In Podcast 5 I talk to Jaume Marin in a case study of how the Costa Brava region in Spain has been working successfully with bloggers to promote tourism. Jaume Marin is the Marketing Director of Girona and Costa Brava Tourism Board who hosted the TBEX Travel Bloggers conference that I attended in Girona. Costa Brava have been working closely with bloggers for the last couple of years with some great results, and we discuss what travel bloggers and tourism businesses might learn from their experience.
For those of you who like to read rather than listen, I’ve transcribed the essence of the interview below….Heather Cowper with Jaume Marin at TBEX
Can you put Costa Brava on the map for those who are not familiar with your region?
Costa Brava is in the north-east corner of Spain, about an hour from Barcelona, on the border with France. We have two main brands, the Costa Brava and Pyrenees, so we can offer everything from sandy beaches on the coast to the hinterland where we have wine routes, the best golf courses in Spain, culture such as Dali-land as Salvador Dali was born here. There is a huge range of what we can offer.Coastal path from Llafranc to Calella de Parafrugell Photo: Velvetescape.com
What was the trigger for you to start working with bloggers?
A couple of years ago we saw that the ways of communicating with our audience were changing and we thought, let’s try to also change the way we communicate as a tourist board. Public institutions can be very slow to move, but we can be small and quick, so we looked at who were the influencers for our audience. We kept sending messages through our advertising but it was not really effective, so we thought, why don’t we try to spread our message through bloggers who have an engaged audience, people who know what they are talking about, they may be very focused on their subject and they will be our voice, our loudspeakers. So that’s why we started talking to bloggers and working with bloggers.Bloggers from the #inCostaBrava trip Photo: Velvetescape.com
So what was the first project to test the water?
The first project was #inCostaBrava in May last year and we brought 16 bloggers over. To be honest it was too ambitious at first, but we thought if we work together and get the private sector involved; hoteliers, restaurants, local personalities, then we can do it. So we talked to different personalities, we talked to the best cook in the world, Ferran Adria, we talked to the best friend of Dali, to say, look, this is the new way to communicate, do you want to take part in the project? It was a 6 month project before we started the actual blog trip. And people said, Jaume, do you think this is the way? And they trusted us and it went well. Of course you never get it 100% right at first, you have to improve. At first we showed the bloggers a bit of everything to promote the brand but now we’re moving towards more segmented products such as culture, nature, gastronomy, beauty and spa, and now we’re bringing 8-10 bloggers per trip.
Any other things you learned in that first trip that you’re using to improve future trips?
If any other DMOs are listening, if you bring bloggers and producers of social media here you must give them their tools to work. You need to give them quality WiFi and if you are on the road you need to bring MiFi always, that’s compulsory and then give them time and listen to them. You need to be with them, not just send someone in your office; if you are leading this then you need to be there, because they will appreciate it. At the end of the day, there’s a person behind the blog so you need to work with them, it’s hard work sometimes but if you want them to trust you, then you have to be there. You need to talk to them because you may find that one of the bloggers has a special interest, for instance I read that one of the bloggers we invited, his dream was skydiving and I told him that we had prepared this for him and he said, how do you know this? – I said, well I read your blog!Nellie Huang sky dives over Costa Brava Photo: Wildjunket.com
When you look for bloggers to invite on your trip what’s the process you go through to decide who you want to work with?
It’s not as short a process as it might look. First I try to measure the degree of influence on the net, with things like Klout, this is one part of it. Then I look at the number of followers, I like to see their statistics, but then I read the blog and I see the engagement they have in Twitter, in Facebook and in the blog comments and how they interact. I don’t care if someone has 10,000 followers if they don’t interact, I don’t want this in my groups. Then it depends on the market for example, sometimes I look at the French market, because that’s interesting for the Costa Brava, so I may look for someone to blog in French. If this is important they may not be the biggest blog compared to the English bloggers, but you may need that niche market. Another thing is that I don’t put any diva in the blog trip, I don’t want the huge stars, I want the group to be fun and socially active, because if everyone gets on well together they are more productive. At the end from a marketing point of view, I want something back from them, so I want them to be a good group and good fun.Red Calla Lilies at the Girona Flower Festival Photo: Solotravelerblog.com
How does the next set of trips fit into your overall marketing strategy?
We started with brand, then we went with products, and next year we’re going to be more specific. We want to bring some mommy bloggers, some wine bloggers, perhaps golf, fashion bloggers, techie bloggers. So the strategy is to get in the top of the minds of customers in different ways. We will still focus on travel because that is important but also in other areas. Because sometimes an economist may be writing information about the economic crisis and write that, by the way, this weekend I’ve been there and this gives a huge surprise to the audience. We’re going to try different tools, for instance we did an Instagram trip, which worked very well, so we will see the engagement and how we move from there.
What is the balance now between traditional media and social media in your overall marketing approach?
We have to do a mix and everyone is trying to get the right mix. Three years ago it would have been 100% offline, but now the split is 55% offline and 45% online and we are moving towards more online segment, because that’s where we see an immediate return. We will never stop doing press trips, we like traditional journalists, they work very well for us, and it’s a different kind of press trip. We go to some specialized exhibitions; we don’t go to general exhibitions now, and this year we cut down from 31 to 13 exhibitions. We keep doing things but we have to measure the return and which is the easiest way to get to the final audience. We probably spend 10-15% of our budget with bloggers. If you consider all the things we do it’s a small part of our budget but if you compare it to advertising, probably we spend more money on the blogging than advertising. We cut down one thing to increase another. I’m happy with the way it is and I think we will move more in that direction and now we’re starting to see the results. I don’t like to measure the short-term results, but in the mid term and long term this is paying back at the moment, so we’re happy about that.
