The Stuff Dreams Are Made of: Does Your Marketing Plan Include Making Movies?

24 May 2016

People who work in the adventure travel industry often get caught up in the tail end of the purchase chain: the point of sale, customer satisfaction, maintaining loyalty, etc. Sometimes it’s refreshing to go back to the beginning of the process -- the inspiration phase -- and just dream about places and experiences. The Adventure Travel Trade Association developed our Adventure in Motion film contest with that in mind. The tour operators and destinations that we work with are producing hundreds of short inspirational films every year; they’re some of the best storytellers we know!


Last year we hosted the Adventure in Motion contest on Adventure.Travel and over 70,000 travelers cast their vote on the site for their favorite film. The winner was a tour operator, Icelandic Mountain Guides, whose film “Alpine Ski Touring in East Greenland – Remote Peaks of Greenland” made viewers want to pack their bags and go backcountry skiing in a place many people probably thought of as a big flat icy island up until then.

We wanted to recognize the organizations in our community who are doing a good job teaching new audiences about new places and new experiences and creating a spark in travelers that can’t be extinguished until they’ve actually gone on that trip. With that in mind the staff of the ATTA watched the film submissions as well and chose a another film for “ATTA Staff Pick”, “River of Eden” from O.A.R.S. Rafting.

For Adventure in Motion the ATTA is looking for films that tell a story and aren’t just a sales tool;  they should inspire emotion and memory. That said, behind every good Adventure in Motion submission there is a marketing team who knows how to get a traveler from the dream phase to the actual point of sale. We asked the marketing masterminds behind last year’s two winning films about their strategy for using film and storytelling in their marketing plans. We wanted to pull back the curtain a little because  “We want the industry to learn from others who do it well,” which is what ATTA’s VP of Marketing and Communications Casey Hanisko said last year about Adventure in Motion. Here’s our interview with Ella Grødem, the Greenland Brand Manager for Icelandic Mountain Guides, and Steve Markle, Director of Sales and Marketing at O.A.R.S. Rafting.

ATTA: How do you decide what is a good story to tell through film?

Grødem: In general we are looking to address why people are traveling, whether it is to escape from their busy daily life, spend quality time with friends or family or to pursue a specific passion or interest. We try to identify which needs people are searching to fulfill when they choose a specific adventure and we try to relate these needs when we create a video. For the Ski Touring in East Greenland video, we knew our audience would be interested in remoteness, fresh deep powder snow, ski gear and the mountain huts, but we tried to focus on the whole journey not just the skiing, so we also captured the excitement and reactions before, during and after the trip.

Markle: It has to be an issue people can connect with emotionally and one that aligns with our brand ethos. Good characters and some sort of conflict also tend to be essential components of a good story.

"Good characters and some sort of conflict also tend to be essential components of a good story.”

ATTA: How do you find people to partner with when you want to make a film?

Grødem: We try to find partners with common interests and goals. We want to work with people who think like us but also complement the knowledge, ideas and resources that we have.

Markle: We seek out people who are easygoing and comfortable shooting outdoors for days or weeks at a time. Strong people skills are a must and knack for storytelling are clearly important as well, but it also helps to work with someone who has a strong network when it comes time to releasing your film. A little extra boost on social media can go a long way.

ATTA: Can you talk about any specific results to your business from films you’ve produced/released?

Grødem: We’ve seen an increase in sales numbers after launching a few videos last year. There are of course other factors than the videos that influence sales, so we don’t know exactly how much those results can be directly linked to the videos, but in general our content production is building and supporting our overall brand/image, which is very important in adventure tourism.

Markle: Short films, video, articles, etc. are how we communicate our brand story. Through these short films we’re able to reach hundreds of thousands of adventure-minded travelers online and at film festivals around the world and capture their undivided attention for five to twenty minutes! And as much as I love that, and I know we’re able to “sell” some people on traveling with O.A.R.S., the real win comes from engaging people with a conservation story and inspiring them to take some kind of action.

ATTA: Where does filmmaking/storytelling rank in your marketing strategy?

Grødem: Filmmaking and storytelling is playing a bigger and bigger role in our marketing strategy. We’re putting more effort into creating the right story for our audiences now, both in video and in photo production. It takes a lot of time and resources to do that and we just recently increased manpower solely to focus on content/storytelling, but we think it is worth the effort and want to give our visual content strategy higher priority.

Markle: Overall, we spend about 10% of our marketing budget on videos, plus a bit more to promote that content and submit to film festivals. In the end, we still rely on the web, SEM & direct mail to drive the bulk of our business.

ATTA: Why do you think your film won in last year’s Adventure in Motion contest? What is compelling about it for travelers?

Grødem: From the feedback we have gotten, we seem to have succeeded in evoking the emotions we were hoping for. Of course the destination/location (Greenland) is an easy place to work with! It is unique it’s remote, it's pure, it's powerful and absolutely beautiful, so you get to bring back stunning and appealing footage, appealing not just for skiers, but for a wider audience. We had a great mix of nature and skiing shots and were able to put it together with a story about the people experiencing it and added to that the cultural aspect of an exotic destination that is still fairly unknown and unexplored. This combination seemed to at least part of the reason we got so many votes.

"We had a great mix of nature and skiing shots and were able to put it together with a story about the people experiencing it and added to that the cultural aspect of an exotic destination that is still fairly unknown and unexplored. This combination seemed to at least part of the reason we got so many votes."

Markle: “River of Eden” is a tourism success story and a model that communities around the world could potentially replicate. That’s not to say that there aren’t new threats on the horizon, but I think the idea of engaging youth as future stakeholders is an important one and our best hope for protecting places like this in perpetuity.

ATTA: Are you working on any films right now that you can talk about?

Grødem: We are editing of some new videos at the moment and will also do some filming in the autumn for a few more videos for new tours that will be launched later this year.

Markle: Martin’s Boat is our latest film, also by Pete McBride [the filmmaker behind “River of Eden”]. The film honors the late conservationist Martin Litton in an effort to raise awareness for some of the ongoing threats to the Grand Canyon. It’s been on the film festival circuit since January, but we’re excited to release the full-length film online at next week after Telluride Mountainfilm.

Adventure In Motion 2016 Contest

The Adventure Travel Trade Association is proud to announce the third year of the Adventure in Motion short film storytelling competition. Tourism organizations and businesses with short films created in the last year can submit their entry beginning on July 1, 2016. Voting will begin on August 1, 2016. The top three videos during the online contest will be shown at the Adventure Travel World Summit in Anchorage, Alaska, in September. Look for additional details, including prizes, when the contest opens for submissions on July 1.