Your company probably won’t ever have the resources to compete on an equal footing with Google, Facebook and the big online travel brands.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t “borrow” their secrets.

Follow the travel trends or mix in the right circles at industry events and you’ll hear all about how user-generated content (UGC) can help your SEO, content strategy and CX.

Or, just read on.

User-generated content in travel: some context

We know UGC is a powerful force for businesses of all kinds. You’ve probably seen or heard us talk about it before. But it’s in the travel industry where we’re really seeing this come to life in a big way.

It makes sense – travel is one of the most aspirational, personality-driven purchases we make on a regular basis. It makes sense that we’d want to have a little peek at what our friends – or more broadly, ‘someone like us’ – are doing on holiday, with a view to maybe doing it ourselves one day.

From our own experience, travel brands see huge results when they take a proactive approach to collecting and displaying user-generated content. But that’s old news. What’s interesting now is that the biggest tech companies in the world are starting to join the dots too.

As Facebook itself said:

“Sites like Facebook are affecting consumer travel decisions at every stage because travel choices are heavily influenced by recommendations from other people. That’s always been the case, but in the past, travel recommendations would have been passed along in person, at a family gathering, or when friends got together at a bar or restaurant, for example.

“Now it happens in real time and at scale on digital platforms, many of which are social in nature. And, of course, seeing your friends’ vacation photos—that’s definitely something that makes people start dreaming about travel.”

Let’s look at Facebook as our first example.

Example 1: Facebook

It’s probably the best company in the world at taking something very personal (staying in touch with our friends) and making a ton of money out of it, so there’s definitely something we can learn here.

Recently, Facebook announced three new ways to ‘turn travel intent into bookings’, all broadly packaged up into the existing dynamic ads for travel. Advertisers can now target people based on where their friends have been or even where they’ve already booked flights to, with exciting visual content like images and video.

What can you learn?

Your ads can definitely resonate more with your audience if the images are actually from real customers. Giving that authentic look and feel is essential – it makes people feel like their friends have been (and that’s what we’re looking for).

Example 2: Google

Google has also announced a suite of ad services specifically for travel companies.

In July, the company announced that Google Hotel Ads was joining Google Ads as a whole new campaign type. That follows on from sponsored hotel prices in Google Maps and a general push toward making a hotel purchase easy for people Googling a holiday on their phones.

Google says:

“Planning a trip involves lots of searching for flights, hotels, things to do, itineraries and more. The process is often cumbersome because we have to use multiple tools to gather everything we need—especially on a mobile phone.

“We’re evolving the way our hotel search works on smartphones to help users explore options and make decisions on their smallest screens. The new hotel search experience includes better price filtering, easier-to-find amenity information and the ability to book right from Google.”

What can you learn?

First and most important: your web pages NEED to not only be responsive – but be delightful on mobile. But that’s too obvious to dwell on, so let’s look a bit deeper.

Travel companies often make their margins on up-selling and cross-selling – which, in principle, is absolutely fine… but is often not what you’d call ‘customer-first’.

Google has the advantage of also being where people go to put together the rest of the pieces of their holiday – like attractions, restaurants and bars. In that way, it acts more like a ‘digital concierge’ than a booking engine. But unlike a concierge, it doesn’t have an opinion of its own.

People go to Google because it represents the voice of the people – next to every business is a customer rating and a stack of reviews. Your travel company most likely collects and displays reviews – if so, good – but the lesson here is to go further. Ask for reviews and user-generated content about the less-obvious aspects of your service. Ask for stories and recommendations from the local area. Fill in the gaps with a bit of colour, courtesy of your customers.

If you’re a David with a big battle on your hands, don’t get mad – get sneaky. Steal your Goliath’s secrets and use your nimbleness to your advantage.

The secrets of the billion-dollar travel brands