Social Media and the travel professional | TravelResearchOnline

Social Media and the travel professional

Everywhere you go people are staring at their phones!  Look around. It’s happening at the mall, the car wash, the supermarket check-out line–people of all ages are all looking at their laps, mesmerized! What’s going on to make us all act like teens? Will we ever see a time when we talk to each other face to face again?

For good or bad, our communication habits have transformed as rapidly as technology has enabled them. Now, the norm is to not only have a phone, but a web enabled personal media device. What??

Consequently we aren’t using these “phones’ to talk at all; but rather to surf, pull or push data, and to text. Communication experts predict that 2010 will be the year when over 50 % of web access is via PDA rather than desktop PCs or laptops.

If you haven’t noticed, there truly is a media revolution underway. And what alarms me, is that very few people are making the transference from their personal life and habits to their business. The adoption of Social Media (SM) into the business strategy of travel & tourism firms spans both ends of the spectrum from zealots to Neanderthals. Some companies, notably Southwest and JetBlue have done an incredible job to embrace and engage customers via SM.

Here is a startling fact. Today, there are more than 500 million Facebook users. Half a billion! And they are still growing! And it’s banned in China!

Our clients have likely established their SM strategy; be it personal or business. Isn’t it about time that we all do the same? And what’s the first step? Many companies over think their strategic options and fool themselves saying, ”we will only do these things in this particular medium.”

Why don’t you go find your customers, and see where they are? Find out what they are doing? Doesn’t that seem like a better place to start?

Dan Hanrahan, CEO of Celebrity Cruises, recently chided agents for poor follow-up with passengers who have just returned from a cruise. I agree with Dan; agents can do so much more when it comes to client communication. I have been in this industry for over three decades and I am saddened by how infrequently my family, my friends, and neighbors are solicited by any travel agents. I know they want to travel. I know they want our business. Why are travel professionals not reaching out to their potential customers?

Advertising is expensive. Even local print, radio or direct mail can tax the budget of small and large businesses alike. But technology has changed that. The playing field is now level. But a level playing field is no good unless you are in the game! You’ve got to play!

Social media is an inexpensive (mostly free) way to stay in touch with present clients and build your base.

On Twitter, for example, subjects or topics can be marked via something called a hashtag which is indicated by the pound symbol (#). These are use by authors to allow people to follow the topics of interest to them. On the Twitter home page you can enter #airlines, #fashion, #hotels, #wine, #honeymoons, #cruises and many more in the search box, an quickly find Tweets on that topic. You can even create your own tags. Like to see what Peter Greenberg, or Samantha Brown is up to? Want to get firsthand travel news from the Times of both London & New York? Try the #travel hashtag and you will see a never ending stream of travel related Tweets.

Travel bugs have formed groups by following others who specialize in #travel. On Mondays there’s a special event called #MexMonday when tweets about Mexico are encouraged and rewarded. Do you think that might be something to check out if you regularly sell vacations to Mexico? Faithful participants in the #travel world are the major destinations in Mexico such as Los Cabos and Cancun.

On Tuesday the travel tweeps (people) recommend other tweeps to follow. That’s called #TravelTuesday.  This is a good way to build your following.

Some travel agents now have thousands of followers. Suppliers have hundreds of thousands. @United has 100,000 while @JetBlue has 1,600,000 followers. And don’t think they are not marketing to these followers. They have twitter only sales (Twares = Twitter only fares) which offer drastic reductions for a very limited time. Get in the game!

So how do you get started? Go to www.twitter.com and create an account. Then explore. I found some journalists and industry leaders whom I respect. I looked at who they were following and who follows them. Great place to start. Once on, learn a few things about the manners and decorum of Twitter. Having only commercial messages will get you no audience.

Like kindergarten you should be polite, say thanks by re-tweeting (RT) and share interesting information. Kate McCulley from Boston has written a great primer on Twitter Travel and you should read it http://bit.ly/cOsrbc on her blog.

Social media is about travel; it’s a gateway to exploring a new world of communication and who knows where it will lead? More customers? More friends? More reasons to not just “put down that phone and look at me!”

I hope to follow you on Twitter. You can follow me at @WldTravlBill.

Bill is a veteran of over 30 years in the travel & tourism business. He has worked on both the supplier and agency sides. Most recently he served for over a decade as the CEO of ASTA. He is currently associated as a Senior Consultant to Partner Concepts, an Annapolis based marketing company serving Fortune 500 companies and many National Tourism Organizations (NTO). He lives in Alexandria, VA., where he also manages WAM Strategic Development. You can find him on Twitter @WldTrvlBill

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