Travel Content: Going Places
Transporting content helps travelers trip the life fantastic. Plus: How to get the right content at the right time, and lessons from a living storybook.
By Jeff Heilman
WEARY ROAD WARRIORS AWAITING THEIR NEXT pat-down may vehemently disagree, but few of life’s quests are as inspirational as travel. “It’s what people do, or aspire to do, and build their lives around,” says Arjun Basu, Montreal-based content director for in-flight media pioneer Spafax. It is also a category custom-made for driving today’s multichannel content world. “As a rich and varied topic that fits into a broader lifestyle definition, travel often features in the content mix of non-travel publications,” says Basu.
In Spafax’s orbit, that translates into destination features in Experience, its luxury lifestyle publication for Bombardier Business Aircraft, or stories on travel insurance and second homes for the wealthy readers of Review, its lifestyle publication for Investors Group, or luxury lifestyle content in its publication for Mercedes-Benz owners in Canada.
Travel content is information that excites, transports, and guides people, but as publishers and travel brands understand, context is everything. “There are opportunities to engage consumers in transit—what we call ‘transumers’—throughout the journey cycle,” says Basu. “The challenge is to strike a balance between too little or too much content—and to be relevant and useful at all times.” As today’s savvy consumers continuously assess the quality of their interaction with travel and hospitality brands, it takes the right content for the right moment to make the right connections.
Andrew Davis, chief strategy officer and co-founder of Massachusetts-based Tippingpoint Labs, uses conceptual frameworks to help marketers see new possibilities in today’s ever-evolving brandscape. His structure for the travel experience maps out a compelling course for content marketing: that the travel day is divisible into micro-moving parts, each with its own media modality.
“Content needs to answer what a traveler wants to do in a variety of shifting time frames,” says Davis, using air travel as a prime example. “Think in terms of owning those small, changing moments, from getting to the airport to taking your seat to landing, and providing content to fit each of those moments.” In this regard, the in-flight magazine is relevancy defined. “The print format fills that space between shutting the cabin door and reaching 30,000 feet—when electronic devices can come back on,” he adds.
U.K.-based Ink Publishing is the world’s leading publisher of in-flight magazines, producing print and digital publications for more than 32 airlines globally. “People spend some 20 minutes with an onboard magazine at take-off and maybe another 20 minutes before landing, which is a pretty good window,” says co-founder and executive creative director Michael Keating, formerly a radio and television producer at BBC, MTV, and other outlets. “We call it captive media, and how we fill that window with content depends on the client’s marketing objectives, which differ greatly. Low-cost carriers such as Ryannair and easyJet are focused on selling onboard consumables, while larger flags like KLM and United want fabulous experiential content that you can curl up with and take home with you.”
With around 13 million readers per monthly issue, United’s Hemispheres, produced by Ink’s Brooklyn, New York-based editorial team, “offers an escape from the everyday that builds upon…freedom, motion, and liberation.” The May 2011 edition is the first to feature merged content for the new United Airlines, following its union with Continental. “It’s a whole new route map covering nearly twice the geography, including new areas such as India and the Caribbean,” says Hemispheres editor-in-chief Mike Guy. “For our sophisticated audience, the content challenge is to bring these and other destinations alive in new and compelling ways, while staying focused on trends and useful information.”
It’s a balance between service-led content and evocative narrative, but print is just one engagement stop along the travel cycle. Ink’s proprietary TAD (Targeted Advertising) technology reaches travelers before they leave for the airport, dynamically placing advertising on print-at-home boarding passes, smartphone boarding passes, Web pages, and confirmation e-mails. Segmented by parameters including origination and destination cities, gender and nationality, and passenger class, it’s one way that Ink connects companies with travelers. Another version of TAD delivers route-specific advertising on in-flight entertainment systems; Ink is also working on an app that tracks people where they travel and delivers an array of destination-specific content.
“Whether pushing a special cocktail offer at their destination airport or local tourism information, talking to travelers in real time enhances their experience,” says Keating, who emphasizes the value of a broad publishing footprint. “The in-flight magazine is the space for glorious travel editorial, the hand-held device is for information and promotions, the app is the interactive companion guide. Via a suite of publishing options, content takes consumers on a journey—whether they are actually traveling or not.”
