,000 for “willful” (or intentional) infringements.  For unregistered works, damages are relatively fact specific, and depend on any actual damages incurred, as well as the profits of the infringer that are attributable to the infringement.  


When soliciting and using UGC, brands need to think carefully about third party rights – obtaining consent from the person that posted the image, for example, may not always be sufficient.

For example, imagine that a destination sees a user-generated image on Instagram that it feels represents its location or aesthetic goals. The brand asks the traveler that posted the image for permission to re-publish it as part of a print advertisement in a prominent travel magazine. However, it then turns out that the poster of the content was not the actual creator of the image.  

That means that the poster did not actually own the copyright to the photograph (and as such, did not have the rights to grant the brand any rights to use the photograph), and was possibly just reposting it from someone else’s social media channel or sharing a photo taken for them by a friend or photographer. The owner (or creator, as applicable) of the original photograph could therefore assert a claim for copyright infringement.

What can your brand do to avoid such a situation? We recommend ensuring that you ask the user if they also took the photo themselves. If they did not, and you still want to use the image, you’ll need to find the original creator.

Similarly, imagine a hotel decides to use a user-generated photo and obtains consent from the user, but the photo includes an image of a famous person or recognizable brand logo – for example, a photo taken by a fan at a prominent auto show. The third party could assert a claim based on right of publicity or trademark, in addition to a claim for false association or false endorsement (depending on the context of the brand’s use).

While many brands on Instagram play hard and fast with these rules, they are still important to be aware of so that each marketing team can make informed decisions on their content strategies.


Obtaining consent from users to leverage their content is an important step to avoid implicating any of the issues outlined earlier - it protects your brand both from legal and PR backlash. It’s also a way to endear your audience to your brand even more by showing that you appreciate their content and respect their rights.  When you communicate with travelers and have a real and positive exchange, they will be much less likely to turn around and bring a claim against the brand they just enjoyed interacting with.  

Note that in the majority of US states, including New York, written consent must be obtained to use an individual’s likeness for commercial purposes; however, in some states, obtaining “implied consent” may be sufficient – for example, by posting prominent signage stating that, by entering a certain area, an individual may be photographed for commercial purposes.

As illustrated by the above, there are different “levels” of consent, and the one that works best for each marketing team and legal department is going to vary from company to company. Here, you’ll find tips on how to evaluate the level of consent that is best suited to your use of the UGC, and above all, how to maintain a transparent approach with consumers. The main thing to really keep in mind though is that to the extent that you can, clearly describe to consumers the way in which their content is going to be used and displayed. While still possible, clear communication lessens the chance that you will receive a claim from the user.


From most conservative to least


A written release, which is signed by the consumer (which can be in the form of terms and conditions that can be checked off by a user online), can be drafted to grant the brand or agency a broad license to use the content for any purpose and in any and all media. However, note that these releases can be narrowed by term and for specific uses of the content – e.g. an online video on a website.

USE CASE: This is best used in instances where the content will be a focal point of a high exposure ad or used in a permanent fashion.


Reaching out directly to the poster is another outlet many travel marketers are using. This is an especially good tactic for brands seeking to increase their personal engagement with consumers. In looking at the averages of brands who have used Chute Rights to do this, consumers respond quickly, positively, and often create even more content about the brands after these interactions. In general, consent can be obtained in this manner by sending the user a message or comment stating the intended use and asking for permission to which the creator can respond yes, no or ignore.


Some travel brands and destinations are now foregoing prior written consent based on the theory of “implied consent” or “implied license.” This is best used for real-time, evergreen or ongoing engagement campaigns, and to aggregate a very large amount of content where no single image will be a focal point. It’s also best used by brands who have an already loyal and highly engaged following.

Consider whether you are obtaining consent from the actual copyright holder. When possible, investigate on the back end rather than relying on the user’s representations and warranties.


  • Clearly disclose to consumers how their content will be used, and do not use the content beyond that scope.

  • Choose a unique hashtag and preferably make sure it’s branded. Do not just go with a destination or hotel name, as these will often be used by travelers regardless and do not show a real intent to participate in the campaign. For example, the Ritz-Carlton promotes the hashtag #RCMemories for their guests to use.

  • Provide appropriate submission terms and conditions with the call to action. Again, this is something the Ritz-Carlton makes clear by having the T&Cs next to their call to action. If the manner the content will be used and a link to the terms are both prominently disclosed, there is a stronger argument that the user was on notice that their content may be used in a certain way and provided the brand with the applicable consent to use the submission.

Some red flags to look out for:

  • Photos of celebrities

  • Brand logos

  • High-profile buildings

  • Extremely high quality or very low quality images are sometimes indicative of reposting from either the web (HQ) or by regramming (LQ)


If a brand chooses to use content to which rights have not been obtained on either an explicit or implicit level, such content should be used in a non-focal manner to reduce (but not eliminate) risk.  This tactic might be implemented during real-time advertising, such as a live stream - basically, when individuals’ images, likeness or content will not be saved for future use or shown at any future time, and the use is fleeting. In general, individuals that are not models, celebrities or photographers are less likely to object unless there is some type of permanent or continued use of their image. However, if footage were to be saved and used in further advertising or on social media properties, the risk would be heightened, since there would be a greater chance that individuals would a) see the use of their image and b) object to its continued use.  

