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Social Travel Britain 2016 – CONFERENCE REPORT

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MORE than 20 speakers got together in Bristol with 60 DMOs, PRs/comms, academics, digital creators, students, bloggers, photographers/videographers, attractions and tour operators to learn and discuss best practice in marketing tourism through social and digital media. It was our second Social Travel Britain conference, after Salisbury in 2015, and Bristol was the perfect host.

Thanks go to our sponsors World Travel Market, Four Travel and Greentraveller for making it happen. Here are some highlights from one and a half days of conferencing at Watershed:

The man from Instagram

We were privileged to have Gord Ray, brand development lead at Instagram, as the lead-off speaker for the conference. We are not searching so much these days, he said, as discovering – and there is some truth in that: there’s so much good stuff out there now, that can be tailored to your feed, that’s it like pottering around a department store, looking for something to take your eye. “The most popular locations on Instagram are not the most beautiful but the ones that create emotional connection,” tweeted Emma Mead from Gord’s talk.

There is a good report of proceedings on the Traveldudes site, raising the interesting point of a change in algorithm (as with its parent, Facebook) meaning a change in what your followers see – to the detriment of some, said blogger Kash Bhattacharya. It’s another social platform that now has enough mass to look at monetising its users> There was lots of talk of Snapchat and WhatsApp as rising stars – download the findings of a WTM survey on the social and digital channels the domestic travel industry is using – but why do people think they won’t eventually look to money-making either?

Bloggers create, DMOs curate

That was a line from Kash Bhattacharya, aka The Budget Traveller – and it summed up a continuing theme from the conference, that the role of tourist boards is changing fast. Malcolm Bell, CEO of Visit Cornwall, told us that six years ago, he had 68 staff. Now it’s down to six – but having become a Community Interest Company in 2015 has meant dropping public sector involvement – and costly interference (a route Devon has recently taken, and one Dorset is also looking to take).

Cornwall invites blogs from local journalists and has invested heavily in video, which it makes available to members with little or no branding. It is currently trialling live Facebook video: one shot last week received 82,000 views in the first 24 hours. Malcolm described his operation as a media distribution hub, an approach many international DMOs also take. Indeed, Iceland and Estonia’s tourist bodies now refer to themselves as digital creative media agencies.

Inga Hlin Palsdottir‘s new title is ‎Director, Tourism & Creative Industries at Promote Iceland – and she told another Travel Perspective seminar, at World Travel Market last November, that she is now there to help members on how to market, and has created WhatsApp groups with different sectors to educate them.

Feedback surveys on which experiences visitors enjoyed, cultural promotion, trade and brand management are now also the role of the DMO, as well as self-generating income from website adverts – and possibly selling holidays and knowledge too? But Jon Chamberlain, marketing manager of Destination Bristol, also told the conference not to throw baby out with the bathwater: the city prints 400,000 guides to Bristol annually – and every one is distributed, he added. You can download his presentation on Bristol’s past successes and future plans here.

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 00.46.15Marketing to Minecrafters

Emma Mead of VisitBritain has an impressive title: International Media and Influencers Manager. Influencers tend to be early social media adopters who built audiences on Twitter and Instagram and who became full-time bloggers. They can also write, take video and collaborate with other bloggers in collectives to help distribute their content. Download Emma’s presentation here.

And increasingly, they work for DMOs like VisitBritain for a fee, working to a brief and handing over ownership of content produced. Keith Jenkins, CEO of the biggest travel blogger collective, iambassador, first touted the idea of bloggers being paid to visit six years ago: new research carried out for the conference by Travel Perspective and main sponsor World Travel Market shows that 11% of the travel industry now does so.

VisitBritain has a number on its books: indeed, of the 1,000+ media that VisitBritain invited in 2015/16, 200 were considered influencers. Now the net has now widened. Emma told how VB recently invited two German Minecraft gamers to Wales to do rough and tumble outdoorsy things, to which they readily agreed to travel for free: they’d never been asked by a destination. The thing is the two young gamers have a combined following of some tens of millions, so VB had struck a goldmine. One delegate, Alastair McKenzie, was delighted to hear this. But I wonder how you link the campaign to a booking mechanism to you encourage 10-year-old Minecraft fans to visit Wales?

Working with bloggers: Cumbria case studies

Zoe Dawes, aka The Quirky Traveller, gave a talk about working with three businesses in Cumbria. You can see her presentation on Slideshare. Zoe was followed by blogger Kirstie Pelling of The Family Adventure Project, who lives in Cumbria. Kirstie approached Go Lakes in 2016 with an idea of a travelling poet, entertaining Lake District visitors on buses and boats with her sonnets as a means to encourage public transport. The idea took off, and Kirstie now has a permanent project called Poet in Motion – she also wrote a blog on the conference for UK travel blog site Trips 100 – you can read it here.

