Travel

Mother City all a-Twitter

Mariette du Toit-Helmbold

Cape Town has launched tourism into the twittersphere. Tourism chief executive Mariette du Toit-Helmbold talks social networking and #LoveCapeTown.

Firm favourite: The market in front of Cape Town city hall. (Matt Long)

Like a wave, social ­connection is not something that can be controlled, but when harnessed, its power is breathtaking. Cape Town Tourism recently hosted four international digital travel Twits and bloggers as part of the iAmbassador campaign, which seeks ways to seed content and ideas across digital platforms and social media.

The results were astonishing, if hard to define, with a lack of commonly accepted return-on-investment measuring tools in this communication space, but it was clear that the powerful authenticity that was driving it was the people.

As with most media trips, the bloggers were hosted by the City, but were left to form their own opinions and write their own reviews. The big difference was that we connected these influential people to the people of Cape Town through the power of social media.

At the end of July, we chose the hashtag #LoveCapeTown and invited Twitter users to help us to crowd-source the itinerary before the bloggers arrived for their week in the city. The hashtag may have been our creation, but it was embraced and owned by the citizens and fans of Cape Town and topics such as where to eat breakfast, have the best cup of coffee, watch sunsets and the weather shot across the twittersphere.

By August 11 2012, #LoveCapeTown had generated 37 053 224 Twitter impressions, according to Tweetreach, which translates as the number of times a tweet was made with #LoveCapeTown, inclusive of retweets and direct tweets.

Twitter was only one aspect of the social-media effect. Blog posts, Facebook mentions and Instagram were all employed in the name of  #LoveCapeTown. Today, the hashtag #LoveCapeTown has become a go-to tag for all things cool about Cape Town.

A snapshot of the impact of social media on the hospitality industry produced by the Four Pillars Hotel Group in the United Kingdom found that 92% of consumers trusted earned media such as word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family above ­traditional advertising. Consider the fact that the Google search phrase hotels in…(whichever city) has lost 70% in search volume in the past six years, to be replaced in popularity by testimonial sites such as Tripadvisor and Expedia, and we are faced with a whole new way in which consumers are choosing and planning their vacations. More astonishing still is that the Four Pillars study found that, of those who used social media to research their holiday, only 48% kept to their original plans.

Armed with Smart Phones and iPads, today’s travellers are ­“digital nomads”, exploring the world beyond the swish of safe glossy travel magazines. The advent of Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Four Square and more means anyone is a publisher, a critic and can be influential. The story has become the unique selling point, not the place, nor the tourist attractions. And what a fascinating story we have to tell the world. It is not a story of a picture-perfect past and it is not a city without serious social issues, nor is it a story of a typical African city. It is far more interesting. It is a story of a city as rich and colourful as its people. It is a story that must be shared with the world — warts and all.

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