This being said, given the relative practical ease of instituting basic consent procedures, or at a minimum, opt-out procedures, brands should always aim to build these into their game plan when developing and implementing UGC campaigns.

With the amount and variety of content created and shared by consumers online only rising, it’s vital that all brands take the time to develop their strategies for soliciting, using and engaging with this user-generated content across platforms. By understanding all the risks and implementing best practices, you’ll be able to develop a plan that makes both your marketing team and legal department happy.


On Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Snapchat, users retain ownership of any intellectual property they post to the platform. However, the platform itself is granted a broad license to use the content, as well as to make all posted content available to third parties selected or designated by the platform or officially partnered with the platform. On Pinterest specifically, you grant the platform and its users a license to distribute your content within the confines of the Pinterest platform.

Use of YouTube videos outside of the YouTube platform is prohibited without the prior written consent of YouTube or the respective licensors of the content. However, the terms of use also state that it is not prohibited to show a YouTube video through the Embeddable Player on an ad-enabled blog or website, provided that videos is not be placed on the website page for the purposes of the sale of advertising, sponsorships or promotions.


This article has been adapted from The Social Media Rights & User-Generated Content Guide created in partnership between Chute and Davis & Gilbert LLP. Read the full guide at

The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinions. This information is intended but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Provision of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute an attorney-client relationship between the sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in the article without first seeking the advice of an attorney.

Big Data and How It Can Effectively Fuel Your Content Marketing

By Jeanna Wood, Visit Florida Space Coast

The traveler’s journey to booking a vacation has changed drastically in the last 15 years. At the turn of the century, travelers didn’t have social media to see their friends’ vacations, nor did they have immediate access to their favorite travel brands and destinations like we do today. Their decision to travel was heavily influenced by television, radio, print, and word of mouth recommendations. And in the world of marketing, these methods didn’t exactly guarantee that you were targeting the right audience or that they were listening. It was basically a shot in the dark.

It’s been 13 years since Facebook launched, and 10 years since the Apple iPhone made its debut. Those two things, as well as many other digital platforms, have revolutionized not only the way we live but also the marketing industry. Facebook has over 1.4 billion active monthly users who like over 4 million posts a minute. Instagram has over 100 million likes per hour. Every interaction made and every search is an opportunity to collect data. Believe it or not, Facebook probably knows you better than you know yourself.

Big Data and Content Marketing Go Together

Data is being created and collected all the time. It is measured, analyzed and is being used in a myriad of ways to better target travelers and shape their purchasing decisions. The digital age has allowed brands to expand beyond their conventional efforts, but social media has challenged the way brands communicate with their audience.

Traditional messaging and imagery is no longer seen effective because travelers don’t accept it at face value. More and more companies have had to lay down the role of advertiser and embrace their role as storytellers and create content in hopes to grab the attention of consumers.

That obviously leads to the question of how best to utilize content marketing. Some brands only care about the return on investment and hope that their efforts create consistent conversions. But at the end of the day, in travel marketing, content marketing should be added value and lead to an overall increased brand awareness. The conversions will come if you’re adding value.

Poor content marketing is prevalent. It’s easy to identify, in most cases, since it usually adds no value and garners very little user engagement. It should come as no surprise that good content marketing requires good content to begin with, but the question still remains: is it right for the audience? the platform? the season or even time of day?   Some may say travel marketers should focus on more video content while others may say blogs; however, big data has the potential to accurately define what types of content will truly move the needle and lead to the best results.

Leveraging Big Data Gives Better Results

Brands need to depend on data and insights more than ever to help them create effective content and placement. Whether you’re sourcing method includes social listening, Facebook insights, or data from third party resources, all these things will help you create content that appeals to your audience, giving you better results and engagement.

My team has worked closely with Nielsen to provide insights about the behaviors and preferences of visitors to our destination. From this study, our marketing team has a better understanding of our target demographics, their travel behaviors, consumption of media and top leisure activities. We know what airlines they prefer, how they read the news, and if they watch television or stream it, among other things.

“The key to big data is having an ability to unlock and harness the vast amount of insights that can be contained within,” says Michael Sharp, Managing Director, Agency Sales, Nielsen. “In a media ecosystem that is fragmented over devices, platforms and delivery systems it's imperative that marketers know not just who their best visitors are, but also the best way to reach and engage these visitors and Nielsen's marketing effectiveness solutions allows content marketers this ability."

The study we conducted has not only allowed our marketing plan and budget to be more strategic and effective, but it has influenced the content we produce and the channels we deploy on.  

For example, our study shared our target demographics’ ages, where they live, and how many kids they have at home including their age range. Not to mention, they have below average television viewership, high Internet usage and they read the news via mobile device. This influenced our decision to no longer deploy commercials via broadcast, and print ads are used sparingly. Those dollars have been shifted to social media marketing where we can laser target our demographic with content. Plus, our budget is spent more effectively, achieving 1 cent cost per view for most campaigns ran on Facebook and keeping CPM under $5.

