The shift to social

The shift to social
By admin

Social media has gone from zero to hero over the past decade. What started as a novel idea in the early 2000s has revolutionised how people communicate across the globe. Facebook just topped 1.2 billion users, Twitter has 500 million users on its books, and LinkedIn isn’t far behind with 200 million people making use of its services.

There’s no denying that social media has transformed how people interact in recent years. And the travel industry is certainly no exception. Travel companies right across the globe are embracing social media to drive awareness, boost sales and increase customer loyalty and interaction. But the challenge for travel agents is to keep on top of the latest developments and incorporate them into their daily work life to step up their relationships with clients.

Starting out
Facebook is one of the easiest places to start. It’s free, easy to mock up a profile, and with every Tom, Dick and Harry now online, Facebook is sure to generate maximum client exposure. But the key to success is in the strategy.

Geckos is a shining example. With simplicity at the heart of its approach, the adventure travel company regularly uploads tour reviews and special offers in an easy to navigate format. Users can post reviews, chat with co-travellers and upload pictures of their trip. But Facebook advertising – which distributes sponsored articles to targeted audiences – has been the key to their success, resulting in a threefold return on investment and $15,000 of revenue in just three months.

Tahiti Tourisme has followed a similar path, adopting social media as a cornerstone of its marketing plan. The tourism board posts regular competitions and holiday snaps on Facebook and lures in more customers and travel agents by posting deals and events on Twitter. It has taken countless man hours to create an online community for the destination, but it’s paying off with Tahiti Tourisme reporting a notable increase in awareness of the destination.

Getting appy
As social media continues to take hold, mobile phone usage is also gathering pace, with new figures showing there are around 5.1 billion mobile phone subscriptions around the world. It’s a pretty impressive statistic, and one that has seen more travel companies develop smartphone apps to maximise online bookings.
Following a 20-fold increase in mobile sales since 2009, Accor has tapped into the trend with a new range of mobile apps. Designed to make booking processes more accessible for customers, the hotel group has launched a new multi-brand app so users can browse Accor properties anytime and book on their phone. A new Ibis app has also been added to the mix to lure more customers to book at its Ibis properties and “modernise and renew” its family of brands.

Hamilton Island has adopted a similar strategy, launching an app to keep guests up to speed with resort facilities, upcoming events and restaurant menus to showcase what the destination has to offer. But more recently, the island resort has introduced TripAdvisor as a key cog in its social media strategy.
Recognising that the ugly truth of guest review sites means that visitors can post any displeasing aspects of their holiday online, Hamilton Island has stepped up to the plate and taken action. After monitoring all TripAdvisor reviews in 2012, management responded to all negative feedback and acted on all complaints, ultimately maximising its sales from TripAdvisor and increasing its direct online sales by 120% last year.

The know how
But while there are plenty of success stories from effective social media usage, there are just as many failures. It’s hard to forget the Kangaroo Island cash tweet saga and Qantas’s luxury competition which was launched on Twitter in the middle of a bitter industrial dispute.
It’s tough to strike the right balance, but Reho Travel managing director Karsten Horne said adopting a solid communications strategy is the key to success. “It is important to have strict style guidelines so your message is concise and you’re consistently getting the right news to the right people,” he said. Klick Communications director Kim McKay agrees a strategy is a good start, but said jumping in without a plan is better than nothing. “The simple fact is you can’t turn a blind eye to social media. You’re already there, your customers are talking about you and you need to be part of that conversation,” she said. With some social media platforms now proving more popular than major newspapers and TV programs, she said travel companies that ignore social media are missing out on valuable marketing opportunities. “If you’re not using social media you may well be invisible to your target consumer,” she said.

Where social media ends up in the next decade is anyone’s guess, but experts are backing that Facebook and Twitter will maintain their superstar status. According to McKay, there’s no way to avoid social media, so it’s up to individual travel companies to control how well they use it. The prevailing mood seems to be: if you can’t beat them, there’s no harm in joining them.

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