What Makes a Compelling Travel Video: Lessons from the UNWTO Video Competition

A lot has been said about some of the more technical aspects of making a successful destination travel video (“keep it short”; “catch the viewers’ attention in the first 10 seconds lest they click away”; “make the video mobile-friendly and indexible to achieve greater visibility”; etc.), but if this year’s United Nations World Tourism Organization video competition winners have taught us anything, it’s that one thing matters above all else: establish an emotional connection with your viewers.

Rather than simply showcasing the destination’s natural wonders, adventurous appeal or charming inhabitants (though all of this is usually included), some of this year’s most effective videos feature characters who act as stand-ins for the audience. The country is seen through the eyes of visitors, who marvel at what they see, enjoy what they do and experience the destination in much the same way first-time visitors might. Viewers can picture themselves in their shoes, seeing the sites, finding peace and relaxation on a beach or on a mountain peak, or having meaningful interactions with locals in restaurants, markets and bars. And this, more than any other aspect of the video’s production value, length or technical sophistication, is what establishes a deep connection with viewers, resulting in effective storytelling and compelling videos.

There is no clear-cut formula for what makes a good travel video, and this year’s 63 submissions came in all shapes and sizes. Some have voiceovers, others text, others just music. Some give an overview of everything a destination has to offer (most showcase a combination of natural wonders, activities and a human touch), while others highlight a single aspect or target a specific audience. The videos vary greatly in length, but the best-performing videos are longer than one might expect, perhaps indicating that the adrenaline-filled quick cuts one tends to see could be dispensed with, in exchange for allowing a shot to linger and the eye to fully take in the feeling of a scene.

Let’s take a look at some of the contest’s winners to see how they get their message across and what makes them especially compelling, immersive and inspirational.



The winner of both the East Asia & Pacific region and the People’s Choice awards, Indonesia’s video follows two travelers throughout their adventures around some of Indonesia’s most beautiful spots, first separately, then together. Without a single word being spoken throughout the video, it manages to tell the story of these travelers venturing first on their own and then experiencing the country together. Throughout their journey we get the chance to marvel at the country’s natural beauty, cultural diversity and varied offering of activities.



In a novel idea, 5 European YouTubers were invited to Tunisia, winner of the African region, for a couple of weeks and given a taste of the different things the country has to offer, from historical sites dating back millennia to modern luxury, beachfront dining and fascinating shopping. Using a mix of professionally shot footage and the vloggers’ own footage, they put together a wonderful documentary-style video that records the vloggers experiencing the country first-hand and giving their genuine reactions, giving viewers real insight from real travelers.



The winner of the America region, Chile’s highly inspirational video features real testimonials from actual travelers from all around the world mixed in with breathtaking cinematic shots of landscapes, cities, adventure and people. Once again, rather than having a destination “authority” tell us why we should visit, they let real travelers tell us their reactions in their own words, which resonates more strongly with viewers and is emotionally more compelling.