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Skift’s latest trend report, “The Rise of the Millennial Traveler” launched yesterday. It is based on interviews with hotels, tourism boards, booking sites and various professionals discussing Millennial travel behaviors.
Following the research for this report, one of the primary themes that emerged was the seemingly unquenchable demand for content from the “Connected Generation.”
The motivation behind this report stems from a survey last year sent to 14 destination marketing organizations (DMOs) in a major U.S. state asking what they were doing to attract Millennial travelers, or Gen Y, or simply the next generation traveler. All 14 said they were active on social media. Some of them added generic, non-differentiating comments about good nightlife, volunteer opportunities and value-priced accommodations.
“Those are important to Millennials,” replied one tourism official.
And that, surprisingly was about it. Some of the DMOs involved in the survey are first tier destinations with big budgets and highly experienced staffs, and yet, their strategy for attracting the largest generation ever, with massive purchasing power soon to surpass that of Boomers, revolved mostly around Facebook and Twitter.
There was zero discussion about destination initiatives based on insight into the underpinnings of what motivates Millennial travelers.
“Thinking about social media first as a way to engage with Millennials is putting the cart before the horse,” says Jeff Fromm, author of Marketing to Millennials. “You should have a strategy first. My theory is that the big winners are high-participatory, high shareability brands that allow Millennials to co-create the product or service itself, and co-create the customer experience and co-create the marketing, of which social media is a subset.”
Meaning, high-shareability brands need something to share on social media. They need content. Focusing on social media without creating and curating engaging and topical content, both owned and crowdsourced, is like entering a parade without a float.
Rand Fishkin is the cofounder of Moz, considered a leader in SEO best practices, who promotes the ROI of shareable online content. During the Travel Blogger Exchange (TBEX) conference in 2012, he told 700 travel bloggers, “The only way for companies to grow their brands in the digital era is by other people doing it for them.”
Jonah Peretti, CEO of BuzzFeed, also values sharing content as much as creating content. Often confronted with criticism that the site’s huge popularity is based on stories designed as “linkbait”—created solely to generate clicks—he explains, “We don’t care what people click on. We care what people share.”
And yet, while most hotels, DMOs and other traveler suppliers are trumpeting their social media channels, fewer of them have interesting, timely content to share on their social media channels. In The Rise of the Millennial Traveler trend report, we sought out those DMOs who are leading the industry in terms of content creation, and equally important, content distribution.
The Content Kings
Visit Philadelphia, for example, operates three owned digital platforms. VisitPhilly.com is the main portal much like most DMOs operate. The popular Uwishunu.com blog highlights daily information about what’s happening in the city. And Philly 360 celebrates local artists and creative entrepreneurs making a positive impact in the region.
They are all integrated to cross-promote content designed to show Philadelphia as a modern city offering much more than its vaunted historical attractions.
When the DMO first started strategizing about new ways to promote the region following a series of budget cuts, Paula Butler, VP of communications for Visit Philadelphia, explains that everyone rallied around the idea of creating and sharing impactful brand storytelling online.
“We kind of go out of our way to not just think about what media we go into but the message that we have that will appeal to Millennials,” says Butler. “The challenge for Philadelphia was not that it had a negative image, but that it had a fuzzy image. And we realized content was going to be king, and then we realized the distribution of content was king, so if you had the best stuff it wasn’t enough to just put it on the table if nobody knew that the table was there.“
So if social media, as Fromm asserts, is a subset of content, then content is a subset of the actual travel experience. Specifically, local “insider” content. The ultimate aspiration for next generation travelers is the ability to personalize their exploration of a destination based on local information shared from myriad sources.
In 2011, Choose Chicago created a robust blog written by area bloggers, revolving around things to experience in the city off the beaten tourist path. In October last year, the tourism organization supplemented that with a new Neighborhoods section on the official website promoting communities and small businesses outside the central core.
“The Neighborhoods section is part of a larger citywide initiative to expand tourism throughout the city,” says Amy Pales, director of print/digital media for Choose Chicago. “A few other DMOs have created similar online initiatives, but I don’t think many of them have our comprehensive mapping system and wealth of places to experience in so many different communities.”
The “Chicago Like A Local” blog also directs adventurous visitors to lesser known places across Greater Chicago. The popular Weekend Alerts posts are created by Choose Chicago staffers, promoting special area events frequented by locals. The rest of the content is written by paid bloggers, each with a specific subject-matter expertise.
“We definitely see potential with Millennials within our overall group of target audiences, because we’re seeing a lot of traffic coming from them,” says Pales. “I love our blog. We get a lot of compliments about it, and it portrays our city in another light. The bloggers are out there doing the things they’re writing about, they’re living those experiences, which brings a real freshness and authenticity to the content.”
Read more about what destination marketing organizations have to say in The Rise of the Millennial Traveler.
Greg Oates covers hospitality/tourism development and travel brand media. He’s toured over 1,000 hotels in 50+ countries.