Social media has slowly but surely permeated its way into the marketing strategies of nearly every business sector and the travel industry is no exception.
From researching potential travel destinations to discovering activities that can only be experienced in remote parts of the world, the way consumers use social media to inform their purchase decisions for goods and services has shifted considerably in the last 10 years.
With 97% of millennials posting photos or videos of their travel experience on social networks and popularity of third-party recommendation sites, the internet now serves as a visual and commentary hive of accessible and highly influential content to inspire travellers.
Real-time in-person experiences in the form of location check-ins, selfie photos and perpetual status updates have forced the travel industry to navigate social media channels in order to meet customer expectations in innovative ways to increase revenue while leveraging themselves against competitors.
Social sharing fuels research
Travel and hospitality companies have been quick to turn to social media to market their brands and have become well versed in creating content to connect with potential customers.
As opposed to solely relying on promotional content, Hyatt Hotels uses user-generated content (UGC) to garner social media engagement from its customers. Originally, the #InAHyattWorld campaign began as a way to highlight the hotel brand’s values of hospitality – employees would perform random acts of kindness for guests and post their activity on the brand’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
With guests joining in the campaign and sharing their own experiences, the hashtag soon went viral across multiple platforms resulting in Hyatt developing a microsite dedicated to UGC.
Over 89,000 Instagram images were uploaded by guests from over 575 Hyatt hotels and resorts around the world. The microsite serves as a perfect example of using repurposed content to build trust with existing customers, expand the brand’s organic reach and encourage a potential customer to make a booking.
Social sharing has undoubtedly led to the democratisation of online reviews with 59% of US travellers using review sites such as Tripadvisor as a source for planning a holiday. These third-party rating sites host a plethora of genuine and unbiased feedback from customers as opposed to the viewpoint of a particular brand.
Tripadvisor boasts over half a billion reviews and 360 million average monthly unique visitors – users are able to view detailed comments about a customer’s experience along with star ratings and photos.
By integrating with hotel and flight comparison sites such as Expedia, booking.com and Skyscanner – popular third-party review sites also allow users to research and book holidays all in one place.
Travel and hospitality marketers looking for new channels to increase brand awareness and drive revenue are also tapping into partnerships with travel influencers.
Creating personal travel-based content focusing on individual experiences, these seasoned, relatable and down-to-earth holiday-makers have become a popular source of discovery and inspiration among millennial travellers setting their sights on new experiences.
From affiliate marketing to authentically created sponsored Instagram campaigns, partnering with photo-centric travel influencers enables travel companies to tap into their highly engaged audiences.
Authenticity was a vital prerequisite when The Hawaiian Tourism Board decided to partner with top Instagram travel influencers to showcase Hawaiian travel experiences. Consumers have become increasingly aware of influencers who blatantly advertise products or services and can see through this disingenuous approach.
Using the hashtag #LetHawaiiHappen highlighting themes including ‘off-the-beaten-path’ and ‘secret spots’ to first-time and experienced Hawaiian travellers, The Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau collaborated with influencers such as Jordan Hershall and Forster Hunting who are known for travelling to some of the most scenic and breathtaking locations around the world.
The tourism department also collaborated with a network of brand ambassadors consisting of Hawaiian-based lifestyle influencers with a wealth of local expertise. This allowed the campaign to highlight unique locations and experiences to the island to inspire followers to visit and post images on Instagram using the hashtag.
The campaign resulted in nearly 100,000 Instagram posts – both from sponsored influencers and UGC – reaching 54% of US travellers through social media marketing and direct PR efforts. Importantly, 65% of people who viewed the campaign said they plan to visit Hawaii in the next two years.
While the recent United Airlines incident in which a doctor was dragged off of a flight by security is an extreme case, it’s a clear example of how a negative customer experience posted online can prove costly for any travel business.
Millennial consumers are increasingly communicating with brands through channels they’re more comfortable with – airing grievances directly with travel and hospitality companies on social networks is commonplace.
Travel brands are now extremely active on a handful social media channels and promptly reply to queries or complaints. The immediacy of social media engagement has helped travel companies maintain and develop genuine relationships with their customers much faster than phone or email alone.
