How to Do Tourism Social Media Marketing During Difficult Times

“Every Single Guest Who Posts #saalbach Content Becomes a Little Brand Ambassador.”

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The photo shows a modern grey building with lots of windows. On one side, a large banner advertises the hashtag #WorldCupSaalbach.

Saalbach Hinterglemm, a well-known ski resort in the Salzburg mountains, has been using on event screens and as an embedded website social feed for almost six years. That’s plenty of time to collect valuable experience in using social walls — and a good chance for us to check in to see how they’re getting along and learn something about tourism social media marketing.

Live event wall during Ski World Cup

Back in 2015, Saalbach’s Tourism Service Center first set up a social wall for the Ski World Cup event using the hashtag #WorldCupSaalbach. The social wall was embedded on the World Cup website. Fans, athletes and officials were encouraged to use the hashtag when posting their impressions of the event on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

A screenshot of the Saalbach Ski World Cup social wall from 2015.
The social media wall in 2015.

Saalbach also communicated the hashtag via their social media channels, on business cards distributed to local hotels, posters at lift stations etc. The social wall was also shown on interactive screens and the LED wall during the World Cup evening event.

The photo shows a modern grey building with lots of windows. On one side, a large banner advertises the hashtag #WorldCupSaalbach.
Saalbach promoted the #WorldCupSaalbach hashtag on banners.

Times change, and so do social feeds

Six years is a long time for things to change, especially with a global pandemic having seriously hampered the tourism industry in almost every country worldwide. So we wanted to check back in with Digital Media Manager Paul Kubalek to see what has changed in the way Saalbach uses social walls.

The way Saalbach uses social media walls has pivoted away from event walls and towards website embeds. I think it provides some interesting insights into how social walls use waxes and wanes over the years and shows how not all use cases work the same way for every customer. But keep reading to find out what I’m talking about.

Paul Kubalek

Paul Kubalek

Digital Media Manager, Tourist Board Saalbach Hinterglemm

You’ve now been using and social walls for more than five years. What have you learned? How has your use changed?

Initially, we started with a wall for the #worldcupsaalbach hashtag campaign for the Ski World Cup races in February 2015. As a result of that successful campaign, we installed more social walls, including one main wall for our brand hashtags #saalbach and #HomeOfLässig and five additional walls for larger events.

A crowd of spectators is watching a skier cross the finish line.
20.000 spectators came to witness the Ski World Cup in Saalbach Hinterglemm in the Salzburg mountains in 2015. Photo: Daniel Roos

Now, six years later, only the main wall remains. What happened? Over the years, and particularly during events, we learnt that the effort we would need to expend to promote new walls was much higher than expected. After 2-3 years, we decided to focus on the main social wall that is embedded on our website.

We’re still showing the wall on two screens in our lobby, but, of course, far fewer people come in here during the pandemic.

What are your main benefits from using social walls in your marketing? What do you use them for?

The main benefit for us is that our guests see first-hand authentic content of other guests “who could be them” on our website. This multiplies our marketing messages and “underlines” them. We promote great holiday experiences, and once users scroll down on the website, they see people enjoying them “live”. Every single guest who posts #saalbach content on Instagram & Co becomes a little brand ambassador.

The social wall embedded on the English-language version of the website.
The #saalbach social wall is embedded on the website.

How do you get them to adopt your hashtag?

As #saalbach is our village’s/destination’s name, there is no particular need to promote it. It works (188k tags on Instagram) because it also stands for the location, and fresh content comes in all the time.

What surprises me more is that our claim hashtag #homeoflässig is performing so well (70k tags on Instagram) even though we only promote it by using it in our social posts and campaigns. People took it over and now use it on a regular basis.

How has the global COVID pandemic impacted your work and social media marketing?

Social media is still essential, as it gives us the chance to stay in touch with those who can’t reach us under the current circumstances. A travel destination gets more tags and content on social media when guests can be there. Saalbach Hinterglemm has nearly 20,000 guest beds. During a good winter, we see more than 1,5 million overnight stays. This dropped to almost zero this season. Of course, there is no up-to-date content from guests, as there are no guests here.

Instagram post by @saalbach_com showing a video of someone skiing the near-empty pistes in Saalbach. The caption reads: Austria in January 2021: Almost empty pistes, untouched powder snow and unfortunately only very few people who can enjoy all this live. ⛷ At least virtually the whole world can be there 😉 #saalbach #homeoflässig #winter #pow #snow #mountains #austria
Source: Instagram

But as the lifts are in operation, we see lots of posts from locals who have the opportunity to ski at present. We also see many throwback posts of recent guests who share their memories, hoping to return soon.

