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.