SPOTLIGHT ON Elena Sergeeva, Founder of Passion for Greece and Passion for Dubai

Elena is both marketing guru and blogger extraordinaire, putting her extensive knowledge in the marketing and travel arenas to work assisting luxury hotels with varied business development and foreign market opportunities. She was the Master of Ceremonies at the ILHA’s European Luxury Hospitality Summit and facilitated the discussion on two panel sessions. Here she tells us how hotels can meaningfully connect to bloggers and sheds some light on effective travel blogging.

 

Screen_Shot_2016-06-14_at_18You have started two successful international blogs. What were you trying to achieve in Passion for Greece and Passion for Dubai

Storytelling is powerful and always has been. The Native Americans would use storytelling to pass on their customs, traditions, heritage and myths, so that the future generations could continue their legacy. Nowadays storytelling remains equally important with the only difference being that we have turned to digital storytelling. I first started with Passion for Greece with the purpose of promoting the visual trend in combination with storytelling. The famous saying goes — a picture is worth a thousand words, this is why there is a strong emphasis on photography on both of my blogs. Ever wondered why Instagram has become such a popular social platform? It’s simple, people love to look at and to share photos.

Words have incredible power, and this is what travel blogging is all about – to use the right words to inspire others to travel and to explore this magical world that we live in. Think about it, we are all addicted to stories, whether it is the bedtime stories that we are told as kids, or sharing our news with friends and checking the recent updates from our friends and family on Facebook and other social media. Storytelling allows us to experience the thrill of an adventure without actually having to go out and do it ourselves. Stories mean emotion, they trigger our brains to feel and powerful stories can inspire people to do great things.

 

Screen_Shot_2016-06-14_at_18-2I noticed that you have invited guest bloggers to share their stories too. Can you tell us a little about your collaborative concept?

Through collaborating with other travelers and guest bloggers we can achieve greater value for our readers, meaning that we can cover different travel perspectives, destinations, hobbies and experiences. Guest blogging is an excellent way to reach a far bigger audience, create an authority and build a portfolio by writing on a wider scale. By sharing other bloggers’ stories or by interviewing hospitality professionals helps to increase exposure and brand awareness. This is a concept that has been well received over the years and there are already some international hotel chains that are applying this digital marketing strategy to their properties.

 

How effective is blogging and the use of social media in the luxury hospitality space? 

Luxury is all about the unique experience and blogging is about sharing this unique experience with your audience. It is about creating and maintaining relationships, whether they are happening in person or online.

Hoteliers are always looking for ways to attract direct business and this was one of the discussions that we had at the first European Luxury Hospitality Summit in Athens last month. As a matter of fact, social media provides great opportunities to connect with your guests. You can provide customer service beyond all expectations and there are hotels that have found modern ways to communicate with their in-house guests which has made them seem friendlier, more approachable and at the end of the day it can help turn guests into loyal, repeat customers. To give you a great example of a modern way to communicate with your guests, St. Regis Abu Dhabi uses the Starwood WhatsApp service called ‘Let’s Chat’ where the guest can message the Butler their requests via WhatsApp, their policy is to respond in 60 seconds.

Implementing a creative blogging strategy is not only a great way to connect with your guests and potential bookers, but also to establish yourself as an influencer in your industry. Search engines place high value on fresh, dynamic and sharable content, thus maintaining a corporate blog on your property’s website will help you stand out from your competition. By providing valuable information about the area or things to do and see, personal recommendations and communicating it in a tone of voice which is friendly yet professional, will help your website grow authority and eventually direct sales. Blogging is the future.

 

How has branding and marketing changed – especially from a millennial perspective?

Being a millennial myself I can say that we are digital natives who are constantly connected. We have grown up attached to our laptops, smart phones and tablets, we know where to find the information that we are looking for as it is right there — at our fingertips. Old advertising techniques and ads don’t work for us since we are the generation that creates and consumes original content. We take our own photos, make our own videos and we value transparency. We search for relationships that add value to our lives, we value connections. We don’t like to be told what to buy but prefer instead to be involved in the brand’s communication efforts. When we want to know about your product we will turn to our social community as we want to hear it from our trusted source, this is why creating a unique voice and becoming an influencer in your field is vital if you want to be successful in your marketing strategy. Millennials consume and share content like crazy, that is why they are great at filtering information. Your message has to have a great storyline, that will connect deeply with our emotions.

 

How do luxury hotels attract the right kind of blogger? What kind of relationship should they look for? How can they reach out?

First and most important is to look at what kind of value can you provide to your audience by collaborating with the specific blogger. It is important to ask yourself “Does the blog match your company’s identity and values?”  By doing some simple research such as looking at the blogger’s previous collaborations with brands, reading their About page to find out more about the blogger’s background and their style can give you an idea if this kind of collaboration will benefit your readers.

It is important to understand that sometimes statistics and number of followers are not everything. You have to look beyond numbers at things like engagement, target niche, communication style and the influence of the blogger outside their social following. We cannot underestimate the power of the connections which exist outside the social media circles. Not everyone was born a blogger, they surely had another career prior to blogging or perhaps their blog remains their hobby while they work a full-time job elsewhere.

Blogger relationships are like media relationships, and the most successful brand partnerships can be found in long-term relationships. Make it your priority to create great relationships with the bloggers and propose something that appeals to them too, relationships are a two-way street. Not all blogger collaborations are the same, you may invite some bloggers to a special event and others to experience a certain product. By creating such relationships the bloggers can then go and tell your story to their audience. In the end of the day it all comes to sharing, and the way I like to refer to it — sharing is caring!

 

passionforgreece_hotelblogger_vouliagmenisuites_07What do you see for the future? How important is video and Virtual Reality?

Travel blogging has become a profession for some, and like all professions there are industry related events and conferences. For us travel bloggers there is the TBEX – Travel Blog Exchange. At the last event I attended, one of the highly discussed topics was the future of videos and as we can see YouTube, Snapchat, Periscope, gifs have gained tremendous popularity. Live video streaming is the next big thing and we have already seen Facebook introduce this feature.

Virtual Reality will be a game changer, leaders in some industries are already tapping into the production of VR content, and as technology is becoming more mainstream this trend will soon be available to a much larger audience. I recently had the Virtual Reality experience of traveling on a cruise ship, and I can tell you is that it is definitely set on triggering emotions! Experiences are becoming more accessible, the question is what will it do to guest expectations?

Next month I will be in Sweden attending the next TBEX Europe Conference, connect with me on Twitter @passionforH and I will be happy to share the latest trends with you.