One new owner is famous for catching touchdowns, the other is considered a Hollywood “Renaissance Man.”
Both are now promoting online travel agencies (OTA) and looking to leverage their celebrity. But if history is any forecast of the future, consumers are better off sticking with a tried and true live travel agent.
This month, Hollywood superstar Tyrese Gibson joined forces with Priceline.com to launch Voltron Travel, an OTA that combines Priceline’s focus on low rates with leisure packages. Meanwhile, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is marketing his own personal wanderlust through Nomad Hill, offering curated vacations for millennials.
One story called Voltron Travel “a full-service online travel agency powered by Priceline,” but most of the website copy focuses on finding consumers low prices. For example, destination promotions on the homepage prominently promote “cheap flights,” while its prominently displayed “terms and conditions” offer legalese describing its guarantees for discounts.
Gibson is a former fashion model, Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter, actor, author and television producer. He is so famous that fans, celebrity magazines and television shows mostly refer to him only by his first name.
Fitzgerald launched Nomad Hill in July 2016, and marketing materials say it is "a Travel Design company dedicated to creating life-changing experiences for our guests."
Fitzgerald, 33, has been traveling extensively during his football career, including visiting the Kremlin, surfing volcanoes in Nicaragua and spending 45 days on his own in Asia when he first joined the National Football League.
In an article earlier this year, he told Condé Nast Traveler that he loves getting to know the people of countries he visits and “push myself outside of my comfort zone.” Consumer offerings through Nomad Hill, launched with fellow frequent traveler David Jones, will reflect Fitzgerald’s personal travel philosophy and experiences.
“The travel industry, especially in the high end, has left the millennial to themselves because they don’t know how to deal with them,” Jones said in the Condé Nast Traveler story. “It’s a diverse population. It’s not just about going on a tour; it’s about experiences. They want to be engaged in their experiences because they’ve been engaged in what they’ve done their whole life.”
But will fame lead to fortune?
While Fitzgerald brings his own personal love for travel to Nomad Hill, the relationship between celebrities and travel agencies has mostly been about the marketing extension of their personal brands – especially their social media followings – rather than a distinctive service offering that can build a large and loyal following.
This month, Gibson announced the launch of Voltron Travel on the celebrity television show, TMZ, which made a point to note that Gibson “called out” longtime Priceline spokesman and actor William Shatner. Gibson is captured on a video saying “Mr. William Shatner, I’m coming for your spot. You’re 90 years old. You’re the only celebrity in the travel space…and I’m coming for your spot!”
Gibson shared his TMZ interview with his nearly nine million Instagram followers, adding, “since I got your attention - Don't just look...BOOK!!!!!” So next time you’re thinking about packing your bags and enjoying a weekend getaway or a thought-out vacay, support Tyrese and check out Voltron Travel!”
Other travel sites have attempted to do the same, though it is difficult to measure their relative success. CanaryHop co-founder Damon Spiegel said that having "Saturday Night Live" star Andy Samberg in a launch video helped boost exposure to more than a half million views. But CanaryHop never succeeded and closed.
Similarly, ZOZI, “an adventure and experience marketplace,” leveraged “Man Vs Wild” TV star Bear Grylls for the launch of The ZOZI Guru Platform in 2007.
At the time, ZOZI CEO and founder TJ Sassani told NBC News that his travel company increased new customers through promotions with Grylls – at that time famous for traveling around the world, and inspiring “millions of people with each adventure.”
In March 2017, Zozi laid off 38% of its employees. Its assets were purchased by another company that intends to phase out the brand.