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Westin Hotels hooked up with AFAR Media this year to launch Westin Finds, detailing local travel experiences specific to the destinations where Westin operates. The interesting hook here is that most of the info is crowdsourced content produced for free by AFAR readers.
The idea of using consumer-supplied editorial as a distribution model for online travel content is not new. It’s the success with which AFAR has been able to build up the amount and variety of content that’s unique.
Anybody can sign up for an account at afar.com and write short “Highlight” travel stories in 1,500 characters or less, with one photo. It’s popular for budding travel writers because they can create a professional looking microblog post in a short time. Pro bloggers are also active because it provides exposure for their businesses.
Day by day, the number of AFAR Highlights continues to grow. All of them have links to the story subject’s website, and they’re geotagged by location. In effect, AFAR is organically building a worldwide wiki of global travel experiences written, ostensibly, by people who actually experienced them.
Many of AFAR’s Highlights focus on offbeat/local restaurants, hotels, cultural events, etc., while others are more mainstream. Because of the sheer mass of content, Westin had plenty of choices to build Westin Finds for many of the hotels. AFAR supplemented the inventory of Highlights when there weren’t enough available for a particular destination by contracting its global network of “Local Experts.”
If a Highlight contained anything deemed too snarky or negative, AFAR editors sanitized the edit and offered to send original content back to the writer. All writers were notified via email when Westin chose to use one of their Highlights.
WestinFinds.com displays a related list of AFAR Highlights respective to each of the hotel destinations. Once you’ve chosen a specific hotel, you can organize the Highlights by either traveler type or interest, depending on who you are and how you travel.
For example, if you’re considering booking The Westin Grand Munich, you might come across this author’s Highlight about the Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum dedicated to the history of transportation. There are 17 other Munich Highlights listed when you choose “See & Do” under the interests category. The museum also appears if the reader selects “Families” under the traveler category.
Skift contacted Davina Baum, AFAR’s director of digital content, for her thoughts about Westin Finds and the value of hotels offering travel content in general:
Skift: Do you feel larger hotel groups are realizing more the value of sharing info about the local communities around their hotels?
Davina Baum: It’s logical, right? Hotels want people to book rooms, and people are more likely to book rooms and stay longer in a place if they know what amazing, under-the-radar experiences are right outside the lobby doors. It’s so easy these days to have generic, mass-market experiences anywhere you go: your coffee from Starbucks, your lunch from Pret-a-Manger. But hotels understand that while conveniences like that can have their place and time, what will contribute to a really memorable experience is discovering how vibrant and unique a place really is.
Skift: How do you think that information affects purchase behavior?
Davina Baum: A hotel booking is often the starting point of a trip. It’s the first thing, besides the flight, that a traveler will research and actually book. And it just seems natural to provide a traveler with more than a sterile booking transaction. So hotels should see that moment as the jumping-off point for a transformative travel experience that they can help provide. The potential there for hotels to capture travelers at those moments and offer them unique, curated and reliable experiences is massive.
Skift: What excites the editors of AFAR? What type of destination info catches your attention?
Davina Baum: We love the experiences that allow us to get beneath the surface of a place, to really understand a culture. That means asking a taxi driver for his food recommendations, or sharing a table at a bar with a local and getting some insight into what their daily lives are like. We look for the spontaneous stuff, the unexpected—and that’s what our correspondents and local experts are reporting on from their travels and their home towns.
Greg Oates covers hospitality trends and next generation hotels. He has participated in 1,000+ hotel site inspections in over 50 countries.