When it comes to creating content, we know to leave out certain leisure activities, like golf and tennis, because our audience doesn’t engage with it. We also know to include children, ages 6 to 11, since our audience identifies with that best. These are just a few examples of how our team strategically approaches every piece of content produced. Our content marketing strategy has resulted in record breaking numbers for our destination. Year over year, our destination increased revenue by 12 percent and our destination’s hotel occupancy is up 23 percent.

Moving Forward with Big Data

It’s no secret that big data can be overwhelming, yet it has the power to influence your content marketing strategy that in turn benefits not only your brand but also the consumer. Whether you’re looking to grow your insights or revise existing data, it may be time to consider how big data is affecting your approach to content marketing and how it can take you to the next level.

If you’re just starting out, remember to keep it simple and be patient with yourself as you digest information. Create a fact sheet with the most important information noted like age, place of residency, top way they receive news, interests, and things not to talk about. Share this with your team and begin to measure your results. When you’re ready to expand your knowledge, consider employing a trusted third party to provide you a study with insights that will propel your brand further.

As the world continues to become more digitally focused, big data will only increase and the insights will be staggering. And the sooner you put this data to work for your brand, the quicker you will rise above the noise.

Demystifying Machine Intelligence in Travel and Transportation

By Joe Hasselman

Machine Intelligence has been changing the way we travel for generations. In 1946, American Airlines released the first automated booking system. By 1976, United Airlines deployed their Computerized Reservations System to travel agents. In the 1990’s, Lonely Planet’s first website, Expedia, and Priceline were born. Throughout the early 2000’s, Global Distribution Systems and the Internet enabled Kayak and Hotwire to innovate the OTA model with aggregation. Today, nearly every airline has an “intelligent” (or at least dynamic) application; major hotel chains are deploying automated concierge advisors; the TSA utilizes myriad scanning and visual recognition security technologies; preferences and digital behavior are being used to provide tailored offerings; and travelers can even purchase luggage that follows them between terminals at the airport (yes, this really exists -- check out Travelmate: a fully autonomous suitcase robot).

Over the past five to ten years, developer-friendly services have been built by leveraging the enabling technologies described in the Machine Learning 101 section — catalyzing adoption among technologist communities and driving the proliferation of applications utilizing machine intelligence today. The themes below dissect the ways in which these technologies are most drastically impacting the travel experience.


Chatbots are a unique and effective medium to connect with customers. Facebook Messenger, IBM Watson, Heroku, Amazon Alexa, and Slack (among MANY other) platforms provide frameworks for building and training chatbots. These applications may be deployed as a concierge at a hotel helping locate the gym or an airline app’s messenger alerting travelers of delays or a voice-command interface to book a ticket.

Search & Exploration

Travelers can now search in natural language to find desired and tailored experiences wherever they go. Intelligent services like WayBlazer recommend events, restaurants, parks, museums, and experiences that will most likely resonate with the traveler by combining reviews, rankings, and travel guides.

Logistics & Operations

It is now easier and faster than ever before to book across 200+ countries in dozens of languages. Intelligent transportation systems — from human-less airport railways to breakthrough autonomous vehicle technology — are changing how travelers get from A to B. Further, dynamic pricing algorithms are shifting the way we spend money based on real-time supply and demand throughout the travel experience — during both booking and transport.

What might the future hold?

Soon enough, simply booking a flight ticket will trigger a human-less Lyft or Uber ride to be scheduled. Truly personalized restaurant and activity recommendations will be immediately and automatically sent with one-click booking features through a messenger application. Trip planning will take a fraction of the time it does today. Even after reaching the airport, the traveler will be guided to their gate with shopping, lounging, and dining suggestions along the route. The airport will be more than a means to get elsewhere; it will be a place to be in itself.

Hospitality staff will be notified by social monitoring systems when influencers arrive at the restaurant bar or check-in to a hotel, enabling the team to proactively create an incredible experience for them – perhaps with a drink or dessert on the house. Airlines may even target specific loyal and influential fliers troubled with delays to compensate in unique ways.

Like autopilot in an aircraft, Machine Intelligence cannot manage all the maneuvers and services provided by the travel industry. The pilot handles take-off and landing similar to the ways in which travel companies continue providing differentiated experiences for travelers. Throughout the flight and the travel experience, however, intelligence helps to optimize for personalization, scale, and convenience.

Relationships, Storytelling and Influencer Marketing: Interview with the team behind the Ritz-Carlton’s influencer marketing success

Over the years, influencer marketing has gone from experimental to a key part of the majority of every travel brand’s PR and marketing strategies. According to our State of Influencer Marketing Report, 66% of marketers have already introduced an influencer marketing strategy into their plans. For 80% of these marketers, reaching these influencers’ often niche audiences is one of the top reasons they choose to work with these online creators. One travel brand that has been executing sophisticated and robust influencer strategies for years is the Ritz-Carlton. I spoke with Kristin Bartholomew (Director, Brand Marketing) and Laura Troy (Senior Social Media Manager) from the team to learn more about their influencer marketing philosophies and tactics.

SIGHTSEER: To kick things off, what do you see as one of the most important keys of influencer marketing?

TROY: “I think really the best way to do influencer marketing is to have a strategy in place. Ask yourself the questions, ‘What do I want to achieve? What type of content do I want to get from this? Is it just awareness? Am I hoping to get content I can use after?’ Really think about what it is you’re trying to achieve, and then from there you can pick an influencer or multiple influencers to work with. They could be someone with a large international following or someone from a local level. You just want to think about where you can potentially get business from and then invite influencers that have impact there.”

