No getting round it - travel marketing can be tough, expensive and time-consuming. This is why it’s sometimes nice to *whispers* get the customers to do it for you.

In this article, I’ll take a look at why user generated content is such a powerful form of marketing and what travel brands can do to encourage travellers to give their marketing strategy a helping hand.

What is user-generated content?

User-generated content (UGC) is original and authentic brand-specific content created by customers who then publish that content on social media or other channels. It comes in many forms, most typically images, videos, reviews and travel blogs.

Why is UGC important for travel brands?

Travel is a fiercely competitive sector where large, well-established brands tend to dominate the online space. One of the most effective ways smaller brands can make their presence felt is to harness the power of UGC. Whether it’s a hashtagged picture on Instagram or a lengthy travel blog, traveller content is a great way to showcase your business to other potential customers, helping to establish brand trustworthiness and reach your target audience through relatable, first-hand accounts.

Another perk is its ability to inspire and influence travel plans. Travellers are able to see real (i.e. not AI generated!) photos and videos of destinations and activities, which can help them decide what they want to see and do on their next trip. UGC is also more likely to feature hidden gems and off-the-beaten-track experiences which travellers might not have discovered otherwise.

How to encourage UGC for travel brands?

My mum used to say ‘you don’t owt for nowt’ and that’s often true when it comes to UGC. There needs to be an incentive or valid reason for someone giving your brand the thumbs up. A brilliant travel experience or receiving great service is obviously the main incentive but let’s explore some additional ways you can encourage travellers to spread the word.

1. Reviews

Sounds too obvious, doesn’t it? But reviews are travel brands’ bread and butter. After all, would you stay or visit somewhere without checking what others have to say about it first? Reviews offer an unbiased, reliable, real-life perspective and tell other travellers what they can expect – including the good, the bad and everything in between.

To capitalise on this form of UGC, make sure it is easy for customers to leave reviews, either on your website via Google, Feefo (well known in travel) or TripAdvisor and always thank people for taking the time to leave a review – good or bad – as this shows you value their input and demonstrates you are a brand that cares.

Travel Brand reviews image

2. Get the influencers influencing

Many baulk at the very notion of ‘influencers’ but in the age of social media, influencer marketing has become a go-to practice. Younger demographics tend to search for easy and accessible video on entertainment platforms such as TikTok, which are typically delivered in a short-form video. Unsurprisingly, they will prioritise content from well-established, popular influencer accounts and it’s these very accounts that travel brands need to partner up with if you’re looking to attract more awareness from Gen Z and Millennials travellers.

Statista Influencers image

To find the right influencer, you need to do your homework. Research different influencer accounts to identify the one whose audience aligns the closest with your target market. There are many tools available to aid with this, such as HypeAuditor, Storyclash and Influencity, which offer in-depth analysis on various social accounts.

Be prepared to offer incentives such as complimentary stays, vouchers and upgrades or a mutually beneficial arrangement where you also promote their account on yours. Provide clear guidelines on what you want to achieve but allow the influencers sufficient creative freedom to showcase your brand through their unique voice and style, as per this example from TikToker Bananni G:

Tok Tok influencer image

3. Hashtags

How can one small symbol yield so much power? I’m old enough to remember when it just sat on my keyboard not really doing much at all. Now businesses are building whole marketing campaigns around it. Not only can they make it easier to find relevant content on sites such as Instagram but they’re also great for boosting reach and engagement. Running hashtag contests, offering incentives for hashtagged posts and prominently displaying branded hashtags across marketing channels can be an effective incentive for customers to use them, as Hilton have demonstrated with their #HiltonForTheStay campaign.

Hilton for the stay image

4. Photos and videos

One of the most common and powerful forms of UGC is good old imagery. In the age of AI, your customers need to see something more authentic than crystal clear seas and white sands which can be knocked up in 10 seconds flat using tools such as DALL·E and Midjourney. The more a travel brand can encourage travellers to share original, attractive pictures, the more real and trustworthy your brand becomes. Videos are even better, offering immersive, first-hand glimpses into real travel experiences.

As with hashtags, a great way to harness the UGC potential of traveller photos and videos. To encourage your travellers to create more on your behalf, a tried and tested way is to hold social media competitions and ensure any traveller photos used in advertising is credited back to the original poster. Travel brands that go with these routes can often find they have dozens or hundreds of images to use for their marketing as well as benefitting from some free (albeit small) secondary exposure when your travellers’ pictures get used online!

Jet2 image

5. Travel blogs and vlogs

Encouraging established travel writers and vloggers to create content featuring and promoting your brand is an effective way to utilise all the UGC examples listed above. These personal accounts serve as powerful storytelling tools, typically containing detailed first-hand descriptions, visuals, honest reviews and practical tips that resonate with potential customers.

To get travel bloggers and vloggers on board, offer incentives such as free stays, upgrades, etc., and consider inviting them to events or trips they can participate in and write about. Build a strong relationship with your preferred bloggers by offering to promote their work in your own content, thus encouraging future engagement as and when the time is right.

Travel Blog example image

If you do go down engage with influencers for content creation, it’s always worth remembering to have some rules around how your blogging partner links back to you to get SEO benefit (or not) as well agreeing on expectations around traffic you will receive from their content to understand the commerciality of your agreement. There have been many examples of influencers and travel brands not playing nicely, which you want to avoid!

Final thoughts

When it comes to UGC, the impact on building trust, authenticity and connection with potential customers cannot be overstated. Not only is it an incredible form of marketing which can significantly enhance a brand's appeal and broaden its reach, it’s also great for your E-E-A-T credentials too, something search engines love to see on their platforms. A win-win all round!

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Meet the author ...

Anna Heathcote

Content Manager

Based way up on the Northumbrian coast, Anna uses her creative copywriting expertise and SEO experience to ensure clients have fresh, relevant and optimised content on their ...