Digital PR / Campaign inspiration

Creative travel campaigns that made quite a splash


Travel SEO, content marketing and digital PR strategies


Splashing in swimming pool on holiday


Here we’ve rounded up some of our favourite creative campaigns for brands who make us want to travel the world.

Like a 5-star resort in the Bahamas, the best marketing campaigns welcome you with cocktail-filled coconuts and promises of an experience like no other – or something like that. The travel industry aims to make you step outside your door, your phone and your comfort zone by playing on our desire to be excited and entertained. And you can’t do that without creativity. 

Join us and escape your workday for a moment as we introduce you to the travel and tourism marketing campaigns that inspire us, filling us with a sense of wonder and adventure without fearing for our marketing budgets. 

Airbnb

What they did

Airbnb is always finding new and creative ways to not just get homeowners and holidayers to click, but to become a truly beloved brand. One way has been by showcasing its most unique and iconic pop-culture related places to get fans in the door. This has involved Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse, Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania and even the last existing Blockbuster for 90s nostalgia. It’s easy to see why people would share and write about these campaigns, but the stories are relevant to what Airbnb does.

The result

The Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse was a one-time reservation for just $60 per night so it was hardly meant to be a money-maker. The campaign itself, however, got AirBnB, Mattel and Barbie in the news and links from publications like Fox News, New York Times, Ad Age, CBS, AOL, and many more.

Why it’s achievable

  • At its core, all that was needed for this was to source a property (their product) to temporarily rent, good photography, a video tour, and a vibrant themed idea to tie it all together. Yes, they teamed up with Mattel, but this isn’t what made it a success, it was the idea. 
  • It helped that Airbnb took an upcoming pop culture event that was sure to trend on social media: Barbie’s 60th anniversary and piggybacked off of that. 

What you can do

Tap into the power of nostalgia. Admittedly, Airbnb has a lot to offer strategic partners and hit a marketing goldmine with countless content possibilities to play with, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something similar. Apartment Hotel MIMARU launched a series of Pokemon-themed rooms with themed decor and a vision. 

Art Series Hotels

What they did

For one time only, Art Series Hotels invited its guests to stay the night and take place in a high stakes heist. The grand and only prize? A signed and authenticated Banksy masterpiece, No Ball Games, worth $15,000. You simply had to leave with the art without being caught. The only thing that would have made this better is if Banksy themself had stolen it back.  

The result

The heist was so successful that another Banksy was brought in for part two. Thanks to this, 1500 rooms were booked in 4 weeks, 50% over targets and this resulted in a 300% return on investment. 

Why it’s achievable

  • Treasure hunts or heists like these can be possible for any budget, although the higher value the prize is, the more participation you can expect. 

What you can do

Experiences, in general, are a great way to bring your brand to life, engage with potential customers, get talked about on social media, and earn coverage (and links) from newspapers, magazines and popular websites.

Treasure hunts, in particular, have been used time and time again from planting relevant sculptures around cities (e.g. Wallace and Gromit in Bristol and BFG dreams around London) or when Mini once gave away a car to those that could find the Mini and keep hold of it for long enough. This is all about using what’s already there, providing guides and maps of local attractions, like finding the filming locations or where something happened.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

What they did

Not everyone can be home with their friends and family for Christmas dinner, especially if you do a lot of travelling. That’s why KLM welcomed lonely travellers at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to their Bonding Buffet. There were twenty chairs around a table, with the buffet lowering every time someone took a seat meaning no one could eat until twenty complete strangers came together to enjoy a meal. 

The result

As a social experiment, it was a resounding success and took no time at all to fill the seats. The video has been seen by more than 1.75 million people, plus it surely created incredible brand loyalty for those involved. 

Why it’s achievable

  • KLM used the holiday season to be topical. There are tons of holidays and themed days throughout the year for you to use.
  • Stunts like this get noticed, particularly where there is a high volume of footfall, like an airport or shopping centre. Often, people walking by start a buzz.
  • KLM smartly focused on being alone during the holidays, which is something that everybody can easily relate to.
  • When you break the stunt down itself, technically it wouldn’t be complicated to replicate.

