Social Networking: Finally a Reason for Agency Websites to Become Mission-Critical? | TravelResearchOnline

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Social Networking: Finally a Reason for Agency Websites to Become Mission-Critical?

Travel agents have been incorporating websites into their business for well over ten years now. However, too few agencies and independent agents leverage their website as a key driver of their business. We’ve seen a few phases of website marketing over the years – some successful, and some not so successful.  The ‘if you build it they will come’ phase, where agents thought consumers would magically come to their website and generate business. The booking-engine phase, where some agents thought that many of those magic consumers would also book cruises and tours online with no agent interaction. The search-engine phase, where agents thought that search engine traffic would automatically generate a tremendous source of new business.

In some cases, our customers are having success generating incremental business from online search. And some are reporting more online bookings from their website. We see both of those trends increasing in the future. But when you think about it, there are thousands of individually-branded travel agency websites, few consumers go beyond the second page in any search, and the big players (suppliers, OTAs, etc) are all investing heavily to be on page one. This makes it challenging for the average agency with limited time and budget to play in the search space. The most successful agents to get page one search results going forward will most likely be niche specialists. Don’t get me wrong, we have some agents that have become successful with natural and/or paid search marketing.  But it’s going to be a tough game for all agencies to play successfully.

So in many cases, agents have not yet found the magic formula for making their website mission critical to their business. The good news is that at Passport Online we’ve seen a recent surge in website sales – it seems more and more agents are either implementing a website for the first time, or upgrading their existing website to make it a more effective component of their marketing efforts. They believe they need to have a website to be competitive in today’s travel market.  But they’re not sure how to maximize the effectiveness of their site.

For the last few years we’ve been encouraging agents to use their website as a marketing tool for their existing clients. Consumers (including your clients) love to shop for travel online, so why not give them your own website with a great shopping experience and tons of great vacation content? Make sure they are shopping your site instead of someone else’s site. And a website is a tremendously convenient and efficient way for your clients to identify vacations of interest, then contact you for your advice and suggestions, and then make the booking.

Recently social networking has really started to gain traction, not just with the Millennials, but also with folks of all ages and demographics. For instance, even a year ago, my wife had never been on a Facebook page.  Now she uses it every day, as do many of her friends, our kids, their friends, etc. It’s amazing to me, because it really does seem like this whole social networking thing has exploded in the last year or so. Now I’m signed up, and just today I received invitations to become ‘friends’ from a cousin back east I haven’t talked to in a couple of years, and a high-school classmate I haven’t seen in many years. There are more and more good articles on how businesses can effectively leverage social media.  Here’s a good article from last week’s Portland Business Journal.  I particularly liked this: “Social media are more successful at cementing existing customer relationships and building emotional connections than at winning new people to the fold. To succeed, businesses must commit time and effort, and must be willing to relinquish the control of traditional marketing campaigns. They also have to be fun.”

We’re working with several of our clients and a social networking consultant to identify ways to effectively integrate an agent’s website into social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook to generate real results.  As we begin to quantify results and identify best-practices, we’ll share those will all of our users.  But it looks like mixing the ingredients of existing clients (and their friends), social networking, and a great agency website could be the key we’ve been looking for to making the average agencies’ website mission critical.

Greg Kott is the President and CEO of Passport Online. Passport Online is a leading supplier of Internet tools that help the leisure travel industry reach the travel agency consumer. Millions of unique travel agency consumers used Passport Online’s shopping engine on travel agency websites to search for their next vacation experience. Each day, unique consumers are on those sites, seeking the product advice and opportunities offered by their trusted travel agent. Passport Online’s key products are VacationPort and NexCite. Passport Online also offers complete email design and delivery services that integrate with the VacationPort and NexCite systems. For more information visit www.passportonlineinc.com. To contact Greg directly, you can call him at 503-626-7766, Extension 3020 or send an email to mailto: gregk@passportonlineinc.com.  You can read Greg’s blog online at http://passport.travelagencyblogs.com/.

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