So what specific things do you do to measure the results?
First there’s the short term results, we look at Tweetreach, we use Topsy to measure everything; how many tweets, number of impressions, number of accounts, but this is very short term and it’s a lot of noise. It’s fine and we want to have it, but the mid term objective is to get quality and relevant content on the internet. We count the number of posts that are published and if they are syndicated to Lonely Planet, and we look for engagement with us, so if someone is asking for information about Costa Brava, one of the bloggers can answer. Thanks to the blog trip that we did 2 years ago, National Geographic nominated Costa Brava as one of the 10 best trips of 2012 and we were nominated the 3rd best destination in the world for golf. We would never have got this result if we hadn’t done the blog trips, but it’s a mid term/long term thing – sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. But you have to try new things every year.Kash from Budget Traveller meets Indian Bollywood star Farhan Akhtar Photo: Budget Traveller
With traditional media, marketing organizations try to put some monetary value on the results, do you try to do this with the output of the blog trips?
No, I don’t believe in Return on Investment. Where is the Return on Investment in an exhibition? Where is the Return on Investment in the new furniture in a hotel reception? I don’t believe in just a number, because how do you measure the word of National Geographic? Where is the Return on Investment in that? Can you measure that? No! So we have to try to be clever and we have to look at qualitive things, things that create an image of the destination in your mind. And this is not just quantitive, costing €3 million if you had to buy it in publicity or advertising. I’m not going to spend that anyway.
How do you convince those who are providing your budget that it’s a good way of spending their money?
It’s a lot of education, it’s education in our institutions, it’s education for our private sector. In every blog trip that I host I have a session between bloggers and the private sector. I invite, for free, all the private sector to meet bloggers and they talk about what they’re doing, the different social media tools, it’s the power of education. Private companies attend the sessions, from small rural guest houses up in the Pyrenees, to small restaurants, to hotels, so it’s interesting because one of our aims is to pull them along with us, to try to convince them that this is the future and this is the present. When I talk to my bosses, first they trust my enthusiasm, which is a lot, but then they start seeing the results. Even if they don’t use social media and they think that Jaume is freaky or a geek, they know that this is bringing the results, and people say, oh you’re very active here, you’re doing all this, and they want to take part in it.
For instance, when we were doing TBEX we started saying, why don’t we let the bloggers stay a week if they want and try to get them accommodation? So we launched the question to the private sector, would you like to offer free rooms for bloggers? I said my team here, we need to get 20 rooms and then I could get 4 or 5 bloggers, and after a week they told me that we had 800 rooms for free. And I said no! How are we going to manage that? But thanks to TBEX and our team we were able to manage that. So this is the response and this is after one year of education. Sometimes, when you are the first, it is more difficult, but the results are greater. People say, oh, you’re leading, you’re doing well, but we try a lot of things and in some things we fail and some things we do it right.
But then it’s not only online but the offline also gives you back. Today there have been 3 national TV stations at TBEX, there are 6 newspapers here, so this goes into the newspaper and people read the newspaper and say, oh, social media is important. So it’s not like the guys from online are on the right and the guys from offline are on the left and they don’t talk to each other. No, we have to get the right mix to get the project up there.Ferran Adria, Bloggers are changing Gastronomy Photo: InsidetheTravelLab.com
If you were working with an individual blogger what would success look like in terms of their output from one of your trips?
It depends how long they come here, and what are their interests, for instance we had a blogger in gastronomy who came here and he said Jaume, if I don’t find anything interesting I won’t produce anything. I said, well come and enjoy yourself, I’m sure that you will find something, and of course he found different interesting topics and he wrote 7 posts and now he hired one of the cooks here who just cooks with flowers, Iolanda Bustos to write a column. It’s not about the quantity, it’s about the quality of the content and who is your target audience. I don’t care if you tweet 5 times a day, some of the tweets that you see are irrelevant tweets, so I am more focused on the content and the relevance, than the spontaneous and the bubbles.
Do you have a big team behind the scenes, supporting the trips, measuring the results?
We are a very small, enthusiastic team, myself and two others and then we bring in others for special events, but we do a lot of things. People say, oh, you need an external community manager, but no, we are Costa Brava, we answer all that comes here because we think that’s important, we read a lot of posts, we read a lot of blogs, we get a lot of questions, we ask bloggers about other bloggers as well, we get recommendations. It’s hard work to choose the right blogger but it’s rewarding when you choose the right one.
Do you have any advice for tourism businesses who have something to promote?
Firstly, look at what other tourist boards are doing; Visit Jordan, Valencia, Montreal are doing well, so look at them and see what they are doing. There are people behind these and you can contact me freely and contact the others and then just go ahead and do it for the audience, not for the politicians. Think about your brand, and then you will bring the right bloggers. And if you fail, fail quick and fail cheap.
Articles from the #inCostaBrava campaign
One in a Lifetime Experiences in Costa Brava – Velvet Escape
Marmite and Bananas in the world’s best restaurant – Inside the travel lab
Girona Blooms in 12 Photos – Solo Traveler
Adventure Travel: Skydiving in Costa Brava – Wild Junket
I nearly died and went to heaven – A day in Costa Brava – Budget Traveller
You can contact Jaume Marin on Twitter @JaumeMarin
Visit the Costa Brava Tourism Website
This Podcast was recorded at the TBEX Travel Bloggers Conference in Girona, September 2012
Music Credit: The Music on the Podcast was Venus as a Girl by Andy McGee on MusicAlley.com