Generating Massive Digital Footprints…and Worthy New Narratives
By Chris Doyle, Editor, Nicole Petrak, Assistant Editor, AdventureTravelNews.com
Adventure tourism can benefit directly from the extraordinary influence that today’s celebrities bring to the world of social media, many of whom have literally millions of followers. In its foray with Hollywood in March 2012, the ATTA learned just how quickly the celebrity world spins: In less than a month, Pretty Little Liars’ young actress, Shay Mitchell’s adventure in Ireland generated 28+ million impressions. And, that’s just the first phase of the effort.
Destinations hosting film production crews is not new to tourism. It is widely believed throughout the history of film that movie locations, along with stars in them, can significantly influence travelers’ destination interests. Prime examples being Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings filmed in New Zealand, or the legendary classic, Lawrence of Arabia, filmed in Jordan and Morocco, or the more recent, Twilight Saga, filmed in Washington State. Each are believed to have profoundly influenced traveler interest in the noted destinations.
Partly due to the film industry’s known impact on tourism, the ATTA has begun to test the waters with the help of Co-Founder/CEO Richard Janes of FanologySocial.com which builds online entertainment networks for celebrities (an introduction made by long-time ATTA partner Liz Ferrin). And, Janes’ group, which focuses on celebrities who understand the value of their fans and the importance of owning their own image and voice on the Web, was the ideal first partner in this endeavor.
Its first test in the celebrity world began with Shay Mitchell who stars in the award-winning Pretty Little Liars television series, one of ABC Television’s highest rated series launches ever. In the case of Mitchell, this young star is early in her acting career and attracts viewers, mostly women, between 18-49. Combine the adventure tourism industry’s interest in appealing to younger travelers as the boomers continue to age, with the ideal scenario of a popular young person participating in healthy outdoor activities on another continent and interacting with another culture, and a potent elixir emerges.
So for the ATTA, it’s more than simply trying to attract interest to destinations through film, it’s also about how these stars come across as travelers while on holiday.
Celebrities’ popularity and influence are often measured now in terms of their “digital footprint”, including such things as the number of fans they have following any number of social media channels such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Probably even more important than the sheer numbers of followers and fans a celebrity receives, is how the celebrity is portrayed as it’s the one place in the world of media where a celebrity can have the greatest control of their image.
“For the ATTA, we see an opportunity to broaden what the viewing public sees influential celebrities doing while on holiday,” said ATTA President Shannon Stowell. “Rather than only showing images of celebrities partaking in nightlife, shopping or sun tanning, we want to attract more celebrities to truly meaningful travel where they’re shown being transformed and participating in healthy activities, visiting new cultures and experiencing extraordinary natural environments worldwide.”
So, Shay’s digital footprint is in literally in the millions. While on holiday in Ireland, where she claims family ancestry, she posted photos, blogs, video clips and more daily, all while doting fans devoured her every move. The ATTA connected Janes with Fáilte Ireland, which then reached out to ATTA Member Vagabond Adventures of Ireland, leading to the special celebrity arrangements and subsequent publicity blitz.
Questions & Answers with Rob Rankin
Rob Rankin is the Founder of Vagabond Adventures Ireland, and served as Shay’s guide on her week long adventure
This is the first time you’ve done a celebrity FAM trip – how did it go?
The trip went great, we saw a lot of Ireland, did a lot of activity and mixed it in with plenty of history, culture and scenery. And I hope we provided Shay with some topics of discussion that will pop up in interviews for years to come – especially the bog photo’s!
You had mentioned that Shay (and many of her fans) is younger than Ireland’s, and Vagabond’s, usual demographic, and that you had concerns about hosting a celebrity in terms of not knowing what their expectations or preparation for this type of adventure tourism would be. How do you think the selection of Shay impacted the FAM?
Shay was an excellent choice, she was fun, adventurous, photogenic and charming to all she met. She might not necessarily be in the target demographic for Irish tourism, but she brought a younger, contemporary and dynamic feel to the project. If a famous, cool, fashionable, well travelled person like Shay could be impressed by the scenery, food, adventure, history, culture and hospitality of Ireland, then that’s a great endorsement.
