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Has Content Marketing Caught the Travel Bug?
Written by Betsy
Monday, 12 March 2012 21:43

A close look at travel blogging and content marketing by Giulia Billi: Travel enthusiast, blogger and market research professional

Over a year ago, I decided to take a break from my career in marketing and research and left London to embark on a long journey through Latin America, lured by mythical wildernesses like Amazonia and Patagonia, indigenous civilizations and Brazilian music.

A daughter of our digital age, I prepared for the trip by reading forums such as the Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree and travellers’ blogs which offered advice on everything, from what to put in one’s backpack to suggested itineraries, and I continued to do so while planning my next steps in transit. While travelling, I somehow disconnected from technology and relied on old-fashioned hand-written journals and e-mails to friends.

Once back, though, I decided to revisit my travel experience and started writing a travel blog, My aim was, and is, to connect to the community of bloggers that so much influenced the planning my trip and share my own experiences. One piece feedback I got is to be honest and direct and offer an unadulterated and subjective view of my experience, which is a common reason why travel blogs became so popular source for travellers to look for information in addition to – and sometimes instead of – travel guides and magazines.

Travel blogging, whether just writing online about one’s own travel experiences or additionally including pictures and videos, has different nuances: it can be more evocative and descriptive or more focused on giving practical tips and ideas to fellow travellers and travel enthusiasts, or something in between, like my blog, which is evocative but has also some itinerary and travel suggestions.

There is not a definite figure for the number of travel blogs currently online, possibly due to the ephemeral nature of some blogs and fact that only a minimal fraction of all the existing blogs have a sizeable audience, with the most popular travel blogs reaching more than 1,000 unique visitors per month.

Exact numbers vary when it comes to sizing up the travel blog market, it seems.The Daily Telegraph in 2008 estimated 200 million travel-related blogs on the net, with hundreds more being launched each day; whereas sources like Socialnomics  suggest that more than 200,000,000 blogs exist overall (without a specific mention of travel blogs).

What is clear is thattravel bloggers are a large and evolving community. Recently BlogWorld, a social media conference and tradeshow organizer, acquired TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange), the world’s largest conference for travel bloggers. TBEX was founded in 2008 as an online community for travel bloggers and then grew into a worldwide phenomenon with more than 5,000 global members trading best practices on travel writing, links, and stories. Travel bloggers are increasingly sought after in the travel and tourism industry. Prestigious publications such as The Atlantic interview popular travel bloggers on a regular basis.

The Egyptian Tourism Authority, in the wake of political unrest in 2011 and a sharp decline in tourism, opened to less traditional ways of promoting Egypt by hosting an E-Tourism and E-Marketing Conference in Cairo earlier in 2012. Eight travel bloggers featured among its speakers. They spoke to the objectives of travel blogging and explored how partnerships with bloggers could be integrated into online marketing strategy, with the goal of portraying Egypt as an iconic and safe destination.

For companies and agencies, connecting and collaborating with some of the most influential bloggers means the chance of tapping into and engage with large communities of like-minded people sharing lifestyle, aspirations and interests.

Concurrently, content marketing is a hot topic in online marketing and a key priority for the foreseeable future, according to a study conducted by the Content Marketing Institute. Content marketing refers to the creation and distribution of offline and online material that is ideally branded, of good quality, and rich with information that caters to the specific interests of an audience of potential and existing customers. The aims of content marketing are several, starting with development of brand awareness and loyalty and measurable engagement with new and existing customers (ideally materializing in lead generation or some form of sale).

Blogs rank third as a content marketing tactic, trailing only article posting and social media and ahead of e-newsletters, case studies and in-person events. Web traffic serves as one key metric to gauge success. Kairos Consumers acknowledges that any content marketing is only truly successful if the right users are finding it. This entails not only savvy search engine optimization but also astute targeting and encouragement of user-generated content.

Travel blogging at its best is entertaining, inspirational, and useful and offers memorable content which is usually perceived as genuine and first-hand experience rather than a polished marketing piece. It is versatile: Depending on the angle shared by the blogger, it might cater to diverse audiences, i.e. adventure, sports, cultural, sustainable travel, family travel, that potentially suit the content marketing strategy of a number of companies and services revolving around the travel and hospitality industry from tour operators and tourism boards to outdoor lifestyle companies car and rental companies and airlines. This is already happening ,with a fine line between the independence of the blogger editorial and the role of the company sponsoring the post, in a continuum that includes travel companies Expedia sponsoring blog posts relating to a snowboard expedition and the outdoor clothing and apparel company Patagonia featuring strongly in blog posts by its rock-climbing ambassadors to tour operators hosting guest travel bloggers in their own blog to offer user-generated perspective on travel. Interestingly, these initiatives often do result in both high traffic and increase in visitor spend. So the ROI is there, in some cases.

With increasing influence of content marketing for companies on one hand and a rise in user-generated content including blogs on the other, will travel blogging prove a vital tool for the travel and tourism industry? And will travel bloggers conversely find utility in potential partnerships that could drive readership and thus increase awareness?

I anticipate that more and more travel–related companies, national tourism boards, resort and hotels will harness the power of travel blogging by identifying relevant and respected travel bloggers and encouraging them to feature some posts in their own web sites. Putting targeted, branded content alongside content that is independent and highly trusted can reap major benefits. A further step along this path could be search engines retrieving relevant travel blog posts with matching tags to be included in company web sites, in line with what is happening now with user-generated product reviews integrated in an increasing number of companies’ e-commerce sites. What remains to be seen is the shape that the collaboration between travel bloggers and interested parties in the travel and leisure industry will take and the degree of independence that bloggers will retain.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 07:38