Once upon a time, choosing where to go on your annual holiday was a matter of booking a spot in your favourite caravan park. And if you were looking at going a little further afield? Maybe on a trip of a lifetime? Well, you would head to your local travel agents for the lowdown on flights and what’s hot in hotel accommodation.
Cheaper flights and the internet changed all that. Suddenly it seemed like everyone from your Great Aunt Lucy to your high-schooled aged sister, was tripping around the world. In the last ten years, Airline fares dropped by 40 percent, there has been an influx of travel information, and suddenly that intercontinental trip isn’t so overwhelming. The shady spot in the caravan park has been swapped for a trip to Paris.
With an abundance of choice, comes a desperate need for marketing that understands why people travel. With tourism authorities competing with airlines, jostling with accommodation providers and elbowing tour companies- There’s been a real mess of travel content with everyone screaming “look at this cool thing we have to offer!” at the top of their lungs. In an Indian market full of touts selling plastic Chinese-made wares, be the seller offering a cold bottle of Coke. Which is to say, you need to know what your customers want. So, here it is.
We travel to be someone
On the surface, people travel to see the Great Wall of China, to eat a plate of pasta in Italy, or to sit on a lounger in the Seychelles with a cocktail in hand. A standard piece of travel content would reflect that by showing the wall, the pasta, the beach. It would ignore the very core reason to travel. We don’t travel to eat something or see some (boring) ruin; we travel to be someone.
“It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves,” remarked Alain de Botton in his book on the exploration of why we travel.
Think about your best travel memory. One of mine was smoking watermelon shisha on Rainbow St. in Amman, Jordan. The day before, I had ridden through one of the wonders of the ancient world: Petra. Yet, the memory of sitting on that sidewalk conversing with a friend and blowing puffs of smoke into the air is my most poignant and special. Why? Because sitting there, I felt like the adventurous and cultured person that I considered myself to be.
Therefore, you need to use people in your imagery
Applying this to creating content, if there isn’t a person in your image, you’re doing it wrong.
Without a traveller in your ad, your customer won’t be able to place themselves in the scene, and they might as well be looking at an old withered copy of a National Geographic.
Some companies have done away with the scenery altogether. Tour company Topdeck regularly forgo travel imagery altogether and instead choose pictures of people laughing or groups of friends. Why? Because they have realised that seeing the sights of Europe comes secondary to making new friends, feeling like you belong, or even meeting a cute someone to have a holiday romance. This is particularly the case for millennials who are their target market.
Your primary goal is to create anticipation
Studies on travel and vacations have uncovered something surprising- It is often the anticipation or build-up to the trip that produces the most happiness in the traveller. The realities of travel- long airport queues, blisters on worn-out feet and hours spent getting lost in the weird part of town, are usually left out of the dreaming and planning. It’s almost as if the traveller has lived the whole trip in their head before even setting foot on the plane. That’s where marketers step in; Your main goal is to weave your offering, whether it’s an airline or destination, into that story.
As a copywriter, I maintain that the easiest way to create anticipation is through the words you use. A quick Google search of Emirates advertising gives a good example. Words like ‘indulges’, ‘magic’ and ‘promises’ are used to create a whimsy, and well, magic.
Consider these two different phrasings selling a trip to Nepal to see the Himalayas:
Both of the images are pretty but the second uses emotive language inviting your audience to imagine the sensations of seeing the Himalayas light-up at sunrise. The first one tells the audience what the experience will be like, the second invites them to anticipate and imagine.
Influencers? Yes, you should be using them
Don’t underestimate how much Instagram, and the rise of influencers on the platform, has changed the way that people choose their destinations and plan their trips. Suddenly the guidebook has been left out of the all-important luggage allowance and itineraries are shaped around “oh, I saw this gorgeous waterfall on @gypsea_lust’s feed” or “@helloemilie ate lunch here, we should too”. The images capture the imagination, feed into the fantasy of travel and make the world seem a little more approachable. The “magic” feelings that inspire the average person to click ‘purchase’ on that airline ticket.
As a travel blogger myself, an old Greek man once described my blog as “a book that was alive”. Pondering on this, and thinking he had probably drunk one too many shots of ouzo, I realised that he was right. With the world shifting and changing as quickly as it is, that cute little restaurant in the Lonely Planet guidebook a month later has been flattened to make way for an apartment building. On the other hand, blogs and Instagram feeds are living documents on what’s hot, what’s not, and what hasn’t been levelled by a dozer. If you’re not working with travel influencers, you should be.
Creating travel content for marketing purposes is not hard. You’re not trying to sell haemorrhoid cream or a used car. The desire to travel is in the heart of the majority of people who only need to be nudged in the right direction though some smart and imaginative content.