Plus the fact that she was doing the trip for the publicity and wasn’t being paid was vital. it was very obvious from first meeting the girls that they were here to enjoy Ireland but also work hard to promote the trip, Ireland, Vagabond and Shay. It was a huge relief!
What did you learn that you’d want to do differently next time?
Pre-tour, I think it would have been great to have a bit more of a lead in time would have useful allow a build up on social media and get the anticipation going. As the ATTA statistics show, 40% of a person’s enjoyment of a vacation is the anticipation and we missed out on that for this trip.
And maybe a pre-arranged meet and greet for fans might be good local PR. There was certainly plenty of interest. The girls were also saying that next time they would like to take a person who could have assisted with the preparation of material to be sent out. Especially in terms of video, which we did capture on the trip. It was a full-on experience though and the girls were busy during the day travelling and with their escapades, and so had to do their blogging, etc. in the evenings – and they worked hard at it. Maybe someone who could prepare a 90 second short each day about the day’s adventures with a view to producing a longer film at the end.
I probably should have predicted too their need for constant internet and next time I would suggest having some mobile internet ‘Dongles’ ready (I think you call them Aircards or something). Most of the overnights only had decent internet signal in the reception and lounge areas.
What’s the consumer response been like?
Feedback on the blog has been good, lots of people have mentioned it and commented positively on it as an inducement to visit Ireland. We have found it very useful to drop a mention of the trip into conversation or an email with potential customers, it lends us great credibility and also makes a good talking point. (My personal street cred also went sky high!)
And what kind of impressions have you been able to track through social media and your other sites?
As for Twitter, our followers went up from about 80 to 350 during the trip. Most were teen followers of Shay’s, but plenty were also within our target demographic. For reactions to Facebook posts: It seemed at first that reaction to posts was limited, with fewer likes than when we posted a picture taken from a ‘normal’ tour. So we were keen not to over-do the trip on Facebook. Our theory is that our relationship with our facebook page ‘likes’ is built on a mutual trust, so we try and avoid the really obvious selling posts and concentrate on stimulating conversations to build a Vagabond community, especially one where potential customers can connect directly with past ones.
A key strategic point, Rob, all the research supports that you build a far deeper reach with your fans that way.
Absolutely. However the figures below show that our reach on Facebook greatly increased during the trip and the subsequent peak was after posting a link to YouTube featuring Shay’s trip.
It seemed people looked at the posts but for some reason didn’t share them, and it has been interesting afterwards that everyone who we connect with on Facebook,seems to have known about Shay’s tour. Maybe they thought it would be uncool to ‘like’ the posts… As yet we only have a couple of video’s up on YouTube (and we have tweeted links and posted them all on Facebook).
Our web hits have not had a huge difference, but most of the focus was really on the social media channels. It wasn’t until after the tour that we added the website URL to the blog, and we did see a rise in hits then. And enquiries have certainly been strong since the trip, though none have directly mentioned Shay’s visit when enquiring.
Feedback on her blog was really positive. I think for future products it is important to know what subliminal message you want to get across. For example we tried to slip in bits about bringing the family back, to encourage the concept of Ireland as a family destination – virtually all our tours have some form of family or multi-generational group on them, often with adult kids and parents/grandparents. Mentioning the range of activities etc., but at the same time not making it sound like a sales document.
What kind of follow-up are you doing to get the most out of the experience?
Shay mentioned some print media and TV opportunities to mention her trip, and that would be fantastic to follow up the social media with some more conventional PR which might have a greater impact on the vacation decision makers.
Shay’s Trip Itinerary
Rob reflected on the trip’s itinerary – click the links below to see Shay’s blog on each day:
Day one – We have arrived!
The adventure begins as we land in Ireland and head for the west coast. Today is a mix of cycling, mussels and seaweed!
After meeting the girls at Dublin airport, and introducing them to the Vagatron, one of our Land Rover tour vehicles, we set off for the west coast of Ireland. Along the way making a rough plan for the trip and going through the options (like kayaking, surfing etc). We stopped for a photo shoot near Dublin. After which we drove across Ireland up to Westport, the girls managed to sleep the whole way across Ireland.
The first activity was the Electric Bike ride from Westport house along the Atlantic Coastline towards Croagh Patrick (Ireland’s holiest Mountain). The idea being to have a picnic when they got there. Paul, their cycling guide gave them a great introduction to the west of Ireland, telling them while they were here to ‘listen to the mountains’. I think it made a big impression.
