transportation

Virgin Atlantic Debuts Social-Media Travel Site

vtravelled Virgin Atlantic has launched a new travel-centric Web site whose content and function suggests it is the offspring of Facebook and TripAdvisor.com.

Vtravelled.com lets people plan a trip, collaborate on an itinerary with fellow travelers, upload a travelogue and pictures about a trip, and get matched by relevancy with others who have similar travel interests. The effort is via Dentsu firm Attik, based in Leeds, England.

Lysette Gauna, creative director of Vtravelled.com, tells Marketing Daily the site's initial purpose is to expand Virgin's brand presence online. "We did research online and found quite a big gap, really; most sites focus on when and where, and there are lots of sites that seem to be focused on negative experiences; but there's really very little out there around celebrating travel. It started as an exercise in how we might be able to do that by making the most of assets we have -- thousands of very well-traveled staff -- and how to engage them as well."

Attik co-founder and group creative director James Sommerville says that the key to the site's success was avoiding overt branding. "It was dreamed up by Virgin Atlantic as a destination to connect people who love to travel, not as a way to scream 'Virgin' everywhere," he says. "There's a massively reduced amount of red [the airline's banner colors] as we are trying to be neutral place."

The site's design theme is graphic-intensive, with a map-themed splash page on which visitors can click to expand photos. The color theme is muted, and the only Virgin branding is in the lower right corner, where the logo reads "Dreamt up by Virgin." The Virgin logo only turns red when it is moused over.

Sommerville says contributions from Virgin's staff formed the initial content. "They have populated it with some of the experiences they have had over the years; that's the initial bedrock of information."

The site will expand to include video, will be integrated with other Virgin sites and will grow a roster of advertising partners -- currently, Massachusetts' tourism bureau is advertising on the site. "We see this as just beginning; we have plans for mobile, video, more around the Trip Pods," he says, "and how to inspire people with tools -- and, of course, grow the community of travel lovers."

As for promoting the site, Gauna says much of the outreach will be through viral channels and cross-promotion on Virgin's main airline sites.

Some of the elements include "Trip Pod," where people can plan travel itineraries with others; a "relevancy" feature that matches people by travel plans and preferences; and articles, blogs, and photography sections. "It allows you to tap into other people's travel experience and get a sense of whether that trip is right for you," she says. "They are really looking to define your interests or character."

Sommerville says the site's design reflects a "graphic language of travel," based on typical travel-sign fonts; "Things people are used to looking at when they travel -- so it kind of looks like you've seen it but perhaps aren't sure where."

A frequent cross-pond traveler himself, U.K.-based Sommerville says that while the site is initially for leisure travel, "I'm going to give it a shot from a business-travel point of view to see how it works."

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