Can Social Media make an impact on Travel and Tourism?

The internet has long been a key component of technology in the travel world. Recent surveys continue to trend upwards in figures that indicate travellers are researching and booking more and more of their travel online. While traditionally the domain of the major websites offering cutthroat airline fares and all the accompaniments, today the online marketplace has expanded into many offerings. The question often asked, though, is: can social media make an impact on travel and tourism?

The Answer

The answer is a resounding “Yes.” Social media – and by the term I include everything from blogs to forums to microblogging (a.k.a. Twitter) – provides a completely new paradigm for interaction with customers. It’s a truly global platform that breaks down barriers. Companies in all sectors are finding new ways using social media to:
• provide remarkable customer service
• listen to what customers are saying in the marketplace and respond accordingly
• extend their real-world brands beyond their current geographic restrictions

These same things can happen – indeed, are happening – in the world of travel and tourism.

The Proof

When writing my eBook Preparing for Takeoff: 7 Common Mistakes Businesses Make Online, a free download from my website that introduces small travel businesses to social media, I didn’t rely on hearsay or obtuse statistical analysis to determine if social media was making an impact. I went and asked companies who were successful and were using these new technologies what they thought. All agreed that social media was a worthwhile investment of their time and energy; all agreed that social media was where the future was for their marketing strategies and for building intimate relationships with customers.

For example, some of the success stories included:
• a small hotel that makes $10,000 just from using social media to fill in last minute cancellations
• an amusement park that uses social media to engage customers and build excitement during their off season, previously an untapped market
• a hidden-away visitor bureau that utilizes social media as a storytelling platform to build on their destination’s unique experience

The Next Step

A common theme in all social media success stories in the travel sector is a single idea: they’re doing something. Yes, social media is a new communications medium that will take some time to really appreciate what it is capable of. To keep things in perspective, we’ve had our various television and direct mail campaigns for many years and people are figuring out the best way to approach these mediums. But if travel and tourism firms don’t get out there and explore this new territory, they’ll soon be left behind by competitors that will. After all, in this industry, having the best tourist experience isn’t good enough anymore. You’ve got to get to your customer at the same time (or before) everyone else does and convince the customer that you’re the best.

To find out more, visit my website Sharing Experiences where you can learn more about me and download the eBook.

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Tags: blogs, media, social, tourism, travel, twitter

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Comment by Andy Hayes on June 22, 2009 at 11:59
Hi Richard, good question.

I've been in touch with a contact there but haven't heard back. What I do know from my own research is that they have a lot of web real estate, with several blogs and event-specific sites.

If you look here you will see that Homecoming itself has its own presence on a number of social media outlets.

VisitScotland has a Twitter presence but it doesn't seem to be interacting much - I asked Scotland questions on two separate occasions and didn't get a reply. I found one Facebook group for them but it's a closed group so I can't tell you how many people are in it. Their Flickr photostream has quite a few nice photos but everything is restricted - no creative commons rights.

I've probably bored you to tears by now but I hope that's answered your question.
Comment by Richard Saville-Smith on June 21, 2009 at 21:16
Hi Andy, Any comment on what Visit Scotland are doing with social media - particularly in the context of Homecoming Scotland??
Comment by Andy Hayes on June 21, 2009 at 11:13
Thanks Stuart - you're exactly right. I kept hearing over and over again comments like "social media extended far beyond where our advertising budget ended" and "combining print media strategies and social media works in so many ways the old model didn't." It was all very empowering for these small outfits and I hope we can do the same here in Scotland/Northern Ireland, which seems to me the "ideal customer" (lack of a better word) for using social media.
Comment by Stuart Cosgrove on June 21, 2009 at 9:08
Fascinating subject Andy and one that can really assist economies in Scotland and Northern Ireland where there are 'image' problems to overcome, and a multiplicity of micro-businessses such as Bed and Breakfast trying to engage with the 'randomness' of their customer base.


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