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
Delta Air Lines
Winner: Overall Airline, U.S.
Multiple Twitter handles help Delta assist passengers easily, whether for reservations (@DeltaAssist) or breaking news (@DeltaNewsroom). Meanwhile, calls for travel photos and campaigns (“Show us your #BiscoffBowTie”) keep the airline’s 460,000 followers inspired and engaged. Oh yes, and Delta is also a runner-up in the SMITTYs contest category. —Maria Pedone
San Francisco International Airport
Winner: Overall Airport, U.S.
SFO won a SMITTY award last year, and it’s not surprising to see the airport in the top slot again: social media marketing company Viralheat ranked it the most social media–savvy airport in America for 2012. One of the ways it achieved that ranking: postcards. While a Dickensesque character greeted passengers throughout terminals, staffers snapped photos to create both digital and physical holiday postcards. Followers and fans were prompted to share them using the hashtag #SFOHolidays. —Maria Pedone
Winner: Overall Cruise Line
Before embarking on their journey, Aurora Expeditions’ passengers could opt to stay in touch using the TrekTraka social media app. Real-time, location-based updates were made to linked Facebook accounts, allowing friends and family to see when the cruise had made it to its destination—even remote spots like Antarctica or Papua New Guinea. —Maria Pedone
Visit Myrtle Beach
Winner: Overall CVB, U.S.
Myrtle Beach, SC, set out to show that its 60 miles of coastline are just as great during the 60 days of fall as they are in the summer. The tourism board posted unnamed spots (like local attractions and restaurants) on Pinterest and Twitter. Then, on “Trip Tuesday,” followers were asked to guess these secret locations, resulting in a new winner each week. —Maria Pedone
Runner-Up: Overall CVB, U.S.
Themed road rallies—including beer, history, and adventure—sent travel bloggers on a scavenger hunt across the Mile High City’s landmarks, from the Denver Zoo to the Phoenix Gold Mine. Check-ins on Visit Denver’s app and live tweets using the hashtag #tbexrr revealed QR code tips about their next destination. —Maria Pedone
Cape Town Tourism
Winner: Overall CVB, Global
The next best thing to sending people to Cape Town? Sending their Facebook profiles. More than 150 point-of-view videos were shot (think hang gliding around Table Mountain), along with 400 first-person status updates, and posted onto participants’ timelines. A few lucky users received gifts from trips on their newsfeed (e.g., wine from a vineyard visit), while grand-prize winners were sent on a real holiday to the Mother City. —Maria Pedone
Runner-Up: Overall CVB, Global
Fans create more than 95 percent of content on this tourism board’s profiles. By taking advantage of digital media’s 24-hour time loop and dedicated interaction with its followers, Tourism Australia has inspired the contribution of more than 1,000 photos every day across its social media networks. —Maria Pedone
Four Seasons Hotels
Winner: Overall Hotel Chain
The luxury group put customer service first by creating custom Twitter accounts for both its guests and hotels. Brides-to-be can follow the @FSBridal handle for wedding inspiration, while other guests can follow any of the 84 specific property handles for location-based tips and deals. —Maria Pedone
The Pfister Hotel
Winner: Overall Individual Hotel, U.S.
