With “experience” and “local” the two most-used words in marketing travel these days, it might be a good idea to check out what the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) is doing to bring local experiences to the attention of travel agents and consumers. Because, while hotels, cruise lines and other suppliers might talk about local experiences, the entire purpose of a tour is to collect them..
To drive that point home, USTOA has created a “Travel Together” campaign that brings in all the elements required for marketing travel today: great video; blogs; and a publication. Travel Together features videos and blog posts from destinations around the world developed in partnership with video-journalist Kelley Ferro and AFAR magazine bloggers. The videos and blogs are designed to inspire travelers and to show the kind of experiences USTOA members can provide by harnessing their local connections and expertise to immerse travelers in regional cultures and customs.
Tour operator members contribute the actual tours — all travel costs while on the ground in the destination, like hotels, meals, guides, activities, etc. — for the video team and the AFAR blogger. Destinations pick up the tab for the production fees for the video-journalist and cameraman, including editing.
The videos are pretty cool — like a polar bear stretching up to look into a glacier-mobile in Manitoba to observe the humans on a Tauck Tour. Another tour operator, VBT Bicycling and Walking Tours, hosted a video crew in Croatia; they scavenged for truffles, toured vineyards and visited a marble-carving school and the home of a local chef.
Clearly, the emphasis is on the local, feeding off USTOA’s slogan: “Living Local: Traveling Global.” The videos and blog stories are widely distributed on USTOA’s site and on YouTube. People can also follow all the adventures on Twitter and Instagram and by joining Facebook chats.
Videos and blogs about new destinations visited with USTOA tour operators members will be added monthly as part of the campaign.
Like their supplier counterparts, tour operators have adapted to the changing tastes of consumers. Long-held stereotypes of frenzied, superficial sightseeing have been largely put to rest — with the emphasis now on actually getting to know destinations. As a result, member companies of USTOA carry almost 8 million travelers a year, spending $12.5 billion.
Some of these initiatives are expensive — a spot on an upscale tour can be worth many thousands of dollars. But think of the past when a single page in a glossy magazine would cost that much with not a fraction of the kind of impact an on-the-ground video can deliver.
Take a tour of the USTOA site and see how experience and local can become more than buzzwords.