Southwest Airlines is one carrier that “gets” travel cycle content marketing; its award-winning Spirit in-flight magazine, produced by Pace Communications, is part of a strikingly arrayed content program (see “Portfolio,” page 28). Another such carrier is Air Canada: its heralded Spafax-produced En Route magazine is prized by travelers for content such as a highly anticipated annual restaurant guide.
“Increasing the media allows marketers to maintain the conversation and engagement before, during, and after the travel experience,” says Basu. “However, since people’s mind-set, behavior, and buying habits can go through a series of transformations once they leave home and embark on the travel cycle, the media has to match those changes.”
Content must fit the context of the moment, which Basu says creates authenticity and in turn promotes trust and loyalty. “Random or irrelevant content, such as family travel promotions sent to business travelers stuck in wintertime delays, can send the wrong message.”
No less a captive audience can be found in hotel rooms, where some publishers foresee new frontiers for content.
ROOMS WITH A VIEW
Fred Petrovsky, president of content marketing at McMurry, poses this compelling question for hospitality brands: “If you can be seen as an expert in travel, what would that do for your brand?” It’s a philosophy that informs McMurry’s content strategy for long-time client Ritz-Carlton, as well as for newly acquired client JW Marriott, Marriott International’s rapidly expanding luxury brand.
“It’s one thing to attract and acquire a customer, but then the challenge—and the opportunity—turns to keeping that customer,” says Petrovsky. In the world of luxury hotels especially, that means keeping them coming back, whether it’s for business, social, or leisure purposes. “It’s a different dynamic, with many more touchpoints and its own set of risks and rewards,” he says. “Every interaction with the customer represents a reselling opportunity, because customers, armed with the power of choice, constantly reassess brands in what is a very tight, competitive space.”
Among other amenities, the in-room magazine helps maintain brand consistency and comfort levels. “Ritz-Carlton’s quarterly publication is an extension of the hotel’s essential brand attributes,” says Petrovsky. “In part, it serves as a reassuring, expected part of the experience that translates into one less thing to worry about.”
The Ritz-Carlton magazine (McMurry also produces the biannual Weddings by The Ritz-Carlton) does much more than extend and reinforce the brand, however. “While providing an entertaining read, the magazine is also designed to inform guests about other Ritz-Carlton properties around the world, supported by coverage of shopping, dining, spas, and all the lifestyle elements that the hotel’s sophisticated clientele desire,” explains Petrovsky. “Once at the mercy of traditional media, luxury brands today have the means to control the messaging and become their own channels.”
Back to his point—luxury brands as travel experts. “I think that is where brands are headed,” says Petrovosky. “Consumers love great content but do not necessarily care where it comes from. By combining fabulous, unbiased print content with online interactivity and the conversational aspects of social media, hospitality brands can potentially compete with traditional travel media—and become seen as content brands.”
Produced by North Carolina-based Pace Communications, Four Seasons Magazine and its accompanying digital edition and website create an enrapturing, enfolding experience for guests of the luxury hotelier, with experiential content designed to inspire travel and enjoyment of the best the world has to offer. “The consequence of obtaining this information from Four Seasons is that the consumer is likely to repeat or continue their interaction with the brand,” says Craig Waller, Pace Communications’ chief marketing and sales officer. “It’s a statement of Four Seasons’ worldview that says the brand shares the values and aspirations of its guests, which is a vital component of building trust and loyalty.”
User-generated sites like TripAdvisor may be a great resource, continues Waller, but they come with critical identity and integrity questions. “Who are these people? Are they like me? That’s why branded content is so important to Four Seasons—because customers know who is talking.”
Echoing Ian Fleming’s description of James Bond in Casino Royale, Waller sees print as beautiful and inviting, but also as a bit of a “blunt instrument.” Explains Waller: “Four Seasons is a truly international brand, with 80 properties worldwide. Content that supports that global reach and speaks with the brand voice must therefore be localized and actionable, which the static world of print alone does not achieve. The more dynamic worlds of digital and social media is where you truly engage fans and followers.” Like Petrovsky, Waller sees the potential in travel brands as content brands. The key, he says, “is to associate great content with the brand, as in the case of Four Seasons, so that people know the content is coming from Four Seasons.”
Like travelers in search of new horizons, marketers and publishers continue to seek new possibilities for travel content. Spafax’s Basu, for one, sees room for an even greater push of content into travel and hospitality environments. “Take the automotive space, for example,” he says. “Cars have become moving computers, with built-in media ripe for content opportunities. It’s the same with hotels. Our client Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, for example, is exploring ways to push more personalized content via their in-room television and entertainment systems.” While cautioning about reaching for too many shiny objects at once, Basu says there is plenty of room for the total media view that combines print, online, digital, mobile, video, and apps into one holistic content system. “There is always the risk of overdoing it, but for marketers taking the 360-degree view, the sky’s the limit.”
