Written by: Sally-Anne Amakye
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent in the ideas of living” – Miriam Beard.
Several industries from the likes of fashion to technology are accustomed to seasonal changes and trends. One such industry is that of travel and tourism in which the trembles and pace at which an industry changes is felt significantly.
For decades the travel and tourism industry has been one of the fastest paced and revolutionary industries. Influenced particularly by vast technological advancements. Content on destinations, transportation and hospitality to name but a few is now being influenced by not only those within the industry but also in particular individuals, who find themselves able to play a large and yet crucial role. These individuals are identified as key social influencers and avid travel bloggers.
Day in and day out it is possible to read about an individual that decided to leave the toll of corporate work and fulfil dreams of travelling the world. Those that do take on such journeys or those that act on a their passion to travel such as known blogger ‘The Travelista’ have found the balance between social media usage and the means to fund their travel experiences.
To understand the importance of the role that social media plays within travel and tourism this article will look at three specific criteria, 1. Social media (Blogs, Facebook, Instagram) and how they are currently being utilised within the travel cycle, 2. Social media influencer marketing and the importance of building a community via strong and 3. The shift from developed destinations to new emerging locations.
With the growth of peer-to –peer tourism such as Airbnb, it is essential that traditional travel providers are able to remain competitive. The scope of the travel and tourism industry is particularly large and the impact social media has had across the board is startling, as such this article will briefly mention its impact on facets including hotels and transport. The focal point will remain on travel destinations themselves, in which 40% of online travellers have said is influenced by their visit to a social networking site (social media and tourism industry statistics, 2012)
Social media and the industry – Destinations, airlines, hotels and restaurants
Travel remains one of the most popular and active focal points on social media, a survey commissioned by Facebook identified that ‘holidays’ were the third most popular posts, only toped by posts regarding friends/family and the news (Deloitte, 2014).
The nature of the travel industry is one that lends itself perfectly to social media (NITB, 2016) this is due to its highly personal yet subjective experience. 92% of global consumers trust ‘earned media’, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations form friends and family, above all other forms of advertising (Nielsen,2013).
The influence of social media not only inspires travellers but can also lead to alterations in travel plans, with only 48% of social media users sticking to their original travel plans after research on social media. Those that were influenced
33% Changed their hotel
10% switched resorts
10% changed agent/operator
7% holidayed in a different country
5% switched airlines.
(Stikky Media, 2016)
Knowingly or unknowingly social media has come to play a crucial role in what is often deemed as the ‘travel cycle’ or ‘travel experience.’ This cycle looks into the breakdown and order in which the travel experience occurs and as such can be seen in three stages, Stage 1: Research and Booking (Dreaming, Planning & Booking), Stage 2: Vacation (Experiencing) and finally, Stage 3: Post-Vacation (Sharing).
Looking further into this cycle it is possible to identify how social media has been utilised at each stage.
Research & Booking: Travel inspiration, recommendation by friends/family, social ads- use of platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook
Vacation: Post/Comment travel experience, Check-in to location, post online reviews. As of 2014, 72% of travellers posted vacation photos on a social network, whilst still on location. 46% checked in to a location via Facebook or FourSquare whilst on vacation and 70% updated their Facebook status while on vacation.
Post-Vacation: Share photos/videos, Post-online reviews, ‘Like’ a place/brand
46% of travellers post hotel reviews, with 76% sharing vacation photos to social network upon return.
Unlike other sectors, social media usage within the travel sector is very much a two-way notion, with the aforementioned examples indicating what those who are involved in the experience do. There also exists the second side, the use of social media by those creating the experiences location, airlines, hotels and restaurants.
The role played by social media with the industry is both supply and demand.
Current use of social media:
As is evident travellers use social media for travel inspiration and the travel industry as a key source of business. By researching the ways in which we ourselves take conscious decisions regarding travel planning, it can be seen that the influence of others, be it close friends or mere hearsay has a vast impact on elements including the very travel destination that is chosen. Historically the opinions and views of others was very much through word of mouth, however this has now evolved to include social media. To remain competitive in an ever-evolving environment, industry players are not required to reinvent the wheel, but take the next logical step. In this instance it has been the merging of social media platforms and travel/travellers reviews to create social media influential marketing. Simply put this would equate to:
Social media influential marketing: a useless PR stunt or the new form of community building?
