The Hague's Bloggers House has a unique approach to hosting bloggers: facilitating the best possible stay, & working with them to deliver content.
Destinations are now working not just with journalists but also increasingly with bloggers and influencers to showcase destination stories and the multitude of experiences on offer for visitors.
Destinations are now working not just with journalists but also increasingly with bloggers and influencers to showcase destination stories and the multitude of experiences on offer for visitors. Here at the #DTTT, we are seeing different DMO approaches to working with bloggers from organising a blog or press trip, hosting bloggers in a blogger house or apartment to working with bloggers through a takeover of the destination's social media accounts. Although the majority of destinations have worked with influencers before, only a few of them are establishing a 'home away from home' for bloggers in the destination.
The Hague's Bloggers House is an interesting example for other destinations to look at when it comes to hosting bloggers, as its approach is quite different from the one of other destinations. There are quite some best practices and takeaways for destinations based on The Hague's work and focus on influencer marketing which we will cover as part of this case study. Having visited the Bloggers House, we had the opportunity to speak to Mieke Smid and Maurice Haak from The Hague Marketing, Marloes de Hooge, from the Dutch travel blog Travel Valley and Jeroen Struving, owner of the beach houses Haagse Strandhuisjes.
The idea and concept behind the Hague Bloggers House were originally inspired by Blogville in Emilia-Romagna, but The Hague Marketing as a DMO could not justify renting an apartment or house for bloggers. This changed at the end of 2015 when the Struving family developed the idea to put rental houses on the beach in Kijkduin, The Hague's second beach resort after Scheveningen. Once the license for the rental houses on the beach was approved, the Struving family was looking for a partner to bring bloggers and journalists to the beach houses and showcase how The Hague offers its visitors the opportunity to live by the sea. The first Bloggers House in the Netherlands was born.
In January 2016, The Hague Marketing presented the concept of the Bloggers House at the holiday fair in Utrecht, raising awareness among the blogger community. With only a short timeframe available to work on the project, The Hague Marketing focused on matching their events calendar with the availability of the Bloggers House and identified different stories that could match the DNA of the city. Dependent on the emerging storylines, the team picked and invited influential travel bloggers and niche bloggers alike to come and stay in the Bloggers House.
The first blogger, July Falconer (A Lady in London), from Lonely Planet's Pathfinder network, stayed in the beach house in April 2016, officially opening up the Bloggers House. Seven bloggers have since visited the beach house, most of them from the Netherlands but also some international bloggers and influencers. The aim of The Hague marketing was simple: facilitating the best possible stay for bloggers, and working with them to deliver great content and stories.
Working with bloggers has been a steep learning curve for The Hague Marketing. Approaching and working with different bloggers is based on trust: trust in them telling great stories about The Hague but also trust that their stay in the blogger house will make them enthusiastic about the city. Taking a personal approach before, during and after a blogger's stay in the Hague is working well for the marketing team and is something that bloggers appreciate too.
Before each blogger's stay, the marketing team sent each of them a personal questionnaire to find out more about the blogger and his/her personal preferences to stock the Bloggers House with personalised items. Understanding what each blogger is interested in also helped The Hague's marketing team to craft activities that were unique and exciting for the blogger as part of their stay. During each blogger's stay, one of the team members was welcoming the bloggers to the beach house, remaining in touch regularly throughout their visit. After each blogger has stayed in the Bloggers House, the team continued to engage with the bloggers online, sharing and featuring their content on the city's social media channels.
For bloggers such as Marloes de Hooge from Travel Valley, the tailor-made programme and experiences based on her interests and preferences made sure her stay was extra special and enjoyable. The personal welcome and contact throughout enabled her to build a more personal relationship with the marketing team. For Marloes, the personalisation of her stay and the freedom to explore the city and beach on her terms was something she hasn't experienced before, even having worked with many destinations. Not having a set programme or itinerary but including a variety of unique activities that are tailored to her individual interests made sure her time at the beach house was unique and touching on different stories.
The Hague Marketing is letting 'others' tell stories about the city, and such stories are an essential part of their overall digital strategy. Authentic content about the city is critical, in particular with regards to working on the city branding and image. The Hague as a tourist destination is not that well known, and many visitors are not even familiar with it being a 'city by the sea'. The aim of the Bloggers House was, therefore, to raise awareness about the city as a unique destination focusing on creating ambassadors and advocacy. The Bloggers House was the perfect tool both to show visitors that The Hague is a city by the sea and to get bloggers to return, surprised by what the city it has to offer. Rather than focusing all efforts on all stages of the customer journey, The Hague is aiming to get new people to visit the city for the first time.
