Travelblather

Video – the content category that got forgotten?

How should you use video to sell holidays and travel experiences more effectively on-line?

I guess it's only natural that, given my background as a print journalist, I often find myself unsure about how to approach other types of content. I've made it a bit of a personal mission to really improve my understanding about apps and video in the first months of this year. I'm in the process of writing an app and will share some thoughts about it when it's ready for launch, but for now a few thoughts about video.

Instinctively you'd think that video would be the perfect tool for travel websites. What could be better at really communicating the unique flutter of excitement in the pit of your stomach when you set out from your hotel on the first morning in a new city or the peace and tranquility of a sunset over a deserted beach?

But in my experience video isn't getting used much by travel companies. Can you think of any that have really gone for video? Travel publishers too seem reticent. One of the nationals I used to write for  got a bunch of simple handheld video cameras in and did some training for their travel writers and asked them to go off and shoot video as well as writing their stories when they went on writing trips. I don't think it ever really worked. And I am pretty sure that's because the journalists weren't being paid anything extra to shoot video as well as writing the story.

But video on the net is huge. Youtube is apparently the third most visited site on the net (after Google and Facebook). Anedotally I've been told that lot of kids and teenagers often use Youtube as a search engine, typing their queries straight into the search box on Youtube. And wow. sometimes it really delivers - i the strangest ways. I recently bought an iPhone and wanted to buy a protective cover for it. There were loads to choose from and they were all inside impossible to open boxes in the shops. So I hit YouTube. There I found hundreds of videos of people doing 'tech reviews' of stuff - the most boring video imaginable - just taking a cover out of a box and fitting it to their iPhone. Dull, dull, dull - but it was so useful for that one simple query I happened to have. 118,000 views of that particular video as well!

So how should travel operators and publishers use video? When and why?

A few thoughts which are very rough and ready. I'd welcome your opinions.

'How to's: I was struck by a video they had playing above the security x-ray machines at Gatwick Airport a while back. Looping over and over again the clip reminded people to take off belts, take laptops out of cases, put everything in a tray to go through the machine. It must have saved a huge amount of time, seriously increasing the throughput of people. What 'how to' videos could a travel site produce that would be really useful? How to pack might be good. But perhaps not like this?  Luggage reviews could be handy too. I think getting through airport terminals would be very handy but would the airports in question allow people to film there?

Inspiration: It's this arena where I don't understand the lack of genuinely great video content in the travel sector. (But then again, I've not hunted too hard yet.) I have been consistently impressed by Visit New Zealand's website. And it's no surprise that they have quite extensive video elements - but they don't feel well integrated with the rest of the site. Visit California does a better job - mixing video nicely into the picture-palette of options in the main carousel on the homepage. Some of the videos are better than others. In this category I think you need awesomely gorgeous high production value pieces that really excite people. And these don't come cheap. Here's an example for Visit Guernsey - elements of it are great, but the cuts are slow, the use of voice in certain places with the soundtrack suddenly dropping out feels amateurish. It's way too long. I'd never take a promo piece like this past 2 minutes. It feels like it was shot without a proper storyboard and without a real idea of what the piece was supposed to do and who for. What do you think of it? Any stand out examples you can think of?

Personal Journeys: I'm a big fan of bringing real people into the mix - moving away from branded communications towards more personalised conversations. I think the web really lends itself to this. Kuoni has shot some interesting stuff with its product managers. Called Perfect Moments, they are simple shorts of people talking about their most memorable experiences. A great idea - but for me they just make clear how people without presentation training are really dull on camera. The pieces desparately need cut aways to the scenes these people describe. (Which of course would cost far more.) Contrast these attempts with this really cool video about backpacking. It probably cost far less to make, but wow, it's compelling. I discovered it via a backpacker guy I follow on twitter (travelsofadam) which in itself is interesting. Here's a little something I put together a while back with help from an editor friend to publicise my guidebook to Seville.

Hotel reviews: One operator that has invested significantly in video is Thomsom/Tui. They commissioned a production company to shoot short videos of a huge number of the hotels they feature. (I know one of the cameramen who did it.) Similar in concept to my iPhone case video experience, these are pretty functional things - albeit with higher production values. I think they add a lot to the hotel research experience. Anecdotal evidence from Sandara Leonard who works for Tui in Web Strategy has suggested that those hotels which also had video clips provided attained a 20% higher booking rate. Interestingly the videos themselves already look dated. They are optimised for small screen viewing from the days of slower broadband speeds. Interestingly they have the whole lot on a YouTube channel too which makes a lot of sense. You can in theory optimise Youtube pages for search - so someone say searching for a hotel by name might see a Youtube Thomson video page returned in the results. Having done some tinkering though I've yet to find any good examples of this. Remarkable, given that Google owns YouTube how video results don't seem to really synch too well with other search results. It's only when I click the videos menu at the side of the Google results that I see video pages returned. In the context of hotels, you have to consider what Trip Advisor does because it is so hugely influential in this sector... and interestingly, I don't see anywhere on TripAdvisor for viewing hotel videos. Lots of pics, no video. That's a surprise.

Any stand out uses of video you can think of in the travel sector? And any other categories of video that should be added to this list?

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