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Social Media's Most Innovative Travel Companies

Social Media’s Most Innovative Travel Companies

What’s the next best thing to traveling to Cape Town? Sending your Facebook profile there, of course.

This feature—planning an itinerary for the city and watching your virtual self live it out—was part of the Cape Town tourism board’s entry in Travel + Leisure’s second annual SMITTY Awards, recognizing innovation in the social media space. And it proved a winner.

It was one of hundreds of entries we received for the SMITTYs (which stands for Social Media in Travel + Tourism). They came from every kind of travel company and from all over the world. And it was thrilling to witness the volume of innovative ideas. Over the past year, travel companies have been creating cool social media apps, dreaming up creative hashtags, and finding new ways to encourage photo sharing. Sure, it’s advertising and it’s marketing—but for consumers, it’s a lot more fun than it ever was in the Mad Men era.

We’ve evolved our awards as well, adding new categories and types of companies. And we enlisted a brand-new panel of elite, independent judges (see the list below). The winners they chose are fun (click on to see the video from Canadian airline WestJet); they’re useful (Four Seasons created a Twitter handle just for brides to chat about destination weddings); they’re beautiful (try to look away from Tourism Australia’s Instagram photos); and they’re helpful (the Bucks County, PA, tourism board used Twitter to assist those affected by Hurricane Sandy). We’re also giving our first award to a company in China—congrats, Westin Bund Center Shanghai!

The biggest development was opening up the competition to bloggers and independent journalists. It was kind of a no-brainer. After all, these folks are either on the ground or have their ear to the ground. And whether they’re reviewing local hotels or reporting from far-flung regions, their social activity is helping to evolve the medium as much as any company. So we’re excited to give Passports with Purpose our first SMITTY Award for a blog.

We launched the SMITTYs in 2012 simply as a way to recognize innovation in the social media space. But the result of this healthy competition has been to raise the bar for everyone. Companies have seen that it’s not enough to post random photos on Facebook or send out the occasional tweet. Social media requires generating irresistible ideas and powerful messages that break through the cacophonous clutter created by millions of distracting voices. And then doing it again the next day. And the next.

The payoff goes beyond winning awards and fans. Effective social media use increases the allure of travel and the excitement of discovery. It eases the process of planning and the resolution of complaints. And it brings people closer together through the power of sharing. And let’s face it—the more people travel, the better a place the world becomes.

We can’t wait to see what comes next.

2013 SMITTY Award Judges

Jason Calacanis (@jason)
Serial entrepreneur, angel investor, and founder of Inside.com

Brian Cooley (@briancooley)
Editor at Large, CNET

Kim Mance (@KimMance)
Founder of TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange), TV host, and writer

Lee McCabe (@leemccabe)
Head of Travel, Facebook

Chris Mohney (@chrismohney)
Former editor in chief, Tumblr

Mari Smith (@MariSmith)
Social media strategist, speaker, and author

Jake Stangel (@jakestangel)
Travel + Leisure
photographer

Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump)
Executive Vice President of Development and Acquisitions, The Trump Organization

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