by David Craft
It’s clear that social media and travel are in a long-term relationship, and it benefits travel companies to be a committed partner—and to keep the romance alive. A recent post on Medium.com might have been hyperbole just a couple years ago, but not today. “Social media is bringing travel inspiration and knowledge to the masses, and people are hungry for more. Social media has become the ultimate form of word-of-mouth marketing, and travel brands need to know how to leverage their audiences to connect with travelers and bring in business.”
Let’s look at a sampling of the “mind-blowing stats,” Giselle Abramovich collected for Adobe’s cmo.com:
- 55% of people like social media pages connected to trips they’re planning
- 52% of Facebook users said their travel plans are influenced by friends’ photos
- 50+% of travelers from the US, Australia, the UK and Canada said deals on social media influence travel decisions
Big Bus Tours succinctly sums up the importance of social media to today’s travelers. “These days, if your holiday isn’t splashed across social media, it’s like you never went.” They list Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, Paris’ Eiffel Tower and Hungary’s Parliament Building as “some of the most Instagrammed landmarks last year” along with “huge street art scenes, like Wynwood Walls in Miami and San Francisco’s Art District.”
Instagram “continues to take the industry by storm, making ‘insta-tourism’ as much a part of global travel as passports. Younger explorers are making entire trip plans based on photogenic spots captured on Instagram.”
Neasa Bannon, head of travel for EMEA at Instagram, shared some revealing stats during World Travel Market London last fall:
- “Travel lovers” visit the platform 28 days per month
- 70% follow a travel brand
- Approximately 75% of travel followers likely will “take action on videos they see, either swiping up (for more information), sharing with a friend, visiting a website or downloading an app”
- 1,000,000 travel-related hashtags are searched weekly
The WEX U.S. Travel Trends Report 2019 similarly shows that Instagram is a significant influencer on where younger travelers book trips – with 22% of Millennials and 30% of Gen Z being influenced by the platform.
Meeting travelers where they are
As travelers moved online, so have travel companies, which now spend the majority of their marketing budgets (61%) on online channels. Stepping up efforts on social platforms is the natural next step, and companies are using different strategies to stand out.
Writing for postbeyond.com, Lauren Durfy lists companies gaining sizeable followings. Air Asia has more than 3.2 million Twitter followers. Brazil’s Hotel Urbano’s Facebook likes have grown to more than 12 million, and the SoHo House hotel chain’s Instagram account has more than 330,000 followers.
Last year, TripAdvisor added its own social-media-like personal travel feed to its home page. The company’s CEO, Steve Kaufer, said, “Everyone reaches out to friends, their social network, old-style branded content, social influencers. People are interested in where friends have gone and what they like, we’re just streamlining that process.”
Instagram Stories have grown in popularity, including with travel brands. The initial expectation was that it “would be more a one-to-one space,” but results show “a third of Stories viewed are from businesses.” Instagram’s Bannon says Airbnb, Hostelworld and Virgin Holidays have “taken advantage of the format.”
Travel companies are using other social tools too, branded hashtags for one. Medium.com notes they’re effective because they encourage a brand’s target audience to be “part of the action.” An Explore Minnesota campaign “invited locals and travelers to the conversation through the use of the #OnlyinMN hashtag. Today, the hashtag has been used almost 600,000 times.”
Monitoring social platforms for mentions, positive and negative, is a critical part of leveraging social media. Ashley Sisk cites a great Delta Hotels example. By listening to guests’ social comments they were able to respond to a guest who wasn’t thrilled with a room. After offering an upgrade, and making the minimal expenditure of a “tray of sweets with a handwritten card,” the guest’s positive post garnered 297 likes and 68 comments.
More and more companies are creating employee advocacy programs to leverage employees’ posts. Postbeyond’s Durfy explains, “Employees in travel are passionate about their industry and love sharing travel experiences over social. Their content tends to be highly visual, personal, exciting and generates high engagement.” The Travel Corporation has successfully implemented an advocacy program—and has “generated over 450,000 content interactions and $1 million in earned media value through their employees.”
Where to next
These are just some of the innovative ways that travel companies are tapping into the power of social media to connect with travelers. So, where does this symbiotic relationship go from here? Ask a group of experts and you’ll likely get slightly different answers, and the truth is that social media will head where its users take it, not necessarily where marketers expect it to head. To stay relevant, companies need to consider the steps and moments for travelers and have specific social media strategies for each. Is their trip just an idea? Are they actively researching? Are they ready to make a decision?
And, of course, we must be flexible because social media continues to evolve. As Instagram’s Bannon explains, companies need to regularly look at their audience and content. “It’s very much a test-and-learn platform…What worked six months ago might no longer work.”