EyeforTravel Amsterdam

November 2018, Amsterdam

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How happy customers are revving the Busabout engine

A hop-on-hop-off bus company is effectively using AI to aggregate and curate user-generated content to drive cost efficiencies and brand engagement

Busabout, one of the many brands under The Travel Corporation’s (TTC) umbrella, has spent the past 18 months in a strategic rejig to put its users at the heart of its brand strategy.

So, instead of paying to create content about the Busabout experience, the firm has shifted to a user-generated model. The goal, explains Busabout Managing Director Duncan Robertson, was to find a way to talk about the brand in a more transparent and authentic way.

“Using the content of already engaged users seemed a no-brainer,” he says, adding that the aim was to reinvest all Busabout’s digital assets and grow the operation between 2016 and 2020.

Busabout’s move reflects the wider strategy of parent company TTC to harness user-generated content (UGC). Says Dan Christian, TTC’s chief digital officer and regular EyeforTravel speaker: “We recognised a few years ago that UGC was going to be essential for the relevance of our brands and future bookings. We wanted to get our customers active and sharing to highlight the amazing experience they were having, and we wanted to showcase this on our brand websites for maximum impact.”

We recognised a few years ago that UGC was going to be essential for the relevance of our brands and future bookings

Dan Christian, Chief Digital Officer, TTC

It was at this point that TTC decided to look for a software solutions partner and five years ago settled on Sydney-based Stackla. Today, the Stackla AI-powered enterprise UGC platform is being used across all of TTC’s brands including Trafalgar, Red Carnation Hotels, Contiki, Insight Vacations, Busabout and more. However, according to Christian, Busabout has been a “stand out best-in-class” example for TTC, and sets an example to the wider travel industry.

So what exactly has Busabout achieved since deciding to become a brand with 100% UGC? To date:

  • 95% of images used on brand dot.com are user generated
  • 99% of visuals in the recent travel brochure were taken by real customers
  • 120,000+ photos make up their interactive UGC map
  • Tour page views are up by 72%
  • Time spent on page is up 40%
  • Direct bookings in the UK have increased by 33%
  • Content costs have fallen by 65%

Clearly, Busabout’s users, most typically women in their mid-20s that are looking for the security of a guided bus tour with flexibility to change their itinerary, are keen to share. But, as Robertson stresses, it goes without saying that brands must have a product and service worth sharing.

Busabout used a net promoter score (NPS) management tool to gauge the loyalty of its customers but Robertson understood that users were unlikely to care about ratings. “We couldn’t just approach the marketing with messaging like ‘this trip has scored 98%’. We realised that we needed to find an achievable strategy that allowed us to show authentic traveller experiences about a very unique way to travel,” he says.

The journey begins

Busabout’s “big content discovery” came about when the firm engaged Stackla to do a basic search for images tagged with #busabout. This revealed that customers had already shared more than expected - some 20,000 images on mainly Instagram and Facebook, as well as a few long-form videos on YouTube.

Since then, it has been using the AI-driven platform in two main ways: to aggregate and curate content at a hyper granular level. Using visual recognition, the platform scans every digital asset, including images and videos, and then applies different labels to it. It can also detect themes that include emotions, sentiment, and even objects within the content and conduct language analysis.

So, it is now possible to, for example, filter images with a general positive sentiment of, say, French-speaking people in the Swiss Alps on a particular type of bus. At the same time, Co-Pilot, Stackla’s proprietary recommendation engine goes a step further by monitoring everything Busabout publishes and, in doing so, trains the algorithm to make better decisions. The result is that instead of having thousands of pieces of content to review, Busabout can look at just 20 to a 100 really relevant pieces of content.

It’s very nerve-wracking to say we are just going to listen in and curate content because you lose an element of control.

Duncan Robertson, Managing Director, Busabout

Now into its second year, Busabout’s Ultimate Travel Squad social competition has been another way to tap and amplify content from its existing audience, and ‘gamify’ the process. Applicants were asked to submit a one-minute video explaining why they should make the squad. The competition went viral, with more than 2,200 video entries submitted from 98 different countries. Nearly 50,000 people voted on the entries.

This year four users (two were chosen in the first year) were given the keys to Busabout’s social platforms, and asked to blog, vlog, snap and Instagram their way across Europe.

So far, engagement from Busabout’s users, who appear to want to be part of the UGC experiment, has been good, but there are challenges. 

“A major challenge is committing to the full suite of UGC. It’s very nerve-wracking to say we are just going to listen in and curate content because you lose an element of control. You have to trust in your experience, and the actual delivery of your product has to be perfect. If it isn’t, then you won’t generate usable content,” Robertson says.

Firms also have to keep on top of new developments within popular social platforms, and harnessing perishable media like Instagram stories was another key challenge this year. 

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