Destination marketers are constantly looking for new ways to engage travelers. They are building visually engaging websites, getting creative with public relations and sharing visual content across platforms. But travelers don’t want to simply consume visual content, they also want to create their own.
In an age where everyone carries at least one camera everywhere they go, it’s crucial to capitalize on a traveler’s desire to take pictures and share them on social media. A photo walk is a fantastic way to encourage people to explore your destination, capture a unique perspective and share their experiences with their friends (who are probably scrolling through Instagram looking for a fun destination for their next trip). Plus, everyone wants to improve their photography skills, so if you invite photographers and influencers, your participants will be able to practice, learn and swap tips while they explore.
For a photo walk to work, you have to have the right ingredients. An eye-catching route, an engaged crowd and a strong social media strategy can create a major win for your brand. Our team just hosted a photo walk in Minneapolis for Destination Marketing Association International’s 2016 Annual Convention, and we learned a ton about what works and what doesn’t. Now, we are sharing our secrets so you can plan a fantastic photo walk and engage your audience.
First, in case you missed it, check out this video of the Libris photo walk in Minneapolis and get perspectives from Vanessa Gagnon, a DMAI 2016 participant from Tourism Calgary, and Brace Hemmelgarn, MN native and team photographer for the Minnesota Twins.
Now that you’ve got a feel for the end result, let’s dive into 17 tips for hosting an epic photo walk in your destination.
Before the Walk
To host a successful photo walk, you need to put in a little work before the event, so everything runs smoothly. Checking these things off your list in advance will help your walkers have a better experience and make your event seem effortless. Plus, your team will be able to enjoy the walk and participate fully, rather than having to put out fires (but more on what to do during the walk later).
Plan Out Your Route
The first step in planning your photo walk is to decide on your route. Stick to a maximum of 2 miles (1-1.5 is ideal), and make sure it’s packed with interesting sights.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure every stop is a photo op: Every stop on your walk should be a compelling place to take photos and videos. Try to mix up your stops so they are interesting for different reasons.
- Consider the length: You don’t want your photo walk to be longer than an hour or two. Make sure the route is realistic, especially with a big group. Chances are you will have both trailblazers who lead the pack and stragglers who linger at stops along the way, so make sure you are accounting for both groups as you plan the length of your walk.
- Avoid Roadblocks: Make sure there aren’t any events happening along your route for the date and time of your photo walk that might get in your way (think major sporting events, rush hour traffic, road construction, etc.). If you find a roadblock ahead of time, rather than during the walk, it’s much easier to reroute.
- Get permission: Secure permission from venues you’d like the group to enter in advance. Likewise, make sure group members are notified of any important restrictions at venues in advance (be quiet, no flash photography, no photography of patrons, etc.)
- Test It Out: Walk the route ahead of time to make sure you’ve estimated your timing correctly, chosen the most compelling spots, and anticipated any potential roadblocks.
We found that the prep work we did to plan the route in advance was crucial to the success of our photo walk in Minneapolis. Marie, who planned our route, included stops at the architecturally stunning Hennepin County Library as well as a park overlooking the Mississippi River. This diversified the stops for our explorers and allowed us to curate well-rounded content on our event hashtag. Because she secured permission from the Library, our group was allowed to go inside and explore. Because she walked the route beforehand, she was able to avoid a street with construction in favor of a street with some gorgeous architecture. Plus, we knew that we needed to roll through the first few stops quickly so we could spend more time shooting the sunset on the Mississippi.
Arrange a Fun End Point
After the walk is over, you’ll want to give your group time to review their photos, post on social media and socialize. They will be tired and hungry from walking, so it’s key to pick a fun cafe, bar or restaurant! Choose a venue that will draw people in as you market your event ahead of time.
We chose Day Block Brewing Company because it was a popular venue just a couple of minutes from the last stop on our walk. They gave us our own section of tables where we could easily chat and share photos, and the food and drinks were excellent. Pick a place that fits seamlessly with the rest of your walk in both location and overall vibe.
