What decent people can learn about advertising travel destinations from the Fyre Festival debacle

Posted On: April 3rd, 2019

If you subscribe to any TV streaming service (Netflix, Hulu, etc.), you’ve almost certainly been exposed to a documentary or two about the colossal failure that was 2016’s much-hyped Fyre Festival. If you’ve not yet wasted four hours of your life sitting through said documentaries, let us summarize the situation for you:

  1. A smart (yet possibly sociopathic) twenty-something partnered with a middle-aged rap star to hype a luxury music festival at an island location in the Bahamas.
  2. Via Instagram, they talked thousands of people into spending millions of dollars on non-existent luxury accommodations.
  3. They also sweet-talked a handful of wealthy investors into spending tens of millions dollars on their conceptual, luxury version of Burning Man.
  4. They hired top-notch social media firms to hype the festival, principally via a video that showed a gaggle of bikini-clad models giggling on rented yachts.
  5. They attracted a relatively solid line-up of big-name bands to play at the festival.
  6. They failed to hire a single person who had ever planned so much as a neighborhood bar mitzvah, let alone a multi-million dollar, two-week music event in the Bahamas.
  7. As thousands of festival-goers began to arrive at the under-built, not-luxury island location they procured at the last moment, organizers realized they couldn’t pull it off.
  8. The smart (yet possibly sociopathic) twenty-something is currently spending six years in jail for fraud.

Notwithstanding the grand failure of the Fyre Festival, there is plenty to be learned from what the organizers did and how they did it. Here are the three greatest takeaways for decent people who want to use social media to advertise destination travel:

#1: Branding trumps details

One of the greatest challenges for young marketers is the idea that you can market an event or a travel destination without knowing every single detail about how it will all come together. If the Fyre Festival taught us anything, it’s that details don’t matter one bit.

What does matter is solid branding. The Fyre organizers branded their fantasy event with one video. The content was simple. Instagram gave us glorious shots of: (1) models who may or may not have planned to attend; (2) yachts that may or may not have been available to festival goers; and (3) an island location that was definitely not going to host the festival.

In other words, they didn’t know any of the details as they hyped the event (mainly because they themselves didn’t know them). Nonetheless, they generated tens of millions of dollars and got people to travel from around the world to attend. They were great at branding. Terrible at execution.

#2: Know what you don’t know

Throughout both documentaries about the Fyre Festival, we see vignettes of weary ex-employees confessing that they warned the event’s founders of various troubles on the horizon. They didn’t have the accommodations they had already sold. They were missing key infrastructure like plumbing and lighting for the bands. They didn’t have employees in place to run critical operations – like the festival bars.

Over and over, the festival organizers responded with “We don’t want to hear problems. We’re all about solutions.”

We hate to say it guys, but the solution was to own up to the fact that you had NO idea what you were doing. The solution was to say “we need help.” The solution was to admit you didn’t know everything. Once you possess that critical knowledge, you can surround yourself with people who do have the answers and solutions that you need.

One of the greatest leadership skills a young executive can acquire is the strength to know what is unknown. Had the Fyre organizers had that skill, we might be watching two very different documentaries.

#3: Set truthful expectations about the destination

This is the part where we speak to decent people. When you’re advertising a travel destination, simply tell the truth about what consumers should expect. If they’re going to stay in straw huts, you can call them “rustic.” You probably can’t call them “luxury.” If a planned hike is best for experienced hikers, say so. Don’t trick novices into thinking they can summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Also, understand that for your clients, this is a brand new situation. Part of the truth you can provide to them is useful, on-the-ground stuff that makes or breaks a trip. Things like packing lists, warnings about unhealthful water, or the types of bugs one might encounter can be the type of valuable information that your followers appreciate most

This seems basic to most of us but the Fyre Festival taught us that truth matters – especially when people are traveling thousands of miles from home for an experience. Keep that in mind. If anything, exceed expectations. If you can manage that, you may not have two documentaries streaming about your business … but you may also avoid a prolonged prison sentence.

To wrap things up… You may be thinking – Okay, this is great information and all, but what does First Look Social know about branding, audiences and travel destination? This is a solid question and we can say confidently that we are experts in helping our clients build, retain and create engagement within travel destination niches. Our experience and skill set lies in building the organic audiences for our clients and consulting on what type of content will engage and create action within their audience. If you or your company would like more information, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

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