What you can do

Tell a compelling story at the right time. The success of this stunt is down to the idea and good editing. It’s a bit like watching a task on the 90s game show The Crystal Maze – you’ve got to watch until the end. The video is relatable, has enough mystery to hold the viewers’ attention and due to the theme fits into the news cycle that time of the year.

Oyster

What they did

Oyster made it its mission to expose “perfect” hotel marketing photos in its Photo Fakeout campaign. Everyone has experienced the expectation vs reality pitfall of booking a holiday, so Oyster visited hotels in their destinations to take real, unfiltered, unstaged photos without the flattering angles marketing photography uses to make it look amazing. They posted these images alongside each other on their website as a cautionary tale. 

The result

This campaign was a hit among travellers looking for honest reviews and, from a PR perspective, the story was picked up by the likes of HuffPost, Insider, CNN and the NY Times.

Why it’s achievable

  • Essentially, all this needed was a local photographer and to pay for an overnight stay. 

What you can do

Be honest and be bold. Oyster leaned into its own industry’s bad stigma and made it their strength. It’s a risky move, as it could be considered defamation to expose other brands in this way, but when done right ie: not doing anything illegal, this shows how this can really pay off. Controversy grabs attention when done in the right doses.

Helsinki Airport

What they did

In 2017, Chinese influencer Ryan Zhu was challenged to spend 30 days in Helsinki Airport in a wood cabin after it was named the best airport in the world. The campaign named #LIFEINHEL was part reality show, part game show and part social experiment all broadcast online each day as Zhu competed in daily challenges for rewards, all while learning about Finnish culture and showing off the airport. With an open return ticket, he could return home at any time or stay and endure the 30 days to win a trip to Lapland.

The result

#LIFEINHEL won several awards for being globally unique and innovative as a campaign. Plus, a byproduct was that any feedback from Zhu’s experience was useful in making their comfort and services as an airport even better. 

Why it’s achievable

  • YouTubers make challenge-based content like this all the time and it’s a tried-and-true form of entertainment. Anyone can create it on any budget.
  • Realistically, all it needs is streaming equipment: a camera, microphone, a streaming platform and the right software.

What you can do

Showcase the experience you offer. Customers want to know what they’re getting. Carefully angled images (as Oyster demonstrated) are not enough anymore, so get creative and use different mediums like live streams – which is a format that will likely only increase in popularity. Alternatively, find a relevant influencer. YouTubers for example are always looking for interesting content ideas.

Ottawa Tourism

What they did

In 2018, to prove Ottawa is anything but vanilla (or bland), Ottawa Tourism worked with Rethink Canada to open its free Not Vanilla ice-cream pop-up in popular Toronto. The ice cream had a simple 360 box exterior, but with a vibrant interior, logo and shop design. Inside were a choice of five tasty flavours including ByWard ByNight, a smoked caramel and bitters flavour inspired by ByWard Market. The idea was to give people a taste of the capital’s exciting experiences.

The result

The pop-up was popular with passersby and foodies alike, getting Ottawa the right kind of attention. 

Why it’s achievable

  • Everyone loves free food, especially foodies, and thankfully it’s a highly accessible marketing tactic. Whatever your budget, anyone can cook or bake something delicious to market your brand, even if it’s a simple bake sale.
  • If a tourism department can use free food as a marketing tactic, anyone can, whatever the industry, it simply depends on how you put your own creative spin on it. 

What you can do

Think about what you can offer the public to improve brand awareness. Food is a universally loved option and even more popular if it’s sweet and colourful. Consider what your budget allows for and start from there. Tate & Lyle also understood the power of sweet treats when they transformed a SoHo space into an edible, sweet-covered high-end hotel.

Graubünden Tourism

What they did

In the heart of Zurich Station, a mountaineer from Graubünden spoke directly to passersby through a live billboard and invited them to come and join him in the mountains with a free train ticket. He offered to speak to bosses and teachers, arrange daycare and more for those who wanted to take him up on his offer. The campaign was designed to tackle the stress levels of city-dwellers as research suggested a day trip to the countryside could have a positive impact on that stress. 

The result

30 people were encouraged to make the trip to Graubünden, while at least 20,000 people in Zurich Station saw the campaign live, not to mention it received plenty of media coverage. 

