Our social media for the hospitality industry expert Debbie Miller has already touched upon how destinations can better leverage social media. However, if you think about it, how are you not only going to get people to come to your destination, but also where are you going to have them stay or eat? More than anyone else, destination marketers should be reaching out to ecosystem partners and joining forces in being proactive in engaging with relevant and active social media users. I recently participated as a Brand Ambassador for All Nippon Airways (ANA) on one such “brand mashup” between ANA and the Okinawa Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (CVB). I believe this serves as a good role model for how tourism bureaus throughout the world can be teaming up with active social media users on the one hand – and local ecosystem partners on the other – for maximum reach in their influencer outreach campaigns.
Let’s first look at all of the ingredients that would go into a successful influencer outreach “brand mashup” for tourism bureaus worldwide. I hope that after you read this post you will ask yourself the same question as I do: Why aren’t more tourism bureaus doing this?
Why Target Social Media Users?
“A picture is worth a thousand words” ~ This popular adage is as relevant today (especially with the emergence of visual content marketing) as it has ever been. The problem is, if your destination is simply taking lots of photos and videos and putting them up on your website and social media channels, you are missing out on the amplification effect that social media brings when active social media users promote your destinations through the postings of their own photos and videos to their friends and fans deriving from their actual experiences. On the other hand, similar to how “canned” testimonial videos might not be as effective as marketers think because a lot of consumers can see through the fact that they were “staged,” having real social media users upload their own unique perspectives to the various social media channels provides an authentic touch that no tourism bureau can duplicate.
It All Starts with the Transportation
Airlines are in business to take you from one destination to another. Although some airlines do have their own hotel chains (ANA sold the brand of their hotel chain to the Intercontinental Hotel Group back in 2006), for the most part their service ends once you reach your destination. If airlines want to promote the destinations that they serve, doesn’t it make sense that they would want to team up with the local tourism board for joint promotion to social media audiences worldwide? This is the background for the current ANA Okinawa Brand Ambassador campaign that I was a part of. Not only did ANA want to promote their new Seattle and San Jose – Tokyo routes, but also the fact that they fly many flights to the popular Japanese tourist destination Okinawa, which also has the newest airport in Japan, the Shin Ishigaki Airport.
Add in the Local Tourism Bureau
The Okinawa CVB, together with the folks at ANA, planned out our entire travel itinerary which spanned five days and five nights and three different islands. Our days often began early and went as late as 9 or 10 P.M. so that we could see and experience as much of Okinawa as possible. Sure, the Okinawa CVB could have tried to go it alone, but like many destinations, they simply aren’t as popular of a destination internationally as they are locally. The only Americans that I know that have heard of Okinawa are those that have served, or been a family member of one who has served, in the United States Armed Forces. In fact, most Americans are surprised to know that the United States actually occupied Okinawa after World War II and did not hand it back to Japan until 1972 – and that 10.4 % of the total land area of Okinawa are still loaned out for military bases that house American forces. For the Okinawa CVB to get better known by the general public, it means that without teaming up with an airline, it’s going to make any campaign all the more difficult to implement if your destination isn’t known by most people!
What about Hotels?
Assuming you want your Brand Ambassadors to stay overnight, you need to team up with local hotel(s) to house them. It’s important to note that one of the key requirements of the hotel is that it must have strong and freely available Wifi throughout the facilities so as to allow guests to easily share both photos and videos of their stay with the world. Actually, this should be a requirement for any hotel that wants to attract active social media users.
Many destinations have more excellent hotels that they can collaborate with than they can count on the fingers of two hands. In that case, hotels can also be brought into the picture for their restaurants, or if you have a truly unique hotel in your area, you could bring your influencers to your hotel for a tour without having them stay overnight. This was the case when we were able to tour the amazing Hyakuna Garan Resort, a hotel that was built in a sparsely populated area with the intent of introducing guests to the “real” Okinawa.
Every hotel has a story to tell, and sometimes that story is perfectly aligned with the message that you want to tell the world. In the case of the Hyakuna Garan Resort, all of the service staff were actually local artists who also painted the paintings like you see below that appear in their hallways. Only in this way could the hotel owner guarantee that his staff would embody the same cultural Okinawan spirit that he wanted his guests to experience.