Furthermore, maintaining these relationships online serves as a strategic means to optimise customer retention rates as well as humanise a company’s brand. This comes as no surprise as 53% of customers who ask a brand a question on Twitter expect an answer in less than an hour, rising to 72% if the query is a complaint.
Social media monitoring is a proactive way for travel companies to understand what’s being said about their brand online. By crawling the internet to index brand mentions across social media networks, blog sites, forums and news sites, companies are able to arm themselves with an array of data about their brand online.
For the travel sector, in particular, understanding brand perception and managing customer expectations in real-time has seen multilingual social media monitoring become a crucial industry practice in market research and customer relationship management.
When a guest attending the #PSEWEB conference at Delta Hotels tweeted his disappointment about the view from his hotel room, Delta Hotels quickly responded within an hour offering him a room with better view.
As the guest refrained from using the Canadian-based hotel’s Twitter handle, meticulous monitoring of #PSEWEB resulted in staff taking quick action to upgrade the guest. The guest in return published a blog post about his experience the same day.
As competition for price-sensitive consumers increases, customer retention becomes much more of a challenge. Providing extra value to customers with the use of loyalty programmes is an important element of the travel business model and social media is playing a key role in its development.
Integrating social sharing and comments with existing loyalty programmes has become a simple and effective way to increase brand exposure on multiple social platforms.
Marriott Hotels incentivises members of its rewards programme by awarding them with 2000 bonus points for referring their hotels to family and friends. In turn, newly referred customers are then awarded 2000 bonus points for each night for the first 5 days to encourage longer hotel stays.
In addition, using the social sharing platform Chirpify, members who connect their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts receive points for each account connected. The social sharing extension allows Marriott to collect valuable insights of its most engaged users by rewarding members who share branded content – using relevant campaign hashtags – in exchange for bonus reward points.
Social media adoption and usage varies widely between different regions around the world. Outbound travellers from the Middle East have a totally different set of expectations compared to their Western counterparts – luxury experiences are prioritised amongst anything else so it’s no surprise well-established homegrown luxury airlines rate highly for social media engagement in the region.
Qatar Airways have a strong focus on delivering news, events and even upselling on their social media platforms especially on Twitter where the airline receives an average 25-30 retweets per post.
On Facebook, showcasing the brand experiences with high-quality images and videos is the basis of its strategy to engage with followers – engagement also doubles when promoting special offers for its loyalty programme members.
After major expansion in Western Europe, Skyscanner had notable success in Russia after it developed a localised site and created separate Russian social media accounts to connect with its customers.
Using local platforms such as VK.vom – Russia’s most popular social media platform – the UK-based flight comparison site has established itself in a unique position to engage with its Russian audience with inspirational images, special prices on last-minute flights and user generated content.
Chinese holidaymakers conduct a considerable amount of research online before finalising their travel plans and travel companies with localised websites have the upper hand when it comes to successfully engaging with Chinese audiences.
Platforms including Facebook and Instagram are banned so understanding the right platforms to target the eager Chinese Free Independent Travellers (FIT) market is essential to the travel sector’s success.
In 2014 the Tencent-owned messaging app WeChat partnered with Chinese online travel agency LY.com to include flight bookings into its popular mobile commerce feature. What followed was a stream of airlines including Spring Airlines, Air France and Hong Kong Airlines introducing WeChat integrated features from booking flights and checking flight information to accessing customer support services.
TripAdvisor – branded DaoDao in China – has become one of the most well-known western travel sites to dive into the waters of WeChat as well as InterContinental Hotels Group to connect with over 768 million daily logged in users – of whom 50% use the messaging app for more than 90 minutes a day.
Social media has significantly contributed to the evolution of the travel marketing landscape and the 21st-century traveller is no longer bound to the confines of a company website or travel agency.
For the travel sector to continue its current success, it’s essential that companies expand their networks across multiple social media platforms. Curating a high volume of positive reviews and proactively encouraging social sharing is crucial to building positive brand awareness and increasing customer loyalty.