travelWho ever thought an airline-safety video could be fun? Air New Zealand did. ANZ employed the ever-bedazzled Richard Simmons to deliver the familiar preflight lesson of how to don your oxygen mask (or “take a breather!” as he says). And the disco-rich video wasn’t just for flyers: it has had almost 2.6 million YouTube views since its March 2011 launch—try getting that kind of virality from your basic seat-belt-fastening snoozer.

This was just one of the winners of the Travel + Leisure Social Media in Travel + Tourism Awards, or the SMITTYs. These winning travel companies are the ones to fan and follow right now: their social media programs are entertaining and informative—and some offer great deals and discounts.

Social media, after all, has become an essential part of the way we travel—with everything from trip planning to photo sharing. The SMITTYs came about when we saw travel companies doing some pretty cool things in the social media space, and we wanted to recognize their efforts. So we asked airlines, tourism boards, car-rental companies, tour operators, cruise lines, and others to give us their best efforts from 2011.

We had no idea what we’d get.

What we got was hundreds of submissions from all kinds of global travel companies that created really innovative programs on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, and other platforms.

So the judging was no easy process, which is why we turned it over to an independent panel of social media experts: Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel, J. Crowley of Foursquare, Sree Sreenivasan of Columbia University Journalism School, consultant Peter Shankman, Clara Shih of Hearsay Social, and speaker/consultant Porter Gale.

And what did they like? Sometimes they awarded out-of-the-box thinking. For example, would you ever turn your Twitter feed over to a stranger? Probably not. But that’s what VisitSweden did. The tourism board gave its @sweden Twitter account to regular citizens for a week at a time, to showcase real local voices and true local flavor.

Other winners brought the personalized nature of social media to life. The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples asked Facebook fans how they like their coffee. If you answered, then stayed with them, your coffee would arrive perfectly sugared—without having to ask.

Some companies, like Vail Resorts, won for breaking the mold of traditional practices. For years, pro photographers would take your picture on the mountaintop and then charge you about half a year’s salary for the print. Vail offered up a small version of that photo for free to post on Facebook and Twitter (to show your friends what an awesome time you’re having there, of course), though the large prints still cost an arm and a leg.

Sometimes the message was just as important as the medium. Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica used its Facebook presence—and social media influencers—to get the word out about its environmental and philanthropic programs. The effort helped raise $140,000 in donations.

And deals? You bet. Fairmont Hotels, for one, offered social media–exclusive prices as low as $89—pretty amazing for a luxury hotel.

We’re sure the SMITTY Awards of 2012 will be even more envelope-pushing and will utilize even more social media platforms (after all, there seems to be a new one every week). In the meantime, check out this year’s winners.

When it comes to the trust factor who can you count on? Not every internet marketer is willing to trust in anyone to do their internet marketing but themselves.

Travel Abroad

travel abroadThe air hangs heavy with a perfume of orchids and mango, curry and teakwood as the sun beats down. You go deep into the maze till you’re lost amid stalls of carved Buddhas, weavings, and ancient temple bells. Welcome to Bangkok’s Chatuchak, the world’s largest market.

Bazaars like Chatuchak turn shopping into a cultural exchange, knitting you into local rhythms, customs, and traditions like few other travel experiences can. The best give you an entrée into day-to-day life, allowing you to interact with sellers and to come away with souvenirs that truly tell a story.

“When you are traveling and shopping the local markets, the ‘edit’ or mix of goods isn’t designed for you—it’s for the locals—so you run a much better chance of finding something you’ve never seen or even thought of before,” says Wendy Wurtzburger, Anthropologie’s chief merchandising officer.

It’s the vibe of bazaars as much as what you buy there that inspires Wurtzburger and the buyers at Anthropologie. “The color, the mix of textures, and the sheer volume of stuff make the experience. You can’t take that home,” she says. But you can find items that evoke that feeling. For Wurtzburger that might mean a 1960s suzani (embroidered textile) found in Istanbul or a vintage oil painting from Paris.

Les Puces’ Le Marché Serpette in Paris is among the most famous, well-established bazaars and has retained its cool over more than 200 years. In Buenos Aires, too, the San Telmo flea market has been a Sunday tradition since 1897. You can review the day’s purchases—perhaps a leather saddlebag or vintage glassware—over a bottle of Malbec at one of the outdoor cafés as dancers tango through the street.

Even as these bazaars remain favorites, design hounds the world over are increasingly getting inspiration from the next generation of cool bazaars like the Brooklyn Flea and London’s Brixton Village Market. They create a space for artisans to sell their goods and a sense of community for like-minded locals and tourists who can pour over the latest that each city has to offer.

Travel Locally

travel locallyWith such a fantastically diverse world out there just waiting to be explored, it's not surprising that more and more people today are choosing to travel. What is surprising perhaps is that the benefits of traveling with local, independent companies have not yet been highlighted to a greater degree. When you have the chance to replace your generic, mass produced holiday with a more unique, personal experience and simultaneously support the very area and community that inspired you to book your trip... It seems worth shouting about!

Whether it's an active holiday we are looking for or a cultural tour, we all want to get the very most out of our trip. By traveling with local and independent operators we instantly put ourselves in contact with the experts of the area. These are the people who have spent their lives discovering the aspects of a region that may not even feature in the guidebooks! So who better to help us get to the heart of a place and really find out how it ticks!?

When I am on holiday yes, I absolutely want to know about the monumental landmarks of an area. I would however also be thrilled to learn about the restaurant on the corner loved by the locals for its spicy fish soup, the best spot to watch the sunrise in the mornings, or the hiking routes that lead to breath taking views usually only seen in calendars. This is the type of knowledge that I truly value in a guide and this is the type of knowledge that comes only from local insight.

It's clear that traveling locally can really make a difference to our holiday experience, but we are not the only ones who can benefit from our choice to go local. By making an active choice to travel with local businesses we are directly supporting local people and their business development. A great deal of the money generated by tourism never actually reaches local communities. Traveling locally gives our money the best chance of reaching the people who really deserve it - the people living in the area who make the place what it is.

The positive impacts of our local travel can stem further than simple economic gains though. When we visit a community-run surf school or stay in a locally owned Nepali tearoom, we are expressing our appreciation and recognition of what they stand for. In a market where more and more hotels across the world are beginning to look identical, places offering unique and traditional character are becoming harder to find. By choosing to stay at an independently run accommodation we are saying that we don't want every hotel to look the same, we want to be able to find the charm and personality that comes hand in hand with an independent business.

Consumer demands are what shape tourism development. For this reason making the choice to travel local is vital to ensuring that local people have the support to successfully run their fantastically designed individual enterprises. Communicating our admiration for things such as their natural environment or traditional modes of transport creates a powerful incentive for local people to continue protecting their local environment and retain their cultural character within their business models.

Another reason why choosing to travel local is such a great idea is that it increases the opportunities we have to interact with local people. This allows for an exchange of knowledge from both sides. When we take a holiday with a larger company that is not local to the area, chances are we will remain much more of an outsider looking in, rather than really getting to know the area and its people. Loosing this personal level of communication on the one hand prevents us from gaining a fuller understanding of what life here is really like and on the flip side also restricts what these people can learn about our lives and homelands. This to me seems very much like a missed opportunity!

So next time you are looking to book a trip, whether that's an active holiday, cultural expedition, luxury travel, or whatever it is that gets your excited, take the opportunity try local travel... You won't be disappointed!





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