Digital Tourism Northern Ireland

Today I was lucky enough to enjoy another great event run by Digital DNA at Titanic Belfast. You might remember I attended their Digital Business conference just a few weeks ago and blogged about what I learned. So I was excited to receive an invite to their latest conference, specialising in Digital Tourism, as I knew the guest speakers and workshops would equal a morning well-spent.

Today saw a wealth of Keynote Speakers including one of the sponsors - Tourism NI - whose CEO John McGrillen introduced the event.

The conference was designed to inspire the audience of local hoteliers, attraction managers, travel, tourism and hospitality marketers to fully embrace digital technologies in order to grow.

So what did we learn? A lot, as it happens.

Everyday Moments

Stephen Murphy, Agency Lead at Google, took us through the company’s focus on engaging with people in the everyday, and how they use this to inform advertisers to get the most from the site. More people tuning in online should help communicators, but because people can now drive their own engagement, “Micro Moments” are the new battleground for brands (read more here).

Stephen’s advice was relevant to all online retailers:

“Avoid the hard sell and instead be useful to people in the moments that matter to them.”

  • Be there
  • Be useful
  • Be quick
  • Connect the dots

Provide content at the top end of the funnel for those researching (like “how-to” videos) while also empowering purchases across all devices in that “moment to buy”. Then service people adequately post-purchase.

Use technology to anticipate people’s needs (like their GPS location or previous search history), maximise the functionality of your site (even simple things like automatically bringing up their numbers keyboard to enter a number), ensure your pages “load like lightening” and use the FREE tools available to you to improve - like Google’s Page Speed Insights Report for your webmaster.

Remarketing to the Unknown Visitor

Sean Collins from took us through the company’s journey to improving its own online offering, primarily how they overcame the difficulties of data-mining and following customer journeys when they are a third-party retailer who sells a multitude of different products to various audience segments;

“Because the customer will still expect a one-to-one experience.”

They enlisted the help of SaleCycle, whose Enterprise Sales Manager Pete Marshall, explained the technology behind the encrypted customer reference numbers to gather marketing intelligence and anticipate needs, therefore increasing sales conversions.

Based on experience and data, they have found that sending a real-time email 45 minutes after customer flight abandonment (with destination-specific images of where the customer had been searching) or 60 minutes after abandonment for hotels, resulted in 4% income increase.

Likewise, a second follow-up email 24 hours later to convert them showed 18-25% campaign performance.

He noted other helpful tools too, such as dynamic overlays to grab attention when the cursor becomes idle on screen, or when it moves to “X” out of the website. They found this tactic alone could double email newsletter subscriptions!

Building a Digital Hotel Empire

Fergus Boyd, VP of Digital & IT at startup Yotel also gave a truly engaging rendition of his company history from its inception by Yo! Sushi founder after an upgraded flight home to Japan converted him to the benefits of small, convenient sleeping quarters which would equate to affordable luxury in the hotel industry.

In a crowded marketplace, this is a company accurately targeting what Boyd described as “the mythical millennial customer.”

From automated luggage transporters that don’t require a tip, to 200% occupancy (making rooms available shortly after check-out so they are sold twice-daily) and quick fixes online such as urgency flags - the company recently saw website sales overtake OTA for the first time in 4 years.

The key to their success is a truly digital strategy; data-based decision-making, tracking everything and “content, content, content!” With this, a tiny team is delivering a big effect for the business.

A key message from Fergus that I have also learned from experience:

“Working within constraints makes you more creative!”

John Bustard from the University of Ulster also took us through his solutions for creativity within constraints via the work they did on social channels for the Causeway Coast Golf Tournament.

Likewise, I enjoyed the Eastside Arts Festival video showcasing the local business benefits of this Summer’s Van Morrison Cyprus Avenue concert. Stuart Bailey, one of the founding members of the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast convinced us of the worth of music tourism - an apparent £84 million to the NI economy alone - and explained how the experiential nature of music lends itself so well to social sharing, reaching millions of people without advertising spend:

“The reputation of a city as a music city is a great asset to the tourist industry.”

Engaging Travel Bloggers

My morning ended with an insightful workshop I had signed up to attend led by Nial Toner at The Tomorrow Lab, who I know personally as not only a leader in this field through his work with among others, but who also understands the other side of the coin, running a blog with his good Ladywife.

He reminded us of the importance of engaging all types of bloggers - not just those who speak to the buying audience, but also those followed by audiences like information seekers or those with large social followings who can amplify your brand, even if audiences aren’t at the point of purchase.

Nial showed us tools such as Follower Wonk for searching Twitter bios to find the travel bloggers, utilising Twitter Lists to mine existing information. He explained how to “search smarter” using .ie or .fr to find bloggers in certain countries for example and even using LinkedIn, all too often ignored in blogger research.

He then promoted tools like Majestic SEO or Chrome plugins like Moz to measure link value or organic search value by understanding metrics like Citation Flow and Trust Flow. The important message was to decide what you ultimately want - be it domain authority or social following - and then test it’s value with tools such as Twitter Audit, counting social shares or checking subscriber numbers.

Nial also advised the workshop attendees on how to gather contact information from curated blog lists quickly but more importantly, how to pitch to them respectfully and effectively:

  • Familiarising yourself with their blog
  • Researching popular content online through Buzzfeed and Buzzsumo for example, to come armed with interesting ideas for the partnership
  • Interacting on social channels before approaching
  • Making the approach personal by finding out and using their real name!

He cited the famous “100 ideas in 30 minutes” tactic for content inspiration, which brought home to me the things I miss about working in a team everyday!

All of the learning was underpinned by examples of their own engagement with bloggers for last year’s #ExpediaExplores campaign in Ireland - which resulted in an 18% increase in sales and was shortlisted for Best Use of Social Media in Search in the European Search Awards - and this year’s Sporting Experiences campaign with vloggers.

A key message was one that many marketers still don’t accept;

“Expect to pay for a blogger’s time, in the same way you would pay a designer, or any creative, for their work.”

I could go on, but I realise this blog is already too long for most folk! Needless to say, another morning well-spent with Digital DNA and I can’t recommend their events enough based on the quality of the 2015 offering so far. Well done all involved!