“With a disproportionate ability to spread information and add credibility, influencers are human TV stations and magazines.” - Jay Baer
Social media patronage or more commonly known social media endorsements, has been notoriously used by organisations across all sectors in particular with celebrities. Initially the formula was very much the same as that of celebrity television endorsements, however the birth of the buzzword ‘Social influencer’ has changed the way in which companies aim to communicate with customers. This term does not discount the use of celebrities as influencers, on the contrary it looks further into relationship marketing, by finding people (peers), consumers can relate to or find more realistic and as such can form a relationship with. Although celebrity endorsements are still common-place, millennial’s are able to develop a true brand experience through the use of social influencers.
The use of social influencers has been prevalent not only within the cosmetics industry but within the travel and tourism industry. Influential marketing is not a new concept in this industry, however the addition of social media into the marketer’s toolbox has provided an exciting opportunity. Prominent social media influencers within the travel and tourism industry can run into millions, with social media accounts such as @muradosmann – Facebook and Instagram, theTravelista- Travel blog. Although many smaller social media accounts exist and a vast amount of engaging content is available, the varying types of social media users must be identified, Tbilisi, 2013 identifies five main stages and types of social media users, Inactive, Spectator, Joiner, Critical and Creator. Those that are creators can be identified as the content creators.
The intention of using social media influencers/bloggers is to build brand exposure, create online content, drive engagement, grow social media base and ultimately increase sales, in this case visitors.
An Italian love story
A popular example of influential social media marketing is the infamous ‘BlogVille Project’ carried out in 2012 and organised by the Italian tourism board. 50 bloggers from four continents were provided with apartments and tours/expeditions in order to experience the town of Emilia Romanaga like a local. The results of this project, lead to a total of 250 blog posts being published, 7 million twitter accounts reached and the hashtag #BlogVille trending globally. In addition over 3,000 pictures and videos were shared on social media platforms. Although statistically the number of visits generated by the campaign is not openly known, several requests were made to the board asking for the exact experience with people changing their itineraries to visit the location.
As such social media influencers can bring travel destinations to life, they use their own content and their own world to show new travellers what they can also experience (The Travel Tester,2016)
So is it just a passing trend?
“Traditional marketing and advertising is telling the world you’re a rockstar where as content marketing is showing the world you are one” – Robert Rose.
By producing content on social media and working alongside social influencers to engage and endorse brands, it has been possible for those in the travel industry to create audience engagement. As previously mentioned, some destinations have already made use social media in an attempt to grow their visitor base. Such campaigns have included interactive competitions (win a trip) or sharing of promotional material.
The increased connectedness of travellers and those who dream of travelling has spelt an endless supply of information but in addition has paved the way for many destinations who were not initially competitive, to compete with established locations.
The new destinations of choice - The shift from developed to emerging
Destinations that in the past have made use of traditional push marketing techniques and social media promotions face pressures of retaining visitors. Some destinations however find themselves starting from scratch “Attracting users/visitors”
At one point in time, attracting and inspiring users would have required access to a wealth of resources, which many may not have had access to. This however seems to no longer be a hindrance, with the increasing access to information and ease of sharing, the popularity of lesser-known locations is on the rise. Teamed with the growth in usage of social media across regions such as Eastern Europe, Asia, South America and Africa it seems that such locations are in a position to take advantage of social media marketing initiatives including influencer marketing. This position is crucial to those who may not be actively engaging with an audience. Although not the focal point of this article it must be noted that destinations are able to utilise key influencers to their advantage in a bid to promote the destination, it must be used with caution social media usage can quickly backfire.
Estonia… Where is that?
Many deem Estonia as an up and coming tourist destination, those at the Estonian tourism board have taken the first step in using influential marketing techniques to attract visitors. The aim of the social media-led campaign is to encourage more Swedish people to travel to the country, as such 97 swedes, one for each year Estonia has been independent to share unusual experiences of the country via their social media channels. It could therefore be the case that this is the beginning of a bright future for tourism within Estonia. (Econsultancy, 2016)
Inspiring those that follow
As suggested by Oliver Gradwell, Founder & CEO of Travel Bloggers Unite, the potential for growth, development and change is tremendous.
In order to inspire, it is important to firstly understand. Social media marketing has been helpful to understand the attitude of customers. Influential social media marketing within the tourism and travel sector must seek to create and expand a community through the already existing network.
5 Key takeaways
The importance of influencer marketing on social media is one that can one longer be ignored, to remain in the game, tourism destinations must engage in the on-going conversations and use the best advocates to do so. On the bases of this article it is possible to summarise how emerging destinations can make use of this new wave of marketing;
Understand the importance of building a community
Discover the right influencers
Create Inspiring content
Ensure interaction across the entire travel experience
Begin the conversation
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