S: How do you vet and select the influencers you end up working with?

T: ”It’s not necessarily about the size of their community. Obviously, the larger the size means you get more eyes on the content in theory, but the first thing we look at is engagement rate. Then, we look at their content. What type of content are they posting? What type of messaging are they putting out there, and is that aligned with our brand? We also look at what other brands they’ve worked with in the past. Are they working with other luxury lifestyle brands or are they working with more mass market brands? For the brand, we always look for someone with a global presence because we are a global brand. Although, for properties, you want to make sure that you have a mix of regional influencers. I think the rise of micro-influencers is very important and something to watch.”

S: A lot of marketers complain that they have difficulty finding influencers they want to work with. What advice would you give there?

T: “When searching for influencers to work with, we’ve had a lot of success reaching out to the network of influencers we’ve already worked with. Once you’ve found someone who shares your values and passions, don’t be afraid to look at their network because there’s a good chance they feel the same.”

S: One of the influencers you’ve worked pretty extensively with is Trey Ratcliff. How did that partnership kick off?

T: “A few years ago, we saw that Trey was in Dubai at a competitor hotel, and tweeted that he was asked to leave for taking too many photos. This was also before the big rise of everyone taking photos and before the rise of influencers. We saw that tweet and engaged back with him by saying something along the lines of, ‘Trey, you’re allowed to take as many photos as you want at any of our hotels around the world.’ From there, we started an online dialogue with Trey and had conversations back and forth. So our relationship definitely started out in the social space. Then, in 2015, we saw that he was doing these photo walks around the United States and coming to DC, and we thought that would be a perfect opportunity to get involved, meet Trey and to see what type of collaborations we could potentially work on together, and that’s when we began collaborating.”

S: How has this relationship impacted your marketing?

BARTHOLOMEW: “The partnership spans a lot of different mediums for us. It’s social but it’s also amazing photography at an attainable price point, whereas the beautiful work would normally be out of reach for us. But it’s also video and blog posts. It’s reaching his audience in a unique way with our message, but it’s also introducing him and his point of view to our audience.”

S: How do you compare the effectiveness of influencer marketing versus a more traditional paid strategy?

T: “A good strategy includes both. Depending on how you do paid social, some can look very much like ads, and that may not emotionally connect with someone versus having influencer content that is able to connect better.”

B: “A lot of the time we’re partnering with these individual influencers for their perspective or their talent. If they’re an artist for example, we’re working with them because they have a unique skillset or perspective that we as a brand may not have access to otherwise. From the paid media or paid marketing side, we’re still looking to tell stories but it’s also more internally focused on stories that happen at our hotels. It’s still storytelling and we still want to make sure they’re authentic and real stories being shared, but it’s the perspective of where the story is coming from is the difference there.”

S: When it comes to measuring success, what matters to your teams?

T: I think it goes back to what we’re trying to achieve from each campaign. A photowalk with Trey would have very different goals from a person doing a hosted stay with us in Cancun. For me, what I’m looking at is the type of content they created - did it really speak to the magic of the brand? Did it entice and inspire someone to want to stay with us? I also look at different KPIs like engagement - likes, shares, comments and what they’re saying in those comments. Are they saying they want to go there because it looks amazing? And then also, are we able to share those on our own channels and were they able to capture something that we might not be able to capture on our own?

B: In brand marketing, the things we like to focus on is how the story is told - if it fits well with our positioning. A lot of the influencer partnerships we engage in are about the content and the types of content we’re able to receive. Using Trey as an example, that photography we just wouldn’t have access to otherwise, and we can use a lot of that in our own marketing channels, and that’s been a huge help for us. We also look at reach and how much his fans are liking and engaging with the content.

T: “Definitely set up your KPIs ahead of time so everyone is aligned. Your senior leadership should know what you’re trying to achieve along with your hotels so there isn’t any confusion.

S: Looking forward, what do you see as the future of influencer marketing?

T: I don’t see it slowing down because I think influencers in the travel space have definitely helped to increase awareness of destinations that maybe you knew about but now it’s like, I have to go. If you look at the rise in popularity of a few destinations, for example the Maldives, Bali and Greece. All those places people went to, but with the rise of influencer marketing, you’re constantly seeing photos from unique destinations you might not have seen before and it’s increased their popularity. I feel the trend is going to continue for the next few years because the way people connect with influencers. They have a real emotional connection and are a huge part of people’s lives today - they look to them for inspiration.

S: Lastly, any advice for marketers reading this who aspire to launch or grow their own influencer strategies?

T: Start with the strategy. What do you want to achieve? What’s the business objective you hope this influencer will help to achieve. Number two, think about the influencer and who can best tell your brand story in their own voice. Then, the relationship. I think the more you can build that relationship and the more the influencer is able to be really part of your story and be collaborative with you, the better the content will be. Finally, setting expectations is huge, that way you both understand the expectations.