Why it’s achievable

  • The effectiveness of this campaign comes from it being heartwarming and personalised to each individual. Being friendly is something absolutely anyone can do.
  • There are now plenty of ways to talk to your customers virtually, face-to-face – you don’t have to be able to afford a live billboard. A well-placed tablet could do the same.

What you can do

Get personal with your customers. Interactivity is great, but it’s made even better with real human interaction (virtual or not). A friendly face goes a long way, especially if you’re trying to get someone to leave their comfort zone and experience what you offer. SNCF captured this too with its amazing Europe. It’s Just Next Door campaign connecting cities across Europe.

Virgin Holidays

What they did

Virgin Holidays teamed up with celebrity hypnotist, Paul McKenna, to offer hypnosis sessions in Bluewater Shopping Centre, Kent to help people with their January blues as part of their #FlauntIt campaign. Those interested in the uplifting experience were hypnotised for 20 minutes in purpose-built hypno-pods. Once awake, they had the unbeatable feeling of having been on a relaxing two-week holiday – without the holiday blues.

The result

Virgin received plenty of coverage in both mainstream and trade press, reaching lots of holiday-starved readers (and writers). 

Why it’s achievable

  • It’s a very simple idea that really only needed a hypnotist. Sure, Virgin could afford a celebrity hypnotist, but if you have a creative idea, you’ll always be able to find professionals to help you. 
  • Setting up a stand or booth in a shopping centre is a great way to reach a large audience. Large brands like Sky do it all the time, so why shouldn’t you?

What you can do

Time your campaigns perfectly with your business’s cycle. Virgin’s success came from its timing: targeting holiday blues in January, which is prime booking time for holidays. For the travel industry, January will always be a good option, but take a look at your own data and insights to see when your sales are at their highest and create campaigns around that.

Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau

What they did

Working with Edelman, Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau created six bespoke residences across Hawaii’s six islands specifically designed for workers from New York’s top six professional industries to relocate to. The idea was to encourage city workers to take a break and try remote working somewhere incredible. The successful applicants were followed to Hawaii where their experiences were captured for inspiring ads.

The result

There were thousands of applications to work from Hawaii and the campaign encouraged over 61,000 first-time visitors to make the trip. From a coverage perspective, they earned more than 50 million media impressions across 300 media organisations. 

Why it’s achievable

  • The campaign is essentially a competition where the prize is a more pleasant work day experience. This is completely scalable, even without having villas available. You just have to work out what this means for you. 
  • With competitions, you only have to offer a small amount of people a prize. Ideal for those on smaller budgets. 

What you can do

Understand exactly who you’re targeting. To get applicants, Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau targeted advertising across LinkedIn, WeTransfer, WeWork spaces and popular commuter locations as they knew exactly who and where their audience was. They knew that workaholics wouldn’t necessarily want to take time off, but could be persuaded to work from Hawaii. Hilton’s Vacationitis campaign had a similar theme and target audience.

Air Canada

What they did

Air Canada hosted its own poutine pop-up restaurant in London’s Spitalfields Market to celebrate Canada’s national dish. Londoners could enjoy gourmet poutine (chips, gravy and melted cheese curd), with each dish inspired by the airline’s destinations. People could also experience being on board an Air Canada flight through virtual reality (VR) and win flights to over 200 destinations.

The result

In the first year, the pop-up sold 2,133 meals and reached 47 million people. The proceeds also raised money for Great Ormond Street Children’s Charity. It was so successful that they did it the next year in London and again in Boston, Washington and Tokyo.

Why it’s achievable

  • As we said before, food sells. The younger generations are full of foodies looking to experience flavours across the world – perfect for travel brands to take advantage of.
  • Having a good central location and strong social media presence is also something that anyone can do, but really contributes to the success of these campaigns.

What you can do

Celebrate the culture or cultures you represent. If you’re a travel brand, this is your bread and butter. Air Canada is proud of its national dish and wanted to share it with the world, giving a taste of culture to those who are looking for it. And, as a bonus, if you can donate to a local charity, you’ll be sharing goodwill around the world. 

DoubleTree by Hilton

What they did

As part of their Little Things Project, DoubleTree by Hilton took to social media to ask nearly 5,000 travellers what little things would make a difference to their stay. They received requests like free WiFi, exclusive deals, charging points and, of course, free chocolate chip cookies. From here, DoubleTree created Swarm Cars to deliver real-time “little things” requests that were requested on Twitter. 

