Readers of BudgetTravel.com, the companion website to Budget Travel magazine, have always been eager to share their travel tips with one another. Whether it’s an out-of-the-way breakfast place in Santa Fe, N.M., a kiosk in Rome that sells discounted tickets to the Colosseum, or a great deal on an African safari, if Budget Travel readers have a travel tip, they want to share it. In order to facilitate the diffusion of such advice to as many fiscally savvy travelers as possible, BudgetTravel.com has begun incorporating social media tools into its online experience, with the aid of the on-demand social media platform KickApps. Visitors to the site now find that they have several creative ways to share their travel advice with one another, and they can even make an impact on the print edition of the magazine.
"We all hear about social media announcements all the time, and we’ve seen a lot of that happening around us," says Stephen Merrill, the general manager of BudgetTravel.com. "We wanted a complete suite of social media tools. We wanted to give our readers the capacity to friend each other, upload photos and videos, and add comments to each others travel journals. What they want is to feel like they’re participating in conversation with other readers, as well as with our editors."
There may be something about Budget Travel readers—who are avid explorers, but don’t have a fortune to spend on lavish vacations several times a year—that is particularly well-suited to social media. "They’re the kind of people who, a couple of decades ago, would pull out their old projector to show slides of all the trips they’d taken every time they had company," Merrill says. "What that reveals is an enormous desire to share their travel experiences, but also an enormous desire to advise others about their travel plans. People want to share photos, videos, and their own reviews of places, in order to help others have more fun."
The new features on BudgetTravel.com include Travel Journals, which allow readers to post photos, videos, stories, opinions, and advice about their travel experiences; links from articles to relevant user-generated Travel Journals; a rating system for photos, videos, and Travel Journals; and commenting capabilities. KickApps delivers the applications to the site as software as a service.
The next phase of BudgetTravel.com’s social media initiative involves incorporating reader contributions into the print publication. Budget Travel has always included print features that utilize reader-submitted material, but with so much more reader-produced content being generated through the new social applications, editors have more high-quality material to draw from.
In June, Budget Travel kicked off its "A Perfect Day In …" series. Editors pick a different destination—Santa Fe, N.M., was featured first—and select reader-submitted stories and reviews of the best things to do on a day in the city. User-generated content, including photos and videos, are prominently featured on BudgetTravel.com. (The submission process for the photos and videos is also powered by KickApps.)
User-generated content has become so central to Budget Travel’s core philosophy that the June 2008 issue (which celebrated the magazine’s 10th anniversary) featured a cover photo that was taken by a reader and selected by readers in an online vote, and included feature-length articles written entirely by readers. "Our readers are kind of used to this now," Merrill says. "We’re about real vacationers. They’re about going out there and traveling frequently. Those are our readers and we want to put them front and center, have them talk to us, and contribute their strategies and tips. These are real folks, and good travelers, and we want them to be able to be on the site and talking."