Written by Aylin Wispeler
Social Media – The New Source of Inspiration
Let’s consider two scenarios:
January 1990: “What do you think about summer holidays this year? Let’s go to the travel agency tomorrow and get some brochures for inspiration.”
January 2014: “What do you think about a trip to London next weekend? My friend just posted some great pictures of her shopping at Oxford Street. Also holidayguru posted a deal – Two people, London, only 100 pounds.”
The differences are obvious, right? In 2014, there have been 220 million young travellers, here, defined as people between the age of 18 and 27, of which 57% of Asian and approximately 35% of EMEA and US travellers use social media as an inspiration for travel (eMarketer, 2013; World Tourism Organization, 2014). The impact of social media in the travel and tourism industry becomes more and more popular (European Travel Commission, 2015).
This article focuses therefore on social media as a new source of information and explores its impact on the youth tourism industry. It investigates deeper how young travellers can be defined and what their travel values are about. The article will conclude with two examples of how firms can respond to this emerging trend. Therefore, it contributes to a more complete understanding of social media in the youth travel sector. It is considered especially valuable for all of you who see themselves confronted with the developments of the digital world. All in all speaking, we will be focusing on three main questions:
- How is social media impacting youth tourism?
- Did the digital world, social media, shape a new kind of traveller?
- How can companies respond to the social media trend?
Social media becomes an ever more important part in every industry. Therefore, it is necessary to study this phenomenon closer in order to draw conclusions and implement it into the promotional mix effectively. The term ‘social media’ can be defined as “a medium, in the context of communication and sociology. Thereby it provides a means for storing and delivering data in a social context (networks) made up of social actors (individuals, groups or organizations)” (Peters et al., 2013,p.282).
Social media was empowered by the evolution of Web 2.0 and therewith the digital age, which has increased consumer power (Labrecque et al., 2013). Virtual communities such as social media platforms have stimulated crowd-based power, meaning unlimited access to information and resources online. Furthermore, it offers the opportunity to produce content and execute self-expression (Labrecque et al., 2013).
Before, During and After Travel – Social Media, Your Partner in Crime
Whether summer vacation, backpacking adventure, weekend trip or semester abroad, today’s youth is more than any other segment expressing the need to travel. Whatever the motive of young travellers, there is something they all have in common: The usage of digital channels (World Tourism Organization, 2011).
In the travel industry, the Web 2.0 and social media provide valuable information with regards to experiences, reviews and photos. Travellers consider word-of-mouth an especially strong and reliable source because travel is an intangible product difficult to evaluate (Litvin and Goldsmith, 2008). According to a study by Google (2013), the Internet is a powerful instrument for inspiring new travel destinations and planning the trip. Thereby, the main sources of inspiration are family, friends or colleagues (62%) and the Internet (61%). This is supported by a study of nielsen (2012) saying that 92% of the participants completely trust recommendations of people they know, followed by consumer opinions posted online (70%).
Consumer-generated content spread through social media is considered much more impactful than stories published through traditional channels (Gensler et al., 2013). This development achieved a network-based power, which is characterized by added value due to the self- and co-created content (Labrecque et al., 2013). Prospective travellers consider the unbiased view of like-minded people trustworthy. Due to this change, the control and responsibility of marketing- and brand managers has shifted to individuals who blog, post, share and tweet on social media (Kietzmann et al., 2011). Also recent research has indicated that young travellers actively use social media in collecting feedback from their friends and others before, during and after their trip (Kim, Fesenmaier and Johnson, 2013). Travellers in the age between 25 and 34 years are most likely to consider social media as a source for inspiration in regards to their travel plans. More than 1/3 put holiday-related content on social media to share with friends, families and followers. (Hypertext, 2012)
“Tools and information that are anything less than real time seem increasingly outdated and unreliable for youth travellers” (World Tourism Organization, 2011, p.16).
Traveller 2.0 – A New Definition
It becomes obvious that the digital age has shaped a new kind of (youth) traveller. So what would be a more appropriate than naming him/her Traveller 2.0? Based on the previous information a definition of traveller 2.0 has been created.
