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TThis year’s summit explored how the digital space can best be used within the tourism space, based on the assumption the majority of consumers are already engaging with tourism over the Internet. The what and why of online destination marketing is therefore no longer relevant. “Online is no longer the future of travel,” said Damian Cook, CEO of E-Tourism Frontiers. “It is the present … 64% of all travel is now researched, booked, bought and sold online.”

Of course, social media is a critical component of the digital space. “Travel is the most popular shared experience on social media,” said Cook. And through social media, guests are their experiences (which trumps product every time, according to Cook) and, more importantly, “are doing your marketing for you to people that trust them”.

Cook also emphasised the importance of images, photographs and video in promoting an experience or destination, and their power over words. It’s the emoji, he implied, that is mightier than the sword.

The digital space has created radical changes in the tourism market. We are #rethinking, #reshaping, #reinventing and #rebooting the digital space, said Cook. Precisely how we do this is ours to invent.

Places getting it right

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#eTAS15 saw a fascinating case study on digital marketing in a country that is getting it right: Iceland. “Every month since January 2011 has been a record-breaking month for Iceland tourism,” said Sveinn Bikir Bjornsson, digital manager of Inspired by Iceland.

After the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 – an event that temporarily damaged Iceland’s reputation – the Inspired by Iceland campaign was launched. Created by the government of Iceland, the City of Reykjavik, the national carrier Iceland Air and approximately 80 tourism operators, Inspired by Iceland was designed to reverse the decline in tourism and encourage people to tell their Icelandic stories through a series of targeted social media initiatives. The most recent element of this campaign, #AskGudmundur, saw interest in Iceland increase by 164%, according to a Google brand lift survey.

The Inspired by Iceland campaign has been enormously successful. Today, tourism in Iceland is the country’s largest revenue-generating industry, exceeding fishing for the first time in 2014, historically Iceland’s largest export.

Digital influencers and service providers

The panel discussion with established content creators Kate Els, Meruschka Govender, Andy Carrie and Alessio la Ruffa revealed a number of crucial issues on working with bloggers and digital influencers. In particular, they addressed the importance of employing an influencer who suits your purposes and has access to the right target markets, and that you brief them properly on your expectations.

When it comes to making money out of your tourism-related business, Ross Kata of Expedia had some insights to share with the audience. Like the bloggers and Instagrammers, and very much in line with Iceland’s strategy, Kata emphasised the importance of authentic content that is unique, adds value and is rich in visual content. Engaging with and making use of customers who are creating their own content was also encouraged.

Expedia’s blog, its weekly hosted Twitter conversation #ExpediaChat, a series of videos, as well as unusual social media partnerships (including one with the dating app Tinder) are just some of the ways in which Expedia has garnered interest in and engagement with its brand.

Booking operators Nights/Activitybridge, ResRequest and TourRadar joined Expedia in a panel discussion on the evolution of online distribution channels. Keeping up with this space, particularly in terms of online bookings and the creation of packages, was deemed essential.

The Uber experience

The private transport app Uber has revolutionised the way people travel worldwide. Alon Lits, of Uber, speaking at #eTAS15, spoke of the international perception that a world-class city can be defined as one that has Uber available.

With small beginnings in 2010, Uber has grown at an enormous rate. In 2013, Johannesburg became the 34th city to host for the app, which now caters for over 330 cities worldwide. In South Africa, the job creation element is hugely important: “Over 2 000 job opportunities have been made through Uber in the last 12 months,” said Lits. “And Uber is on track to create over 15 000 jobs over the next two years.”

The far-reaching benefits the app offers to locals and tourists alike, as well as the many functionalities available – as well as those that are continually evolving – has made Uber both hugely successful and indispensible to contemporary travel.

Day one of #eTAS15 in Tswane ended with a discussion on Airbnb, the app that has transformed international accommodation bookings in a way that Uber has changed transport. As #eTAS15 continues, there is little doubt that the intersections between tourism and the digital space will evolve and amaze.

For some insight on what went down at eTAS Cape Town, take a look at the video below.

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