This Is How you Design a Digital Communication Strategy for a Tourist Destination

The Comtur 2.0 project, in which professors from the Malaga, Vigo and Surrey (UK) campuses of the Universidad Rovira i Virgili participated, between 2013 and 2016 focused on studying the use and influence of social media and “communication 2.0” in making tourism-related decisions and in the brand image of destinations. Some quite useful applications for Spanish tourist destinations, right at a time when social media and “communication 2.0” are becoming indispensable tools in communicating and branding tourist destinations.

The primary objective of this project was to analyze the use of social media as a communication tool employed by tourist destinations and also how tourists themselves utilize social media in their search for information, in order to understand how it influences travellers’ decision making and brand image creation for destinations.  Proposing practical recommendations useful for all Spanish tourist destinations on the use of social media proved to be quite a challenge.

The methodology applied in the said project is based on the study of the tourist destinations’ strategic planning involving social media, its effect on user shared content and the user opinions. For the first part, the strategic planning, interviews of communication executives responsible for the main tourist destinations in Spain were conducted and a survey was carried out of digital communication managers in these 36 sites designated for tourism.

Most acknowledged having a strategic plan and social media guidelines, affirming at the same time that this agenda is one of the themes shared in official accounts, with which they intend to increase the number of followers, moreso than improving individual engagement and active listening with tourists and potential tourists.

Next, more than two thousand messages and images were analyzed in the main social networks pertaining to these 36 destinations -Facebook pages, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr accounts- to assess tourist attractions, the emotions they generated and the impact destination-related content had on users. In this sense, a methodological technique of content analysis, with both quantitative and qualitative aspects, was applied. The main conclusion in this section: there’s still plenty of room for improvement in terms of generating conversation, utilizing a robust combination of different formats and setting the right tone in the digital communication promoting tourist destinations.

Finally, a survey was carried out with 800 people who traveled during 2016 in order to understand the information they seek and through what digital media, as well as the credibility they give to these channels; a discussion group was also convened to delve into more specific aspects of the survey.

Among the results worth highlighting in this part, it is striking that travelers give the most credibility to TripAdvisor, official Facebook accounts of destinations, travel blogs, official blogs of destinations and friends in social media, from which they fundamentally seek guidance on accommodation, excursions, leisure and tourist attractions before deciding to make a trip.

Finally, it is worth noting that approximately half of the respondents have shared negative messages about a trip they’ve made; signs that destinations are supposed to learn from to renew their strategies. Sometimes these messages get deleted, when they are deemed offensive.

What will be the next steps? Wha’s next? Bots, AI, big data? These changes require the tourism industry invest in these lines of research, as the benefits that they offer are already worthwhile.

Francisco Javier Paniagua 
Professor of Communication at the University of Malaga

Digital Communication, Essential to a Company’s Strategy

Bárbara Yuste, Director of Digital Communication, explains why digital communication is important,  its contributions and its instruments. Digital communication is not just an option today, but rather a necessity for any company. It is and must be an essential aspect in any communication strategy that seeks to grow in the digital environment. An environment, by the way, which is in constant change and in which new and better tools appear every day with which companies can connect with their audiences.

Digital communication is important for companies for two main reasons:

  • It is the best channel to maintain a constant flow of information and therefore allows us to obtain much needed feedback from both external and internal audiences
  • It is the ideal platform to connect with our audiences and transmit our messages to audiences that we would not otherwise reach.

Find Me a Foe and I’ll Win

If there have been two outrageous episodes of the fake news being spread by robots through social networks managed by communication consultancies, they are the Cambridge Analytica and Birnbaum & Finkelstein incidents. Of the first one, almost everything is known. That Facebook “sold” to Cambridge Analytica – for academic purposes -, detailed information of 50 million of its users without their permission and violating their own terms and policies of use, is now public knowledge.

“Through an application designed to as a questionnaire about the personality and political interests of its respondents and their friends, we built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their hibernating demons,” recalls Christopher Wylie, the former Cambridge employee who unveiled the scandal.

Donald Trump contracted in 2016 more than 6.2 million dollars worth of these services of this consultancy, aiming to spreading millions of personalized messages with false information about his opponents (Obama, Hillary Clinton …) among an audience willing and receptive to such messaging. Cambridge knew their predisposition to receive personalized stimuli based on their emotional state and political leaning. Nobody doubts that this campaign was decisive for the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. But little is known about the demonization of the financier Georges Soros orchestrated around the world by the tandem Birnbaum & Finkelstein, commissioned by the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban.

According to Hannes Grassegger in Buzzfeednews, the team of the famous investor and philanthropist of Hungarian origin was caught by surprise by a flood of fake news, all negative, referring to him and his professional activities. A perverse character, drug dealer, extremist, Nazi conspirator, Jew, who helped the collapse of the Soviet Union to fill Europe with Islamist refugees. A wave of insults for supporting the Democratic Party of the United States and criticizing the Brexit of the United Kingdom. You just have to look on social media to see for yourself the avalanche of insults thrown at him in various languages languages, including Spanish.

George Eli Birnbaum and Arthur Finkelstein, Jews like Soros himself, worked secretly since 2008 for Viktor Orban’s campaign. Their electoral victory showed them the success of their strategy.

Finkelstein, now deceased, had developed a method that became a practical guide for modern populism. Its premise is based on the fact that each election is decided before it starts. “The majority of voters know who they will vote for, what they support and what they oppose. It is very difficult to convince them otherwise. It’s much easier to demoralize people than to motivate them. And the best way to win is to demoralize your opponent’s supporters. ” That is what Trump did to great effect against Hillary Clinton, and what he really meant when, after the election, he thanked American blacks for not going out to vote.

We don’t have to go very far to confirm that the method has expanded. Voters are motivated by simple questions and consultants polarize with fear about these simple issues. “And whoever doesn’t attack first, will be the victim, the defeated,” to the point that exaggerations or flat-out lies about the opponent is fair game to destroy your opponent. His advice to client candidates would be to not talk about themselves, but focus their campaign on destroying their opponents. Flood the discourse through social networks and other platforms with streams of false or suspicious news of the opponent to defeat and destroy.

Always identify an enemy; if it isn’t Soros for embodying liberalism or dangerous foreign capital, it will be the fear of the Islamization of Europe by refugees, of immigrants stealing jobs, of the gender violence law that crushes men, of agreements with the separatists that are tearing Spain apart …

Inmaculada G. Mardones
Editor of Geotermia Online. Formerly Section Leader at EL PAÍS and Communications Director of the Ministry of Development