I’m just going to come right out and state the obvious: I love vacations. I know, that’s a bit of a shocker, right? Seriously, one of my passions in life is travel and like most people, I enjoy planning trips.
The planning process itself is fun for me because it builds up my expectations for the trip and gets me excited about where I am going. I’m in the process of planning a summer vacation with my wife and it got me thinking that it wasn’t long ago that the type of planning we do today just wasn’t possible. We were at the mercy of a travel agent to plan a dream vacation or next business trip. The web has completely revolutionized the way we research, plan and book travel. With the influx of travel sites available, finding and choosing what fits our needs and budget is only a click away.
Social media has taken travel planning to the next level by providing recommendations on destinations as well as feedback on hotels, airlines, rental cars, price, etc from trusted advisors, travel experts and friends in a way that was not previously possible.
This new power in the hands of the consumer gives us the ability to seek exactly what we want and literally “name your own price” for hotel, airfare, and car rental. This has left the travel & leisure industry struggling to keep pace. When you consider that most travel decisions are based primarily on reading peer reviews it comes as no surprise that travel & leisure organizations are looking for new ways to engage and promote discussions from their most loyal and enthusiastic customers across the social web.
From the point of view of the brands involved, keeping customers engaged and happy is paramount if they’re going to increase sales and market share. This is exactly why brands such as Fairmont, Marriott, AirMiles, American Airlines and JetBlue are leading the charge. Each have active followings on multiple social channels (primarily Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr as well as their own branded communities) and are highly engaged with their market. These communities provide a forum for the brands to build new online relationships, engage customers, provide unique personalized promotions, provide customer service and increase sales while reducing costs across the board.
According to a Google study, 33 percent of travel website readers changed their travel plans based on a negative or not so favorable online peer reviews. This is exactly the reason why major hotels and airlines have shifted their marketing strategy to one that keeps loyal customers engaged online.
A March 2009 study by Knowledge Networks, found that between 10% and 24% of US social media users turned to social networks when making purchase decisions about various categories of products and services. (eMarketer, October 2009) Also, it was found that online social network users were three times more likely to trust their peers’ opinions over advertising when making purchase decisions. (“Social Networking Sites: Defining Advertising Opportunities in a Competitive Landscape,” JupiterResearch, March 2007)
Further, if a hotel or airline has a good base of members registered following them on the social web, it will maintain and increase sales. In fact, studies show the rate of staying at a hotel or flying on an airline instead of at a rival establishment is 50 percent higher for active members (elliott.org, 2004).
Ultimately, having an active community across the social web and a valuable destination drives an enhanced experience for loyal customers at a lower cost for the organization. The challenge faced by many organizations is how to manage multiple social channels, ensure security and control and ensure a positive customer experience.
When a travel and leisure brand decides to engage with its consumers online it needs to be sure to offer a platform that will assist its members as best it can. This, on top of offering superior experiences, facilitating true conversations with members, and offering an easy-to-navigate framework of resources for its members.
Bottom line is loyalty and interactions go both ways. As long as travel and leisure brands recognize that community members are valuable marketing resources, strategic decisions as to continued engagement can be made.
Finally, when you empower your customer base to communicate their desires, likes and dislikes openly, you are allowing them the power to connect with your business and others. This power is valuable to them and gives you a key competitive differentiator in your industry – one that allows you to compete more effectively and drive loyalty, and increased sales.