— Vanessa Gagnon (@nessincalgary) August 3, 2016
Bonus! This is a great opportunity for destination marketing organizations to partner with restaurants and bars. Co-hosting the walk with your ending venue can help you offset or cover the cost of food and drinks.
Have a Backup Plan
Rain is not necessarily a bad thing for photos, but it can impact your attendance. Have a rain date or a backup plan (and indoor venue) for inclement weather.
We lucked out with the weather in Minneapolis, but Marie had seen storms in the forecast in the days leading up to the event. Her backup plan was a behind-the-scenes tour of the Hennepin County Library, which, as you can see from this photo by Peyton Scheller, is definitely worth exploring:
— Peyton Scheller (@p_scheller) August 3, 2016
Use Visual Content to Promote the Walk
What’s the best way to spread the word about your photo-focused event? Through photos and videos of course! Catch the attention of your audience with visual content, whether it’s a photo of one of the stops on your walk or a video of your team sharing the details.
Check out this video we shared on Twitter to promote our walk in Minneapolis:
— Libris (@getlibris) August 2, 2016
Destination marketers are buzzing about how to partner with influencers, and inviting them to a photo walk is a great way to work together. Wrangle up some local influencers by tapping into the Instagram communities and photography networks that may already exist in your destination. Communities like Travel Massive and Young Travel Professionals are full of content creators and travel brands. Look for the top users of your destination’s hashtag. Think about the audience you want to engage with your photo walk content, and select influencers that fit the lifestyle of that audience. They’ve already cultivated a following of users that find their content likable/sharable, so partnering with them is a very subtle and authentic way to market to their communities.
We planned our photo walk to engage the audience at the DMAI conference, but we knew that bringing in local influencers would make the walk much more fun and valuable for everyone involved.
Rachel Ewell, a Minneapolis-based Instagrammer and co-founder of @mncommunity, added a local perspective to our walk, and shared this gorgeous photo that captures one of the stops as well as some of our participants:
During the Walk
The day is here and it’s time to get walking! Make sure your team is ready to have fun in person and interact on social so your participants can have the best possible experience.
Walk at Golden Hour
Everything looks more beautiful in the soft, warm light of golden hour, and you want your photo walk content to be as magical as possible. That means you want to start walking about an hour and a half before sundown, and plan your last stop to be a landscape that lets your photo walkers capture an awe-inspiring sunset.
Of course, a photo is the best way to demonstrate why this is true. Check out Brian Carey’s shot of the sunset over the Mississippi:
The Stone Arch Bridge Minneapolis, MN #minneapolis #minnesota #stonearchbridge #dmai16 #librisxmn #wanderlust #wander #wander #agency #agencylife #lifeontheroad #america #tourist #history #travelgram #artsy #iphoneography #iphonephoto #shotoniphone #snapspeed #minstagram #historic #mississippiriver #bpcees #downtownminneapolis #meetminneapolis #exploreminnesota
Curate Content with One Hashtag
Create a hashtag unique to your event and make sure everyone knows what it is before you start walking. During the walk, participants can check out the hashtag to engage with and follow each other. Plus, one of your team members can like and repost content as your brand. Later, you can measure the impact on social media using tools like Event Hashtag or Hashtracking.
We chose #LibrisxMN to combine our name with the destination we were exploring. Vanessa Gagnon, a hashtagging pro, posted a ton of great content to our #LibrisxMN hashtag, which we were able to retweet during and after the event.
— Vanessa Gagnon (@nessincalgary) August 3, 2016
Bonus! Give your participants a cheat sheet before you start walking with your event hashtag, your brand’s handle, any other relevant hashtags and the handles of the stops you’ll make along the way. This lets them tweet and ‘gram quickly so they can get back to shooting.