Traveller 2.0 is most likely a member of generation Y and can be described as a digital native. The Web 2.0 is part of its every day life and social media, instant messaging and blogging are familiar vocabularies. Not only in school but also in its leisure time does traveller 2.0 consider the Internet a valuable source of information. Social media allows generating objective opinions of friends, family and third parties quickly. Traveller 2.0 is expected to be open-minded, self-confident and passionate about other countries and cultures. Travelling is about the ultimate experience of exploring something new. Depending on the travel destination and duration, traveller 2.0 might act spontaneous and impulsive after being inspired by a picture, post or review online. As traveller 2.0 has a limited budget, the opinions of friends or peer-generated content and pictures are very meaningful and most impactful in the decision-making process. Travel agencies and photo-shopped pictures in travel magazines have less impact and are considered seldomly. While travelling, traveller 2.0 tends to keep its social media network updated with pictures and posts about the travel destination. This in turn inspires other travellers 2.0 and further increases the impact of social media in youth tourism.
Keeping Up With the Trend – Reaching Traveller 2.0 effectively
“In an era of unprecedented challenge for the travel industry, youth travel represents not just an important market segment, but also a vital resource for innovation and change” (World Tourism Organization, 2011, p.5).
51% of companies already established a social media presence in order to communicate with their customers (Gonçalves Pereira, de Fátima Salgueiro and Mateus, 2014). This step is essential if companies want to stay competitive. In order to reach traveller 2.0 effectively, travel agencies have to keep up with this emerging trend and adjust communication channels accordingly. The advent of social media has turned brand managers role away from being the “author” of the company’s success story. Consumers are more than ever before empowered to engage in this story by sharing their opinion (Gensler et al., 2013). Recent research has furthermore shown that social media such as Facebook has the power to influence travellers positively and affect the tourism experience (Kim, Fesenmaier and Johnson, 2013).
Let us take a look at two exemplary ideas on how to implement social media into the communication strategy and thereby engage with traveller 2.0:
Expedia – What do your Social Media Habits Say About Your Travel Style? (Business Insider, 2012)
The US online travel agency, Expedia, implemented the Web 2.0 as well as social media in their communication strategy by introducing a new quiz. The quiz was conceptualized based on 40,000 trips booked through the Expedia webpage. It aimed at (young) travellers who are smartphone owners and social media users. By taking the quiz participants would find out how their tech and social media habits affect their travel style and furthermore, determine their type of traveller. The quiz was displayed as an interactive infographic, which appealed to young travellers and was promoted through the Web and social media channels. The quiz furthermore, generated traffic to Expedia’s webpage and inspired travellers to book trips.
sta Travel – Taking the journey online
The specialist of youth tourism, sta Travel, started launching a number of initiatives fostering its online presence (sta Travel, 2015; Wyse Travel Confederation, 2014). Not only did they develop new mobile apps, which allow travellers to customize their trips and take advantage of various deals online but also did they redesign their flagship store in London. The “new” store includes a big video screen, which broadcasts social media chats of travellers and shows destination videos. Furthermore is staff sitting in an “inspiration zone” assisting customers with planning their vacation using laptops. Alternatively, customers can bring their own devices to receive planning assistance. This way sta Travel still keeps its brick and mortar stores but is working heavily on building a strong online presence and digital interaction to appeal to the younger audience (Wyse Travel Confederation, 2014).
Social Media – Where Does the Journey Take us?
The above are only two examples on how (travel) companies can respond to the emerging trend and appeal to traveller 2.0. However, it should become clear that neglecting social media in communication strategy planning would most likely hurt the business in the long term.
Let’s go back to the questions posed in the beginning of the article and see in how far this research has helped us to answer them.
Young travellers are using the Internet and especially social media as one of their main sources of information before, during and after their trip. Traditional travel agencies are rarely considered anymore, as the objective opinion, reviews and photos of like-minded people appear to be more trustworthy and an inspirational source.
The digital age shaped a new kind of traveller, who could not be more appropriately named than Traveller 2.0. Traveller 2.0 relies heavily on social media. Experiences, reviews and photos posted by other travellers inspire travel planning and destinations. By contributing to social networks itself, the impact that social media has on youth tourism is further stimulated.
There are several ways of how companies can respond to the emerging trend of social media in youth travel. It is however suggested to adjust communication channels and foster a strong online presence, which appeals to traveller 2.0. Thereby, the usage of social media platforms and apps should be of main consideration.
By 2020, the number of international youth trips is expected to grow to 300 million (World Tourism Organization, 2011). Furthermore is social media experiencing strong growth in other segments as well. So building a strong online presence and implementing social media will become essential for survival in the travel industry in the near future.
For me the whole discussion leads to another question: How is the social media trend developing in other age segments and will there be a future for travel brick and mortars?
What do you think?
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