Letter from Our CEO: Changing travel behaviors

by Ranvir Gujral

We get to work with some of the world’s most incredible destinations and travel and hospitality brands. Behind these incredible brands, and a source of fascination and inspiration for us, is the marketers responsible for telling each brand’s and destination’s story.  Each conversation with a customer reminds us of the evolution of the industry and, subsequently, the role of the travel marketer dealing with changing consumer demand, preferences, and expectations.

At Chute, we have an insatiable appetite for both learning and informing, which you hopefully see reflected in the articles we include in this magazine, among other things we publish. As such, for the past several years, Chute has conducted a study to better understand the ever changing preferences and behaviors of travelers. We survey actual travelers to understand what influences their travel decisions.

This year’s study revealed several interesting takeaways, and while I don’t want to give all the good stuff away, I want to share a few highlights.

Firstly, it’s important to note what has stayed constant. Social media is the top source of travel inspiration after personal recommendations from family members or friends. And authentic imagery or user generated content is consistently preferred over stock and professional content across social platforms - Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. It’s clear consumers want recommendations that are personal and genuine. And over the past three years, the most influential social platforms on traveler decisions were all visually focused, while primarily-text based platforms like Twitter fell to the bottom of the list.

Just when you think you’ve figured out consumer behavior, however, you realize change is the only real constant. During the first two years of the study, Facebook was solidly in first place as the social platform most used by travelers for discovering inspiring travel content. But this year, Instagram squeaked past the mothership to take first place. Instagram launched several new features over the past 12-18 months, like Collections, Stories, and even the ability to follow hashtags vs. an account, which helped propel the platform to the top.

This type of change is precisely what makes your job so challenging, but also likely what makes it rewarding and interesting. Consumers change. Platforms change. And your job is to stay ahead of it all. This is what prompted us to launch the first Sightseer Awards to recognize some of the best examples of meeting travelers where they are, testing new platforms and ideas, pushing boundaries, taking risks, and, of course, staying ahead of the curve.

As I was reading through the submissions, it was great to understand the thought process behind solving a challenge creatively, but what really stood out to me were the responses to the question, “What did you learn?” For most submissions, this question yielded the longest response - you all had so much to share with your peers about how you might do things differently next time or what else you might consider.  

Here are some of my favorites…

When, it comes to working with social influencers, Matt Wakefield from Travel Tacoma recommends, “When targeting influencers, make sure and dig deep into their audiences and make sure the audience matches who you want to appeal to. Always keep in mind that the influencer is not your audience. They're the medium that helps you reach your audience. An influencer with millions of geographically diverse followers with the wrong demographics will cost much more and be much less effective than one with 50,000 followers that live in your target market and have interests that match what your destination provides.”

When it comes to using UGC, all submissions spoke to how it outperformed other types of content, and Mariella Ralph from RCI Europe shared, “From doing this program, we learned that our followers engage quite well with UGC... This has increased all of our statistics on our Instagram, therefore, we shall be continuing to source UGC through Chute and using this within our Instagram content for 2018. We will also consider posting UGC onto our other social media platforms and broaden our type of content (e.g. videos).”

And Mervi Holmen, from Visit Finland, reminds us not to forget other interests beyond travel to maximize your reach and relevance, “To do cross-over marketing combining travel, culture and science was extremely interesting and inspiring - all were very excited and involved in this project.”

Head here to read more about this year's winners and judges. We’ll continue to highlight many of the incredible submissions and lessons learned in future issues of Sightseer. Congratulations to the finalists and winners for charting the course for the industry!