After a fabulous bowl of Mussels we headed for the hills and Delphi Mountain resort. As we drove up into the Sheefry Mountains the sun was setting over the sea and evening light was quite breathtaking, the hillside were lit up with a golden glow – it was the perfect way to end the day and as we arrived at Delphi the girls both agreed that they were in love with Ireland!
It was a good start. (They then both had the restorative hot seaweed baths in the Spa, and came out for dinner looking very relaxed)
Day two – Canoes and mud
What a day…canoeing on the Atlantic ocean with seals before getting down and dirty in the ‘bog.’
Sea kayaking was the first activity this morning and it was a great introduction to the Atlantic Ocean. At first the girls were a bit apprehensive about the wetsuits, but they obviously looked much better in them than we did, so that was a concern overcome. We paddled out on to Killary Harbour (actually a fjord) and the highlight was definitely being surrounded by seals (and the chocolate biscuits that James, the canoe guide, had bought along). We managed to get a bit of history in too, as we glided past the remains of long deserted settlements and the potato beds which has once provided the staple diet for these remote communities.
Lunch was in Hamilton’s Bar in the village of Leenane, and offered Shay a great opportunity to meet some locals. Half the Irish army were outside the pub when we arrived, and the sight of Shay and Jody climbing out of the vehicle right in front of them made their day. Shay also met ‘Tom’, the local character (every pub has one) and she interviewed him at length about life in Leenane. Its on video and the highlight was when Shay asked Tom if he thought she looked Irish, to which he replied ‘Well, you look very nice to me…’ Until this point we weren’t sure quite how clearly Tom could focus.
Then it was on to the Turf Guy adventure Race through the bog. The pictures speak for themselves, but the girls were a great sport and took it in their stride – Even when the wetsuits were handed out, and it became apparent that this was going to get wet and dirty. Up until this point information on the what awaited the girls had been on a strictly need to know basis, and I had thought it was better that they didn’t know. Shane’s (Shane Young from Killary Adventure Company, who ran the Turf Guy) sales pitch was that it would take them back to their childhood, but neither of them could really remember jumping in the bog when they were young (I could though). Basically the course is designed to make you progressively muddier, so each step was a challenge. We started by getting our shoes dirty and by the end of the event, we were covered from head to toe in ‘bog’.
A group of Dublin School girls were at the centre playing ‘laser skirmish’ and as we ran through their battleground I asked one of the girls if she had heard of Shay Mitchell? She stared in disbelief at Shay, who she recognized instantly. Unfortunately, being a bit distracted, the schoolgirl got thoroughly strafed by the other girls playing skirmish. Soon word got out that Shay Mitchell was there and we had a to take a break from throwing ourselves into mud-holes to meet the entire group. Shay was very gracious and spent time chatting with all the girls and taking photographs.
After the turf guy we stayed at the 4 star Ballynahinch Castle Hotel for the night. Its a fantastic hotel in an amazing location in the heart of the wild and rugged Connemara landscape. And after about 3 showers, we pretty much got clean of the bog.
A nice moment during our superb dinner was when the manager came over and presented the girls with a book of poetry (some of it even rhymed) and read out his favourite, before sitting down for a chat. This was not special treatment by any means, just a great example of true Irish hospitality.
Day three – Castaways on ‘treasure Ireland’
See what happens when you strand Shay Mitchell on an island. Plus Galway city and the Burren moonscape.
We shipped the girls off to the Aran Islands today, and all went smoothly until the ferry that was due to bring them back decided it was too rough to land and cancelled their service. (They took a ferry to the islands and were then to take another ferry south to Doolin, thereby also crossing Galway bay from north to south, while I drove round to meet them at the other side).
I thought Jody was joking when she called to say the sailing was cancelled, but no! Luckily we managed to get on to the local airline, Aer Arrann, and they ‘scrambled’ a plane which went and airlifted the girls back to the mainland. So actually they got an extra adventure and some great aerial photographs. Shay was also recognized on the Islands by a group of girls, who would probably have taken her home for the night if they had got stranded.
