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Social media has fundamentally changed the way that many companies communicate with and market to their target demographics. For the travel and hospitality sector, in particular, the rise of the Internet and the increased popularity of social channels has altered travel marketing. From the way that travelers research potential destinations to the activities that they participate in once they arrive, the new ways that consumers use social media to make purchasing decisions has influenced tourism marketing from start to finish. Here are five ways tourism has been impacted.
1. Travel research transformed
The most profound effect that social media has had on the tourism industry to date is the democratization of online reviews. Today’s travelers go online to research their future travel destinations and accommodations. When booking travel, 89% of millennials plan travel activities based on content posted by their peers online.
Related: 3 Low-Cost Marketing Strategies To Grow Your Travel Startup
From social sharing sites such as Instagram to crowd-sourced review sites such as TripAdvisor, people are browsing the Internet for travel inspiration and validation from their peers. There, they can easily find other travelers’ photos, check-ins, ratings and more. This easy-to-attain, real guest feedback serves to preview the in-person experience that the destination has to offer from a viewpoint other than that of the brand. As you might assume, this social media content is tremendously accessible and influential, and it can serve to either put off potential guests or inspire them to book.
2. Rise in social sharing
People have always loved sharing photos and videos taken of their travels. What social media has done is to facilitate and expand people’s ability to share travel experiences with a wider audience than ever before. Over 97% of millennials share photos and videos of their travels online, building an influential web of peer-to-peer content that serves to inspire potential guests.
This trend hasn’t gone unnoticed. Many hotels and resorts have turned to running social contests and campaigns to ensure that they get some credit for their guests’ social activity. Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants used guests’ wedding photos instead of staged, professional photographs to market their wedding venues. The campaign encouraged guests to take photos, tag them with the hashtag #KimptonWeddings – and ultimately to create user-generated content for the brand that was free, authentic, and repurposed across its marketing channels.
Related: 10 Tips Marketers Can Learn From the Travel Industry
3. Enhanced customer service
Customer service and satisfaction have also been transformed as a result of social media. The vast majority of brands have a social media presence that is being used to become aware of and, when necessary, to provide help to unsatisfied or confused customers. The companies that respond to complaints in a sincere and genuine manner develop a strong reputation among current and potential customers. American Airlines and JetBlue are particularly adept at addressing flight issues and providing a human touch to otherwise frustrating experiences.
When Twitter users contact a brand, more than half expect a response. If they are reaching out with a complaint, that number rises to almost 75%. Responding to complaints and questions helps to humanize your brand and to indicate to current and future customers that they are valued.
Additionally, customer success representatives should be intentional with their company’s social media interactions. Social media can serve as a social listening tool to find out information about your guests. Are they visiting for an anniversary or a special occasion? Listening to customers through social media can help your brand create an exceptional experience that is sure to delight your guests.
4. Reshaping travel agencies
Social media has also had a major impact on the travel agency model. The availability of information and ease of self-service booking have forced travel agencies to adapt from a brick-and-mortar model to a more digital one. Travel agencies are not obsolete — they are still responsible for 55% of all airline bookings, 77% of cruise bookings, and 73% of package bookings. But many agencies have shifted their focus from in-person to online experiences as they adapt to new technology and market trends.
Agents working with millennial travelers should take into account the generation’s preference for “experiences over materials.” Instead of trying to upsell them on flight upgrades and lodging, consider presenting unique experiences guaranteed to create a lasting memory (and to inspire a great Instagram post.) While travel agencies may struggle to remain relevant as self-booking options increase, their advantage is that many travelers still prefer the personal touch.
Related: 4 Ways Travel Brands Should Use Instagram to Connect With Millennials
5. Changing loyalty programs
As most marketers know, acquiring new customers is far more expensive than retaining existing ones. Loyalty programs have become a core piece of the travel business model, and social media has had a massive impact on how hotel loyalty programs are constructed. Many customers understand that the opinions that they share with their individual networks have tremendous influence. As a result, these guests feel entitled to compensation for the positive word-of-mouth marketing that they are doing for a brand. More than 25% of millennials that participate in loyalty programs are very likely to post about a brand in exchange for loyalty points.
With the availability of technologies that allow mention and hashtag tracking across social media channels, it is easier than ever for hotels to discover passionate guests and to reward them accordingly. Integrating social media sharing and posting can be worked into existing tier loyalty programs to encourage brand promotion across social media platforms. When loyal guests share the easy the redeem perks and benefits offered by a brand’s loyalty programs on social media, other guests see that the benefits are attainable — and desirable — and they will be more incentivized to participate.
Social media has altered the landscape of marketing in the leisure and hospitality industry. Most travelers determine their travel plans based on reviews and social media shares, making online customer service a crucial part of building a positive brand reputation. The prevalence of social media has disrupted traditional customer service models — for hotels and travel agencies alike. By curating positive reviews and encouraging social shares, hospitality brands can leverage social media to build positive brand awareness, increase brand loyalty, and display just how much their accommodations and activities have to offer.