Instagram post by @justusw showing a video of someone skiing down an empty piste. The caption reads: Empty slopes and perfect conditions in #Leogang a few days ago. Privileged to be still able to ski during the pandemic. Hopefully next winter everyone is able to enjoy the slopes again. #purejoy #weareskiing #skifahrnisdesleiwandste #saalfeldenleogang #homeoflässig @saalfelden_leogang @skicircus 🎥: @mauritzjohann
Source: Instagram

What role will social media play during the upcoming World Cup where you won’t have a live audience?

Due to the current circumstances, the upcoming World Cup races in Saalbach will take place without a live audience and under the framework of a strict safety concept. A huge benefit of World Cup races is the considerable amount of great impressions spread out to the world via television and (social) media.

We will cover the races on our social media channels in a similar way that we did recently. Even though producing content will be challenging due to strict regulations this time. As a result of entrance restrictions, defined zones and separated “bubbles”, I won’t be able to move around between all the different areas as I usually do.

We’re heading into an extraordinary event where images we typically show (cheering spectators, waving flags, people having fun, etc.) will be missing. However, it’s a perfect opportunity to define our strategy and draw lessons for the Ski World Championships that will take place in Saalbach in 2025.

Crowd of spectators waiting and watching during a skiing event.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Ski World Cup will take place entirely without the crowds that a ski event like that usually draws. Photo: Daniel Roos

Watch the World Cup from home and win

Saalbach has also recently launched a social media contest to accompany the 2021 Ski World Cup. As Paul mentioned, fans can’t watch the World Cup live, but they can watch it from home via various broadcasts.

Tying into that, Saalbach asks fans to share how they’re watching the races live using the #WorldCupSaalbach hashtag on Instagram. A few lucky participants of the “World Cup Saalbach @ Home” contest stand to win a skiing holiday or shopping vouchers in the prize draw.

Instagram post by saalbach_com promoting the #WorldCupSaalbach @home contest. The image shows someone’s POV of their naked legs and feet propped up on a low table in front of a TV showing a skier crouched in a jump. The person is using their phone to take a photo of their hairy legs and feet with the TV in the background. Overlaid are the words Watch, Post & Win a Ski Holiday.
Show us how you watch the #worldcupsaalbach races "live" and win!
1️⃣ Watch the World Cup races on TV or online and have fun! Check for TV channels and times.2️⃣ Take a photo or video of yourself being there "virtually live"! There are (almost) no limits to your creativity.3️⃣ Post the photo or video publicly on Instagram and tag it with #worldcupsaalbach!
Source: Instagram

A contest like this is a great way to keep people interacting with your tourism brand, even while tourists are not allowed to come to your destination. The prizes provide an incentive for people to come up with creative posts. Simultaneously, the contest provides you with user-generated content you can share on your own channels. If you click through to the Instagram post, you’ll see that Saalbach declares in the contest rules that they reshare select posts in their Instagram Stories. This is great content for them and a nice little reward for the users who created the posts that are featured. A great idea for your tourism social media marketing strategy.

There’s more than one right way to use a social wall

I’ll be honest with you: no marketing department is going to be super happy reading the words “we stopped using your product in this or that way.” 😉 But the thing is, not every single customer will use your product the exact way you envision. Not all use cases work for everyone, and marketers just have to accept and embrace this.

Using a physical social wall during live events didn’t work for Saalbach, presumably because someone watching a ski race won’t want to take their eyes off the race.

During conferences and similar events, people interact with their surroundings and devices differently. There are breaks and lulls between talks allowing attendees to explore the space and come across a social wall on a big screen that they want to interact with. A ski race is literally one person racing after the other. There’s no time to interact with a publicly displayed social feed, even if people are still posting on social media and using the hashtag.

Established hashtags are a UGC win

The important part is that Saalbach managed to establish their main hashtag, which is easy for visitors to remember as it is literally the village’s name. Furthermore, their second hashtag, based on their slogan “Home of Lässig”, has also made its way into many social media posts.

Both hashtags bring in plenty of posts from visitors (in “normal” times), as well as posts by locals who are still using the lifts and pistes during lockdown if they can. This creates a wealth of fresh user-generated content that keeps enriching the website.

It’s also content that Saalbach can use in their marketing efforts down the line, for example, when tourism spots are allowed to open again. It shows that tourism social media marketing doesn’t necessarily have to halt during a pandemic. You can still collect valuable content that you can use later on once everything is up and running again.

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