Why 'Travel & Leisure' Is Launching Its First Social Media Awards

By Anna Sekula June 5, 2012, 1:05 PM EDT

The Social Media in Travel and Tourism awards joins Travel & Leisure's other event platforms, including the Design Awards (pictured), which took place in Berlin in March, and the World's Best Awards, scheduled for July in New York.

Photo: Seth Browarnik/World Red Eye

On Thursday, June 7, on the rooftop of the King & Grove hotel in Williamsburg, Travel & Leisure will present its first Social Media in Travel & Tourism Awards, which it has playfully dubbed the Smittys. Originally dreamed up as a story by executive editor Rich Beattie, the event honoring travel industry innovations in the digital networking space joins the American Express Publishing title's other established recognition programs, including the World's Best Awards, the Design Awards, and the Global Vision Awards.

“It really is just the newest extension of what we've been doing all along,” said Beattie. “All of our different arms work very closely together—it's something that's becoming really essential for media companies in general, to maintain that brand message across all the different platforms and, for us, all of our different awards. If you look at everything from the World's Best to the Design Awards to the Smittys, we are always on the lookout for best of breed, always looking to recognize the companies that are pushing the envelope. The same is true of our Global Vision Awards. They all kind of work together to recognize different aspects of travel companies who are innovating and trying to improve the travel experience for everyone.”

What prompted the decision to create the additional program was a noticed growth in what hotels, tourism boards, cruise lines, and other travel companies were doing on Twitter and Facebook and, as Beattie described it, the fact that no one else was recognizing these ideas. “Social media has become so essential to the travel experience, in everything from trip planning to how you experience a destination, to how you interact with your friends after the trip is done,” Beattie said.

To cull a wide selection of entries from as many different companies as possible, the magazine opted not to limit the submissions to specific networking platforms, but rather leave it open with three overall categories and honors given by organization type. For instance, there are awards for the best use of a social media platform by a U.S. airport, a global hotel, or resort chain's best single promotion via social media, and the best promotion of travel deals from an online travel agency.

With this type of process, Beattie said, the awards got an interesting assortment of entries, applications from large and small outfits as well as luxury brands and those focused on more budget-conscious travel. “Some companies spent a lot of money building really cool interactive apps, and with some of the winners, it wasn't about that. It was about using social media to really personalize an experience.”

To coincide with the release of its July issue, Travel & Leisure plans to announce the award winners on Wednesday, a day earlier than the event itself. They were selected by a panel of judges chosen for their expertise in the digital networking platforms. The group includes Foursquare director of business development Jonathan Crowley, Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern, and Sree Sreenivasan, a professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The announcement will, as one would expect, be accompanied by a big promotional push on social media.

According to Beattie, the Smittys received positive feedback from the start and, with the inaugural list, the editor hopes the industry will inspired to be even more creative. “Everyone understands how important social media is and companies are looking for a reason to focus on it more because they understand the power that social media has to not only bring new customers to their brand, but also to better engage the customers that they have. I'm hoping more will start to focus on how they can be innovating in that space and using new platforms, because there's a new one every week.”

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