The Science Behind the Art of Storytelling

By Daniel Fesenmaier, P.H.D. University of Florida

Science has long understood the significant relationships between emotion, sentiment, and the various aspects of persuasion. Our researchers at the Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute at the University of Florida sought an understanding of persuasion models and how website content influences online audiences. We wanted to know if, in the context of web browsing where “snackable” content and instant gratification seem to be the norm, an emotional connection can be created in order to persuade the reader. Further, we wanted to know if the story’s structure, length, or style makes a difference when developing website content.

To conduct this research, our team collaborated with Madden Media, one of the premier content marketing firms in the travel and tourism industry. Madden provided hundreds of stories of various, lengths, styles, and structures that included content from well-known destinations and those who struggle for recognition. This array of material provided us the opportunity to systematically test emotional response, brand recall, and most importantly intent to travel to the destination.

What can we learn from Simba and Rafiki?

First, we wanted to understand what really grabbed a reader’s attention and keep them engaged. To do this, our team at UF looked to best-selling movies and textbooks on story design to gain insights. Emotional maps were applied as part of an analysis of movies such as The Lion King. These story maps demonstrated that the usage and placement of emotion in a story drew readers in—the connection to the characters and emotional investment into what happens to them made an impact on the audience.

We then applied the same tests to the content provided by Madden Media. We then measured reader’s emotional responses from online travel content to see what evokes a desire to travel to a destination. We found that content written in story form performed the best. For example, spiking emotions such as surprise and joy during the falling action and resolution of a story left readers on an emotional high note. Just like movies and novels use a story arc to captivate readers, the most effective content weaved strong emotions—excitement, anticipation, joy, nostalgia—strategically throughout the text making a powerful impact on readers. But how does it work?

Persuasion Process

The goal of content marketing is to persuade the audience to engage with the brand and start their journey toward conversion. Storytelling immerses the audience in the story with elements such as first-person narratives and rich description. From the first paragraph, the reader feels emotions and subconsciously starts the appraisal process. For example, the reader may relate to the characters in the story, become more involved in the story based on detailed description, and overall develop an emotional reaction to the content.

As readers become involved they experience narrative transportation—they start to imagine themselves in the destination. If the story describes slow-smoked barbeque and premium Kentucky bourbon, the reader can almost taste it. When the narrator describes paddle boarding along the Ichetucknee Springs and his family discovering local wildlife together, readers often imagine their own family making memories, fully engaging in the moment, and strengthening their bond.

Engagement then peaks when narrative transportation sets in. Further, readers form attitudes about the story and destination. When the audience develops a positive attitude about the destination, feels good reading the story, and desires to have the same experience, it inspires the reader to consider visiting the destination.

Maximizing the Intent to Travel

Making a strong impact on potential travelers is important. Storytelling starts with inspiration, capturing the attention of audiences and creating brand awareness. When done effectively, the audience develops positive emotions and attitudes about the destination.

To better understand the intent to travel as influenced by content, University of Florida conducted a series of four national surveys, which distributed to hundreds of thousands of travel consumers to analyze the effectiveness of travel content. As part of this study, stories vs. lists were analyzed. The study showed stories outperformed lists in key factors that lead to persuasion. For example, stories resulted in over 10% greater positivity toward the content advertisement as compared to a list. However, shorter content pieces, such as lists, help potential travelers gather activity ideas, gain insight into attractions, and start planning itineraries. These studies also found that reading a list and story together is much better than reading each component individually. Therefore, implementing a marketing drip campaign could be an effective tactic to maximize reader persuasion.

The Perfect Blend

An excellent example of very effective storytelling comes from Visit Tampa Bay. They worked with Madden Media to develop a story where the writer related the sights, smells, and emotions experienced while discovering Ybor City ( The story resulted in 55k+ views and engaged readers on the story page three times longer than the site average.   

How Florida Space Coast Tackles Facebook Live

According to Facebook, users spend as much as three times more time watching live videos than traditional videos. However, live video has its own set of hurdles and key tactics to keep in mind - from finding an internal or external personality to technology and AV. One destination that has been at the forefront of this is Florida Space Coast. The destination has generated tens of thousands of views on each production. We got to speak with Jeanna Wood, Content Manager at Florida Space Coast, to understand why Facebook Live became a focus and what best practices they’ve learned during their experience.

Sightseer: To kick things off, can you describe what the Florida Space Coast team is currently doing with Facebook Live?

Jeanna: One unique thing about Florida’s Space Coast is that we are home to Kennedy Space Center where rockets are launched into orbit just about every month. Our team saw this as an opportunity to create a pre-rocket launch show that highlights the Space Coast destination. Space Coast Live covers everything from the rocket launch mission and beach information to highlighting user generated photos and trivia to encourage engagement. Towards the end of the segment, we embed the rocket launch live stream so the user at home can watch the launch taking place that day.

S: What initially drew you to livestreaming and Facebook Live specifically versus other platforms?

J: When livestream capabilities were first introduced on Facebook, our team noticed other destinations utilizing this feature and accomplishing high engagement. We tried YouTube Live as well as Periscope, but our main digital audience is on Facebook, and it’s where we saw the biggest engagement.

S: What are the logistics of creating a live event?

J: Space Coast Live is a 10 to 15 minute, fully produced show that is executed by a production team. The pre-show prep starts about three weeks in advance. From planning the location and scripting the show to video graphics, our internal team of three works in tandem with our production team.

