There are nice vacations, and then there are life-altering trips that you can’t resist because they activate your greatest passions. This story is about the latter.
This is also a story about marketing dollars well spent. In 2018, a group of destination marketers and professional kiteboarders joined forces to give a specific group of people the precise reason they need to travel to Bermuda, earning incredible levels of social media engagement along the way.
Destination Think developed a campaign for Bermuda Tourism Authority to show kiteboarders from the northeastern U.S. that, during the mainland’s cold winter months, Bermuda has the perfect wind and weather for kiting.
The campaign focused specifically on kiteboarding passions through targeted advertising and partnership with professional and truly influential kiteboarders. It achieved incredible saturation in the target market, for very cost-effective investment in content marketing. For example:
- Within a target market of 390,000 kiteboarders in Boston and New York City, the campaign generated 358,000 social media engagements.
- By comparison, Bermuda welcomed 203,697 leisure air arrivals in 2018 and 35,801 leisure air arrivals during the winter months (December 2017 – March 2018).
As a result, the campaign made passionate kiteboarders aware of Bermuda’s ideal conditions in numbers significant enough to increase the potential for winter tourism.
Here’s how it happened.
Bermuda (“Bermy,” also known as “de Rock,” in local lingo) is known for its world-class beaches, stunning pink sand, clear blue waters and island culture with strong ties to its British, African and Caribbean heritage. Located in the North Atlantic, it’s much closer to the U.S. than the Caribbean, so it’s an ideal and nearby escape from major cities of the East Coast – less than 2 hours from New York City. Here, summer is the high tourism season.
Visitation to Bermuda is lower in the winter. Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA), the national destination marketing organization (DMO), sought to change that.
This challenge revealed a new opportunity. Ocean breezes, clear waters, and pink sands are part of Bermuda’s DNA – factors that also make it an appealing place to kiteboard. More specifically, December to May is ideal kiteboarding season in Bermuda, which overlaps with the slower tourism months. When temperatures drop below freezing in New York and Boston, Bermuda kiteboarding conditions are sublime, making it an ideal escape from ice and frigid winter temperatures.
Destination Think developed a seasonal niche campaign to help increase demand for winter travel to Bermuda.
The campaign strategy had three pillars.
- Increase awareness of ideal kiteboarding conditions in Bermuda: Crucially, our definition of “awareness” was extremely specific. While kiteboarders may have been aware of Bermuda as a destination, we hypothesized that many were unaware of what they were missing out on. For example, the fact that Bermuda is a short flight from NYC or Boston, making it a potential weekend trip; or that the conditions there are excellent during frosty winters. Kiteboarding is a niche interest and a clear reason to travel, and it presented an opportunity to drive tourism to Bermuda in the winter months.
- Focus on the passionate kiteboarding community: Our budget was spent only on marketing activities and ad delivery that would allow us to send specific, highly motivating messages to precisely the right people. For example, we published dark posts on Facebook that were only visible to people interested in kiteboarding.
- Partner with reputable, influential kiteboarders and connect with the local community: Who better to tell the story than professional, award-winning kiteboarders? These athletes are a stronger influence on kiteboarder behaviour than brands, so Destination Think worked with four of them to develop compelling content for people who love the sport. This helped validate the Bermudian kiteboarding experience and started to build Bermuda’s reputation as a kiteboarding destination.
Why choose kiteboarding as a niche target audience?
Destination marketing succeeds when the right people hear the right stories at the right time. When marketers learn precisely what makes potential visitors passionate, it becomes easier to motivate them to travel. Distance, money and available time matter less when people can live their specific passion on a holiday.
Kiteboarders are no exception. Our passionography research showed that they are:
- affluent, with an average household income above $95,000;
- on average, 30 years old;
- avid social media users;
- prone to FOMO when they see others out kiting; and
- well represented in New York City and Boston, key markets for Bermuda, with potential market size of 390,000 people. By comparison, Bermuda receives 281,000 air arrivals annually, which reveals the opportunity to have an impact on visitation.
The kiteboarding community is well connected. Word of mouth spreads quickly, thanks in part to the professional female kiters who are leaders among their peers. A combination of great conditions in Bermuda, inspiring online content, and influential kiteboarders would prove to be powerful.
Destination Think planned and executed the kiteboarding campaign in three phases.
Phase 1: Pre-season anticipation
At the outset, Bermuda lacked visual kiteboarding assets, so the campaign created awareness and consideration for Bermuda’s kiteboarding experiences by finding the best pre-existing user-generated content (UGC) to share through BTA’s social media channels.
