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5 Ways Travel Companies are Using Social Media to Add Value

July 2010 - It’s easy to get swept up in the buzz of social media.  Everyday there is another new and exciting social media story to hit the news.  The question remains: how are travel companies really using social media to add value?
Here are 5 ways that EyeforTravel recently found travel companies to be succeeding:-
1. Customer engagement and CRM
For P&O Cruises, social media plays an increasingly important role in their customer engagement strategy. 
As Elliott Pritchard, New Media Manager highlights, ‘social media should be a key part of any customer-centred approach.  After all, you can't get to know your customers without talking to them’.
When it comes to customer engagement, relevance is key.  Many social media articles warn of the dangers of giant social media sites capturing such vast amounts of consumer data but Pritchard confirms ‘as consumers we decry the amount of data that sites like Facebook collect about us; as marketeers we see a good opportunity to drive relevance’. 
Taking a consumer-centric approach is not all plain sailing though.  There are a few rules to remember.  For example, he warns ‘social media has opened up a new customer communication channel, it must not exist in a silo in the organisation.’
Pritchard will be sharing more of his thoughts during his upcoming presentation on how to prepare your business for the ‘next level’ of social media at EyeforTravel’s upcoming Online Marketing & Social Media in Travel Summit.
2. Crisis communications
Ash clouds, hurricanes, health scares, terrorism.  The travel industry is constantly thrown one curve ball after the next.  The ability of travel companies to deal with crisis situations quickly and efficiently is vital to their success.
In a 2009 case study with EyeforTravel, Southwest revealed how they use social media channels to keep customers informed and avert disasters before they take hold. 
Extract from the case study –
‘Last autumn, Southwest had a situation where one of our planes had to make an emergency landing in Charlestown, West Virginia as it had a hole in the side of the fuselage.  The plane landed safely and no passengers were harmed.  [….]
What Southwest did: – As soon as we got the call from dispatch that there had been an emergency landing, my counterpart Paula and I (Social Media Manager, Christi Day) logged on and started to watch the conversation (on Twitter) unfold, checking what people were saying.  We had a little message ready to tweet at the drop of a hat.  It was quite quiet on Twitter and we did not want to create a crisis when there wasn't one. We needed to watch.  Then one media outlet published a story and we sent a message.
The key was that we were prepared with a statement and with the facts (which is the most important thing).  We were able to send out a message to the Twitter audience before they announced it on the evening news. What was crucial is the fact that we did not make a mountain out of a molehill.  Timing was also crucial.  Clarity around social media is very important.’
JetBlue also values social media as an important channel for crisis communications especially in terms of monitoring.  Morgan Johnston, Manager Corporate Communications, states “With social media, things have evolved somewhat to the point where we can do some real-time monitoring which has altered how we approach a lot of these situations.”
Read the full case studies here
3. Discount deals
Farecompare, a US-based airline ticket comparison shopping website uses raw real-time airfare data directly from over 500 airlines.   They find that Twitter offers a great platform to inform customers of real-time price quotes and deals as they happen. 
They manage over 180 Twitter accounts, each focusing on deals from particular airports.  At EyeforTravel’s Social Media conference in San Francisco earlier this year, CEO, Rick Seaney said that through using Twitter, Farecompare have achieved a dramatic increase in ticket-sale percentages. 
In an earlier interview with travel blogger Dennis Schaal, Seaney said "Using Twitter as a real-time communication backbone that can touch people in a social network with relevant, actionable information instantly -- is absolutely the next generation in air travel bargain-finding.”
Launched last autumn, InterContinental Hotel Group have a Twitter account called ‘IHG Deals’.  Deals tweeted include ‘Twedding Gifts Aways’ and opportunities to boost Priority Club rewards. 
One of the main reasons behind IHG’s decision for this initiative was the fact that travellers have been on the look-out for hotel deals and value-added packages.  For such a large global brand, 2,690 followers is slow start but no doubt this will continue to grow.
The travel bargain hunters are out there and travel brands are finding Twitter is a great way to find them. 
4. Building Communities
Virgin Atlantic’s award winning travel website links travellers around the world into a bespoke online community.  It uses a special recommendations service to suggest site content from similar users, to provide useful and relevant travel information tailored to each community member.
The site includes real time updates on the top 50 events happening in the destination a traveller is visiting or plans to visit.  It’s a great way for Virgin Atlantic to inspire, engage with and add value for their customers.
British Airways social site twins the best of London and New York.  The site has successfully grown its loyal user base and is already attracting more than 23,000 unique visits a month. A further 37,000 users have registered on the site and regularly contribute by providing their own recommendations and ratings.  The site has been so successful that BA has launched Metrotwin Mumbai.
Building B2C travel community sites is advantage to travel brands but it is not a decision that should be taken lightly as considerable time, money and resources need to be invested to gain traction on such sites. 
In June this year, TripAdvisor has joined forces with Facebook.   The logic behind the tie up was that travellers increasingly prefer to seek advice and information about a destination or property from friends, friends of friends, and family.  This tool taps into the fact that many individuals already have a community of friends and family on Facebook.
As Technorati mention however, the beauty of this tool is that one never has to leave TripAdvisor, so all the hot tips and advice from people who lived and loved in the destination in question are shared and saved to a special folder.
5. Real-Time Monitoring and Response Communications
Leading US boutique hotel group, Omni Hotels revealed in a 2009 EyeforTravel case study how they add value by using social media to listen and respond to real time communications about their brand.
Extract from the case study with Kerry Kennedy, Corporate Director e-Commerce:
‘There was a guest who was part of a tweetup group and had a meeting of all their followers at an Omni hotel. Omni saw that they were coming and had the firstround of drinks ready at the bar for their arrival free of charge. Just to say welcome and we heard your tweet. They were impressed. Anything that can be done to create a more memorable stay or a better experience is what Omni are using social media for.’
He also went on to explain how one important conference attendee’s tweet regarding slow internet connection at one of the Omni Hotel properties was quickly dealt with by the hotel team who were immediately alerted to the problem.  Additional WiFi capacity was installed and the conference attendee tweeted to his numerous followers how impressed he was. 
For information on ways that travel companies are using social media to add value, download a series of free social media in travel case studies here.
Elliott Pritchard, New Media Manager, P&O Cruises will be joining other leading senior online travel professionals from travel brands across Europe at Online Marketing & Social Media in Travel Summit

For more information about the summit email [email protected].

Gina Baillie
VP Global Marketing & Events
London, UK: +44 (0)207 375 7197
[email protected]



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