Without question, the travel and hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis.
Almost overnight, travel came to a sudden halt causing resources to be reduced, budgets to be tightened and public health and safety to take on renewed and paramount importance. These unexpected challenges are forcing hotel brands to completely rethink how they communicate with consumers going forward.
As hospitality marketers, you need to keep anxious and distracted consumers engaged and, at the same time, come up with a game plan for recovery in a post-pandemic world where the rules have undoubtedly changed.
You may feel like you’re in the eye of the storm now, but by taking this time to put smart strategies in place, your marketing team can come out the other side stronger, more agile and more in touch with your customers than ever before.
And your customers are the key.
Why User-Generated Content is Essential for Consumer Engagement & Long-Term COVID Recovery
To fight off quarantine-induced boredom and cabin fever, people are now creating and consuming massive amounts of content on social networks as a way to connect with others. Daily usage of YouTube and TikTok has grown over 15 percent, while usage across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp is up 40 percent.
Not only are social networks optimal channels to reach today’s growing and captive audiences, but the content people create there has the potential to reinvigorate all your marketing activities.
User-generated content is seen by consumers as trusted, authentic and influential, not to mention that it’s freely available and constantly being created by millions of people everyday.
While travel and hospitality brands have been leveraging UGC for years, the additional budget and resource constraints facing today’s brands make UGC even more essential to travel marketers’ post-COVID success.
Whether you’re struggling to break through the added noise, strengthen trust or boost sales, user-generated content can help your brand cost effectively feed all your content needs while making the human connection people crave in this moment.
Here are just some of the ways UGC can keep your audiences inspired and engaged while helping you prepare to welcome them back once travel has fully reopened again.
Keeping Consumers Engaged with UGC Now
Taking a trip down memory lane
Having been stuck at home for months on end, many people are going stir-crazy. Inspire positivity by inviting people to reminisce on some of the best trips they have taken in the past. Ask them to share the best photos or videos from their last holiday or memories from their favorite destination.
Hamilton Island, a top Great Barrier Reef destination, took this approach with a successful campaign they ran in the past. After passing the one million visitor milestone, they used Stacka to launch a social competition asking past guests to share their Hamilton Island memories with the hashtag #HIRememberWhen on Instagram, Twitter or via direct upload on their website.
As their Director of Online, Aida Merdovic, said, “We hoped that by asking past guests to reminisce about their experiences we would evoke a feeling of nostalgia that would compel them to re-visit the island and, overtime, inspire new visitors to book a Hamilton Island holiday.”
Their campaign received thousands of photo submissions that were shared over 2k times, reaching 6.7 million impressions and resulting in 4x the average web traffic to their campaign page. By re-engaging their audiences, they were able to expand their visual content library with authentic UGC for future campaigns and achieved an impressive 3,814% return on investment (ROI).
Inspire Future Travel Plans
In trying times like these, people need something to look forward to. Help inspire those who are itching to plan their next trip by encouraging them to daydream about future travel they can (hopefully soon) embark on.
Customizable value travel tours company, Costsaver Tours, is doing just that with their #CSTravelChallenge. Asking people to create their dream trips from the safety of their homes, Costsaver Tours’ UGC competition calls on people to get creative by crafting their ideal travel destination in their living rooms or backyards. Upon submitting photos or videos of themselves in their homemade fantasy travel locations on Facebook, Instagram or via email, people had the chance to win £2000 Future Travel Credit with Costsavers.
Create a Human Connections
Travel companies are integral parts of our local and global communities, and many are using this time to demonstrate that in their marketing — choosing to communicate not as brand to consumers, but person to person.
Omni Hotels & Resorts, for example, has been adding a human touch to their recent email marketing campaigns, showcasing user-generated content of the good work their team is doing to support local food banks during this crisis, because, as they say “hospitality goes beyond the hotel walls.”
Driving Recovery When Travel Reopens
Rebuild Trust with Visual Social Proof
Traveler priorities will be different on the other side of this pandemic. Once travel restrictions are lifted, hotels will need to reestablish trust with wary consumers.
Visual social proof in the form of employee and traveler UGC can go a long way towards assuaging people’s doubts and providing the validation they need to book that first post-pandemic trip.
To prove it was safe for travelers to stay at their Hawaii hotel locations after the Kilauea volcano eruption in 2018, Outrigger Hotels & Resorts turned to guest UGC. When the volcanic activity started, it naturally caused a great deal of traveler panic. How bad was it? Should they cancel their trips? How soon would it be safe to visit?
To answer all these questions, Outrigger decided to show, not tell. They created a landing page with a visual UGC gallery of guests enjoying themselves at their four hotel properties on the Island of Hawaii. Concerned travelers could see for themselves that it was safe there and the sun awaited them. As Outrigger’s Social Media Strategist, Laura Essenberg, said, they knew that “UGC would be the best way to authentically and truly show that things were going ok.”
Instead of showing people at a crowded pool or beach, hotels will need to demonstrate that they’re taking disinfecting and social distancing seriously. Share content that shows the added precautions your employees are taking — wearing face masks and gloves — and the ways you’re enforcing social distancing — signs, screens or other markers you’re using to keep guests safely separated — as well as how visitors are enjoying their stays.
Create Lasting Customer Connections Post-COVID
On the other side of this global crisis, most of you will be forced to do more with less; many budgets and teams have been reduced and the ability to produce new visual content has significantly diminished.
Your marketing will need to strike a delicate balance between demonstrating strict health and safety measures and highlighting the comfort, fun and relaxation people seek when traveling.
User-generated content is the best tool to help you overcome these challenges, reassure people that it’s safe to travel again and meet this moment with the kind of humanity that deepens customer bonds for decades to come.