Having the opportunity to stay at the Hoshinoya Resort in Taketomi Island, on the other hand, WAS a cultural experience in itself. Built on an island that covers a little more than two square miles with a population of only 350 people (the island doesn’t even have any traffic signals – or resident police!), Taketomi is known as one of the last places where traditional Okinawan life hasn’t changed much despite modernization. Hoshinoya built their resort there after many negotiations with the local residents, and in order to contribute to local society, proactively hires local employees and has built their entire resort in an attempt to recreate life in a Taketomi Village. This includes replicating the architecture of local houses in the creation of their own villas, copying the local practice of making sand-filled roads so that poisonous snakes that roam the island can be seen clearly at night, making the first pool to ever be created on the island to look more like a pond with dark tiles at the bottom, hosting musical concerts featuring local music and talent, showcasing local cuisine at every meal, not including a TV in guest rooms as well as specifically making the lighting more sparse to replicate the lighting environments of local houses, and including hand-engraved by local residents stones at every T-intersection so as to frighten the local demons who are thought to be unable to change the direction of their walk.
Below are some photos as well as a video tour of my room at the Hoshinoya Resort to give you a feel for what it’s like to live as a villager in Taketomi Island – with modern amenities, of course!
Every destination is either famous for their unique cuisine or has a number of restaurants that are popular with locals and/or tourists. As one could expect with the number of television shows, magazines, blogs, and the volume of pictures that we see related to food in social media, showcasing your local cuisine is one of the best destination marketing activities you can do because of this current popularity.
Local restaurants should be thrilled at the opportunity to have active social media users who will be sharing their pictures of their cuisine with the world dine in their establishment. At the Ishigaki-Ya BBQ restaurant in Ishigaki Island, the owner was so happy that she insisted that she took a picture of our group in front of her restaurant – and took multiple pictures framed perfectly while she was being rained on. THAT is the type of devoted restaurant that you’ll want to collaborate with!
Of course, if you have a hotel that is also famous for their restaurant, you can kill two birds with one stone. The above mentioned Hoshinoya resort in Taketomi Island featured a Japanese chef who represented Japan in an international cuisine competition in France! He created a new style of cuisine called “Nouvelle Okinawan,” combining the rich sauces of French cooking with the variety of local vegetables that have a delicious but bland taste. Here’s a look at the two breakfast meals I had at Hoshinoya – hopefully this gives you some idea as to how amazing the dinners were there!
The heart of any destination’s influencer marketing outreach has to be taking those you invite on an actual tour of your location’s highlights. In the case of the Okinawa CVB, they reached out to a registered tour guide (who was also fluent in English) to help in the planning of the sights as well as the implementation of the trip. Obviously, there’s not better way to promote your destination than having active social media users with reach snapping photos and videos and then sharing them online with their respective social media audiences.
A traditional Okinawan sanshin performance at the Hoshinoya Resort, Taketomi Island, Okinawa, Japan:
Watching the mesmerizing waves at Cape Manzamo in Okinawa:
A panoramic view of the 3-star Michelin view Kabira Bay on Ishigaki Island:
Water buffalo ride in the historic center of Taketomi Island, Okinawa:
The amazing main tank of the Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa – the 3rd largest in the world – which features two whale sharks and several manta rays giving the viewers an amazing show!
The All Nippon Airways Brand Ambassador trip to Okinawa was a rare feat – and role model – for bringing all of these elements together. At the end of the trip I asked our tour guide if in fact, during the short time we were in Okinawa, had we seen and experienced most of the sights that would make the Okinawa CVB proud. His answer, as you could expect, was that we saw around “70%,” an answer you’d expect from a region with a rich history and vast area (Okinawa was originally an independent empire called Ryukyu and still spans more than 160 islands). But then he said that we really did see – and experience – all of the things that Okinawa is famous for, so in that respect the trip was a success.
Hopefully, through all of these photos and videos, you can imagine the impact that your own collaborative destination marketing influencer outreach program can have on your community, wherever you might be in the world.
Has your tourism bureau embarked on similar collaborative programs? As a consumer, have you heard of similar programs? Please share your experiences with us! Nifee deebiiru! (that’s “Thank You” in Okinawan 😉