French tourism development agency Atout France is testing creative approaches, exploring the viability of offering travel to unsung regions and even building its social media activity through its work with e-Miles.
Clients' messages are put in front of members of an opt-in consumer database via an online forum. Both the forum and database are provided by e-Miles. Consumer participants are rewarded for interacting with the messages, whether through simply being exposed to them, answering survey questions or providing feedback on the ads.
Atout France has been working with e-Miles for two years, says Anne-Laure Tuncer, the organization's Director USA. The data e-Miles has collected on its subscribers allows Atout France to present its messages to frequent flier program members, a cohort that "fits with people we want to reach," Tuncer says.
"The great thing is we can [further] target people according to their hobbies, or interest in art and culture," Tuncer says.
That targeting seems to be working: An ad campaign designed to drive prospective travelers to the Atout France Web site pulled in around 100,000 visits—roughly 30% higher than what the organization had forecast. Once there, e-Miles participants can earn extra points by subscribing to Atout France's e-newsletter.
Atout France hasn't taken advantage of e-Miles' ability to do head-to-head comparisons of ad campaigns by serving up different creative to participants and soliciting feedback. It has, however, examined the viability of new markets. Recently it tested the appeal of the Midi-Pyrenees area as a destination for the U.S. market.
"Before investing, we decided to do a positioning survey," says Tuncer. ""It's not a well-known region, but there are a few places that are well known, such as Lourdes, Toulouse and Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle. We wanted to know how the region was perceived, if the product we were thinking of pushing was appealing."
The product may have been: The initial approach wasn't. At first, Atout France focused on the religious aspects of the area, hoping to capture some of the buzz around Emilio Estevez's movie "The Way"—a film that chronicles an American's spiritual journey while traveling along the Camino.
Consumers, however, had other ideas. Based on their reactions to the survey, Atout France softened the religious approach of the campaign. While it still features spirituality, the tone is now closer to Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love", and will feature a more all-encompassing message of "Find Yourself in the Mini-Pyrenees", according to Tuncer.
"The survey made us realize that we can't be exclusively oriented around spirituality, but rather about well being—eat well, see spectacular sites," she adds. For example, one aspect of the revised campaign focuses on the Malbec region, which may be familiar to U.S. travelers through the recent boost in popularity of its wines.
The revised campaign will be rolled out in a series of online messages—both through e-Miles and other Web sites—during 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Not all of Atout France's efforts with e-Miles have been successful, admits Tuncer. During the last part of 2010, the organization had a small part of its budget leftover, and took a flier on reaching event organizers in hopes of encouraging business travel and conferences to choose France as an event destination.
The agency generated a survey question about whether participants' organizations hosted events abroad, and if so how many such events they hosted. That question was put in front of business travelers.
"When we contacted them about our offer, in terms of meetings and incentives, we realized we didn’t have the right people," Tancer says. "Their organizations may have hosted such events, but they weren't the event organizer. They may have been the finance director, or in charge of the product. It proved not to be effective."
Atout France has done more than test concepts through e-Miles. During the past year, the organization has quietly begun to use e-Miles to build its Facebook community.
Atout France isn't seeking raw numbers on Facebook: It currently boasts only around 30,000 fans—but those fans are active participants in the community, who pride themselves in giving travel tips and offering their version of France's best-kept secrets. And yes, e-Miles participants do get points for liking and sharing the Facebook page.