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Social Media's Coolest Travel Companies

Social Media in Travel + Tourism Awards

Who ever thought an airline-safety video could be fun? Air New Zealand did. ANZ employed the ever-bedazzled Richard Simmons to deliver the familiar preflight lesson of how to don your oxygen mask (or “take a breather!” as he says). And the disco-rich video wasn’t just for flyers: it has had almost 2.6 million YouTube views since its March 2011 launch—try getting that kind of virality from your basic seat-belt-fastening snoozer.

This was just one of the winners of the Travel + Leisure Social Media in Travel + Tourism Awards, or the SMITTYs. These winning travel companies are the ones to fan and follow right now: their social media programs are entertaining and informative—and some offer great deals and discounts.

Social media, after all, has become an essential part of the way we travel—with everything from trip planning to photo sharing. The SMITTYs came about when we saw travel companies doing some pretty cool things in the social media space, and we wanted to recognize their efforts. So we asked airlines, tourism boards, car-rental companies, tour operators, cruise lines, and others to give us their best efforts from 2011.

We had no idea what we’d get.

What we got was hundreds of submissions from all kinds of global travel companies that created really innovative programs on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, and other platforms.

So the judging was no easy process, which is why we turned it over to an independent panel of social media experts: Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel, J. Crowley of Foursquare, Sree Sreenivasan of Columbia University Journalism School, consultant Peter Shankman, Clara Shih of Hearsay Social, and speaker/consultant Porter Gale.

And what did they like? Sometimes they awarded out-of-the-box thinking. For example, would you ever turn your Twitter feed over to a stranger? Probably not. But that’s what VisitSweden did. The tourism board gave its @sweden Twitter account to regular citizens for a week at a time, to showcase real local voices and true local flavor.

Other winners brought the personalized nature of social media to life. The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples asked Facebook fans how they like their coffee. If you answered, then stayed with them, your coffee would arrive perfectly sugared—without having to ask.

Some companies, like Vail Resorts, won for breaking the mold of traditional practices. For years, pro photographers would take your picture on the mountaintop and then charge you about half a year’s salary for the print. Vail offered up a small version of that photo for free to post on Facebook and Twitter (to show your friends what an awesome time you’re having there, of course), though the large prints still cost an arm and a leg.

Sometimes the message was just as important as the medium. Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica used its Facebook presence—and social media influencers—to get the word out about its environmental and philanthropic programs. The effort helped raise $140,000 in donations.

And deals? You bet. Fairmont Hotels, for one, offered social media–exclusive prices as low as $89—pretty amazing for a luxury hotel.

We’re sure the SMITTY Awards of 2012 will be even more envelope-pushing and will utilize even more social media platforms (after all, there seems to be a new one every week). In the meantime, check out this year’s winners. And if you have a favorite travel company on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Pinstagram, or anything else, tell us!

The Smitty Awards are in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by or associated with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr or Foodspotting.

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