Going Local (and Social)

Remember “The Accidental Tourist?” The Anne Tyler novel (and Oscar-nominated movie) featured a travel writer who visited exotic cities and precisely organized his meals, his itinerary, and every other detail without ever experiencing the cities themselves. Now, surely, there are still travelers like this, people for whom deviations from the expected norm are merely distractions to avoid. But travelers of all kinds are increasingly seeking out experiences that are genuinely unique and using social media (and their mobile devices) to guide them – and marketers in the travel and hospitality industry are taking notice. 

A recent article in Adweek describes how travelers’ expectations of their hotels, in particular, are changing. “Our facility is no longer the destination,” describes one hotelier in the article. “Now we are a portal to the community around us.” And while you might expect that this would primarily be the case with leisure travelers, that’s not necessarily so. According to the 2013 Millward Brown survey cited in the Adweek piece, about half of business travelers “want to explore the local area while on a business trip.” The article goes on to state that “[f]or business travelers, ‘discovery’ now ranks higher than ‘escape’ or ‘indulgence.’” 

What’s really interesting is how the two hotel brands they describe in the article are addressing this trend. Red Lion has launched “locally oriented microsites” for their locations with dining, events and other information. IHG’s Hotel Indigo is launching “in-hotel touchscreens that list the staff’s favorite neighborhood attractions and eateries.” While these efforts to provide local content are important, the approaches listed here seem a little off. How do you know if a hotel employee’s food and event preferences are going to align with your guests’ preferences? How many employees actually live near the hotel you’re staying in, for that matter? And how many people will actually use in-room touchscreens for local content (and how exactly do you take that information with you when you’re out and about?). 

What the article doesn’t touch on is how hotel brands are using existing social channels to promote their local areas. Let’s look at Hotel Indigo again as just one example – specifically The Hotel Indigo in Athens, Ga. (near and dear to my heart). The hotel has an active presence on Instagram and Twitter (great!) with excellent photos and info on the hotel (even better!) – but little detail on the University of Georgia campus, the great restaurants nearby, walking and running trails, bars, etc. And Indigo is one of the better examples; Red Lion doesn’t have a discernible presence on Instagram or Twitter at all. 

What Indigo and Red Lion and many other brands seem to be doing is creating expensive standalone experiences without fully utilizing the vast opportunities available in popular, established social networks. As a traveler, which scenario is more likely for you: Sitting in front of an in-room screen and jotting down notes or visiting a hotel microsite – or spending time on your favorite social media platforms looking for ideas? Solutions like the microsites and touchscreens are far less nimble than social as well. When there’s a new event or a great restaurant opening up nearby, isn’t it easier to post a picture to Instagram or post a Vine of the walk from your hotel to the new spot – versus updating the text on a microsite? 

There’s a great lesson here. Local content is incredibly (and increasingly) important for hotel brands and others – but it’s wiser (and likely cheaper and faster) to fully utilize the social channels that travelers have already embraced than create an entirely new experience from scratch. Testing and scaling local content in social channels that your target customers love is a fantastic way to help build your brand and give travelers what they crave – and with a nimble, thoughtful approach, you’ll keep them coming back when they make travel plans in the future.

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3 comments about "Going Local (and Social)".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , March 10, 2014 at 10:38 a.m.
    It depends upon where you are going and how many times you have been there (Athens, GA or Athens, Greece). Otherwise, it is wise to plan specifically especially if it for an event with limited tickets or a popular attraction that has time stamps where you can get shut out. Plus, on a limited time schedule, it is better to visit places area based rather than spending a lot of time traveling to and from again and again.
  2. Laurence Bernstein from Protean Strategies , March 10, 2014 at 10:49 a.m.
    Wow! Where to start. Mr. Wilson's article is a valid discussion of the use (or not) of social media by some hotels, but that's it. As an analysis of changing trends in travel, unfortunately Mr. Wilson (and I suspect many of the people he spoke with for this article) is way off. The 1985 satirical novel about a travel writer was not a scientific description of attitudes toward travel. Except for specifically designed resorts, hotels have never been the destination -- they have always been "the portal to the community around them," from the point of view of the traveler. The fact that some hotelier thinks otherwise merely points to why so many hotels have been doing such a bad job for so long. Leisure travelers visiting a place other than a resort, have always been interested to a lesser or greater extent, in exploring. This is why they invented guide books, most of which actually had restaurant reviews, some of which claimed to have exclusive local listings. The "insight" that business travelers also "want to explore the local area while on a business trip" is testament to nothing so much as the fact that nobody asked the question before. Even less meaningful is the "fact" that business travelers rank "discovery" higher than "indulgence" or "escape" (both of which are very low on a business travelers actual needs scale, where connection (physical, social and psychological) to the people with whom she is doing business is way more important. It is important that social media strategists such as Mr. Wilson base their strategic insights on real consumer behaviour as understood in real life historical and social contexts. Building any strategy, especially those such as SM that are dependent on the communal gestalt, on mythology is destined to fail.
  3. Todd Wilson from Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud , March 10, 2014 at 4:27 p.m.
    Thank you Paula and Laurence for your commentary. Laurence, the point of the article wasn't state that hotels are the destination in and of itself; I think we agree that the majority of them aren't. Without going though each of your points, I'll simply state that the intention was to look at potentially better ways to deliver local/"social" content to travelers as they need it, not a defense or approval of the hotelier's comments from the AdWeek piece.