Content marketing for travel: how to build a strategy that works

‘The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller.’ —Steve Jobs

I'll let you in on one of my favourite things about marketing destinations and travel experiences.

There's no room for dishonesty.

Cold calls, spammy emails and fake reviews don't work. Sugarcoating will be seen through immediately and pointed out on TripAdvisor. The only way you can build your travel business is by being the real deal. Once you've got an authentic and valuable offer, that's where content marketing comes in.

I've spent the last few years delving into what works for content marketing, especially for tourism boards, tour & activity operators, and other brands in travel. In both my life and my work, so much of it comes down to stories, especially in travel. Here I'll show you how to make the most of them.

P.S. I'm writing a book on content marketing for travel. You can sign up now and I'll send you over an advance free copy when it's ready.

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If you're short on time, here's what I'm going to say in far fewer words:

  • It all comes down to stories. Know and tell the right stories to the right people. What stories do your audience want in their lives? How can your brand provide the stories they want in their future?
  • If you're a destination or experience provider, your content marketing might involve 80% curation, 20% creation. Bounce off user-generated content.
  • There's too much content out there - it may seem like you need to fight for attention. Don't fight, but...
  • Know exactly who you are, consistently be the best version of that, and put out content that resonates with the right people.
  • Content marketing isn't a one-person job. Your team and destination are involved, as well as your visitors.



The brands that win are those with the best stories

We're working in a world where stories, experiences, and recommendations fly faster than ever. As travel as we know it keeps on changing, brands have ever more opportunities to gain from building a content brand.

The travel brands that win are the businesses that capture the hearts and minds of visitors and prove that they are the business who can provide the experience of a lifetime.

They stand out from the crowd by knowing exactly who their guest is, what they're looking for, and how to delight them. They tell their story and embrace their quirks.

It's not easy, but the most successful travel and tourism brands are doing it every day – and getting creative by going back to basics.

Look at the SAS Airlines video from October 2018 that doesn't show a single plane, just moments in an arrival hall, as part of their brilliant "We are Travelers" research campaign about how travel changes us:




Let's delve into how you can make magic with your own content marketing stories.

Remember, content marketing is: "a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action." (Content Marketing Institute)

How to make content marketing work for travel


#Your strategy

1. Don't look to your competitors too much

Looking too much at the competition keeps you behind. Often it's more useful to look outside your industry – if you're a destination, perhaps seeing how SaaS startups are marketing a product launch or a popular media company runs its social media– rather than the tourism board next door. If you know who you are and have a powerful sense of identity, you don't need to worry about the competition – or telling the right story.

Nebraska's new slogan, announced in October 2018, is one of my favourite destination branding moments from this year: "Honestly, it's not for everyone". It's a humble smile at how Nebraska was the ninth least-visited state in the USA in 2017. And they're ok with that. In the promotional material below, they say, "we believe that only boring people get bored. So we invent our own fun". It's funny and honest – and spectacular branding. They also encourage those who think it could be their "cup of tea" to head to their website for a Travel Guide (hurrah for lead magnets).


In a statement, the chair of the Nebraska Tourism Commission said they had high hopes for the new campaign. “We discovered that we can’t offer something to everyone — but to those that we can, this campaign speaks to their sense of adventure and discovering what we as Nebraskans are all about.”

2. It's not a one-person job

Sure, you'll have a maximum of a few people logging into your social media accounts. And that's good – you need to monitor the content coming out under your brand name and make sure it's all consistent. But there's brand content, and then there's content from individuals at brands. Many individuals at your company can be creating content under their own name, if you choose to encourage it.

I love seeing CEOs publishing thought leadership pieces on Medium and LinkedIn, Heads of Product talking about the lessons they're learning, or guides writing about their top recommendations for grabbing a bite to eat in their city.

# Your audience

3. Know who you're doing it for

Look at your customer segments. One great example is Visit Greenland's profiles of 11 different types of tourists that visit Greenland, as identified by their Visitor Survey.

These include the Globetrotter (27%), Nature Lover (16%) and Sightseer (15%).


Each publicly-available segment has a long description of what these visitors are like, including:

  • their dream destinations
  • what they're looking for in Greenland
  • quotes from people identified as belonging to each segment
  • tips on which images to use to get their attention
  • insights into their booking behaviour and travel behaviour (such as the amount of time spent overall, how many different regions, and when they book)

With this qualitative data, tour operators and other providers in-destination can tap into a base of extremely well-researched advice to help them be more successful (and get results for the DMO in turn).


4. Work out which stories are important to them

Every visitor who comes to your destination or books a tour, room, or experience with you will have their own "big picture" that influences whether they'll book with you or not.

In the back of their mind, they might think: how will this brand help me to experience the stories I want to tell? How will this destination add to the story of my life?

In my own life, my big picture is that I want an adventurous life exploring new places and experiences, and my travel choices reflect that. I want to gain stories from experiences that fit into that big picture.

So the questions I have for you now are:

  • What stories do your visitors or guests want to gain by handing you their money?
  • Is your brand using the right content and stories to attract these people?