About one day prior to showtime, we will schedule a Facebook Live event to let our fans know when we’re going live. On the day of the show, our production team arrives a few hours before show time to set up all the camera equipment including stage lights, teleprompter and camera equipment.

Our executive director named me as the host of the Space Coast Live instead of hiring talent, which has worked out since I am a Space Coast native and know our product really well.  I typically arrive on set with my hair and makeup already done one hour prior and complete at least one run through with the crew. Once the show goes live, my colleague, Danny, is on Facebook monitoring comments and feeds me any information I need to know while the various segments air. Sometimes I mess up my words or miss a cue, but we roll with the punches. We don’t aspire to be a top news network, but we do want people to feel the fun, authentic side of our destination.

S: What were your goals for the platform starting off?

J: User engagement and destination awareness. Many people are unaware that rocket launches are still taking place here on the Space Coast. After the Space Shuttle program retired in 2011, many believed that Kennedy Space Center shut down; instead there are more rocket launches taking place now and the space program has a bright future ahead of them. Space Coast Live has afforded us the opportunity to get that message out.  

S: Looking forward, how do you hope to grow or evolve your live programming?

J: Right now, we try to do one show a month centered around a live rocket launch event. That doesn’t always happen as launches can be at 1 a.m. or they get scrubbed. In the future we hope to have a live event bi-weekly that centers around other tourism-related products and events.

S: Finally, what advice would you give a team hoping to begin using Facebook Live?

J: Start simple. Create a content strategy that your team is comfortable with. It’s easy to pick up a phone and go Live, but before you film anything, I’d recommend you have a story to tell. A majority of the content we produce is inspirational, so some days going Facebook Live looks like showcasing a gorgeous beach day while other days, it’s a full production and 10 minutes long.


Attractions, Domestic Travel and Millennial Families Create Opportunities During an Industry Slowdown


Each year, MMGY Global publishes the Portrait of American Travelers® – the longest continuous survey of its kind in America, focusing on U.S. leisure travelers’ perceptions, planning priorities and emerging vacation behaviors and inclinations. And while this year's research indicates a slowdown in intent to travel and a drop in leisure travel spend in the coming months, there are opportunities that marketers can leverage to optimize their efforts in the next 12 months. 

Millennial Families Driving Growth in Travel

This year's study predicts that the approximately 60 million traveling households in the U.S. will spend up to a $5 billion decrease on leisure travel in the next 12 months, which is a dip of less than 1% from the industry's eight-year high in 2016. However, the 9.5 million households that are American Millennial families intend to spend 19 percent more on vacations during the next 12 months and intend to travel 35 percent more than the previous year. Compare that to U.S. travelers at large, who only demonstrate a 6-point increase in intent to travel this year.

This generational segment is also more likely to travel internationally. Millennial family travelers tell us that 26 percent of their vacations were abroad last year. This creates a substantial opportunity for international travel brands compared to 15 percent of Xers, 10 percent of Boomers and 12 percent of Matures. It's very likely that this is related to this group's worldview and optimism as three-quarters of Millennial families consider themselves happy and optimistic about their own future (83 percent), not to mention the future of the world (62 percent).

A Shift to Domestic Destinations

Not all travelers share this optimism, though. By comparison, only two-thirds of all U.S. travelers reported being happy, which represents a drop of 9 points from last year and a five-year low. A similar percentage of travelers are currently optimistic about their future employment, which is a 7-point decrease from last year. This appears to be driving a greater interest in traveling within the states. Domestic vacations now make up 85 percent of American vacations, up 7 points from last year. That means that 13.9 million more vacations were taken within the U.S. compared to outside the country. 

Travelers anticipate that 40 percent of their domestic travel this year will be to a new destination, creating opportunity within the U.S. for travel suppliers to influence trial among new guests and visitors. And, those vacations are more likely to be road trips, as 39 percent of U.S. leisure travel in the last 12 months included a road trip – up 22 points from the year prior. 

Attractions Influence Where Travelers Go

As these travelers increase their domestic vacations, attractions are becoming more relevant in influencing where those vacations are taken. More than half of all vacations (53 percent) included at least one visit to an attraction last year. And of those 41.5 million households, 68 percent say that they chose those attractions before their vacation began. This means that travelers are building attractions into their travel planning instead of making the decision while in the destination. 

And, with Millennial families on the rise, one might assume that Theme and amusement parks create the most interest among attractions. However, this year's research indicates that the top-ranking attractions are more educational and culturally based, with art and history museums (65 percent), aquariums (59 percent) and science museums (56 percent) coming before theme parks (55 percent).

Google Is Growing Its Footprint in Travel

How travelers search and plan for their vacations is shifting as well. Search engines, which were once just pervasive during certain phases of the travel planning process, now lead across the entire purchase. Most significantly, travelers now rank search engine results as their top choice while searching for advice and ratings as well as when they are making reservations (search engines were ranked third in both of those phases the year prior). 

This is no doubt due to Google's investment in the travel vertical and release of new travel products in the last two years. In fact, Google is now ranked by U.S. travelers as the site most often used on a regular basis to obtain travel information and prices – a position that has been held by Expedia the last two years.

