While travel writers and Instagram influencers feverishly embrace Snapchat for its compelling visuals and real-time storytelling capabilities, destinations have been much slower to warm up to this popular social app. Why is that?

During roundtable discussions at a recent Travel Media Association of Canada event, many industry members shared their challenges and questions around the app, including Snapchat’s automatic content deletion, millennial-only demographic and lack of analytics.

But use of the app is growing exponentially. According to Snapchat, more than 60% of 13- to 34-year-old U.S. smartphone users participate on Snapchat, raking in more than 10 billion video views every day. The app encourages sharing real-time, authentic, live stories in a more compelling way than any other social platform right now, and as such, presents new opportunities for destination marketers to engage with a younger demographic. So what does this look like in practice for a destination and its operators?

How one major tourism operator succeeds with Snapchat

Whistler Blackcomb (Snapchat: whistlerblckcmb) is the number one-rated ski resort in North America. It also happens to be considered an early pioneer of the app, and began Snapchat a year ago, “begrudgingly at first,” says Nina Arnold, Whistler Blackcomb’s Digital Brand Strategist.

“We started exploring by doing a couple of snaps (Snapchat updates) here and there, but realized that it really is best used in the storytelling format. Once we got our heads wrapped around that, it became a much more interesting platform. So much more than just emoticons and poor-quality photos. We finally figured out how it could benefit us, and now we just can’t say enough about it.”

That some of Whistler Blackcomb’s key influencers and athletes were actively using Snapchat really cemented its value as a live storytelling platform. The WB marketing team was hooked.

“We realized that the story they were telling – about putting their boots on, getting on the gondola, getting some fresh turns, having lunch – that whole story? We couldn’t replicate that anywhere else in Facebook or Twitter, so we thought, well this [Snapchat] is what we should really plug into.”

Being in the moment

In addition to being able to share real-time content, Whistler Blackcomb realized that Snapchat allows people to showcase a multitude of authentic experiences. “You start to realize the whole platform is about that one-on-one communication, and what people are doing in the exact moment,” Arnold continues. “There’s no Photoshop. There are no photos from yesterday from that fantastic photographer.

“[Snapchat] becomes the platform we’ve always wanted to pair with our other social channels, because none of them really support telling the full story the way this one does.”

Time commitment

One challenge from a marketing is perspective is that (for now), Snapchat stories cannot be pre-scheduled. All content must be captured and published live from a smartphone. While this ensures a story’s authenticity, using it does require a physical body on the ground to capture and post in real-time. How do Whistler Blackcomb manage this? Members of its marketing team share these tasks, along with an intern.

And while the snapping occurs in real time, the stories are well-planned. Whistler Blackcomb begins each week with detailed storyboards to map out photos, videos, and the narrative, including where it will position any emoticons. These pre-production measures help keep everyone focused and efficient, while also producing high-quality content.

Barriers to use

Sadly, Snapchat does not yet offer robust measurement tools in the same way that Facebook and Twitter do, which makes collecting data a more onerous task. Arnold says that “the only thing we don’t have are analytics at this point, other than a very helpful intern who takes diligent Excel spreadsheet notes. That’s the only barrier right now. I think we’re lucky that we have an intern – smaller companies might not have the bandwidth.”

Whistler Blackcomb Snapchat

A screenshot from a recent Whistler Blackcomb Snapchat Story

Leveraging Snapchat stories beyond the 24-hour limit

Bandwidth is indeed an issue when one of the biggest concerns for companies using Snapchat is that the content they share only lasts 24 hours before disappearing. How does Whistler Blackcomb get around this?

“For the most part, when we put together a choreographed story, we will download that [content off Snapchat], save it to our phone, email it to our personal computer, and we save those [videos and photos], and then tweet those out through Twitter. We upload the [Snapchat] video and say ‘watch more on our Snapchat.’ So we’re leveraging that content to go further.”

Arnold says that informing your visitors that you’re on Snapchat also helps. “We find it’s like Periscope – you’ve got to get people to the platform.” She says that even though the content is short-lived, it still helps create a “sense of urgency” that keeps potential visitors engaged.

Snapchat as customer service

Whistler Blackcomb also learned that Snapchat could be used as an extension of their guest relations. Visitors have used Snapchat to directly communicate with them, sharing feedback, photos, and videos. “We’re diligent about [responding to questions on Snapchat],” says Arnold, “because that’s potentially another guest that we didn’t have before.”

Expanding beyond the millennial demographic

Despite this, some still dismiss Snapchat as an app for youth, who have less buying power than older visitors. However, Arnold believes Snapchat’s appeal could expand beyond millennials. “I think the age group is broadening and for the most part, that demographic – our potential guest – they’re a sophisticated traveller. They’re smart. They don’t want to be marketed to.”

Advice for marketers new to Snapchat

If your organization is considering Snapchat Arnold advises that the “best part is to discover what the playful side of your brand is, what that personality looks like. Are you okay with this? Is this a good representation of your brand? Maybe it’s not for everybody. And because there aren’t analytics yet, it might not be the right fit. My best suggestion, which I have across all social channels, is: get your username. Play around with it. Experiment. And then sit on it if you’re not ready. And once you’re ready and you have the manpower, go for it full force. But I think it’s best to just get started, get your handle so it matches all your other handles, and start experimenting.”

Key takeaways for destination marketing organizations

In addition to presenting opportunities for destination marketers to engage with and provide real-time storytelling to a younger demographic, destinations can also use Snapchat to deliver customer service and foster one-on-one relationships with their current and future visitors. As more tourism operators prompt social sharing through Snapchat, DMOs need to be aware that more of their visitors’ stories are moving onto this platform.

Ready to implement for the first time? Here’s how you can begin:

  • Download the app to your smartphone and claim your Snapchat handle.
  • Begin by watching how others use Snapchat. To do that, you must manually follow Snapchatters. Here a few suggestions:
    • Getting Stamped Travel Blog (Snapchat: gettingstamped)
    • LiveShareTravel: Sarah & Terry (Snapchat: livesharetravel)
    • National Geographic Travel (Snapchat: natgeotravel)
    • Krista Simmons (Snapchat: krista_simmons)
    • Adventurous Kate (Snapchat: adventurouskate)
    • Mark Wiens – Food & Travel (Snapchat: migrationology)
    • …and Whistler Blackcomb (Snapchat: whistlerblckcmb)
  • Experiment with “snapping” by taking photos and videos from your destination, and uploading them to “My Story”.
  • Publicize that you’re on Snapchat. Share your Snapcode and your Snapchat handle on your e-newsletter, on email signatures, internally and across social channels. Regularly remind people about your content.

Related reading: Your content manager is your DMO’s most important hire

Featured image credit: Megan Taylor


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