Social Media Impact In The Travel Industry
Photo: © Solnechnaja | Dreamstime.com
Social media has changed the way we travel. Real-time customer service minus the on-hold elevator music, chances to win trips, discounts at restaurants, insider travel tips and interesting Twitter party conversations offer just some of the ways travelers gather information and share personal travel experiences. Today, we’d be hard-pressed to find a travel company not engaging on the social media front.
“I believe that social media in the travel industry gives travel sites instant brand recognition,” says Jonathan Alonso, SEO analyst, GoPortCanaveral.com. “For example, our customer loyalty and retention grew about 30 percent in the end of 2014 planning for trips of 2015 when we applied ‘re-marketing’ tools for Facebook. Social media lends a hand in affinity marketing [gender, location, age, income, for example] in which brands can target their target market, and once captured, they can be re-engaged over and over again with content that interests them.”
Hotels, attractions, restaurants and even rental car services easily maintain customer relations through social media, avoid crises and maintain awareness in the industry. But most of all, they help their guests have a pleasant experience. One such example is Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., the largest shopping mall and entertainment complex in the United States, drawing more than 40 million annual shoppers. The MOA social media staff helps shoppers throughout the day by conversing with patrons, answering questions, announcing newsworthy topics like celebrity appearances and, the most helpful, tweeting the latest parking situations (full lots or traffic jams) for the sake of managing traffic flow and helping customers get in and out of the mall more quickly.
Sometimes social media communication covers an unexpected event or emergency. In February 2014, news headlines announced a sinkhole swallowed eight cars at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky. The marketing and communications team kept its audience of 183,000-plus social media followers engaged and updated on the progress of retrieving and salvaging automobiles and reconstruction.
THE TERM “HASHTAG” became official when it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014. In summary, a hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by a hash symbol and used to identify messages relating to a specific topic. Using the hashtag (example: #travel) in social media helps travelers classify, search and share their experiences, while businesses use it as a way to promote their offerings, connect with customers and monitor their areas of expertise.
Montage Beverly Hills calls on guests to share their experiences by tagging their Twitpic or Instagram photo with #MontageMemory. Tagged photos are reviewed for inclusion in the site’s gallery.
During spring 2014, Explore Minnesota launched its largest travel marketing effort in the state’s history with the “Only in Minnesota” campaign. Designed to promote all that is special to Minnesota, the endeavor is used across all forms of media, but it’s on the social media front that locals and tourists alike joined in the conversation by using the #OnlyinMN hashtag. By early 2015, the tag had been used more than 65,000 times across the various social media channels.
Hong Kong Adventure Tours Limited uses social media to reach out to travelers abroad. The company scrolls through Twitter hashtags like #sports, #activities, #travel, #whattodo, #HK and #HongKong. “We find this is a great way to find potential customers who are interested in what we have to offer,” says managing director Paddy Williams. “In addition, we launch specific competitions like free trips to Hong Kong for everyone who shares our page on Facebook or Twitter to boost our audience and reach. We also keep a blog and write guest posts on other blogs to generate new leads and potential customers across the West.”
Jessica Lawlor of Visit Bucks County, the official tourism promotion agency for Bucks County, Pa., says her team uses social media to connect with relevant audiences to increase overnight visitation, and they also monitor multiple hashtags and keywords relating to Bucks County and area attractions around the clock. Lawlor explains, “Visit Bucks County’s Facebook posts are short and snappy, featuring a snippet of information, a link to learn more to drive traffic to VisitBucksCounty.com, and a question to engage followers.”
Lorna Davidson, the “social butterfly” for The Roman Guy, a leading tour operator in Rome, says each social media format has a different audience. The Roman Guy Twitter account audience engages with mostly media, businesses and bloggers. “We connect with people who work in the industry and share similar interests with us by tweeting regularly and directly reaching out to people,” she says. “Our relationships have resulted in articles in mass media and popular travel blogs.”
The Roman Guy’s Facebook page reaches previous and prospective customers. Therefore, postings are created to attract new followers and maintain relationships with previous clients through organic and boosted (paid) posts. Davidson says the company’s Instagram account is mixed. “Taking part in Instameets in Rome and regularly posting pictures of Italy and 15-second videos (taken by various members of staff as they travel across the country) helped increase our followers. We regularly alert our followers to our website link found on our Instagram homepage to increase referral traffic,” says Davidson.
The easy access of images, aka eye candy, dominates the social media scene as Instagram has proven, passing Twitter in number of users in late 2014. The classic saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” today could mean a photo on social media is worth a thousand dollars or more. The spring and summer #OnlyinMN campaign alone generated 3.12 million trips, which resulted in $320.2 million in visitor spending and $29.7 million in state and local taxes.
“Since Twitter introduced in-line images in recent months, Visit Bucks County has begun to incorporate more tweets with both a link and a photo included. Anecdotally, these tweets receive more retweets than tweets without photos,” Jessica Lawlor points out. Pinterest is another visual social media form that has proven successful for tourism, and Lawlor says, “Visit Bucks County interacts with fans of Bucks County by sharing their beautiful photography on a ‘#BucksCounty Through YOUR Eyes’ pinboard.”
Destination D.C. media relations manager Kate Gibbs says the organization uses social media to map potential neighborhood itineraries with Instawalks (@visitWashingtonDc). “We held one in December with Lonely Planet, the esteemed guidebook who ranked D.C. the No. 1 place to visit in 2015 for its free museums, burgeoning food scene and emerging neighborhoods,” she says. “We took a group of professional travel bloggers and enthusiastic (non-professional) Instagrammers on a food tour of Capitol Hill, down Barracks Row and to the Capitol Riverfront on Saturday, Dec. 6. We generated more than 1,200 glorious new images of the public market, bakeries, bistros, craft beer works and sights along the way. It increased not only the size but the quality of our inventory.”
The search and discover app Foursquare allows customers to connect, review and take photos of the places they visit while being rewarded with virtual badges and sometimes free offers or coupons from vendors. Visit Bucks County engages with more than 20,000 followers on Foursquare and was one of the first destination marketing organizations to offer a check-in special on Foursquare to receive a discount at the Bucks County Visitor Center.
Stephanie Slagle, public relations representative, North Little Rock Visitors Bureau, says that of the social media options, Instagram has been the bureau’s strength. Slagle alternates between her own photos and curating photos submitted through the bureau’s #exploreNLR. “We run contests based on the seasons — #SpringNLR, #FallNLR, #WinterNLR — which increases engagement with our followers, attracts new followers and brings attention to a local attraction giving away the prize. I use the geotags on photos to track photos at different locations around town to like photos and start conversations. We’ve tried to make the voice for our destination informal, personal and authentic, less of a business and more of a friendly person with whom you might want to hang out.”
Airlines also recognize the influence of social media. American Airlines has an impressive 21-member social media team and uses its social media presence to announce weather delays or respond quickly to passenger needs. “American Airlines has become a leader across all social platforms,” says Katy Philips, senior analyst of social communications. “Devoting the majority of their social manpower to enhancing customer experience, American Airlines has begun monitoring all conversations 24/7 and responding to them in real time. To ensure they are accurately and efficiently monitoring all social interactions, American Airlines uses NetBase, an enterprise-scale social media analytics company.
“In addition to using the tool to increase customer satisfaction, American Airlines has also used NetBase’s word cloud function to analyze posts and shift word choices away from negative words and toward action-oriented terms like ‘Please follow’ or ‘Take a look.’ They have also begun tracking their top influencers and interactions through NetBase, giving American Airlines the chance to show appreciation for some of their biggest fans.”