The Pfister is so committed to fine art that it keeps an artist in residence. What better way to engage fans than to let them vote for the next one via Facebook and Twitter? The winner was artist Stephanie Barenz, and the hotel now posts her sketches on its social networks—a unique way of keeping tradition alive in a digital world. —Maria Pedone
Four Seasons Toronto
Winner: Overall Individual Hotel, Global
Now this is how you open a hotel over social media. Thirty days of spa giveaways created a buzz around Toronto’s new Four Seasons property, with more than 1,000 people entering the Facebook sweepstakes. A live tweetup during the hotel’s ribbon cutting ceremony added to the excitement, while the hashtag #FSNewEra emphasized its modern design (55 glass stories; Yabu Pushelberg interiors). —Maria Pedone
Westin Bund Center Shanghai
Runner-Up: Overall Individual Hotel, Global
As a sponsor of the 2012 Shanghai International Film Festival, the Westin Bund Center reached out to movie producers via social networks, posted timely updates about China’s pop culture, and cross-promoted its Weibo account with the organizer’s official website and Weibo account. —Maria Pedone
Winner: Overall Marketing/Trade Association
From lift tickets to five-night ski-and-stay getaways, Ski Vermont entered visitors to win with every Facebook or Foursquare check-in. Fans were also encouraged to send pictures of themselves skiing and boarding with the hashtag #vtskibrag. Ski Vermont rewarded persistent braggers with extra sweepstakes entries. —Maria Pedone
Big Five Tours & Expeditions
Winner: Overall Tour Operator
For its 40th anniversary, this tour operator challenged its audience to come up with creative ways to travel sustainably. In YouTube video clips shot around the globe, the president encouraged users to share their ideas via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ using the hashtag #40ways. Four participants with the best submissions will win Google Nexus Tablets. —Maria Pedone
Passports with Purpose
Runner-Up: Best Use of Social Media by an Independent Travel Journalist/Blogger
For the past six years, Gary Arndt has been blogging his travel stories and sharing photos via social media—quite a job to keep up with, considering he’s been to more than 100 countries and seven continents since 2007. The goal of Everything Everywhere is to create a community where travelers can share tips and experiences, with Gary often crowdsourcing information on where to stay and what to eat around the world. —Maria Pedone
Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation
Winner: Best Twitter Feed
This tourism board made sure Philadelphia extended its Brotherly Love to Twitter. The @VisitPhilly handle tweets out exclusive cyber deals on hotels and events to keep its visitors in the know. As for the city’s local fan base (like Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly), @VisitPhilly is known to send love letters via TwitPic. —Maria Pedone
VisitSweden in Conjunction with Glitterati Incorporated
Winner: Best Pinterest Photos
VisitSweden wanted followers to view the country through a more artistic lens. Utilizing photographs from the avant-garde Hilton Brothers, the bureau dedicated a Pinterest board to showcase its capital city and inspired nearly 1,000 Stockholm itineraries in the process. —Maria Pedone
Winner: Best Instagram Photos
The down under destination turned its Instagram account over to followers. The @SeeAustralia handle encouraged followers to tag their photos using the hashtag #SeeAustralia, then watched more than 240,000 images poured in. Followers continue to send in 1,000-plus photos a day across Tourism Australia’s social networks, making 95 percent of its social content user-generated. —Maria Pedone
Winner: Best Facebook Timeline
Fairmont Hotels had staffers from each property dish out insider tips on its Facebook timeline. Fun, personality-based quizzes add tailored itinerary suggestions, from chef-selected restaurants to exclusive fitness classes (Hula-Hooping in Hawaii, anyone?). —Maria Pedone
Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay
Runner-Up: Best Facebook Timeline
Concierge recommendations and a focus on California’s epicurean culture fill the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay’s Facebook timeline. Behind-the-scenes photos from events such as Yappy Hour (where guests can savor drinks with their canine companions) show off the many offerings of this Bay Area getaway. —Maria Pedone
Winner: Best Blog
The Meet Minneapolis blog caught our attention with its star-studded contributors. Restaurateur and television personality Guy Fieri listed his top spots to eat in this Twin City, while NFL punter Chris Kluwe—a former Minnesota Viking—shed light on his daily duties as an Oakland Raider. —Maria Pedone
