The Travel Path of Content

A couple of months ago, I was invited to take part in a panel discussion at the Outbound Travel Mart (OTM) fair in Mumbai. Organized by TravHQ, the subject of the panel discussion was on “leveraging content to inspire travellers to explore a new destination and take a trip.”

My fellow travellers on the path content journeys was Sesh Seshadri, Director & General Manager – Lonely Planet; Hanisha Lalwani – Multi-Property Marketing & Communications Manager, Marriott International; and Prashanth Rao Aroor, MD & CEO – Intellistay Hotels (Mango Hotels).  The panel host was Daksh Sharma – Founding Partner & Chief Editor, TravHQ.

Together, we had a lively discussion on what the travel industry needed to do to develop inspired content.

During the course of the 1-hour discussion, there were many pertinent pointers on leveraging content for the audience to take away. But here, I am going to focus on just a couple of points that I hopefully succeeded in laying great emphasis on.

First, content is not something that is the exclusive domain of digital platforms. Travel brands, in particular, must remember that content is expressed through any medium. In other words, what I am saying is that the definition of content in Marketing today is too narrow and needs to be expanded.

This is especially important when it comes to the travel industry. To my mind, the most important channel for the industry is no less than the people on the ground at destinations. I am referring to travel guides and hotel staff in the main. The latter, particularly, are ill-informed and unable to guide tourists staying with them. More often than not, they are not even trained to direct guests to the travel desk at the hotel. It’s another matter altogether that the people manning such desks are usually not well-versed or steeped in local knowledge either. This state of affairs needs to be corrected if travellers are to go home enrichened enough by the journey to talk about it to their social circles.

As a traveller, the content memories that have found a permanent lodge in my brain are the ones left there by the excellent travel guides on the London and Boston hop on hop off bus tours. These professionally trained guides ensured that they dramatised, entertained and brought alive the history of their cities for the passengers travelling with them. India, I am hoping, is getting there too, slowly but surely.  I had an excellent guide at the Mysore Palace. I was also very impressed with the audio tour at Kangra Fort, Dharmshala. If I am not mistaken, the creators of that audio tour had actually taken the trouble to find and commission a highly professional narrator to transport the listener to a time when the Kangra King was called Porus. I am not kidding because the voice sounded like it belonged to Roshan Seth.

Second, as far as digitally available content is concerned, the travel industry in India has to stop taking the lazy way out. Yes, I actually used those words during the panel discussion because that’s what I see happening. Allow me to illustrate. By simply picking the travel writers or bloggers with the highest traffic or ratings to write for a travel brand is not enough. I have been blogging for around two years now and what I have found is that the top rated bloggers on networks such as IndiBlogger are not the best writers. They are there because the blogging networks work on a ‘You scratch my back, I will scratch yours principle,’ enabled by a voting mechanism. Ergo, if the travel industry wishes to create inspired content that will succeed in viewers packing their bags, an effort must be made to go on a talent spotting hunt. Thereafter, investments need to be made in sponsoring and cultivating such talent. To substantiate my point, I urged the audience to study the work of Ami Bhat who blogs at Thrilling Travel. Or, the work of Revati and Charles hosted on Different Doors Travel Blog.

That’s as far as travel blogs (travelogues) go. What about the often mindless travel content on channels such as Facebook. Here, I would say that each Facebook post or each tweet needs to be crafted as carefully as a print ad. The content has to be relevant and the text and visual together have to combine to create what the advertising world calls the AHA effect or WOW Factor. It’s hard I know because unlike an offline communication campaign, which is created around twice or thrice a year, digital media demands daily output. That said, it’s not as hard as it would seem if social media campaigns are planned like offline advertising ones. Here’s how I planned for it when I was CMO, Sterling Holidays:

  • The starting point was to determine a schedule for 3-4 social media campaigns during the year (most travellers plan their journeys 3-4 months in advance and that’s when you need to get top-of-mind).
  • Develop BIG CLUTTER BREAKING IDEAS for each campaign or extension thereof. At Sterling, we did that on several occasions but the stand-out idea was the India Unveiled campaign to position the brand as a knowledge leader. Take a look at the Facebook posts below:  
India Unveiled Sterling Facebook Page Cover
India Unveiled Sterling Facebook Page Cover
India Unveiled Facebook Post on Sushruta
India Unveiled Facebook Post on Sushruta

As a result of campaigns such as the one above, Sterling enjoyed an extremely high engagement rate on social media. Proving the point that well-planned, researched and professional content can carry its audience down the right travel path. I should share here that the India Unveiled campaign was extended to destinations where Sterling had resorts. This led to month long campaigns featuring one destination at a time e.g. Darjeeling Unveiled, Ooty Unveiled etc.

In all campaigns, Sterling demanded that its agency research and identify hitherto untold stories to ensure that the content evoked a desired response of “Oh, I didn’t know that. How enlightening!”

Interesting, isn’t it? My experience in Sterling proved the point that the more life changes, the more it stays the same. It’s something I have written about before. Do read Social Media is No Rocket Science

The travel path of content, too, is no different from what it always was. Unfortunately, it is being made out to be!

Post the OTM panel, ET NOW broadcast a 1-hour coverage of the fair. It was a sponsored telecast. Watching it, I was aghast because once again I saw the lazy way being taken. The producer/editor had simply taken the opening minutes of the panel discussion, neglecting many other really pertinent points in the discussion. To snip those together would, no doubt, have entailed understanding of the subject and thoughtful selection of the sound bites to be broadcast. And this in a paid-for show!

Talk about leveraging content. I rest my case.


Featured Cover Image: Learning from a parent. Image shot in KL Bird Park by Aditya Seshadri


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