What matters to them? Who do they want to become? How do they want to shape their identity with their travel choices? How will your destination or experience fit into their future?


Switzerland Tourism knows that many of their visitors are looking to spend time in nature – some of the best that Europe has to offer. Their slogan is "Get natural", and the bulk of the user-generated content they curate shows the dreamy views that visitors can find in the mountains. They know that this is the kind of view that their target audience daydreams about:



5. Find out where they are spending their time

In your content marketing, your goal is to share content that speaks to your guests and reaches them on the channels they turn to for travel inspiration, consideration, and decision-making. In these places – whether it's Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube – distribute the content that shares the best stories organically and with paid promotion.


6. Reach out at the right time

Travel is far more influenced by timing than other industries. As well as the usual dilemma of what time to share on social media, there's seasonality to consider as well as special events, festivals, and celebrations to market around. Planning in advance is the only option for much of your content marketing.

# Your content & channels

7. Make your content fly

The best travel content is so good that it swoops through online channels and good ol' fashioned offline conversations as word-of-mouth advertising – and the brand travels with it.

It does their marketing team's work for them, so they can focus on putting even more great content out there and sharing stories of happy customers.

How will you make your content fly? Keep reading...


8. Curate your audience's dream experiences

Know what your key visitor segments are, understand exactly what their ideal experience in your destination is, and make sure the content you create and curate visualises just that.

Decide how you can help your audience to visualise the stories they'll have with your brand. It might be a blog post by a solo female traveller about the time she spent backpacking through Patagonia with her camera, a few clothes, a book, and not much else. It might be a video about a group of twentysomethings roadtripping through your state on their summer vacation. Perhaps it's a photo of the sunset view from a deck chair on Maui, exquisite cocktail in-shot. Or a GoPro video of the first powder ski of the season that your local tour operator's guides have done before anyone else:



What does your audience see when they imagine their dream time in your destination? What is the perfect story they could get from your destination? What are the attributes of the experience – relaxation, luxury, adventure, incredible views, cultural wonder? Find a medium that gets it all through.

9. Be the conversation starter

To encourage user-generated content, one of your jobs is to get conversations going. Put a video on Facebook that you know your customer segment of adventure-seekers will drool over and want to tag their travel buddies in. Ask your Instagram fans for their top picks in your destination – such as for their favourite coffee shop – and get them started with your best recommendation.

Ideally, make it subtle. You don't have to scream "tag a friend who wants to go here!" Rather, know your visitors inside out and quietly but knowingly deliver something they'll want to pass on to their networks – because it fits exactly who they are and want they want.


10. Know your audience's influencers

When we're in the inspiration stage of our travel planning journey, we see where our own influencers have been to. When I say influencers, I don't just mean high-profile Instagrammers with 500k+ followers (although they can be useful). Oftentimes, they're recommendations from our friends, family, publications we follow, or other brands. We listen to their tips and visit places they've been because we trust them, look up to them, and want our own lives to share attributes from the vision they've cultivated.

Pay attention to who's persuading visitors to come to your destination or guests to book with you. If it's friends or family, you could use retargeting to give them content that reminds them of the quirks of your destination that they can then (hopefully) share.

If your influencers include high-profile bloggers and social media accounts, make sure they're telling the right stories for your target.



11. And bounce off the benefits of user-generated content

As a destination or experience provider, your content marketing will probably involve 80% curation, 20% creation. A content marketer will have their ear to the ground, setting time every day for social listening: monitoring what people are saying about their brand and interacting with it, but also looking for opportunities to re-post or make a piece of content into something bigger.


12. Audiences are overloaded, but don't worry about that

Yes, there's a lot of noise out there. Some people might say that you're fighting for attention, but I'm not with them on that. Don't pay attention to what the others are doing or panic-send last-minute deals to try and keep up. Keep your eye on what you're doing, but more importantly focus on your key audiences. (Remember Nebraska Tourism at the top of this article!)

Get to know the people who are the right ones to care about your brand – just them, not everyone – and fine-tune your awareness of what they're looking for. Create a laser-focused knowledge of what your brand is and isn't, and deliver that with each piece of content. Just be you. When your content reaches them, organically and via paid targeting, the right people will respond.


13. Know you're in it for the long-term

If you're working on building a travel brand, you're going to have to accept that a lot of your success will come down to long-term tactics.

There are some things you can do with a quick turnaround, but your content isn't something you set and forget. One thing I can tell you: if you commit to your content strategy and play the long game for your brand, your future self and business will tip their hat to you.

It's hard to even say it's just content marketing – it's the heart of all of your marketing. We fall in love with the aura of a destination, or how we imagine it on our mind based on the blogs we read, books we read, the films we watch, the music we listen to, the magazines and websites we scroll through, the social profiles we follow, and the conversations we have.

When it comes to using our limited days off work and holiday budget, we think about what trip is top of the list. What place has been niggling at the back of our mind the most, or for the longest? Content marketing helps your destination to be on that list.


I'm writing a book on content marketing for travel. Sign up here to get an advance free copy:

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