Social Media's Coolest Travel Companies
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.
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts
Category: Best Social Media Promotion of Travel Deals, Global Hotel or Resort Chain
Social Media Rates: The hotel company created and promoted special rates for Facebook and Twitter. The depth of the discounts (as low as $89 a night) drove a high volume of bookings.
Why It’s a Winner: The super-luxe Fairmont took social media deals to a new high, offering amazingly low prices practically unheard of for a luxury hotel brand.
Platform: Facebook, Twitter.
The Hertz Corporation
Category: Best Use of Social Media Platform, Car Rental Agency
Gas and Brake: A quiz divided the company’s Facebook fans into one of two personality types: Gas (exciting and adventurous) or Brake (reserved, more of a planner). Users could also label their friends as Gas or Brake, which added a viral element.
Why It’s a Winner: Hertz could have stuck with the standard Facebook quiz, but adding the friend-labeling feature was a clever way to give the campaign legs.
Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples
Category: Best Use of a Social Media Platform, Individual Hotel/Resort, U.S.
Facebook: The hotels asked questions on Facebook such as “How do you like your coffee?” For any respondents who booked a stay, staffers were able to surprise the guests with detailed knowledge of their preferences.
Why It’s a Winner: An innovative way to not only connect with potential future guests, but to make the jump from virtual to real-world personalization.
Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica
Category: Best Use of a Social Media Platform, Individual Hotel/Resort, Global
Growing Together with Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica: To raise awareness for its environmental and philanthropic programs, the hotel invited social media influencers to the resort to participate in its tree-planting program and its “Growing Together” volunteer experiences helping local Costa Rican schoolchildren. The result: large increases in social media engagement and more than $140,000 in donations.
Why It’s a Winner: Campaigns that give back always stand out in a crowd. And this proved a brilliant way to leverage the popularity of major social media personalities for additional exposure.
Category: Best Single Social Media Promotion, Attraction
EpicMix: The skiing giant turned the traditional model of selling expensive mountaintop photos on its head: the pictures were free to share on Facebook and Twitter (though you still had to buy the prints).
Why It’s a Winner: Vail already proved its social savviness by creating its own social network. This new feature ran the risk of losing an important revenue source, but the potential upside—enormous exposure on the major social networks—made it a chance worth taking.
Platform: Facebook, Twitter.
Category: Best Use of Social Media Platform, Attraction
“Situation Interactive: The Perfect Gift”: Users connected their Facebook accounts to the show’s microsite and received a personalized video—which incorporated photos of their friends and family—to share at the holidays.
Why It’s a Winner: A creative way to send a viral, personalized greeting that also (of course) promoted Radio City’s best-known show.
Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp
Category: Best Use of Social Media Platform, Tourism Board/CVB, U.S.
Eat, Drink, and Go Foodspotting in Philly: Philadelphia was one of the first tourism boards with a presence on Foodspotting, launching guides to the city’s culinary highlights.
Why It’s a Winner: Philly’s food scene is often underrated, so using a relatively new social platform to help promote its burgeoning culinary scene was a brilliant move.
Category: Best Single Social Media Promotion, Airline, U.S.
“Day in the Life” of a Checked Bag: To promote Delta’s bag-tracking mobile app, the airline produced a video called “A Day in the Life of a Checked Bag,” showing what happens to your luggage as it moves from check-in conveyor belt to carousel pickup.
Why It’s a Winner: Who hasn’t wondered what happens to a checked bag after it disappears on the conveyor belt? The video was a creative way to take travelers behind the scenes and put their minds more at ease by showing how smoothly the process runs. And it’s been incredibly popular, with 1.5 million views on YouTube.
Platform: Facebook, YouTube.
Category: Best Use of Social Media Platform, Tourism Board/CVB, Global
Curators of Sweden: The Curators of Sweden program let ordinary citizens—a feminist blogger, a 24-year-old unemployed welder, a former Ms. Sweden—compete to control the official @sweden Twitter account for one week at a time.
Why It’s a Winner: To actually turn over the keys, so to speak, to someone outside the “brand” was a rather brave move. But it went over swimmingly; the resulting tweets were fun, engaging, and not something you’d normally see from a tourism board.
Joie de Vivre
Category: Best Single Social Media Promotion, Global Hotel or Resort Chain
Singing for an Upgrade: Guests willing to sing upon check-in received an upgrade, and videos of the performances were posted on YouTube and Facebook. Fans voted for their favorite performer, who won a two-night stay.
Why It’s a Winner: Who doesn’t want a free upgrade? This was a funny (and moderately humiliating) way to let guests earn a larger room. And the videos still exist on YouTube, so the entertainment lives on!
Platform: Facebook, YouTube.
Walt Disney Company
Category: Best Use of Social Media Platform, Tour Operator
Adventures by Disney Facebook Page: Prospective customers posed questions on the company’s “Ask Our Mom” tab; the moms personally replied with advice based on experiences with Adventures by Disney.
Why It’s a Winner: Disney gave fans—real travelers who had experienced one of its trips—an easily accessible customer-service outlet.
Category: Best Single Social Media Promotion, Travel Agency/Online Travel Agency
Expedia Soars to Success: Users piloted a virtual plane and invited five friends to join. Those friends were then encouraged to create their own entries; the viral structure and daily prizes pushed Expedia’s fan base past 1 million.