The result

The Little Things campaign encouraged almost 9,000 new Hilton Honors memberships, 7,000 more Twitter followers, 24,500 more fans on Facebook and more than 650,000 entries into their sweepstake.

Why it’s achievable

  • This is a very simple campaign concept. It uses social media which is free and accessible to everyone and then had deliveries of chocolate chip cookies made to its hotels to giveaway.

What you can do

Ask your customers what they want. If you can action just a few of them it can make a difference with the right publicity and media presence behind you. Of course, there will be outlandish requests (which make for fun stories/content), but at least you show that as a brand, you actually listen. 

Tourism Queensland

What they did

Tourism Queensland opened applications for ‘The Best Job in the World’ as caretaker of Hamilton Island in Queensland, home of the Great Barrier Reef. The job application was advertised in newspapers around the world. To apply, applicants had to submit a one-minute video and then 16 finalists were flown to the Great Barrier Reef for an interview before Ben Southall, a charity worker from Northampton was chosen and rewarded with £73,000. 

The result

The job posting received 34,000 applicants across 200 countries. At the time, back in 2009, the campaign generated 46,000 mainstream media stories, 230,000 mentions in blogs and vlogs, and a BBC documentary.

Why it’s achievable

  • While not everyone has the Great Barrier Reef as an incentive, this is still a relatively simple campaign – an enticing job application and a reward larger than the average annual salary. 
  • This was done over a decade ago and is still one of the greatest link building campaigns, but technology and PR have come a long way since then, making campaigns like this easier than ever.

What you can do

Give your customers something more than just a holiday. Like Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau’s Work From Hawaii campaign, people are looking for life-changing experiences, not just a quick holiday. What else can you offer people? Even if it’s just a single person, thrill-seekers, adventurers and travellers alike are typically very vocal online and can generate a lot of buzz.

HotelTonight

What they did

HotelTonight ditched the traditional family togetherness theme typically associated with Christmas ads and added relatable humour in its Visit, Don’t Stay campaign. It plays on the irritating aspects of staying with your family that you probably want to avoid – something every family has. The ads and social media posts were lighthearted and funny, rather than being too anti-family, but promising a room if you need it anyway.

The result

HotelTonight saw a 30% increase in mobile room bookings over the holiday season as well as receiving plenty of media coverage.

Why it’s achievable

  • This is an example of how a super creative, engaging idea is all that’s really necessary for a campaign. Anyone can come up with relatable experiences to joke about – that’s why they’re relatable. 

What you can do

Create and solve a problem all at once. The relatable humour of this campaign is simply a lighthearted way to remind you of an all-too-real problem you’ll soon be facing: family time. But, in an instant, HotelTonight provides a quick and simple solution to book with them. Satisfy your customers by making them feel like they’ve just solved a problem – everyone loves to be productive.

STA Travel

What they did

Now-closed student travel agency, STA Travel created a three-part cinematic video campaign for TV and online that became a viral sensation. The three short firms, Move, Eat and Learn follow a man’s journey through 11 countries, collecting over a terabyte of incredible footage of what you could experience including an exploding volcano. The ‘Move’ video is the most successful and compelling, switching between destinations in the blink of an eye.

The result

‘Move’ has just under 3 million views on YouTube and was shared across tons of publications around the world. It was even the number 1 trending topic on Reddit briefly.

Why it’s achievable

  • It follows the classic travel model of inspiring plus educational but adds its own stylistic choices. With the right concept, creativity and videography skills, this is more than doable for many (minus the travel costs). 

What you can do

Give a unique insight into your destination(s). Anyone can make a travel vlog or capture beautiful panoramic views, but it’s all about going a little further than that. Have a think about what concepts haven’t been done before. Another great example of this concept done well is VisitNorway’s #SheepWithAView campaign, and so is Tourism Australia’s movie-like Dundee Superbowl Ad from 2018 starring Chris Hemsworth.

Inspired yet? It’s time to let your marketing teams spread their wings and travel the world (wide web) in search of coverage, links, shares, subscribers and customers.


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