I double backed and met them in Galway city for lunch before heading to the Burren region in County Clare. A area famous for its lunar landscape, wild flowers, caves and archeological sites. I would like to say that Shay and Jody were fascinated by my on-site account of Poulnabrone Dolmen, one of Ireland’s greatest archeological treasures, but I think their minds kept wandering back to an image of Shane Young covered in mud.
It was our first pub evening, after a night in a mountain resort and a castle, and Doolin stood up to the mark. It’s a small village famous for its high quality traditional Irish music, and after an excellent meal in McGann’s Pub the girls got their first taste of a traditional Irish music ‘sessun’ (session).
Day four – Cliffs, Shannon and surfing
From one of the natural wonders of the world to an adventure sport for which Ireland now has a global reputation. More wetsuits!
The Cliffs of Moher in the morning, not only stunning but also as featured in the Princess Bride – could it get any better?
Then south over the River Shannon, and into Kerry for an excellent, though relatively basic, lunch in the Tavern bar overlooking the sea. The food was a particular surprise to them, in a good way! They were genuinely delighted with the quality of the meals, and not just in the fancy restaurants, but even down to a delicious bowl of veg soup in a small remote pub.
Then it was photo shoot time on the beach and surfing, again the pictures tell the story, but Jamie Knox Watersports in Castlegregory did a great job. The girls managed to stand on their boards almost right away and also had a go at Paddle Boarding – the new big thing here. Overnighting in Dingle in the super-chic Castlewood Guesthouse, one of the towns many excellent new super-guesthouses. Dinner was in ‘Out of the Blue’ restaurant down by the fishing harbor, which only serves fish – it was a spectacular meal. Their favourite so far.
Day five – Horses and lambs
Horse riding on the beach and cuddling baby lambs dreams do come true! An awesome day down in Dingle and the Ring of Kerry.
Horse-riding first, along the beach. Shay looking more at home in the saddle than Jody, it has to be said. Lovely sunny day and all went smoothly, despite Shay’s allergic reaction to the horse! We then went back into Dingle for lunch, shopping and free time. The girls found themselves in one of Dingle’s 54 pubs (in a town of 2500 people) only to see a man at the bar reading the day’s copy of the ‘Irish Examiner’ (a national paper here) with Shay surfing across the front page. The pictures had been taken yesterday afternoon at the photo shoot. I had also spotted it in a supermarket and we all arrived back to the vehicle very pleased with ourselves.
After Dingle we headed for Killarney, the Killarney National Park and the Ring of Kerry, but mainly we headed towards the Kissane Sheep farm to cuddle some baby lambs. For five days there had been squeals of joy and delight from the back of the Vagatron as we passed EVERY field with baby lambs in it, so we had to go and meet some. Plus we were given a masterly display of sheep-dog handling by John (the owner of the farm) and with the sun setting over the mountains, it was fantastic.
We overnighted at the Shelburne Lodge in Kenmare, its a fantastic period house personally decorated and managed by Maura Foley, our hostess. And in fact it turned out to be their favourite overnight stop, even over the castle! Dinner was in the Wild Garlic restaurant, and again it topped the charts as their best meal.
And just when things could get any better, the evening was rounded off by the live irish music by Michael O’Brien, the only man in the world who can sex-up the accordion. Some of the locals gave the girls a lesson in irish dancing, while Jody returned the favour with a display of the chimney sweeps’ dance from Mary Poppins.
Day six – Castles, princess’s and Guinness
Off to Dublin but plenty of history, bling and rolling green fields on the way.
We had a bit of a drive home today, but an interesting stop at one of Ireland’s greatest historical sites, the Rock of Cashel, and then a picnic lunch in the sunshine up in the ruined fortress of The Rock of Dun na Mase, were a big success. Only matched by the sight of an irish Gypsy cleaning his horse in the jet wash at a service station on the way home, it is moments like that you only get in Ireland.
Finally we arrived back into Dublin under a shroud of secrecy, as Twitter was going mad with people trying to find out where we were heading. People had travelled from all over Ireland and were driving around the city looking out for a glimpse of the vehicle and Shay. No visit to Dublin would be complete without a stop at the Guinness Factory for a tour, before dropping the girls at their hotel in Dublin.
That’s just a brief account of the trip, but I hope it gives a good picture of what the girls got up to, some of the people they met, their adventure experiences, some light-hearted moments, and the hospitality they met along the way