Why It’s a Winner: Fun, interactive, and inherently viral, this app took what could have been a boring, traditional sweepstakes and turned it into something original and clever.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company
Category: Best Use of a Social Media Platform, Hotel or Resort Chain (Tie)
Twitter Global Guest Days: Every Friday, the hotel handed over its Twitter account to a guest tweeter from an individual hotel or resort—general managers, chefs, sommeliers—to get a local perspective from its global properties.
Why It’s a Winner: Many brands strive to develop a certain “voice” for their social accounts; this program instead introduced new personalities on a regular basis. This kept the corporate Twitter feed fresh and allowed followers insight into the latest local happenings.
The Standard Hotels
Category: Best Use of a Social Media Platform, Hotel or Resort Chain (Tie)
The Standard Hotels’ Tumblr: The company showcased never-before-seen works by up-and-coming photographers and artists—including Tim Barber, Cheryl Dunn, and Cara Stricker. Some of the artwork made an appearance on The Standard Culture, the hotel chain’s blog.
Why It’s a Winner: It’s no longer enough for brands to use social media to only promote themselves; giving exposure to local artists was a smart way to be more inclusive.
Category: Best Use of Social Media Platform, Airline, U.S.
JetBlue Go Places: The airline’s Facebook app, Go Places, gave frequent-flier points and discounts to customers who used Facebook Places to check in at a JetBlue airport location.
Why It’s a Winner: Using Facebook Places for a promotion was a smart way to engage fans. The points and discounts didn’t hurt, either.
Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions
Co-Winners: KLM, Air France, and Atout France
Category: Best Single Social Media Promotion, Tourism Board/CVB, Global
What’s Your City Self? Facebook fans took a quiz to see if they were better suited to Paris or Amsterdam; based on the results, they received detailed itineraries.
Why It’s a Winner: By helping fans identify which city they were more suited for, this quiz resulted in more than just a virtual social win—it actually helped travelers decide where to go.
San Francisco International Airport
Category: Best Single Social Media Promotion, Airport, U.S.
Pardon the Turkey: For this Thanksgiving promotion, the airport tweeted photos of a turkey named Pardon at spots throughout SFO. Users who tweeted or checked in (on Foursquare) to the correct location were entered into a sweepstakes.
Why It’s a Winner: No one likes to travel over the holidays. But SFO made the experience a bit more bearable—while getting travelers to explore the airport shops—with this fun program.
Platform: Foursquare, Twitter.
Paul Gauguin Cruises
Category: Best Single Social Media Promotion, Cruise Line
Meet Me in Tahiti: Before you commit to a real cruise, why not try it out virtually? Users could plan an imaginary trip, “inviting” Facebook friends, adding activities, and even sending e-postcards.
Why It’s a Winner: Sure, cruise lines post pictures and videos of their services and amenities, but this program allowed fans to virtually plan a potential itinerary. Facebook connectivity made it a solidly social campaign.
Four Seasons Hotel Austin
Category: Best Single Social Media Promotion, Individual Hotel/Resort, U.S.
Ultimate Austin Scavenger Hunt: The property organized a photo scavenger hunt; fans and visitors submitted pictures of the hotel and Austin landmarks on Facebook or Flickr. The first 100 participants to complete at least half the tasks received an overnight stay or other prizes.
Why It’s a Winner: Lots of brands have photo contests; adding a scavenger hunt was a fun way not just to engage fans, but also to utilize the popularity of Facebook’s photo-sharing functionality.
Platform: Facebook, Twitter.
Le Quartier Français
Category: Best Single Social Media Promotion, Individual Hotel/Resort, Global
Dr. Von Paris: The hotel took a creative approach to react to a con man who booked a table at its restaurant under an alias and walked out without paying: it asked Facebook fans to submit their own clever fake names (Bill M. Laytah; Ms. Sum Ting Wong) for a chance to win a free dinner for two.
Why It’s a Winner: Every business has unfortunate situations; turning this one around and making it social was a fun, creative way to make the best of it.
Visit Bucks County
Category: Best Single Social Media Promotion, Tourism Board/CVB, U.S.
Unforgetaways: The destination ran a scavenger hunt across multiple social outlets, with the incentive to win a free dinner or a night at a local hotel, for example.
Why It’s a Winner: A creative way to get visitors and locals to engage with the tourism board. Hosting it on several platforms, where getting tips from complete strangers is de rigueur, was a well-played move.
Platform: Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Foodspotting.
Category: Best Single Social Media Promotion, Tour Operator
Get on the Bus: Facebook fans of the youth-oriented vacation company created virtual buses, filled them with friends, and designed a dream trip. They then campaigned for votes; members of the two highest-scoring buses got to take the trip.
Why It’s a Winner: A playful app that resonated with Contiki’s younger demographic. It took the abstract dream trip, made it virtual and viral, and then (for a few travelers, anyway) made it a reality.
Category: Best Single Social Media Promotion, Car Rental Agency
“Thank You” Contest: Customers submitted anecdotes on Facebook about their favorite experience with the company; fans voted for the best submission. The grand prize was a year’s worth of car rentals and Hilton hotel stays.
Why It’s a Winner: This was a unique contest for a car-rental company—as long as the car works, who thinks about what model it is?—and it offered a tremendous grand prize.
Category: Best Social Media Promotion of Travel Deals, Airline, Global
FriendFlights: The low-cost airline created a Facebook app that located friends worldwide and displayed the least expensive rates to fly there.
Why It’s a Winner: Germanwings used the basic concept of Facebook—to keep friends and loved ones connected, no matter where in the world they are—and gave their fans a means to easily (and cost-effectively) reconnect offline.