Tourism industry turns to social media to woo travellers

The 'remember to breathe' campaign has been extremely popular for Travel Alberta.
The 'remember to breathe' campaign has been extremely popular for Travel Alberta.

CALGARY- The days of wining and dining those in the travel industry aren’t over yet, but tourism marketers have found a cheaper and more effective way to connect with travellers—social media.

Hot on the heels of a glowing review from British newspaper The Guardian, which included Alberta on its list of top places to visit in 2014, Travel Alberta is trying to capitalize on the shout out.

“We’re actually working on something right now specific to the U.K. because of the article, and we hope we can leverage the exposure and increase the advocacy of the article,” says Royce Chwin, chief marketing officer for Travel Alberta. “When you’re in that kind of company with the South Africa’s, the France’s, the Turkey’s, the Malaysia’s, and there’s Alberta—and interestingly, Alberta over any other province in Canada—I think that says something. It’s going to bring Alberta to attention for potential travellers.”

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The Guardian article touted the upcoming opening of the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper, world-class skiing in Lake Louise, and Calgary, which it says “has gone from cowboy town to cosmopolitan cool.”

While Travel Alberta still does campaigns in some of its overseas markets like Germany, China, South Korea, Japan and Australia, they are increasingly heading online to leverage the power of social media users.

“They’re very strong communities in terms of their support and pride for Alberta, and those visitors that have come here have become brand advocates,” Chwin explains. “Social media and advocacy in that is a critical component of how we do business, how we connect to travellers and how we connect to their heart.

“Social media has been growing at an incredible pace, and in terms of social media channels Alberta has been recognized by others as one of the leaders in terms of tourism marketing. We try to be very forward-thinking, very innovative and experimental.”

One such experiment included hosting what Chwin calls an ‘Instagram-Fam’, where they invited half a dozen of the most popular travel Instagram users in the world to Alberta. They set them up with a loose itinerary to experience the best of Alberta, and the visitors posted about their experiences.

“The comments that came back from their followers were phenomenal, and it was the first time I’ve ever seen traveller comments that followed their itinerary on Instagram to plan their own travel in Alberta,” Chwin says. “They were able to plan an itinerary, then go research and book it.”

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Travel Alberta hopes to increase their share of tourism dollars, and has their sights set on 2020 when they hope to attract $10.3 billion worth of spending in the province. Turning to their online channels to attract visitors could be the key.

“We have the ability to efficiently use our dollars to connect in that way, and create opportunities to pull in other experiences,” Chwin says. “Travel is an emotional sell.”

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On Friday, the prestigious New York Times also pegged Calgary as #17 on their list of top places to visit in 2014.