Invest in Segmentation and Personalization

While all of these insights are important considerations for travel marketers, there are very few travel brands with the reach to make marketing investments and changes based on broad-sweeping trends. Instead, we at MMGY Global recommend investing in tighter segmentation and personalized content, leveraging data and insights across multiple audience clusters to maximize marketing spend. 

Last year, we introduced several microsegments that our Portrait of American Travelers® research pointed to as prime targets, and we will do the same in coming months. However, travel brands would be wise to invest in analyzing their first-party data if they are not already doing so. Comparing these analyses to targeted third-party research will offer specific trends and motivations to build audience clusters. Ultimately, this custom approach to segmentation will drive incremental growth with the proper messaging during this industry slowdown.


Breaking Down Video with Visit LEX and Amelia Island

Video has become a key strategy for almost every brand and publisher - 60% of marketers used videos in their social media marketing in 2016 and 73% of marketers plan on increasing their use of videos this year. But is it just hype or based on actual data? Consumers are definitely turning to this content more - and Cisco projects this will only increase with online videos accounting for more than 80% of all consumer internet traffic by 2019. Plus, according to Animoto, 4 times as many consumers would rather watch a video about a product or service than read about one.

However, video for the sake of video is not going to get marketing teams anywhere - it’s a big investment of time and resources to strategize, create and promote content that people actually want to watch. Take the time to think of the big-picture goals you have for your video output. Are you wanting to drive sales with video? Build a community or fanbase? Be a resource of information? Or are you just hoping to miraculously be the next viral hit? Each of these would suggest using the different platforms and tactics outlined below.

Here, you’ll find advice to keep in mind when launching or growing a video strategy along with interviews with two travel marketers, Kate Harris (Director of Digital Content for Amelia Island CVB) and Gathan Borden (VP of Marketing at Visit LEX), who are both leading the way with their video marketing efforts.

Content Sources

First, ask yourself how you intend to create or source video. This is going to all depend on your budgets, team makeup, and goals.

  • In-house: $

In-house content can take many forms - from training or hiring employees to be able to go out and capture your destination to even tapping current employees to be the digital personality of your brand. In-house content creation always takes some initial investment in tech and possibly training. However, unless you’re hiring specifically for a video team or planning to build out a set, overhead costs are fairly low after the initial investment. More than a financial investment though, this takes a real time investment from potentially multiple members of the team.



Jordynn and Sharon (also jointly referred to by fans as “Shordynn”) are marketing managers at ColourPop and also the brand’s in-house personalities. They star in product swatch videos on Youtube, host Facebook live shows, and even run the brand’s Instagram stories in a very personal and raw style - mistakes and all.

Amelia Island

Amelia Island’s destination marketing team also features their team in their video content. What at first began out of necessity has become a key part of their strategy.

“The videos feel more authentic,” Harris, said. “It doesn’t feel like an ad, because it has people who genuinely are excited and love this place. We have watched other people do stuff we liked, and honestly, we thought some of it came across so commercial and that is not really us. Our positioning is that here is this really cool enchanted little place. It’s a little bit different, it’s a little bit quirky, and you may not have heard of it, but wow, you will really like it. So how can we bring that spirit and passion to life in our content? Well, we’re passionate about [Amelia Island], because we live here, because we know the people and these businesses and this is our home, so we are going to be the best ones to get that message across.”

Harris said that outside of a little coaching, nobody on the team has been professionally trained for presenting, and she encourages marketers to just jump in.

“Why not you?” Harris said. “This is the internet age. Everybody has a platform. Some of our pieces that have done the best, that people have liked the best, are the ones that I have thought ‘Oh god, that one I was so tired’ or that we didn’t even prepare for that. We just kind of did it. If you are a person who lives there, it gives you a certain perspective and some credibility, which is important considering that people now more and more want to feel like a local when they travel. I will just encourage people just to do it. It is just a little video you know. It is not going to kill you.”

What to keep in mind:

First, make sure the employee is comfortable being a public face of the brand and that you’re comfortable with them being seen as a spokesperson. Are they publishing offensive posts or do they have tendencies to get into arguments on Twitter? Then, depending on your brand, they may not be the person for you. Likewise, going from thinking you’ll be working behind the screen to then being centerstage can sound fun but turn out overwhelming or stressful. Make sure that your employee understands this before diving in.

Initially, you may need to invest in your staff’s media know-how. Some brands like Benefit Cosmetics have created specific training days to learn equipment and get comfortable in front of cameras.

Lastly, what are the rules and limitations for that employee? Will you be tagging their personal accounts to add that extra layer of authenticity? Will they only be a first-name creator who can’t comment back as themselves? Will you, Buzzfeed-style, have them create pages for their brand personas? What happens if/when they leave the company? These are some topics you may want to think through as your platform grows.  

  • User-generated: $

83 percent of marketers said they’d like to create more video content if they didn’t have restraints such as time and resources. That’s where user-generated content can be immensely beneficial. Not only that, all the other benefits of UGC are here: increased authenticity and therefore trust and engagement.

  • Influencers: $$-$$$

Half of 18- to 34-year old YouTube subscribers would drop what they’re doing to watch a new video by their favorite creator. Many destinations and travel brands are already working with influencers whether for press stays or promotional campaigns. Just make sure your use of their content is written into your agreement.

