Archive for the ‘Travel industry’ Category.

How are the top hotel brands innovating in social media?

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A recent report has ranked the digital performance of 52 global hotel brands. The latest L2 Hotels Digital IQ Index rated brands according to the performance of their sites and use of digital marketing, mobile and social media.

The top 20 brands:

1. Four Seasons =10. St. Regis
2. Hilton Worldwide 12. Renaissance
3. Marriott International =13. JW Marriott
4. Hyatt =13. Omni
5. The Ritz Carlton 15. Le Méridien
6. Intercontinental =16. Mandarin Oriental
7. Westin =16. MGM Resorts
8. Sheraton =16. Radisson
9. W Hotels =16. Sofitel
=10. Fairmont 20. Jumeirah

How hotel brands are using social media

Keeping things local

Hotel social media strategies

The study notes that 95% of the brands have both global and property Facebook pages, increasing from 73% in 2011. Twitter saw an increase from 56% to 70%. Taking a property-centric approach allows for a higher degree of relevant content to be shared and thus keep an engaged audience. An additional benefit of property-level presence comes in terms of immediate customer service and local expertise.

One brand which has been innovative for adding value with local knowledge is the The Ritz-Carlton, who have taken advantage of Foursquare to share tips from the concierge staff at 75 properties.

User reviews

Only 17% of the indexed brands offer on-site ratings and reviews. The report suggests that these sites send 39% less traffic to online-travel-agents, indicating increased confidence from customers, and presumably a lower need to navigate away to other pages for research.

Two noteworthy example of sites that feature reviews are Starwood and Four Seasons. Starwood have opted to create their own, independent reviews site, which requires a reservation code to ensure authenticity. By taking reviews in-house, the brand is able to monitor and respond to customer comments in a controlled environment.

Four Seasons have taken a different approach. Nine of the indexed brand sites link to TripAdvisor, but the Four Seasons has gone beyond by integrating reviews directly on their property pages, allowing customers to see them at a glance and without having to navigate away from the Four Seasons site.

Emerging social platforms

How hotels use new social media platforms

As for new social platforms, Google+ and Foursquare are the most popular, and offer clear value for SEO and local representation.

The visually rich nature of travel content means that there is clear scope for further use of sites such as Pinterest and Tumblr. The Four Seasons and Hotel Indigo are noted as pioneering Pinterest brands. I would expect to see further use of Instagram, yet again the Four Seasons are leading the way with property-specific accounts. I expect to see more brands joining Instagram, especially following its acquisition by Facebook which demonstrates the importance of images in social media.

Moving on from TripAdvisor: How Expedia plans to make travel more social

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Often hailed as the top travel review aggregation site, TripAdvisor launched as an independent company on December 20th 2011 after separating from parent travel booking company Expedia.

With almost 1 in every 4 UK holidaymakers using Tripadvisor to research their holiday before booking, the success of TripAdvisor is undeniable in terms of SEO value, word-of-mouth and trusted reviews. And the valuation of TripAdvisor at nearly $4bn is testament to its success as a social travel site, highlighting the value of social media for the travel industry.

Although Expedia no longer has the main social arm of their business, this doesn’t mean they’re abandoning social media altogether; quiet the opposite in fact.

In a recent article in Businessweek, Expedia highlighted how it hopes to use the power of  social media to re-design the way people shop for their holidays by incorporating transactions into a marketplace driven by social networks.

With people trusting their friends’ opinions more than that of a company, Expedia is trying to emulate in the travel industry what Amazon has done in the consumer space with regards to personalisation and recommendations.

Expedia’s goal is to make planning the entire trip - from flights to hotel to transportation, to restaurant selections and amusement park tickets - an integrated shopping experience.

For example, say your family is planning a trip to Mexico. After booking flights, your hotel search would incorporate friends’ views on particular properties. If someone from your family had been to a particular restaurant, you’d get their recommendation or caution. And all those Facebook photos that people post after a trip? Expedia want to mine those to help consumers make decisions about their own travels, just as TripAdvisor does with hotel shots its users submit.

In essence, this means your friends, family and social network connections become the equivalent of the traditional ‘bricks-and-mortar‘ travel agent, providing both timely advice and warnings about certain elements of your holiday.

Expedia also plan to harness the power of blogging more effectively too. Expanded posts on travel adventures, supplemented with user reviews and comments, might draw in more travellers. And while they aren’t looking to add a roster of bloggers to its payroll, the company is likely to fund trips for bloggers it deems influential. They they would then use the bloggers’ videos, photos, and writing on the Expedia site, without influencing content.

So what can other travel brands learn from Expedia? Given that there’s ever-growing research to support the fact that social media impacts holiday choices, travel and leisure brands need to think about their social media strategy and how effective it is at actually delivering value to their company. Still in its infancy, Expedia is really only focusing on two key areas of social media - customer ratings and reviews and influencer marketing through their proposed blogger programme. Travel and leisure brands would do well to follow Expedia’s example and to focus efforts on the specific areas of social media give real business benefits.

