Social Media: The Future of Travel Marketing

Almost every day, I read some press release about a travel company setting up an account on Twitter, Facebook or another social networking site. It would be quite easy to believe that these sites will form an important part of a company’s marketing in the future. Well, they may form a part of their marketing but I very much doubt that it will be anything other than a small part.

Travel companies that have had successful campaigns on Twitter or Facebook all seem to have done the same thing – made a post at a time no one was expecting and said that they have 1,000 flights from New York to Los Angeles available for $50 or they have 1,000 hotel nights to sell at just £5.

This sort of marketing is dangerous. It may have some benefits on Twitter, in that a lot of younger people are suddenly encouraged to visit a site they might not have used before, but these limited offers at crazy prices can have a horrible way of backfiring on the company promoting them.

Last year, the Leading Hotels of the World tried to hold a promotion to celebrate its anniversary by selling a limited number of rooms at rock-bottom prices. You had to pre-register for a site that was to be unveiled at a specific date and time. Inevitably, when the appointed time arrived, the site crashed under the volume of traffic and no bookings were made. It then attempted to reschedule the event and even this did not work properly. The result was that an awful lot of people had their time wasted. This is now well known as one of the worst travel promotions in a long time.

Even smaller-scale promotions can fail to get the impact they want. The trendy Hoxton Hotel on the edge of the City likes to hold special sessions where it will sell some rooms at £1. It held one of these at the beginning of October and when I looked three minutes after the opening time all the cheap deals had gone.

Twitter is like a global noticeboard. You can put up messages that may gain attention and, used with some skill, can be a valuable way of promoting a company. However, there is no way that Twitter and the other sites can hope to take over from the highly complex booking sites that travel companies use.

Attempts at automating offers and posts also look rather clumsy and time-consuming. One company is very proud of a new application it is selling that will search Facebook for the names of cities. If it discovers a post saying that X is holding a party in Cardiff on 12th November, it will alert hotels in Cardiff to post special rates for that night. Frankly, I doubt that any sane hotel chain is going to get too excited about that.

According to Facebook’s statistics, more than 120 million users log in each day, contributing to more than 5 billion minutes being spent each day worldwide on the site. Despite what you may think about Facebook being targeted for teens and young adults, the current fastest growing demographic is people ages 35 and older. Combine that with the Domestic Travel Market Report statistics that the average age of a domestic traveller is 46 (and that 75% of Americans travel for leisure) and you don’t need another reason to join Facebook.

Other than the statistics, Facebook brings a lot to the table:

  • A plethora of media devices at your fingertips.Uploading video, pictures, slideshows and easy posting makes sharing multimedia easy.
  • The ability to generate discussions easily.Direct messaging capabilities, wall postings, group networking and creating fan pages give your CVB or tourism bureau a broad range of tourism and destination marketing tools at your fingertips.
  • High SEO capabilities.Facebook can be placed high on Google results, especially if you customize your Facebook address.
  • High reachability.You have the ability to not only keep up with your clients, but give potential clients a taste of what they are missing. You have the ability to search for people who are interested in travelling, as well as the individual assets your destination has to offer, and you reach out to them directly.
  • Become a fan of similar pages to gather a bigger following. In turn, they have the ability to link back to your site.

All of these capabilities for tourism advertising and destination branding are not just limited to your company’s Web site. These services are available in addition to what you may already have in terms of Internet marketing.

Travel companies do need to keep a watch on what is happening on these sites though. If they are not careful, they can become the focus of serious consumer rebellion – and, quite often, simple libel. Disaffected customers can make posts which may, or may not, have some basis in reality, and before they know it a travel company is the star of its very own worldwide phenomenon. A sensible, and maybe witty, response to these posts can stop them getting out of hand.

If you stay at a hotel regularly and see that it is listed on Twitter or Facebook, it will do no harm in signing up to see its posts – you never know, you may just be alerted to a special deal you would otherwise not have found.

Jack Rosenbloom is a regular contributor to Inside Traveller