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Social Media Touted as an Almost Magical Answer for Arizona's
Wounded Tourism Industry - But It's Not Necessarily a Cheap One

By Dan Sorenson, The Arizona Daily Star, TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

July 14, 2010--SOCIAL MEDIA -- Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the like -- are a free and almost magical answer for a wounded tourism industry, but not necessarily a cheap one.

That was the message at a seminar on social media held Tuesday during the Arizona Governor's Conference on Tourism at Loews Ventana Canyon.

Using social media, particularly those geared toward smart phones and other portable Internet devices, can tell a vast audience of potential customers about a hotel or restaurant -- and also tell the proprietors a lot about their customers. But success requires constant attention.

People used to instant communications aren't going to tolerate stale information, said Ty Largo and Stacey Pearson, Phoenix-area social media marketing professionals leading a session at the tourism conference.

And monitoring Facebook pages and blogs and updating websites takes time, said Largo.

A restaurant with a Facebook page that hasn't changed since the intern who set it up went back to school last August isn't doing that business much good, according to Largo.

But he and Pearson said the rewards are potentially great, especially for those who tune their online work to the right audience.

"You can tell who is interacting," Pearson said. For example, she said, if a business's primary social media demographic is made up of women 31 to 38 years old, "then you cut down your marketing to the rest of the group."

An exhibitor at the conference, Todd Skelton of TripAdvisor.com, said interactive media are valuable not only for attracting customers but helping them resolve customer problems.

Skelton said the smart reaction by a hotel manager reading a visitor's blog comment that the hotel's carpeting was shabby would be to respond with the establishment's plan to replace the carpeting -- or whatever the problem mentioned was.

And "tell them now," Skelton said, even if the answer is that it hasn't yet been replaced but that you have a scheduled replacement or repair.

Telling a customer that an establishment is doing something about a complaint can turn a disappointed customer into an ally, Skelton said.

"We're big believers" in social media, said Kathleen Evans, an advertising sales representative for Texas Monthly magazine. Evans said she was at the Tucson conference to pitch Texas Monthly as a vehicle for Arizona resorts to reach Texas tourists.

Contact reporter Dan Sorenson at dsorenson@azstarnet.com or 573-4185.

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To see more of The Arizona Daily Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.azstarnet.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

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