Graduates of our Master’s in Tourism and Hospitality Management programme take their hard-earned knowledge and skills with them all over the world. Some find themselves working in tourism hotspots like Barcelona, while others head home to lesser-known destinations to help boost their local tourism and hospitality industry.
We spoke to travel industry professional and influencer Simon Lewis to find out his perspective on the industry and to hear what he had to say about working with travel brands and destinations.
“Barcelona is the Holy Grail for the travel industry”
Simon has had his own creative marketing agency Travel Concept Solution since 2007 and predominantly works in tourism. He’s travelled to 74 countries, running online and offline events, doing blogger outreach, influencer marketing campaigns and creating content, websites, ads and Chat Bots for adventure travel companies, brands and local destinations.
Having spent less than a year living in Barcelona, he is still forming his first impressions about the city.
“Barcelona seems to have what every other destination wants: 365 days of tourism. It’s the Holy Grail for the travel industry, but with that comes the problem of over-tourism,” he says.
As a travel industry professional, this is something he has to analyse carefully – and he draws a comparison with another seaside city.
“Cape Town in South Africa is a good example to follow. It has a very open-minded approach to tourism. Although it embraces the sharing economy – it wants to welcome Airbnb, Uber and other sharing economy platforms – it’s also very conscious of not creating ‘tourism precincts’.”
These precincts are the areas that seem to cater exclusively to tourists and lose their authenticity as a result.
“We can see that here on La Rambla and in parts of El Born, Gótico, or near Sagrada Familia. It’s important for destinations like this to maintain their authenticity and keep locals happy by spreading the tourism to different parts of the city.”
While Barcelona itself certainly has no shortage of tourists, nearby towns and villages in Catalonia can still do more to capitalise on the overflow of visitors from the city. This would not only create more local jobs, but also help to alleviate the numbers of tourists on the streets of Barcelona itself.
“You have to give people very good reasons to step outside their comfort zones”
“I was recently asked by a travel brand to suggest some different activities for a group of tourists outside of Barcelona. When I suggested heading to Girona they were not enthusiastic because they felt it was too far away,” he says.
This highlighted a problem for Simon. He says that destinations near to spots like Barcelona need to make it as easy as possible for tourists to visit.
“By providing free buses to festivals and events and highlighting local activities, destinations can make themselves a lot more appealing to inexperienced travelers,” he says. “At the end of the day, you have to give people very good reasons to step outside their comfort zone; so show how easy it is to get there and why they should go.”
Marketing is an important part of this. Simon tells us that as well as printed materials creating awareness of smaller destinations among tourists via online travel influencers is also important.
“That includes guidebooks, maps of things to do of things to do within in an hour or two of Barcelona are all great but also showcasing the destinations online via travel influencers creating pictures and videos that can be shared with their audiences is very important plus you can build apps, online guides and other digital infrastructure, too.”
“Get people talking about you”
When it comes to launching a new destination or boosting a local area’s image, he explains that it’s “important to show what makes your destination unique”.
If it’s culture, food, cost of living, history, a beautiful beach or architecture, make sure you put it front and centre.
He also says it’s important to educate the local tourism industry people, especially if you are trying to promote a lesser known area.
“In Swaziland – now renamed eSwatini – we had two trips that went through the country. One was longer, more interesting, but more expensive and the other was a little more economical. Unfortunately, we realised that 90% of people were taking the much cheaper trip.”
Simon’s solution was to show the people working in the local tourism industry exactly what the destination had to offer by organising a free weekend trip every year.
“We called it the Swaziland Adventure Weekend. For anybody who worked in the travel industry it was free to come along. By making videos, blogs, social media content – and getting people to share their experiences – we created a lot awareness. And that’s what gets people excited about your destination.”
Speaking of building awarenes, Simon explains that his company also recently worked with Costa Brava Pirineu De Girona.
“Together we created a digital marketing campaign and highlighted what the Costa Brava region had to offer, taking along some top travel bloggers and influencers who enjoy playing golf. “
He says, “using pictures, videos and social media posts we we able to demonstrate what makes it a unique and exciting place to visit. Over 10 days we went to 8 different golf courses, but also took in the sights – including a Game of Thrones tour in Girona, a medieval village tour in Pals, treated ourselves to a spa (it’s a hard life, this) and went wine tasting, among other things.”
“Influencers need to be clear with their terms and conditions”
Simon also has some advice for travel brands and destinations that want to work with influencers with big social media followings in their marketing campaigns.
“When it comes to using influencers, one of the biggest questions travel brands have is about return on investment (ROI). They want to know what are they going to get from an influencer if they give them a free room or meal. Really, that ROI depends what a brand wants,” he explains.
“If they are immediately looking for more bookings, that might not happen. But they can probably expect more social media likes shares and conversations.”
On the other side of the coin, he goes on to say that influencers also have to understand the value they are bringing to providers if they are demanding free services.
“Influencers need to be clear with their terms and conditions. Some won’t write about a business if they don’t like it and others will actually put out a negative review or video if they don’t enjoy their experience. They need to communicate this risk to the provider.”
One positive development, he says, is that travel influencers are becoming more and more professional. Rather than simply asking for something for free, influencers are becoming marketing companies and asking for payment which isn’t a bad thing as this means contracts need to be drawn up, deliverables need to be agreed so both parties know what is expected.
“We need to start thinking of people as marketers, not influencers”
Finally, Simon leaves us with some thoughts about how people can get into influencer marketing or managing tourism destinations.
Whatever your aim, whether you want to be an influencer in the travel space, or you want to work for a travel brand or local tourism authority, Simon says it’s connections that count.
“Find out what brands you want to work with use their hashtags, interact and engage with them on social media. That’s the best way to get noticed.”
As influencer marketing matures, the people involved are educating themselves in marketing and more influencers are getting better at pitching travel brands.
“Once influencers start to position themselves as marketers, and create decent media kits with terms and conditions, their audience demographic they can influence, and show what they have achieved for other brands, they can really take off.”
If you want to learn more about making a positive impact on tourist destinations around the world check out our masters in Tourism and Hospitality Management.