The messaging in this phase would begin to help the community understand when the perfect conditions for kiteboarding are, using Facebook and Instagram to deliver ads specifically to keen kiters in Boston and New York City. The four professional kiteboarders would also announce their intent to visit Bermuda and reasons for going. They and their sponsors would offer information and a soft invitation to visit.
Phase 2: Season kick-off with four high-profile kiteboarders in Bermuda
During this phase, the goal was to create remarkable and extremely credible content. To do this, Destination Think collaborated with these four professional, world-travelling athletes:
- Laurel Eastman is a well-respected kiteboarding veteran who operates the Laurel Eastman Kiteboarding School, in Cabarete, Dominican Republic.
- Melissa Gil is a World Champion and currently holds the Outright US Women’s Speed Sailing Record. She has her own swimwear line and is an influential force in the community through social media.
- Sensi Graves is an active kiteboarding competitor. She owns a swimwear line and has a strong social media presence with ties to the kiting community.
- Therese Taabbel is the Danish female kiteboarding champion and is sponsored by Red Bull, bringing international influence.
While we were confident in Bermuda’s kiteboarding product, these phenomenal athletes validated the experience and provided their expertise according to what kiteboarders find most appealing.
Throughout their time in Bermuda, Destination Think’s agency team also gathered feedback and testimonials from the four women for use in video content.
Of course, there’s more to a great kiteboarding vacation than kiteboarding. No matter where you go kiting, winds are unpredictable, so a successful trip needs to be flexible. Though this trip focused on kiteboarding, the travellers focused their non-windy times on other Bermudian activities. These included local cuisine, outdoor excursions like the Bermuda Railway Trail, the infamous Crystal Caves and impressive landmarks like the town of St. George’s, a UNESCO heritage site.
The trip generated a robust collection of kiteboarding image and video assets. The assets were distributed to the four kiteboarders and their sponsors, to kiteboarding media outlets and to Destination Think’s team, who would use many visuals to create stand-out social media content.
The campaign spread offline to niche publications when The Kiteboarder Magazine published a feature using the new images, creating even more authentic stories told by experts, completely focused on the kiteboarding audience.
Phase 3: Promote social media content to the right audience
This content included material created from the newly established image asset library, a 60-second hero video and three shorter videos featuring kiteboarder testimonials. Messaging emphasized that the season was well underway and that kiteboarders shouldn’t miss the opportunity.
Kiteboarding campaign earns unprecedented engagement
This campaign connected with an enormous percentage of Bermuda’s target market, as shown by engagement data, an important measure of success.
Positive results began early on. The first phase of targeted social media ads using UGC showed that the kiteboarding audience would respond well, even before producing original content. This was a strong confirmation that would validate tactics used during phase three.
Social media posts and ads created during phase three used the new media assets from the kiteboarding trip. The engagement numbers were unbelievable:
- Instagram ads: 28% average engagement rate
- Facebook ads: 91% average engagement rate
In other words, during phase three, the number of Facebook engagements (124,125) almost matched the total number of kiteboarders reached on Facebook (136,771), a stunning success.
Equally exciting, this project showed an overall engagement rate of 38.7%.
Buried within that engagement are many anecdotal stories that show kiteboarders eager to visit Bermuda. People tagged their friends and started planning trips, increasing the urgency for travel.
With a new asset library, an engaged target market, and a rising kiteboarding reputation, BTA is riding the momentum that will help Bermuda connect with the right visitors.
If even a small fraction of those who engaged decide to visit, winter visitation in Bermuda would increase dramatically. BTA has been able to cost-effectively increase demand by tapping into the power of niche marketing and the passion of communities and people who truly desire the incredible experiences Bermuda offers.
Related reading: Go niche or your visitors will go home
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Hi David, well done on the campaign. Just wondering how you settled on New York City and Boston having a potential kiteboarder market size of 390,000 people? Global estimates are anywhere between only 500,000 and 1.5M so that’s one very concentrated kiting community.
Hi Rob, great question. We found a potential market size of 390,000 based on the segment of people in those geographic areas who have expressed interest in kiteboarding on social media. That niche audience was well-focused but also large enough to make a real difference for Bermuda. People in that group responded with sky-high engagement because we tailored the content to the specific interests of kiteboarders. Many people shared the stories within their own community too, which brought us added organic reach and engagement.
That is a great example of a niche campaign! Are the fees for professional kite boarders more friendly than instagram celebrities. The whole concept seems really impactful and engaging. But is it also more budget friendly? (Especially when it comes to engaging these kite pros)
Either way Great job!