Guest Post: Innovative social techniques to counter negative perceptions

Guest Post: Innovative social techniques to counter negative perceptions

By Laura Jennings, head of strategy and client service at Headstream Content Marketing Agency

It’s no secret that in the last couple of years the Arab Spring, terrorist attacks both near and far from home, cities on lock-down and the sight of soldiers and heavily armed police on patrol in familiar places have had a huge impact on the tourism industry.

The first two countries to lose their leaders and most greatly impacted, Tunisia and Egypt, were also the top two tourist destinations in North Africa and indeed the Arab world, offering warm sun in the midst of a dull British weather and countless opportunities for tourists to whet their classical antiquity appetites around every corner.

Then there’s the Middle East, with Syria and Iraq now being complete no-go zones. Their neighbour, Jordan, has taken a massive hit in visitor numbers, with as much as a 10% decline being reported year-on-year (Aug 14 – Aug 15).

In the context of its geography, Jordan is a very stable country. Protests against King Abdullah disappeared as quickly as they came about, the low risk of terrorism is comparable to some European countries, and the population is for the most part happy. Yet despite all this, visitor numbers continue on a downward spiral.

Changing Perceptions of Jordan

The Jordanian Tourism Board (JTB) are keen to make clear that this is a place where history is measured in millennia, not months and years, and are making every effort to document and share their story. How? With the help of influencers and Instagram.

It’s likely that the JTB realised their next set of potential visitors and income – the Millennials – are easily influenced by mainstream media.

The risk was that the Millennials’ perception of Jordan would have been either:

a) ‘I definitely don’t want to visit the country next to Syria/Iraq’ or
b) ‘It’s unsafe and the risk of terrorism is too high’.

Yet the lack of exposure and awareness of the reality was, in fact, the opportunity.

In October of 2015, the JTB gathered a group of Instagrammers with a collective follower base of over 6,000,000 and brought them to Jordan. Each had the “Millennial” appeal, with a strong ‘people’ element in photography, long-form copy giving a personal and ‘real’ insight into their lifestyle, and of course, creative vision.

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With an itinerary designed to showcase Jordan’s most photogenic side, the influencers shared shots from the iconic Petra through to diving into the Red Sea. From antiquities through to candid shots of locals, the Instagram content unfurled the myth of Jordan being in the same basket as its neighbours.

Their work effectively highlighted what makes Jordan so unique; the history, the landscape and of course, the people. Each told their own tale of what Jordan meant to them, adding a personal layer to a country which was previously so easy to feel detached from.

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Running parallel to the Instagram programme, the influencer campaign #ShareYourJordan was a user-led initiative with a grand prize of an all-expenses paid trip to Jordan. The entry mechanic was simple: tell us why you want to visit Jordan.

Whilst not innovative, by the campaign end there were over 60,000 individuals who’d spoken positively about the country. Advocacy is everything.

Measuring the campaign’s real success aside from astounding top-line social statistics is simply a matter of time. Have they done enough to convince the next generation of travellers to visit? We think so.

Brussels: A city not on Lockdown

Following a sharp decline in Brussels tourism after the terror threats, by as much as 52% from November to December 2015, Visit Brussels the regional tourism board approved a €500,000 campaign in an effort boost the local economy.

The task? Overturn the misconceptions of Brussels as being unsafe.

The campaign idea was brilliant: international callers could dial-in from a multitude of personal devices and speak to locals on a number of booths planted around the city. Locals would then defend Brussels as a safe city to potential visitors and rubbish any notion of the city being unsafe.

Telephones were installed for five days in three Brussels’ neighbourhoods including Molenbeek, the now-infamous area where several of the Paris attackers lived.

Anyone that dialled-in could watch the goings-on live around/near the phone booths and actually see the individual they were talking with.

In actual execution, the campaign ran the risk of being stale. In the social world, interactions such as “is it safe?”, “yes” would not resonate with a demanding audience. So, luckily for Visit Brussels, what actually happened was countless incidents of engaging, humorous and emotional conversation.

The success lay in real stories from real Belgians, each defending their city in their own unique way. It was unscripted and no directions were given. Brussels is a bustling, thriving city and who better to demonstrate that than the people who live there?

While there’s no assessment yet of the campaign’s impact on tourism, it was seen as a brilliant success in terms of awareness, with over 12,000,000 cumulative video views on Facebook. As with Jordan, only time will tell in the long-term.

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