Thursday, 30 October 2014

How social media marketing has become an important tool for destination companies

The travel and tourism industry has uncovered the potential of social media in promoting destinations. Sharing of travel related content has become second nature for Indian consumers who are driving a high level of engagement through their travel stories. Cashing in on this wave are tourism boards that are using social media to disseminate their messages. South African Tourism believes that ‘travel is social’ and has been driving its marketing efforts through social platforms. In conversation with Rashi Bisaria, Hanneli Sabber, Country Manager, South African Tourism explains how consumer outreach initiatives have been amplified through the digital medium and how the number of Indian visitors to South Africa has steadily increased over the years. Edited excerpts:

What kind of presence does South African Tourism have on digital media? How did you amplify the latest campaign through social media?
When #TakeMeToSouthAfrica was first conceptualized in 2012, the main objective was to reach out to travel enthusiasts all over India thereby showcasing the variety of wonderful experiences on offer to Indian travel enthusiasts. We wanted to launch a direct consumer outreach initiative where we get them to experience the destination first-hand and to further augment the consumer outreach, we decided to get our Brand Ambassador and cricketing maverick Jonty Rhodes to don the role of a host to the winners on the 2 week trip to South Africa. Hailing from South Africa and being extremely passionate about travel we were sure to have had made the perfect choice.


Rightly so, the entries for the first edition and the current one of #TakeMeToSouthAfrica received phenomenal response from travel junkies across the country. This year in an attempt to further intensify our approach as per the tastes of Indian travelers, an extensive external research was carried out. The results indicated that gaming was one of the key influences of the customer’s preferences. On the basis of this understanding, South African Tourism introduced the latest edition #TakeMeToSouthAfrica through an online gaming contest where contenders had to cross multiple levels on adventure, wildlife, art & culture and history about South Africa. As expected, the contest was a huge hit across India with a very high level of engagement across platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and a specially designed microsite linked to the South African Tourism website.

With the understanding of ever rising influence of social media platforms on travel decisions of Indian travelers, South African Tourism is extremely active on various digital media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Our official website is also extremely user friendly and provides our consumers an insight into South Africa with a number of blog posts, tweets with popular hash tags, Instagram posts and much more.

In the social space there is a focus on building communities that will be most receptive to the content you have to share. Community building extends the reach of organic activity if the communication is good. The recent South African Tourism “Reconsider Ad” garnered more than 500,000 views on YouTube not only due to the sheer brilliance of the ad also due to the sustained efforts of the #MeetSouthAfrica community that invested in the initiative almost 18 months prior to the ad, by proactively sharing content in order to generate initial buzz around the ad . The ad along with the hashtag #MeetSouthAfrica has worked perfectly and generated large conversations with the majority of comments and shares.

What was the #TakeMeToSouthAfrica campaign all about?
#TakeMeToSouthAfrica commenced earlier this year and immediately caught on with the audiences. Participations started pouring in from across the country, the moment the contest went public. Over 800 numbers of entries were received and from the 24 shortlisted contestants who made it to Round two, 4 lucky winners have been chosen for a two week trip to South Africa with Jonty Rhodes. This year, we adopted a distinct and innovative strategy to inform the chosen winners about their victory. Billboards were set up outside the office of the four winners with a personalized message from Jonty Rhodes announcing that they have won a trip to South Africa with him. Amazed to see their billboards, contestants expressed excitement for this once-in-a-lifetime voyage to South Africa. These travel enthusiasts will embark on their journey to South Africa from December 1-15, 2014 for some amazing travel experiences with Jonty as their personal host.

Compared to last year what is the consumer sentiment like this year? Are people travelling more this year?
All our efforts with varied initiatives in the Indian market to reach out to our target audience and key stakeholders have always paid off extremely well and has helped strengthen the perception of South Africa as a tourist destination offering a varied set of experiences. 2013 recorded 1 12 672 Indian tourists visiting South Africa which was an increase of 5.5 per cent vis-à-vis 2012. 24 556 Indians have visited South Africa in the first three months of 2014.

Has digital gained prominence as compared to 2013 in the tourism industry?
The tourism industry has changed dramatically with the overwhelming emergence of social media platforms. While choosing a holiday destination, consumers today opt for research on the internet for reviews as the first step to understand the destination and its varied offerings. Hence, digital and social media marketing has gained immense importance in the overall marketing and communication strategy for destination companies and tourism boards. Social media is a massive tool to reach out to the global audience with your key messages and immerse prospective consumers in an engagement programme through contests, pictures, videos among others. Engagement is the key feature of social media marketing which has worked well for many destinations including ours.

We at South African Tourism believe that “Travel is Social”. This means that travelers worldwide love to talk about where they have been, where they are going and the things they are planning to do at the destination. This process is aspirational and it is absolutely crucial in today’s digital age to pay attention to what is being said. Digital media and technologies now affect every single stage of the visitor’s journey to a destination – from planning to stay to post trip conversations. The purpose of every Tourism Board should be to develop a holistic digital marketing strategy targeting the decision-making process of planning a trip, to providing useful visitor information to utilizing attractive social media tools for sharing their memorable experience upon their return home.

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