Social media perks - how @ChilternRailway rewards its regular customers

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Earlier this year I wrote about how Chiltern Railways were using twitter for customer service.

Aside from their responsive Twitter account, I was also impressed by the company’s use of foursquare to reward the “mayor” of Marylebone station with the privilege of switching on the Christmas lights -  an innovative way to recognise a loyal customer.

Last year the mayor of the station was approached unexpectedly and asked to turn on the lights, but this year Chiltern Railways adjusted the format, turning it into a competition. So with Christmas approaching, I set myself the target of being the mayor of Marylebone station this year.

As there were more people aware of this special reward this year, the company elected to create a new location on foursquare (in this case, the location was for the tree itself) and promoted the event with signage in the station and on Twitter. This gave a fresh start and level playing field to all customers.

As it turns out, I was successful in my campaign to secure the mayorship, and so on Monday evening I had the rather surreal experience of being introduced by Chad Collins, General Manager South of Chiltern Railways, as the person counting down and switching on the lights at Marylebone.

The whole event was both weird and wonderful, but has definitely left me feeling like a mobilised advocate for Chiltern Railways. I was touched by the effort and arrangements, the official photographer, the PA system (that rivalled the station’s tannoy) and the special signage and music - it was all pretty serious, even if for a minor internet celebrity (at best!).

I’m certainly looking forward to next year, and hope to see other companies using social media to offer this sort of special one-off reward. As well as being fun, I expect that Chiltern Railways may also be able to discover new advocates by identifying those who were really driven to check in multiple times for the mayorship.

Incidentally I came across this fantastic foursquare perk, with an American mall reserving a parking space for the mayor - what a clever idea!

New stats: The impact of social media on holiday choices

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Hotels, tour operators and travel providers looking to cash in on winter sun and summer breaks for 2012 would do well to pay attention to the effectiveness of their social media strategy and how social media is having an impact on how their customers choose holidays.

A recent report from the World Travel Market, which surveyed more than 1,000 UK 2011 holidaymakers, found that:

  • One third of holiday makers changed their hotel choice after consulting social media.
  • One in ten people switched resorts after using social media.
  • 7% of people who used social media to book their holiday decided to change location (country) while 5% decided to switch airline.
  • 40% of UK holidaymakers use social media to help them when researching holidays.
  • Almost nine out of ten (89%) see social media as a positive experience, with 23% using it more often in 2011 than in 2010.
  • 66% of consumers said they did not access any websites via their mobile when researching their holiday.

From an industry perspective:

  • Almost half of the travel industry 48% believe that social media will be more important than PPC by 2016.
  • Only 15% feel social media is at a tipping point and will reduce in popularity.
  • In combination, nearly half of the industry is using social media as a revenue stream or are looking to do so, at 22% and 27% respectively.

It’s likely that ratings and reviews on sites like Tripadvisor or other holiday booking portals are still playing an important role in the consumer decision making process.

However,  it’s important for the travel and tourism industry  to pay attention not just to how social media influences consumer choices, but also the impact it has on search - in terms of social search rather than just PPC or organic SEO -  particularly with the launch of Google+ branded pages.

Which UK Airport is best at engaging on Twitter? (Answer: Manchester)

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Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Airports play an important role in many travel plans. Few people will feel that they are choosing and buying services from airports as they probably travel through an airport because the cheapest or most convenient flight goes through there. In fact in many cases the best airports are either those that make your experience so fast and efficient that you don’t need to spend much time there, or those that make you feel that you aren’t just waiting for a plane whilst you are there.

For any airport using social media it is important to have a very clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve and who they are communicating with, and what they want to talk about. Bad use of Twitter would be trying to engage too many different types of stakeholder about too many different types of topic with no clear benefit or reason for the airport to be using Twitter at all. Good is a clear, focused strategy. Perhaps engaging those who are en route to the airport or who are already there - making their journeys simpler and easier. Or maybe engaging those who are planning trips to help them with information about the area as well as about passing through the airport.

To analyse the success of UK airports on Twitter we have created a ranking of UK airports on Twitter using PeerIndex - which ranks how effective Twitter accounts are at engaging and influencing people in a meaningful way. There is one clear winner in this ranking: Manchester Airport. And taking a look at their Twitter account it is easy to see why. They are focused on engaging travellers and helping them to navigate their way through the airport as efficiently as possible. They answer questions on arrivals and departures, on how to get help at the airport and on what you will find when you are there. It serves, in effect, as a customer service and FAQ tool helping people to make the most of the time they spend at Manchester airport before and after their flight. It is perhaps this focus and real engagement that makes them so successful and (currently) the leader in our ranking.

UK Airports on Twitter: Ranking