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Visual social media marketing has gone mainstream in the travel industry with leading hospitality brands launching global campaigns on Instagram, Pinterest and others.

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts were among the first in the industry to test the Instagram platform with its “Loving The Moment” campaign in 2012.  As Pinterest and Instagram gain prominence in driving referral traffic to travel web sites, Starwood, Marriott, Four Seasons, among others, have all jumped on the visual marketing bandwagon.

Another form of content marketing, visual social media marketing helps marketers drive awareness, engagement and affinity by leveraging photos and short videos, often shared by users on social media. Travel and tourism relies heavily on visual content to inspire real experiences. Visual marketing as a tool is becoming more and more important on both ends of the path to purchase – from attention to advocacy and eventually booking.

Using Instagram, Starwood Hotels in late 2013 started to integrate photos shared by hotel guests on its main brand web site.  Named “Guest Gallery,” these pages pull relevant photos from Instagram and present them to web site visitors.   In early 2014, Four Seasons Hotels launched a Pinterest-powered service, Pin.Pack.Go, to engage guests early in their trip planning stages.  These collaborative pin boards allow users to get advice and recommendations for their upcoming stay with Four Seasons from local experts.  This initiative has moved from a focus on inspiration to destination activity planning and guest services.

Most visual social media campaigns are global in scope, with China being one of the markets to cover and Chinese consumers part of the target audience.  Closer looks at the campaigns reveals that the “localized” Instagram and Pinterest pages are populated with mostly English content (in photo descriptions and comments).  This creates problems for Chinese users.  Not only do they lose valuable context information to fully appreciate the carefully curated photos, most of them also lack the ability to participate and engage because they are simply not on Instagram or Pinterest.

Photo sharing in China happens mostly on two key Chinese social media platforms, Weibo and WeChat (or Weixin in Chinese).  With 120 million and 270 million monthly active users respectively, Weibo and WeChat are where stories are shared and connections are made.  Instagram and Pinterest, although not blocked in China like Facebook and Twitter (yet!), have significantly smaller user base in China when compared to the two leading Chinese platforms.

To help travel brands fully realize the potential of visual social media marketing in the Chinese market, Beijing based Dragon Trail Interactive launched a new visual social media marketing platform called Tripshow.com.  Tripshow is dedicated to the travel industry, and focuses exclusively on Chinese social media sites.  Using Tripshow, travel brands can engage users from both Weibo and WeChat in the same campaign.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group is not the first to launch visual social media campaigns.  But when it comes to using the tool in the Chinese market, it is one of the few to get things, well, almost right.  Earlier this month, Mandarin Oriental launched a contest entitled ‘My Moments of Delight’ in China.  Instead of using Instagram or Pinterest, Mandarin Oriental launched their campaign on Chinese social media site Weibo.com.  While a step in the right direction using Weibo, the campaign still lacks engagement with WeChat users.

As the power of visual social media marketing manifests itself in more interesting ways, and with the fast evolving consumer sophistication in the travel market in China, travel brands looking to attract Chinese travelers, need to pay ever more attention to localizing their digital campaigns for the market.

This content is created collaboratively in partnership with our sponsor, Dragon Trail