Can Twitter Teach Destination Content Marketing Something?

Back in 2013, a research team from the University of Salzburg published a paper in which it analysed human mobility patterns using geo-located data gathered from Twitter. The team developed a data set of Twitter users resident in 243 of the world’s 253 territories. They subsequently homed in on the world’s most Twitter-happy nations at the time: the US with over 3.8 million users, followed by the UK, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan and Spain, all with more than 500,000 users.

The study produced insightful and complex results, perhaps the most unsurprising of which was that there was a correlation between GDP per capita and Twitter users: richer countries had more users proportional to population. But it also revealed other interesting relationships.

Of all users tweeting while outside their country of residence, Belgium, Hong Kong and Austria were the leaders proportional to population. Again, perhaps this was no real surprise given the small size of these territories and their good transport links with other countries.

Belgians —unexpected tweeters

Other findings were perhaps less expected, For example, what the study termed the “radius of gyration”, the average distance travelled by tweeters by country, showed that the more isolated the country, the further tweeters travelled. Australians and New Zealand’s tweeters were real roamers, with an average gyration of 700km. But the buck in this trend was the USA — which also has notably underpopulated expanses and isolated regions. Yet it was the least mobile of all, with the lowest gyration, behind Indonesia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and all other countries.

Americans — least mobile according to Twitter data sets

Bartosz Hawelka, who headed up this research team, has since used big data from Twitter and Flickr, records of credit card transactions abroad and other readily available geo-located data working with various teams on a range of more recent projects. These have included those that might have a clear travel industry application, for example, a study that looked at the relative attractiveness of Spanish cities to foreign visitors through the lens of big data. However, they have also included studying other human mobility patterns, such as the relative attractiveness of different countries for more long-term migration.

Some of the findings from these studies merely confirm conclusions already drawn from smaller, more local research projects or simply from observation. For example, there will be many in the travel industry who express no surprise at new evidence that Americans are the least mobile population on earth. Those who rattle off the well-known folkloric statistic about only 30% of Americans having passports or international travel operators who already know that the US has vast domestic markets for their travel products compared with coaxing them to leave the country, may all find this “old news”. Nonetheless, having it systematically confirmed by large data sets does mean something.

Similarly, even where the results are less expected or have had less attention focussed on them before, such data-based conclusions could clearly have useful applications in content strategy.

For one thing, they constitute a useful counterbalance to the more common approaches of looking to demographic-based market research when developing content strategies for destination marketing. Instead of considering just what travellers find attractive based on market research focussing on the tastes of particular demographics and a market’s culture, we could also ask where they like it.

Perhaps it’s pushing the conclusions too far, but it might prove fruitful to create destination marketing content targeting the American market that features attractions and experiences that are not too far apart, not too far from their hotels. Or, conversely, identifying restaurants, bars and activities across a far broader region where Aussies and Kiwis are concerned. Interestingly, this reflects what we already know or believe about these markets from other forms of research; that Aussies and Kiwis constitute a far higher percentage per population in markets such as independent travel, backpacking and multiple-country journeys than their American counterparts.

Whether pre-booking travel inspiration content or in-destination guides designed to enhance the guest experience, there could be benefits to strategy and content design that takes such factors into account when, for example, creating local guides for a particular destination aimed at particular markets. Do Americans respond better to city guides that focus heavily on easy-to-reach places clustered closer together? And do Kiwis really appreciate trip highs when visiting places that are fairly far apart? Is the journey actually part of their trip?

Kiwis — do they like it far apart?

If nothing else, considering the conclusions of mobility studies based on geo-located data could certainly generate interesting approaches to test with different markets and might have a point of difference from the dominant trends in destination marketing.

As the studies of Bartosz Hawelka and data scientists focussing on geo-located data sets become ever more granular, such studies could reveal all manner of specificity about travel patterns not previously possible that can be applied in destination content marketing strategies.