Four Seasons Hotels
Winner: Best Facebook Chat/Twitter Chat/Tweetup/Hangout
Four Seasons’ 90 hotels catered to brides-to-be during its #LuxBride Twitter chat. Tweets from the company’s dedicated bridal handle, @FSBridal, inspired wedding themes, while Brides Magazine and celebrity baker Peggy Porschen also chimed in about the big day. —Maria Pedone
Noble House Hotels
Runner-Up: Best Facebook Chat/Twitter Chat/Tweetup/Hangout
Happy hours are indisputably the best hours of the workweek—that’s why Noble House Hotels, with its corresponding restaurants, decided to host a nighttime Twitter chat around its love for this social scene. Dozens of recipes—from fish tacos to pineapple-infused martinis—were tweeted, along with crave-worthy photos. —Maria Pedone
W New York Times Square
Winner: Best Contest/Giveaway
Playing off W Hotels’ reputation for great design, the W New York Times Square partnered with its Instagram community to create the first-ever Instagram photography exhibit in Manhattan. More than 6,000 entrants fought for 10 spots in the exhibit, with one grand-prize winner chosen for a two-night stay at the hotel. —Maria Pedone
Delta Air Lines
Runner-Up: Best Contest/Giveaway
Delta launched its multiplatform Red Coat Challenge to show its love for the Big Apple. Insider clues about New York City were released to players in a real-world challenge to find the Delta Red Coat who was hidden around the city each week. Forty lucky winners were treated with a flight from New York to Los Angeles and a private acoustic concert with the band Fun at Nobu. With more than 70 million impressions on Twitter, the airline won over quite a few hearts. —Maria Pedone
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
Winner: Best Location-Based Campaign
For the Golden Gate’s 75th birthday, the park conservancy wanted to create the “longest bridge in the world.” Using Google Maps, more than 2,000 Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ users stitched together images of their favorite bridges, creating a digital bridge spanning 18 million feet. —Maria Pedone
National Car Rental
Runner-Up: Best Location-Based Campaign
While road trips may be novel for their spontaneity, a tip here and there can be a major relief. Foursquare lists in cities including Denver, Nashville, and San Francisco encourage drivers to stretch their legs (at dance studios, art galleries) along the way, and point them to some of the best food joints (Italian, Thai, Mexican) in town. —Maria Pedone
Winner: Best Mobile-Friendly Campaign
During the 2012 London Olympics, the airline sent spectators on a scavenger hunt. National flags acted as QR codes; when scanned, they allowed users to check in to that country via Facebook. The countries’ Olympic progress was also monitored through the app, so fans wouldn’t miss a play. —Maria Pedone
Winner: Most Creative Hashtag
The hashtag #Tweetameet allowed Qatar Airways followers to share cool facts about the airline’s various destinations. Pairs of these wishful travelers faced off in #Tweetameet “races,” tweeting factoids about their destination of choice, with the most knowledgeable twosome winning tickets to that country. —Maria Pedone
Runner-Up: Most Creative Hashtag
From last-minute shopping to intrusive in-laws, it seems we’re all stricken by #HolidayProblems. Luckily, Travaasa Resorts offered relief with its campaign, from a Pinterest board filled with healthy winter treats to gift ideas on Facebook. Followers who used the hashtag the most earned a Travaasa Resorts vitality package. —Maria Pedone
InterContinental Hotel New York Barclay
Winner: Best Social Media Use For Public Service (TIE)
During Hurricane Sandy, the InterContinental Barclay served as a source for those affected, tweeting about news and transportation updates, as well as on-site relief efforts. Family-friendly events at the hotel kept children busy, and shared photos from the efforts helped the campaign reach 500,000 impressions. —Maria Pedone
Visit Bucks County
Runner-Up: Best Social Media Use For Public Service
During Hurricane Sandy, the bureau transformed its Facebook and Twitter platforms into news sources for affected Bucks County, PA, residents and visitors. All alerts included the hashtag #BucksSandy, and local businesses were encouraged to utilize Facebook comments and the #BucksSandy hashtag to spread the word about their status. —Maria Pedone
Winner: Most Innovative Social Media App or Technology
Traveling solo? No sweat—Contiki’s Shout travel app lets group members meet and connect before a trip, so you can get to know each other prior to embarking. The app also allows the sharing of footage from the company’s adventures, making it perfect for easy tweeting. —Maria Pedone