Everyone has something to learn from their fellow photo walkers, whether it’s how to improve their shots or where to go for dinner in the neighborhood you’re exploring. Remember that this is a great networking opportunity for everyone involved, and be sure to encourage everyone to introduce themselves.
Our group included photographers, marketers and travelers from all over the world!
— Libris (@getlibris) August 3, 2016
Offer Tips and Trivia
Share tips for shooting photos and fun facts about your destination along the way. You can partner with a local guide, or put together a short list of tid bits to have on hand at each stop.
After Marie shared a fun story about how this musical mural came about, Laurie Paolicelli paraphrased it as a caption for her tweet:
— Laurie Paolicelli (@lauripaolicelli) August 3, 2016
Be sure to invite participants to share their tips and trivia, as well. We were lucky enough to have award winning travel photographer, Gary Arndt, who is based in Minneapolis, walking and sharing his intel on our tour:
— Gary Arndt (@EverywhereTrip) August 3, 2016
Your team members can help you herd participants from one stop to the next (pro tip: it’s helpful to spread out, with one person in the front of the group and one in the back), but make sure they are also participating. Your audience loves knowing that there are real people behind your brand.
Our team is full of photographers, marketers and travel professionals, so we could easily relate to the people we met on the photo walk in Minneapolis. We tweeted and ‘grammed as individuals as well as the brand.
Check out this great shot from Marie!
Follow the hashtag while you’re walking so you can like and retweet your participants’ content. Everyone loves a good retweet, especially from a destination or a brand. Be sure to monitor the hashtag after the event is over, too, since some people will wait until they get home to publish their content.
Check out this gorgeous photo Marc Coleman shared post-photo walk.
Capture the Moment
Shoot photos and video of your photo walk and share it with participants so they can look back and remember the experience. You can also use the video to promote or secure partners for future photo walks.
I shot b-roll throughout our photo walk in Minneapolis, and edited it into the video at the top of this post. We can use it to share this event with anyone who missed it, and to generate buzz for our next photo walk. And I’m glad we captured the moment, because this crowd not only generated great content, they also gave me some fantastic photo ops.
Bonus! Conduct interviews with a handful of your photo walkers. The voiceovers from Vanessa and Brace make our photo walk recap video relatable.
A photo walk is a great opportunity to collect content for your destination. If your participants are willing to share their content with your organization, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to do so.
As user generated content becomes a dominant trend in travel marketing, having streamlined solutions for collecting content is key.
After the Walk
The fun doesn’t stop when you finish walking and kick your feet up. Follow these last few steps to build on the momentum you’ve created and maximize your ROI.
Once the walk is over, it’s time to relax and have fun! Make sure your venue has plenty of seating since your crowd will be tired of being on their feet. Plus, good food and drinks are a must!
This is a time when participants can share their photos, make sure they are following each other on social media, exchange cards and say hello to people they didn’t meet along the way.
Bonus! Choose a venue with wifi or bring along a wifi hotspot for participants who might be worried about using data to share their photos.
Give Out a Cool Prize
Prizes are a great way to celebrate great content created along your photo walk. Plus, they motivate participants to use a certain hashtag or tag your brand, and they create an opportunity for partnerships.
For this walk, we partnered with Moment to give away a package of lenses for your phone. Brace Hemmelgarn walked away with the prize for this photo capturing the Library and the Minneapolis skyline:
Bonus! I have to be honest, we wanted to give everyone a prize, because everyone created some really fantastic content. Next time, we’ll have more prizes – and maybe a small giveaway for everyone!
After your photo walk, share content to keep up the momentum. Retweet your participants’ content, post a video recap on social media, write a post about what you learned (see what I did there?) or create a visual media gallery of event highlights, like this Libris gallery.
— Libris (@getlibris) August 8, 2016
Recap & Improve
Get together with your team after the event is over to talk about what worked and what didn’t. Listen to the feedback of your participants. Keep making your photo walks better so you can generate buzz through word of mouth. Happy photo walking!