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Guest post: Is travel driving more users to engage with social media?

September 7, 2009

This guest post was written by Lewis Shields, from travel PR consultancy Flagship Consulting. He can be found on Twitter at @LewisShields

Over the past six months nearly everyone has jumped on the social media bandwagon. Twitter has become a worldwide phenomenon and it is rare to meet anyone who isn’t using at least one social networking platform either personally or professionally, or more often than not, both.

Media hype, peer recommendation and not wanting to feel “out of the loop” have all contributed to this rapid growth in usage, but it is fair to say that this year’s digital revolution has been driven by the recession, especially when it comes to consumers using the internet for travel.

Although savvy travellers and digital natives have held the upper hand until now, that less disposable income and people spending more time at home have changed the way consumers research travel products and interact with travel brands.

People are increasingly engaging via social media platforms – following Twitter feeds, wearing Facebook badges, investing more time in review sites such as TripAdvisor and taking the time to research company websites. But why? What do they get out of it? Is it genuine passion for the brand that drives them to engage, or are they simply doing it in the hope that they will get a better deal?

An engaging experience I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read “travel is no longer seen as a luxury but a necessity” but it’s true – the ability to explore new lands has become fundamental to our happiness and wellbeing. And, with the increased accessibility of air travel over the past 10 years, two weeks in the sun doesn’t cut it anymore for many savvy travellers.

By engaging with brands online, consumers can enhance their travel experience. A huge amount has been invested by travel companies in building the 3D travel experience – from inspiration (see Kuoni’s i-travel site and 101 Holidays’ holiday inspiration quiz, through to sharing experiences post holiday (check out NCL’s Freestyle Voices).

This has moved traditional travel products from the travel sphere to lifestyle brands – lifting them from being “two weeks in the sun” providers to supporting brand engagement and, therefore, loyalty.

Prolonging the holiday experience may go some of the way to explaining consumer engagement online, but there is ego involved. Being perceived to be the most knowledgeable about a destination, hotel or experience brings kudos to consumers.

It is very easy to get social strokes online using platforms to interact with new people who have shared experiences and interests. Engaging the future So the silver lining is that the recession has pushed consumers to be more informed about their decisions.

Travellers of tomorrow will be fully engaged technorati, connecting social networks to travel experiences to brands – adding third party endorsement to those travel companies who have done it well, such as The Luxury Collection’s recent tie up with asmallworld.net, and the @HyattConcierge twitter feed.

You may be sceptical, but travel companies are going to have to keep upping their game if they are going to capitalise on the current interest and keep engaging the growing numbers of web savvy consumers who are using the internet in new ways.

On top of this, social media is driving travel companies to offer a faster, more accountable service. Companies are increasingly using social media to respond to customer complaints almost instantly. Brands now have their fingers on the pulse of what consumers actually want and companies are therefore far more efficient in their customer relations.

Web 2.0 will continue to be defined and refined but it’s safe to say social media isn’t just a flash in the pan. Companies should invest time and money in using it as part of an integrated campaign working in sync with traditional public relations and marketing. Then, when the ‘green shoots’ start sprouting, companies are already in a position to coax them to grow in their direction. Brands that market and engage during the recession will be remembered when we come out of it.

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