  • Professional: $$$

Remember: Video doesn’t have to always be filmed! On Facebook especially, photos with text animated on top are just as shareable.

Key Digital Video Platforms

When it comes to video, the first platform that comes to mind for many consumers is Youtube. However, for marketers, it seems more are creating content for Facebook first. For teams wanting to reach Facebook audiences, those native videos are said to be shared 10x more. Just keep in mind that 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound and captions on Facebook video ads increase video view time by an average of 12%.

On Youtube, more than 500 million hours of videos are watched every day. Plus, in an average week, YouTube reaches more 18+ year-olds on mobile alone during prime-time TV hours than any cable TV network. However, if your goal is to grow a real Youtube audience, that can be a much longer and difficult game that takes a consistent upload schedule and content.

Of course, video lives on other platforms like Instagram and Twitter too. Over on Twitter, Native videos drive 2.5x more replies, 2.8x retweets, and 1.9x favorites than sharing links to videos uploaded elsewhere.

“I would say for us, Facebook is where our audience is,” Harris said. “Because we are so small, we really have to focus in on what works best. If we did all the platforms, we wouldn’t be able to give them all the attention they deserve. On Facebook, we can also do so much more  with targeted promotions, and from facebook we can push back to our website and and share with our partners. Instagram does that to some extent, but for video series I would say definitely Facebook is better.”

Borden also shared how the Visit LEX team kicked off their video strategy and what tactics have worked best for them. The team has done extensive testing across platforms to understand what content works best for each.

“We know that on Instagram, while video does well, it still doesn’t outperform showcasing photos on the platform,” Borden said. “Instagram is a bit difficult because most people go to Instagram for photos. When you think about the user experience, people tend to scroll through their timeline continuously and don’t want to wait for a video to load. Plus, sometimes the thumbnail that you use for your video doesn’t always look the best based on the video you have. You can never have a thumbnail that looks as good as high-res photo that you've taken. We’ve done a lot of A/B testing on Twitter where we would direct upload the video into a tweet and then we would also provide the link to our Youtube channel, and we know that any video that is uploaded directly onto Twitter way out performs the link to our Youtube channel. I think that goes back to that people want to stay in the platform, they don’t necessarily want to get out of it.”

How did Visit LEX get started in the video world? Initially, Borden and his team launched an internal campaign called Content 365, which had the aggressive goal of posting piece of content every day on all of their social channels.

“We knew that the more that we post, the more opportunities we would have for people to engage organically with us,” Borden said. “Then, we started looking at all the content we were posting and asked ourselves, ‘How many times can you post a long-form article with a photo?’ We saw the need to get more video because we know that that’s where internet traffic is going.”

From there, his team dove right in and created 100 destination videos for Lexington last year. How?

“We did it by basically taking all of our b-roll footage cutting it into either 15 or 30 seconds clips,” he said. “We took the same clips and overlaid them with quotes from a publication or a fact about the destination. We know that sound is not often enabled on these social platforms, so it was really key for us to make sure that we had words across the video.”

Since then, the Visit LEX team has been testing more experimental video styles - from 360 to GoPros on horses.

“We recently shot our first 360-video experience using horses, which is one of our main brand pillars,” Borden said. “Our most recent video was the Ad of the Day on Adweek. We put GoPros on horses and created this series of videos called Horses Filming Horses. We created four separate videos, so people could see what a horse does on a daily basis from a horse’s perspective: running around on the farms, foals jumping around, and one of the videos is actually of a mother filming her son.”


When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of videos, there are a few metrics that stand out. First, is views. This is too often the number marketers focus on even though it really doesn’t tell you much about the content’s performance. Views can be bought or accidental. Instead, look to watch time and engagement.

“If you look at it like you would in the real world, an impression in digital to me is like if I’m in retail and somebody is walking through the door,” Borden said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that they will stay in there, and it doesn’t mean that they picked up any clothes. It just means that they walked in the door. So we really look at that view rate and how long they watched the video, because that’s a better indicator of how interested they are in the content. You can get impressions anywhere if you put money behind it, but it’s harder to get someone to actually sit there and watch.”


Visit LEX’s Gathan Borden on how destinations can kick off their video production

I tell people to make the budget the last thing that you talk about. I think you need to have a clear vision of what you want to do, because there is a lot you can do, especially with the way that mobile devices are. You can create a lot all on your own without having to spend a lot of money. Once you have a clear vision of what your video strategy is, focus on those major brand pillars that help sell your destination. Don’t try to sell the whole destination in one or two videos, break it up to get people to try and understand your destination over time.

The car company Bentley recently shot a five minute documentary on the guys who actually design their cars, and they shot the whole thing on an iPhone. I think when you look at destinations, with limited resources and limited budgets, and then you have Bentley who has a bigger marketing budget than most destinations, and they are shooting video on an iPhone, so we can actually do the same thing. That’s why I always encourage people to find out what the people outside our industry are doing with video.

When it comes to investing in equipment, start by just finding some stabilizers. When you look at an iPhone, you have the ability to do anything from timelapses to slow motion and of course regular video - all in HD quality. If you want to improve your sound, you can get a microphone through Amazon that’s pretty effective, and now you’ve got yourself a whole video production set-up. Just invest in some basic equipment to help tell that story, and you are good to go.”