Filming Britain

Probably no man has done more to video the best of Britain’s no-car tourism highlights than Richard Hammond, the boss at Greentraveller. He fell into a niche of creating travel reports on our national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty a few years back, and public grants then enabled him to offer no-car video to the NPs and AONBs. His team has just completed eight projects, showing the protected Welsh landscapes, for showing this summer. Richard told how the project was agreed last November – but had to be delivered by February 28, hence all being filmed in winter! How did he manage that? Well, judge for yourself and Watch Richard’s session at the conference, as filmed by Alastair McKenzie of Travel Lists.

Film and stills

Video as a growing medium featured strongly throughout the conference, promoted by VisitBritain and Visit Cornwall among others. Hence there was a strong uptake on a workshop from Nigel Camp of DevilBoy Productions, who taught delegates how to make smartphone video with the right equipment, and who then took them out onto the streets of Bristol to try their new-found skills: well done to Bristol communicator Andrea Hewer for creating a rather smart film straight off. Nigel also produced, within an hour or two, his own Bristol film, shot and edited on his Smartphone.

Delegates were split between Nigel and an inspiring talk from a former picture editor of The Times, Paul Sanders, who spoke passionately about landscape photography coming from the soul, and how much thinking goes into an inspiring photo – rather than a selfie. See a gallery of his work here. Paul also took time to lead a street walk with tips about his craft: well done to Rich Lloyd of Blueflame Digital for being voted top conference snapper.

Virtual reality and audioScreen Shot 2016-04-28 at 16.18.21

In the week of our conference, a survey and White Paper from Invest Bristol & Bath said that 75% of respondents expect VR to have a significant impact- mostly on the gaming sector (60%) – but that travel ranks fourth, behind only gaming, entertainment and education. With that in mind, we invited Rich Lloyd of Blueflame Digital to talk about his work in serious gaming, and his initial foray into VR in tourism. Alastair McKenzie of Travel Lists filmed his session for us – watch it here

Alastair also filmed one of my favourite sessions: the art of audio. Travel blogger Michael Turtle, aka Time Travel Turtle, was a radio reporter in Australia before he hit the road but his love of the medium has not diminished. He publishes interviews with travel industry figures, and is someone who believes podcasts and audio reports on the rise. I am too: I love the medium. Watch Michael get impassioned on an Alistair video. (Ps: Michael tipped us off about a link for good, helpful webinars on Google analytics: https://digitalgarage.withgoogle.com/).

Many thanks also to two other contributors to the session: Steve Kennedy of Bridges and Balloons, who advocated film storytelling, and Sam Livingstone of Cineflite, who brought along two serious looking drones to impress the audience. “Travel leaves you speechless then turns you into a storyteller,” quoted Steve, who told a lovely tale of how a moving blog post persuaded Lonely Planet to turn it into a film. Audio + film + drones + virtual reality = brilliant digital media.

So much more…

We had 20 excellent speakers and I’m sorry we haven’t reported on all sessions here. But the conference loved them, and that’s what counts. Roll of honour call:

* Peter Jordan, senior tourism researcher, Toposophy – How to market to Millennials (Slideshare page with material on Millennials or buy Peter’s White Paper on travel millenials, prepared for the Pacific-Asia Travel Association
* Keith Jenkins, CEO iambassador – The future for influencers beyond paid blogging
* Jon Chamberlain, marketing manager, Destination Bristol – our campaigns and digital future
* Kash Bhattacharya, The Budget Traveller – The smart ways to promote budget Britain
* Nigel Camp, DevilBoy Productions – Get going with video for under £500 (Nigel prepared this presentation for delegates)
* Paul Sanders – Photography: how to be brilliant. And real
* BritMums Jennifer Howze and Susanna Scott – Why Mum knows best

Outside the conference

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The Social Travel Britain Awards saw us off to At-Bristol for a drinks reception in The Aardman Gallery (they of Wallace and Gromit) and dinner on the 3rd floor terrace restaurant. Well done to our 13 winners: SEE THE FULL LIST HERE.

Post conference, a dozen delegates chose to go on a street art tour with Where The Wall (highly recommended) and then on to SS Great Britain for a private tour and a chance to go aloft – climbing high in the rigging. Thanks to Lauren and the team at SSGB for the adventures: a very entertaining end to the trip!

With further thanks to: Nikita Varsovie from Destination Bristol for her invaluable assistance; conference returnees Richard Swancott from Enjoy Staffordshire, Emma Kirkup from Visit Wiltshire and Amy Dann of Marketing Liverpool; Dr Tim Gale of Bournemouth University, staunch supporters of Social Travel Britain; Anastazja Stanowska of World Travel Market for being the top tweeter; Alastair McKenzie for his reportage; Helen Coop from Four Travel for her support, and all the other delegates who helped make the conference a success.