I attended the World Travel Market (WTM) in London for the first time this year. I’ve been to many trade shows but the scale of this one was almost overwhelming. It’s one of those events that everyone in the industry is interested, engaging, and participating. From Asia to North America, Europe to Africa, and everywhere in between, WTM was grand. It was wonderful to know about new destinations, catch up with old friends, and make new business relationships.
There were many sessions covering various sectors of the industry such as responsible tourism, volunteerism, advertising, and even discussing the impact of Brexit in tourism. For me, digital marketing sessions drew my attention. I was sitting in a few sessions in a row on similar subjects, but one subject particularly stuck me. It was “Social Media in Tourism Masterclass” presented by Visit Philly.
Philadelphia CVB was one of the earliest partners of Runaway Juno in 2011, so I knew they were further ahead in this game than others. Visit Philly is using the social media platform like no other. I’ve talked to many tourism boards and visitors bureau over the years, but using social media as part of the marketing strategy wasn’t always an easy subject on the table. This is the perfect case study that shows the success of this kind of marketing. So here is what they have learned along the way, what has worked, and predictions for 2017.
Who is Visit Philadelphia?
Visit Philadelphia is the region’s official tourism marketing agency. They build Greater Philadelphia’s image, drive visitation, and boost the economy. The president and CEO of Visit Philly, Meryl Levitz said, “Philadelphia and fun didn’t appear in the same sentence”. Leisure tourism was not a big part of Philadelphia but they turned it around. Through the Visit Philly marketing, leisure travel has tripled, Greater Philadelphia received 41 million visitors last year, also Philadelphia hotels occupancy has reached the new record.
How did they get here?
They had to go through rebranding. The first step was creating content (photos and videos) with a new vision, new goal, and new mission statements. Bringing fun as a major aspect, they created content showing the fun atmosphere, vibrant dining scene (that Philly is much more than just cheesesteaks!), local neighborhoods to explore, and presented a new brand “With Love Philadelphia, XOXO”. The brand was fun and strong enough to use in many ways.
As you can see, the branding was a huge success. VisitPhilly.com and you uwishunu websites have a unique viewership of 19 million last year. Currently, Visit Philly has 1.2 million fans and followers across 15 social media accounts.
Pre-During-Post visit strategy
This strategy can work for everyone in the industry, not only for tourism boards. Visit Philly took the branding to the next level. Using different social media channels, they built a pre-during-post visit strategy.
Pre-visit is all about content distribution, image building, establishing personality, and in-person engagement through various channels of social media.
Instagram is made with user generated content. This is the key. Using the #visitPhilly hashtag, Visit Philly has an almost unlimited reach to photos and videos, daily. They also have very active guest-Instagram takeovers with influencers.
Periscope’s live stream is great to showcase what they can expect before planning the visit. They repurpose the Periscope videos. It’s a way to preview what’s going on. Here’s an example. Peddler’s Village does the Apple Festival during only one weekend every year. If they only cover the event when its happening with the live video stream, it might be too late for people to plan a visit. So Visit Philly organized a pre-event showcase with the event organizers to show what is going to happen at the Apple Festival through Periscope.
Facebook Pixel is a great way to micro-target audience who are interested in the region.
Mix the elements of surprise and delight, photos pots, and live video. They always monitor what’s going on in social media and reach out to visitors with suggestions. If some of the visitors are especially interested, they take the conversation offline. The most unexpected factor is the goodie bag. They deliver fun promotional items to hotels across Philly.
Another great idea is the Photo Spots. This is one of the ways to encourage visitors and locals to use the hashtag #visitPhilly and visit the websites. Using their brand “With Love Philadelphia XOXO”, they installed a variety of photo spots. It gives visitors fun things to do and locals an opportunity to show a fun side of the city to their friends and family. This is where locals and visitors meet.
Meet ups: Periscope, Snapchat, and more
They knew all the visitors will be sharing #visitPhilly during their visit. So why not take it to the next level? When there is an event, and there is always, Visit Philly hosts a meet up with fun giveaways. It’s another way to engage with the visitors face to face!
What is ‘influencer’? You have to find the definition yourself. For Philly, it is the locals, who live in and love the city. The 47% of visitors are visiting their friends and relatives, which makes the locals high priority.
All these ideas gave Visit Philly user-generated content opportunities. They tell stories through live video, not just their story but everyone’s.
Come back soon!
It’s an opportunity to say thank you, express gratitude in person with the message ‘come back soon!’
Visit Philly runs annual survey to see how many conversions they got from all the promotions. From the question “Did we inspire you to visit?” 87% said yes. Among the visitors, 76% said they did the things Visit Philly suggested. This shows a high level of conversion.
The session was finished with one message: concentrate and radiate. It means you have to concentrate your resources get people to believe the local marketing success. We all have limited time and budget, so it’s the highest priority to define what is really important. Following trends is important but it doesn’t mean anything if there’s no vision behind. Visit Philly did it perfectly and they are still growing and leading the industry.
What did Visit Philly do right?
- Recognized the importance of changing trends in marketing using social media
- Analyzed and concentrated on the important source of marketing: the locals
- Developed strong relationship with the local businesses as a source of information
- Gave the team the creative freedom!
They are continuously leading the social media marketing in the industry and will be for a long time if they keep up the good work. This is the lesson everyone in the tourism industry can learn. Tourism should be fun and exciting. Give your team the creative freedom and make your visitors excited about the trip. That’s why we are here for, right?
Thank you, Visit Philly, Meryl Levitz, and Paula Butler for sharing your knowledge during WTM. If you wish to watch the session, it’s up at WTM’s Youtube channel.