Too good to be true? Authenticity and travel films

World Travel Market came around way faster than we’d anticipated. As a newly formed company this was our first year in business, and we’d spent it making 24 films for different companies around the world. 19 countries, and the most time spent in one place: 3 weeks in Penang. We had hardly arrived in Sydney, and one of the biggest industry events on earth came knocking on our doorstep. So in a mad scramble we booked our tickets, moved the editing suite onto the nearest plane and shot off back to London. And weird it was, but that’s a different story.


WTM was a bustling hive of tourism industry activity. Multi-million pound deals, which had been simmering for months in preparation, were getting the final details bashed out and dotted lines signed. As with the Cannes Film Festival, most long-lasting networking was done between 1 and 3am, over wine/beer/sake/nondescript Brazilian hipster cocktail at a private party, where invitations and bouncers ensure that you only get to talk to people actually worth talking to. Whilst crashing these parties was way easier than we had found in Cannes, it was encouraging to learn that working in the movie industry surprisingly does supply you with some skills that come in useful in the real world. Many Bra-hipster creations were enjoyed, many contacts made.


Apart from meeting our current and potentially new clients, we found the blogging events particularly interesting, and not because they were all particularly good. Some speakers were obviously used to presenting, some less so, which in one case was unfortunately rather detrimental to the speaker’s point on the importance of audience engagement. What did shine through on most panels regarding content, was that the end consumer (read: you and me) was less and less impressed with a flashy high-end ad campaign and increasingly relying on reviews from ‘real’ travellers to make a decision on which holiday, hotel or tour to go for.


Authenticity is key, so there is a trend of giving bloggers free trips in return for a blog post, as long as their audience is big enough. Unfortunately what bloggers do was still widely misunderstood, so many of the panels centred around the topic of authenticity being damaged by restrictions on creative freedom. The argument goes that bloggers earn the trust of their following through being unbiased, so if a brand dictates what to write, authenticity (= trust) is dissolved, which damages the blogger and makes the post useless to the brand. Many bloggers interviewed explained that companies had approached them hoping for an ad without having to pay industry rates, thereby completely discounting the real work involved in creating a trusting audience, and what real value this audience holds for the blogger.


If you want an ad you can direct, get an agency. If you want a brutally honest review you have no say over, but goes to a genuinely engaged audience, get a blogger. How much money do you have? How much risk are you willing to take?


Tying in with this, what was interesting to us was that audiences seemed to want to know that videos they are watching are a ‘real’ representation of what they can expect. That brands are true to their products. If you’re running a booze cruise, don’t pretend it’s all cultural and spiritual. If you’re running a historical commentary on Hindu temples, don’t pretend it’s a great kid’s activity (unless it’s designed for kids). If you want to engage professionals for your marketing, work with creatives because they are just that: creative. They come up with ideas that you may not have come up with, see your product and audiences in new light, and in context of what everyone else is shouting about. And take the authenticity card into account.


As a production company, we have discussed a lot about our shooting style and our identity as a creative developer. Where do we see ourselves in this ever-expanding mass of content? Who is our audience? What standards of quality do we expect from ourselves? Where is the tipping point? When does cinematography become so stylised, that video turns into a movie, that reality becomes illusion and you become just some model? When do you lose track of authentic communication?


Fulfilling commercial objectives and maintaining integrity aren’t mutually exclusive though. We stand by everything we produce, and re-capping our work with peers, bloggers, agencies and our clients at World Travel market has confirmed we’re spot on. We have found we can speak with most conviction of places we have liked, film stories we would want to watch ourselves, in which we recognize ourselves, and our audiences recognize themselves.


We write because we are interested in what we’re writing. We photograph what we see and find intriguing. We share what we would like to see ourselves.


And we think this is about as authentic as you can be.