Haven’t all of us, at one point, had to write that elementary school essay: What did you do on summer vacation? Well, for many travel advisors, summer 2020 has been more like an extension of everyone’s “COVID sabbatical” – anything but a vacation.
Most agents have scrambled to keep their businesses afloat, cutting expenses, trying to scrounge up extra cash, and deal with an incessant series of cancellations and re-bookings. They’ve also spent the last six months contacting clients to check in on them and remind them that their trusted Travel Advisor is there when they want to travel again.
Those looking towards a brighter future tried to remain visible by working on their email marketing, website, and social media – including hosting destination and supplier webinars for prospects and clients. But very few are likely to have worked as hard as Loulu Lima, owner of Book Here, Give Here Travel in Austin, Texas.
Loulu has produced approximately 80 Facebook Live events, starting during the earliest days of the COVID pandemic. (Her goal is to double that number by the end of the year.)
She started the project after taking her early hits on client trips to Asia in late January, when the Coronavirus was impacting the region.
“The writing was on the wall,” Loulu told me in a recent telephone call (look for a YouTube video interview soon at Travel Business Mastermind). By March, as most of the industry was heading into its initial mourning phase, Loulu had already grieved her lost bookings. “I thought, well the next thing to do is create content. If I can’t travel, create it.”
She decided she would tap into nearly 25 years of building travel industry relationships, and start a Facebook live interview series. Watching videos and seeing social memes with the tag line “Dream Now, Travel Later,” Loulu thought that would be the perfect name for the series.
So, she booked a lifetime subscription with the Facebook Live App BeLive for $129, and “started texting [industry colleagues] I knew. I was sending messages to Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections. I told them what I wanted to do, and just asked, ‘are you on board?’”
Slow Going at First
She reached out to dozens of tourism boards, DMCs and suppliers. Initially, “I was getting a lot of pushback,” Loulu said, because everyone was scrambling, repatriating clients, dealing with flight cancellations, border closures, COVID news, etc.
She decided to do the show Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, at 2 p.m. Central Daylight Time. The format was simple. Loulu interviewed her colleague about vacation opportunities in their destination, at their resort, etc. Every week, she had a steady flow of new interview opportunities, though she admits she had to work hard for them.
But as COVID news and its impact started to calm down in April, tourism boards started to pick up their interest and work with her. Her emails, LinkedIn messages, and text messages came back quicker with agreements to appear on her program. In six months, Loulu has taken her followers to about 45 countries, often twice or more with different suppliers.
So many suppliers and destinations jumped on board that eventually Loulu needed to add Mondays and Fridays to her Facebook Live schedule. Some days, she had to add an 11 a.m. slot to keep up with the interest from her supplier and destination contacts. She’s even had a few days where she has produced up to four interviews.
Now Loulu is so busy booking interview subjects and publishing live videos, she needed to put in some systems for inviting and tracking the production process. She also has hired a video editor to “clean up” her videos, including a custom intro and outro, the Book Here, Give Here branding, and an illustrated avatar of Loulu herself.
To expand engagement and reach, Loulu replays the interviews in a private Facebook traveler group and also shares the videos to her LinkedIn 6,200 followers.
So why am I talking about Loulu? First, think about your clients and prospects and what questions they might have for a trip. Under pre-COVID circumstances, they’re confused about their options, from which destinations will fulfill their travel wishes to wondering whether specific hotels or resorts are the right choice for them, and their budget.
Add in the complications introduced by the Coronavirus, and you can understand why travelers have never been more interested in a reliable source, someone who can narrow down their options to a solid short list that will offer a safe and affordable getaway – and 24/7 service in case something goes awry.
Video can help those prospects find you and, if you catch their fancy, spend some time getting to know, possibly like, and hopefully trust you.
The algorithms of the major social media platforms are more inclined to promote you to total strangers (i.e. sales prospects) if the things you produce for them are video based. Sorry. It’s just a fact, and I have the data to prove it.
On Travel Unites Us, a Facebook page I run with my partner and travel podcaster Aaron Schlein, we’ve hosted more than 50 Facebook Live interviews. On average those videos are seen by twice as many Facebook users as the second-best performing post types – text with a photo. They earn six times the impressions of a shared video originally posted by another source, and nearly seven times the impressions of a status update (a post with text only).
When it comes to the holy grail – engagement – Travel Unites Us videos produce four times as many comments as a photo post, and twice as many if we simply link to a post or content from another source.
Loulu has seen similar results with Book Here, Give Here. First off, the number of people liking her page shot up 14% during the period March 1 – August 25, 2020. During the same period last year, her page likes only increased 5%.
As a result of more people liking her page, she has more people seeing her posts overall. Year-over-year for the March 1 – August 25 period, the agency’s total reach (views by unique Facebook users) from simple link posts are up 14%, while photo post reach is up 65%. (Loulu barely posted videos prior to this year, so I didn’t analyze that data.)
“And now the people who are liking my stuff are engaged,” Loulu said. Indeed. Comments are up 100% on Book Here, Give Here’s photo posts, and 67% on link posts.
Some other stats. Loulu’s most popular day of the week for a Facebook Live video has been Tuesday, which had double the total reach (unique Facebook users) of Mondays and Fridays, 41% percent more reach than Thursdays, and performed 16% better than Wednesdays.
In terms of most popular content, using data showing number of viewers watching a video for at least 60 seconds, her top Facebook Live interview by far was an interview from Peru, followed by FB Lives with Antigua, Barbuda, and Ireland. (Lima did no advance promotion of her events.)
These successes can help Loulu in a number of ways.
- She’s raising her overall visibility with potential prospects who were never even aware of her before. They could one day become warm sales leads.
- She’s conditioning Facebook’s algorithm to expand organic distribution of all of her content.
- She can market directly to these Facebook users in the future through paid targeted ads.
Loulu plans to load the recorded and edited versions of these videos up on her YouTube page, and reposting the content on her social media with calls to action to contact her. She also plans to load 59-second snippets of the videos in Instagram posts and is considering building IGTV channels too.
So, what advice does Loulu have for others looking to launch a Facebook Live series?
- There will be glitches. Find a platform that works for you and have a backup.
- You’re the expert in your field. Own it. When your audience realizes that, you tend to end up with better conversations.
- Start off with what you know. It will be easier to ask questions and overcome any initial unease you may have interviewing travel colleagues live, while juggling the stress of managing the technology. Then move on to destination and supplier interview subjects you’re interested in. After you’ve covered those, move to what you think your consumers want. This progression will allow you grow your confidence and your audience.
Richard D’Ambrosio is a master storyteller who, for more than 30 years, has helped leading brands like American Express, Virgin Atlantic Airways, the Family Travel Association (FTA), and Thomas Cook Travel tell their stories to their customers, the media, and employees. A professional business coach and content marketing consultant with his own firm, Travel Business Mastermind, Richard most recently has worked with The Travel Institute, Flight Centre USA and a variety of host agencies and tour companies, helping entrepreneurs refine their brands and sharpen their sales and marketing skills. Richard writes regularly about retail travel agencies, social media & marketing, and business management.