Right Content, Right Time
“Our forte is in working with big, complex organizations,” says Brice Bay, founder and CEO of South Carolina-based EnVeritas Group. “From content strategy and creation to content distribution and management, we like big challenges.”
With roots in the travel and hospitality industry, EnVeritas works with tourism boards and major hospitality brands including Hilton, InterContinental, and The Accor Group, often in challenging parts of the world. A case study in complexity is the firm’s work with the Carlson Hotel Group, a global hospitality leader with approximately 1,070 hotels in 77 countries.
“With five distinct brands including Radisson, Country Inn & Suites, Park Inn, Park Plaza, and Regent, Carlson identified a SEO-based content initiative to drive traffic to individual websites and increase overall bookings,” says Bay, who has evolved a sophisticated working relationship with Carlson over the past decade. “A strategic plan was proposed to execute new branded content for 750 different websites with SEO keywords interwoven throughout the sites.”
Massive in scale and with complexities including multilingual keywords, the project required that all content—localized for each property and including selling points and hotel and local information—adhere to each brand’s values and standards.
“Content powers the search experience, in terms of consumers seeking appealing and reliable content to make their buying decisions,” says Bay. “Our challenge was to localize the content while keeping it culturally relevant, factually accurate, and up-to-date. Whatever the detail—hotel pool under renovation, pet-friendly, meeting space—we are on top of the information.”
With huge amounts of content flowing from and to Carlson—the system handles more than 15,000 updates a year—EnVeritas’ team of content specialists stays in constant communication with individual hotel properties via a proprietary Content Lifecycle Management Technology system. A specialized style guide keeps original content brand-compliant, and the Message Board system allows Carlson to seamlessly update its websites with fresh content.
Producing consistently high natural search rankings for Carlson’s individual hotel websites, the program has also achieved bottom-line success, producing a 76 percent revenue increase over a control group and increasing monthly site visits by 62 percent.
“Carlson essentially entrusted us with managing their returns and removing problems,” says Bay, “It’s really a story of delivering the right content for the right person at the right time.”
A Living Storybook
Generating $22.2 billion a year in economic demand and sustaining 378,000 jobs, tourism is one of North Carolina’s most vital industries. Since 1997, the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film, and Sports Development has partnered with Tennessee-based Journal Communications in the design of an integrated publishing program to attract visitors, centered around the state’s annual official travel guide.
“Our marketing goals include increasing consumer inquiries and consumer awareness of North Carolina as a travel destination and increasing market share, visitation, and visitor spending,” explains Margo Metzger, the division’s public relations manager. “We use the guide to provide potential travelers with the most accurate, compelling, and substantive information regarding all there is to do in North Carolina.”
At 180 pages, the print version features original content on attractions and travel resources throughout the state. “The target audience is women between the ages of 35 and 54, based on ‘she’ being the most influential travel planner for family and friends,” says Susan Chappell, Journal’s content director for travel publications. With a print run of 600,000, the free guide is distributed at North Carolina welcome centers and by phone or online via the state’s travel website.
“While we are strongly in favor of print,” says Chappell, citing evidence that travelers still want a printed guide in hand, “our digital guide reaches and engages North Carolina’s core customer with a unique online experience.” Introduced in 2010 and enhanced in 2011, the digital guide, interplaying with the print version, incorporates rich media, animated digital ads, and embedded videos to become a living storybook. “This year’s cover is enlivened by twinkling lights and a flickering fire; the Blue Ridge Parkway map features interactive pop-up content, including video links; and we are developing an iPad version with even more bells and whistles,” says Chappell. “There is also a German language mini-version online, and we extend the guide’s reach via two virtual newsstand sites.”
Recognized by Nxtbook Media, which produces digital travel guides for 36 of 50 states, as a standout publication, the North Carolina guide is the technological standard-setter for state travel guides. “Journal Communications’ experience and attention to detail have proven invaluable in producing an award-winning guide,” says Metzger. “With more travelers using technology to plan their trips, Journal has improved features for the guide’s digital version, implementing cutting-edge technology, which has helped North Carolina’s guide stand out from the crowd.”