Using UGC to Attract Visitors – Who’s in the Lead?

Anna Pollock
In the good ‘ole days – a mere 30 years or so ago – destination marketing was a relatively simple affair: figure out your major selling features, maybe add some positioning spin ( a “snazzy byline or
contemporary looking logo), print some brochures, run an ad campaign; ensure there was a “call to action; ” wait for the phone to ring; mail out the brochures and hope for the best.

The Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) had an important role to play in creating awareness and desire among national and international markets on behalf of its small businesses simply because the latter, acting alone, could never develop the same reach, influence or impact. The role of the DMO was “to extend the invitation” on behalf of tourism suppliers and

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The Internet has, of course, changed all that and the marketing task has mushroomed in complexity requiring new and unimaginable skill sets and generating a constantly changing set of
acronyms. It’s also having a profound impact on the roles of the various members of the tourism ecosystem.

While the role of the DMO used to be to “show, tell and persuade” it is now becoming
facilitate, orchestrate and enable. That’s because the same tourism suppliers and residents, who were unable to reach out to international audiences some 20+ years ago, can now enjoy instant contact with anyone 24/7.
So while the DMO used to lead from the front with glitzy, push-style campaigns based on a brand, customer and product database they considered to “own;” wise DMOs are learning to lead from behind by allowing and encouraging others to do the persuading for them. Utilizing the power of Web 2.0 (notably open source) and social media, smart destinations are encouraging their residents, local businesses, visitors and third party suppliers tell the destination story. The acronym for this is UGC – user generated content- and is finally capturing the interest of several tourism offices.

Here are five interesting examples:

1. Visit Britain – According to this press release, Visit Britain will formally launch their new social media initiative at the Travel Distribution Summit being held in London today.

“We want to offer travel organisations promoting Britain a media stream of
our reviews, photos and videos”, Comments Justin Reid – Head of Online
Marketing for Visit Britain. “UGC has been shown to increase browse
time, bookings and online interaction and if we can entice more people
to come to the UK using innovative media marketing like this, then this
is a win win for Visit Britain and our tourism providers.”

Britain travel review

Using software developed by Digital Visitor, Visit Britain enables visitors and residents to upload videos, still images, and make reviews on their own and others’ contributions.

2. Vancouver 2010
– in February next year, Canada will host the Winter Olympic Games. Bell Canada – a major Games sponsor and one of Canada’s largest telecoms company has endeavoured to show the host destination through the eyes of residents. A great idea and one we have been promoting for
years but, and I hate to be negative, one that suffers from poor execution. Instead of mashing up a range of easy-to-use, well proven software modules that provide the easy-to-use functionality enjoyed by Visit Britain, Bell had to develop its own proprietary and, may I say it, clunky interface that inhibits exploration. Take a look at Canada Code: That’s if you’ve got the time to fill in all the forms. Too bad that they don’t appear to have been working with the tourism agencies – Tourism Vancouver, Tourism Whistler or Tourism British Columbia (Hello BC)…see below

3. Tourism British Columbia – if prizes were to be awarded to individuals who changed the way destinations are marketed, then it should go to Wilhelm Bakker at Tourism BC. What’s most endearing about Wilhelm is his willingness to share his thinking, his trials, tribulations and triumphs with little or no sense of ego – see these posts.

Here’s the link to Tourism British Columbia’s approach to User Generated Content in the run up to the biggest tourism event to be held in the province since Expo 86.

The significance of this would be lost on the average reader if I didn’t share this observation – Tourism BC is an organization that likes to do things very thoroughly and professionally. They like control over the final product and message. So it takes courage to include the less polished, perfect content supplied by non-professionals. The traditional approach would be to produce a high quality, expensive video but, thanks to Wilhelm’s efforts, they are now including the “right stuff”.

4. Philadelphia – this tourist board embraced the idea of blogging very early on. While they may have got it wrong to start by creating false blogging personas, whose profile happened to correlate
to their major market segments, they quickly learned by doing. Uwishunu is a major destination blogging community and success story – Go for it,!

5. Disney – thanks to blogger Josh Hallett, we can follow Disney’s experience with Social Media. I’ve paraphrased the key points from his

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blog post below:

Disney started by partnering with to allow consumers to
upload a video to apply for a ‘dream’ job. For Disney it was a totally
new arena. They had no idea how many videos they would receive and what
the videos would could contain. The big step was of course letting go.
Disney was overwhelmed with the number of video applications they
received, eventually narrowing it down to five finalists. The
finalists were posted online and consumers were allowed to vote,
resulting in millions of votes. The finalists built their own marketing
campaigns, driving even more traffic to the campaign. A side benefit
was the number of regular job applications that Disney received.
Because of this, it was the most successful recruitment effort to date.
The next project was the Walt Disney World Mom’s Panel.

heylaunched a search for some of the most passionate Disney moms.

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again the response overwhelming. They received 10,000 applications over
the weekend, but turned away over 30,000 applicants. That was the one
major mistake they made.

As the program evolved, the internal issue was once again giving up
control of the marketing messaging. The mom’s panel has helped them
overcome the two largest barriers they’ve faced, affordability and age.
That is, what is the appropriate age for a child to first visit the
theme parks. The honest, open advice of the mom’s helped break down
this barrier.

Disney moms

Thewomen that did not make the Mom’s Panel became part of the Mickey Moms
Club. One major step was allowing the club to select their own logo.
Once again, for Disney to allow somebody outside the brand to do design
and select a logo was a huge leap of faith. But, it worked.
Their work with the moms made them look at how they consume media. To
help promote the new What Will You Celebrate? campaign
they created a viral video campaign. The program allows consumers to
create a uniquely branded video to ‘celebrate’ an event such as a
birthday or an anniversary. These videos can then be sent to friends
and relatives. This builds the standard pass-along/viral effect,
spreading the video even more. The site has had an 85% click-thru rate
and paid for itself in just over 18 hours from launch and has gone on
to blow past all expectations for views and revenue.

I am confident that there are many other great examples of the use of User

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Generated Content by Destinations to attract visitors so – I invite you, please, to add comments so we can learn quickly from each other. In later posts – we’ll look at UGC to enrich the visitor’s stay at the destination.


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