To be ready to launch the Bloggers House project, The Hague Marketing worked on their digital strategy, to ensure the project was supported by a solid structure and to ensure it was a catalyst to showcase what the DMO can do for the destination and its partners. Local collaboration was at the centre of the project, adopting an approach that was quite different from other destinations.
After presenting the Hague's Bloggers House at the holiday fair in Utrecht in January 2016, the Hague Marketing received over 100 applications from bloggers and even more in the following months. Due to limited places, not every blogger applying to visit the Bloggers House can do so, however, for the team this has meant that they now have a blogger database which they will use for future projects. Over the years, Mieke and Maurice have built relationships with national and international bloggers in travel, design, food and fashion which also meant that they could tap into this network to invite great bloggers. Usually, Dutch travel bloggers charge a daily fee for their services but as the Bloggers House was a popular project to be part of, none of the bloggers did so with the Hague Marketing. Through the use of the hashtag #thisisthehague, bloggers can share their content, and the city marketing team shares and boosts this content through its networks to make sure stories about the city are spread across the web.
So far, there have been many learnings for The Hague Marketing, especially with regards to working with local partners, collaborating with influencers and making a project such as the Bloggers House work without big budgets. Working on the project internally rather than involving an agency has also meant that the team now have first-hand experience in handling complex projects and can confidently work on future ones involving bloggers, influencers and different partners. The team is not only capable to innovate with future projects but also to accurately measure the content reach, as the bloggers' work helps them to understand how far the Hague's story is travelling on the web and the impact that has on city marketing.
The beach houses are located directly on the sandy beach in Kijkduin, The Hague's second beach resort after Scheveningen, offering uninterrupted views for its guests. The Hague's city centre is around 30 minutes away by bike, providing the ideal location for a holiday by the sea, yet having close links to the city. The modern huts were decorated in a seaside style with colours that enable the houses to blend in with its surroundings. The houses can accommodate up to four or five people, having two bedrooms: one with a double bed and one with bunk beds. The living room has a sitting area and dining area and adjoins the open kitchen. The beach houses are also fully equipped with a bathroom and have Wi-Fi access.
The concept of having beach houses by the sea is a first in the Netherlands, making it something truly special for the city but also for guests staying in them. The partnership between Jeroen Struving and The Hague Marketing is based on trust and the common interest in telling the story about The Hague as 'the city by the sea'. Jeroen Struving worked closely with local suppliers both in building sustainable beach houses and interiors that fit in with the beach surroundings and area. Throughout the process, local collaboration was critical, as the project involved the local council and citizens to ensure that the outcome was something that could fit in with the city and that citizens could be proud of.
The beach houses are an ideal way of showcasing the image of the city differently, working with local people and inviting influencers and bloggers to share the sense of pride for the project. The Bloggers House was an ideal catalyst for exposure for the beach houses, as budgets for advertising and marketing are limited, and The Hague Marketing was the perfect partner to help in creating such exposure through the influencers staying in the Bloggers House. For the Struving family and the Hague Marketing, the project has been a true win-win.
The Hague's Bloggers House was the start of a new journey for the DMO in showcasing the destination through the eyes of others. As the first big influencer marketing project, it was a catalyst for future projects that can add to existing stories that the city marketing team is telling online. Getting local people together to work on something unique and being in full control of the Bloggers House rather than working with an agency has meant that the team has learned a lot throughout the process. The Hague Marketing now has created a strong blogger network and fostered relationships with influencers that can support their efforts in marketing 'the city by the sea' now and in the future.
Hosting bloggers and influencers is an extremely efficient and cost-effective way of showcasing what your destination has to offer. Showcasing the destination through the eyes of others enriches the overall destination experience and adds a new layer for the city image and branding.
Working with influencers and bloggers is an ideal opportunity to create new stories about the destination, activating new conversations that act as multipliers of the destination's story and help generate awareness.
By working on the project internally, without involving any external agency, The Hague remained always in full control of the strategy and generated useful learnings for future projects.
Investing time and effort into building relationships with both local partners and influencers always pays off. Whilst creating a project, any destination should always keep in mind the benefits deriving from it for all actors involved, this will ensure their commitment and make them ready to collaborate for future projects.
By showcasing the destination 'through the eyes of others', The Hague marketing works creatively on developing unique stories about the city that add value to the city's branding and overall image. Content is always authentic and unique, as it reflects not only the personality of the destination but also the one of each blogger.