Changing negative trade & consumer perceptions through storytelling.
My client purchased what had previously been a game farm for hunters and needed a content marketing campaign designed to achieve 3 primary objectives:
1. To announce the change of ownership to the travel trade 2. To change the guest profile from hunters to leisure tourists 3. To grow brand awareness and guest bookings.
Lalibela, a 4,055 hectare Big-5 game breeding farm located in South Africa’s malaria-free Eastern Cape province, had been a popular destination for hunters looking for trophy specimens. Over time, the ratio of predators to plains game had become unbalanced, the animals had become stressed and evasive, and parts of the farmland had become infested with invasive alien flora. Consequently, tour operators who specialise in leisure and safari tourism were not willing to include Lalibela in their itineraries.
A New Beginning
Following the acquisition of Lalibela Private Game Reserve in July 2016, the new owners, being avid conservationists, planned to stop wildlife hunting, expand the size of the game reserve to over 8,000 hectares, introduce a sustainable game repopulation programme, eradicate alien invasive plant species and re-establish the endemic flora. Besides the preservation of African flora and fauna, the owners planned to introduce responsible tourism practices to benefit rural communities, and expand guest accommodation options.
Here’s how the brief was addressed…
In consultation with the client, a long-term communications strategy was developed that included editorial feature storytelling content in magazine and website formats, link sharing in travel trade newsletter and social media platforms, and listing in travel directory platforms.
The first editorial feature, written by Vernon Wait of Pembury Tours to establish credibility (and edited by yours truly), was published in the August 2016 edition of the Tourism Tattler magazine and distributed across seven platforms, including website, newsletter, social media, and digital newsstand platforms such as Press Reader, Issuu, Yumpu, MagCloud, and Magzter, which have a collective user base in excess of 422 million.
This feature addressed the first objective; to announce the change of ownership to the travel trade as well as gain awareness in the minds of travel consumers. Click on the image below to view the August 2016 magazine feature on pages 26-29.
In addition, three fully inclusive accommodation vouchers were promoted via a campaign on the Flook Sport and Travel website as discounted deals to encourage domestic tourists to experience the new Lalibela leisure safari offering.
Expanding on the change of ownership narrative, the second editorial feature in September introduced the owners plan to eradicate alien invasive plant species and re-establish the endemic flora in the reserve.
Click on the image below to view the magazine feature on pages 18-19.
In October 2016, the storytelling narrative announced the owners realisation of a sustainable game repopulation programme at Lalibela. And who better to endorse this accomplishment than the owner of a specialist safari tour operating company.
Click on the image below to view the magazine feature on pages 10-11.
In November 2016, the storytelling narrative shifted to child-friendly safaris to leverage the December peak season school holidays and to address the owners third objective; to grow guest bookings.
Click on the image below to view the magazine feature on pages 24-25.
By December, the storytelling narrative switched back to the November story line objective. Except, this time, the purpose was to establish Lalibela as a premium safari destination with the most dense population of free-roaming predators in the Eastern Cape. Besides Big-5 sightings (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and African buffalo), the story also established the wide variety of plains game species that could be spotted within the reserve.
Click on the image below to view the magazine feature on pages 16-17.
In January 2017, I did some research and discovered that over 50% of travellers share their experiences on social media and a similar percentage get their ‘bucket-list’ inspiration from the same source. Informed of these stats, the owner upgraded the internet service to high-speed, thus ensuring that guests would be able to access free WiFi across most of the game reserve. The story headline entrenched WiFi connectivity as a key influencer in safari destination decisions and resulted in a surge of bookings.
Click on the image below to view the January 2017 magazine feature on pages 08-09.
Research once again showed that online travel agents and travel booking aggregators were posing a threat to traditional travel booking channels. Considering that the majority of bookings came from traditional channels, Lalibela wanted to reassure tour operators that they had their back by defining the role of tour operators in safari bookings.
Click on the image below to view the February 2017 magazine feature on pages 06-07.
Autumn and winter in the Eastern Cape heralds the cold, rainy season – traditionally a low-season for outdoor safari excursions.To counter perceived misconceptions and to maintain forward bookings, the storytelling narrative addressed this issue by highlighting the unique photo opportunities that can only be captured in wet conditions.
Click on the image below to view the March 2017 magazine feature on pages 10-11.
Leveraging the highly topical United Nations International Year of Sustainable Tourism Development provided a perfect opportunity to tell the story of the owners commitment to responsible tourism practices that benefit rural communities.
Click on the image below to view the April 2017 magazine feature on pages 10-11.
Leading on from the February story line around the role of tour operators in safari bookings, Lalibela’s management made a decision to retain its 2017 room rates for the next year. Copywriting this story required in-depth investigative journalism, which proved that Lalibela’s long-term strategy of holding room rate increases to strengthen supplier relationships was a wise decision. Ongoing booking increases for 2017 and into 2018 further supported this decision.
Little did we know, back then, that just three years later the COVID-19 “pandemic” would severely decimate tourism revenues globally. But then, nobody could have predicted that happening. Or could they? I’ve subsequently discovered that the United Nations, in collaboration with WHO – the World Health Organisation – had been planning for the 2020 “plandemic” for a number of years. But that’s another story that cannot be told for fear of “fake news” gagging.
Click on the image below to view the May 2017 magazine feature on pages 10-11.
STEPS 11 & 12:
Even though Lalibela had, by now, attained its objective of increasing occupancy through bookings at its three lodges during 2016 and the first half of 2017, management saw an opportunity to enter the exclusive use vacation rental sector. The old Victorian-era styled farmhouse was duly upgraded to accommodate large family and corporate groups, which made a nice story angle for the June editorial feature.
July 2018 signaled the end of the twelve month Lalibela re-launch campaign and provided a perfect opportunity to recap on past successes. The July story headline ‘Celebrating the Economic Impact of Lalibela’ did that effectively.
Click on the images below to view the June 2017 magazine feature on page 17 and the July magazine feature on pages 13.
THE FINAL (UNCONCLUDED) STEP:
Lalibela’s management decided that their objectives had been met and no further content marketing campaigns would be necessary. However, when I heard that a new lodge had been built on the game reserve, I managed to source high resolution images and presented a 6-page magazine feature spread. Unfortunately, their marketing budget had been used up and the feature was not published.
I really like the visual storytelling, so here’s the story.
Click on the image below to view the (unpublished) magazine feature.