Cooperation Goes Viral

The time has come when online travel agencies have to prove that they are more than distribution channels. The relationship between OTA's and suppliers is inherently fraught because suppliers prefer getting bookings on their own sites, without having to share revenues with OTA's. On the other hand, OTA's promise marketing clout that produces incremental revenues.

Expedia, through its advertising arm Expedia Media Solutions, decided to take the OTA-supplier relationships a step further, recruiting nine travel brands as partners in a massive Facebook campaign that cost a lot of money but produced significant results.

Expedia created The FriendTrips game on Facebook, inviting travel partners to join the promotion. With over $1 million in prizes, it became the biggest sweepstakes in Facebook history and in just six weeks Expedia's fan base grew from 130,000 to over 1 million. Expedia did the heavy lifting -- concept development, creative, implementation and promotion -- allowing sponsoring travel brands to ride the tailwind of the campaign with a minimal commitment of resources or promotional dollars.



Noah Tratt, vice president at Expedia Media Solutions, called the promotion the first of its kind for Expedia and many of its partners in its aim to "work together with partners so we could collectively benefit." He said Expedia "wanted to do something innovative on social media and this sweepstakes was creative." It allowed people to "build" a plane and invite friends and relatives to travel with them to a sponsored destination.

The travel partners were: LAN (the South American airline), Tahiti, St. Vincent, Bermuda, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Las Vegas, Villa Group (Mexican resorts), Banff and Korea.

As an example of how the contest worked, said Tratt, "An entrant could build a plane for, say, the LAN trip to South America and invite six friends. Each airplane had to have six people on it; they were even able to place their friends in the plane's windows."

The campaign ran from late March through May 11. Among the results:

  • For partners with prizes valued at $100,000 or more:

-3.4 times the number of page views
-150% more engagement with users uploading stories and photos about the destinations
-FriendTrips delivered an average of 115,000 page view for their destination
-160,000 friends were invited to the destinations
-13,500 stories and photos were uploaded.

  • For smaller prizes (below $100,000):

-FriendTrips delivered 33,000 page views for their destinations
-58,000 friends were invited to the destination
-5,500 stories and photos were uploaded.

The promotion did not come cheap. "We invested a tremendous amount in marketing," said Tratt, "both on and off our site." A paid, off-site media campaign generated 8.2 million impressions.

The promotion encouraged viewers to share stories and photos about the destinations, which Tratt called, "an accelerant for the message."

The winners were drawn in an electronic process by a third party on May 11.

The biggest result: Prior to the promotion, visitors to Expedia were down year over year by about 4%; afterward they were up 6.5 % -- a swing of almost 11%.

Bottom line, said Tratt: "This is a story about people working together to become bigger as opposed to just doing a social media campaign on our own. It was the cooperative element itself that went viral." Tratt said that FriendTrips was just the beginning and "there is so much more that we can do. With a million fans now, there are opportunities to speak with them and to promote to them."

3 comments about "Cooperation Goes Viral".
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  1. Lyn Pesterfield from Highlight Marketing Services, LLC, June 20, 2011 at 10:03 a.m.

    Thanks for the story - very interesting! Would love to know more details about how Expedia promoted the campaign (i.e. media mix) and an estimated ad spend. Tratt didn't say much other than they spent a "tremendous amount"...which could be anything.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 20, 2011 at 12:46 p.m.

    What was the increase in sales as a result?

  3. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., June 20, 2011 at 5:38 p.m.

    I wonder if we still don't have an answer to your first sentence: "The time has come when online travel agencies have to prove that they are more than distribution channels."

    Several times, I have, as an experiment, compared OTAs with full-service, full-fee travel agencies. In all of a small sample of cases, the OTA did not produce any savings, and it was much more difficult to use.

    So, to paraphrase Paula's question: "Where's the beef?"

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