SIT back and enjoy the films. No, not The Oscars silly, but a series of travel shorts from Culture Trip, the media company promising to shake up travel.
Consciously being released at the same time as the Oscars, Culture Trip is calling its series Beyond Hollywood, an eight-episode romp in Ghana, Pakistan, Hong Kong and Scandinavia.
It’s a second series of films, after Hungerlust focused on food, taking specific angles in Paris (boulangerie), Marrakesh (tagine) and Mexico (pulque). And it is the latest step in Culture Trip’s ambitious plans to become the online player in travel.
It calls itself a media company, using storytelling to promote local cultures. It covers literature, music and fashion among its subjects, but food told through film has emerged as an early frontrunner.
Travel is the common denominator, with Culture Trip now starting to make money by facilitating trips. In other words it is an OTA (online travel agent) with upmarket words and films to persuade millennials to travel.
Unique visitor numbers have topped 20m, its app has been installed 1.5m times and it has 8m followers on social. The Hungerlust films was a partnership with Snapchat Shows, which launched in the UK last October.
But the content bedrock of the site is the 1,500 new articles it posts every month, written by 300 freelances worldwide and an in-house editorial team.
The angles can be topical, such as this week’s Karl Lagerfield’s Paris (a clumsy SEO grab) but more likely eclectic: current home page stories also include the story behind the girl from Ipanema in Brazil; the story of Hong Kong’s red sail junkboats, or Thailand’s spectacular fruit carving tradition.
Interestingly, chief marketing officer Mike Fox, ex-Facebook, was at an industry breakfast meeting this week. He told the Travolution audience that Culture Trip is now using AI and data “to help us identify what content we should be producing.”
You get the sense of Culture Trip throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. Which is why, perhaps, some employees complain of quantity over quality on employment site Glassdoor where the company is rated 2.9 as a place to work.
Perhaps that’s just early employee churn: while 285 work mainly out of the London office, there are 100 job vacancies. It’s still growing hugely, with profit still some way off (it won $80m in its latest fund-raising last year, so still has some left in the tank).
There are listicles, of course. I’m researching a trip to Chile and there are several Best of… lists of hotels in the capital, Santiago – all linked through to Hotels.com for booking.
Over and above a crude booking link, the main commercial thrust is in working with brands: for example Corinthia Hotels. One film features a dancer on location in Lisbon, another is a photo essay of the city.
Sponsored content is popping up, with On The Go Tours promoting, among other destinations, travel to the Okavango Delta, Botswana and a culinary guide to Japan’s cities.
So the commercial work has begun in earnest: a sponsor for the films wouldn’t be surprising, or adverts playing midway on Facebook. Irritating perhaps, but hey. However, will a Hotels.com connection affect thinking on which hotels to include on listicles? How do we feel about sponsored/branded content in the same mix as original writing? Do we care about that any more?
All questions to be answered, and Culture Trip has enough industry experience to make a decent stab at a site that already goes way behind the cheap, poor quality, SEO obsessed content commonplace on most selling sites.
The history of red sail junkboats may put Hong Kong on a wish list (Culture Trip has those) but apart from selling a flight and hotel, what will it offer over and above to make it a one-stop research and buy site? How bookable can/will the experiences be?
All questions for the future. Meanwhile, put your feet up and enjoy the Beyond Hollywood films, which are being released at the same time for binge consumption. A bit like Netflix, who Culture Trip is also talking to. Interesting times.