The travel industry has been quick to adopt online technologies, but social media is still fighting to find its place inside individual companies. Many organizations still operate with sales, marketing, and customer service operating as separate entities, and social ends up off on its own, disconnected from existing operations.
As a result, they miss out on many of the potential benefits of a fully-integrated social strategy. It’s also a huge cause for concern, as customers are increasingly reliant on social media to help make booking decisions, share their experiences with their followers, and call for help during mid-trip emergencies.
The travel industry becomes even more complicated outside the head office. Creating the perfect holiday for a customer involves dozens of moving parts – flights, transfers, accommodation, excursions, foreign exchange, special requests – all delivered by local partners across the world.
So, although the end destination is responsible for delivering an exceptional experience, the company taking a traveler’s booking is responsible for picking up the pieces when something goes wrong. Or basking in the glory when everything goes right.
Many travel businesses who have adopted social media tend to use it as another marketing channel – a way to distribute content quickly and easily. But, at a time when customers expect a personalized experience, simply broadcasting at them will never be enough.
Instead, travel businesses need to use social media to build relationships with customers. This slow-burn approach allows them to understand client interests and preferences and build exceptionally-tailored experiences using that information.
A socially-aware, connected customer base is changing the travel industry on all sides – here are a few of the transformations already underway.
Social media and travel – the business side of the equation
The multi-layer model of the modern travel business presents a big challenge, particularly when trying to build a consistent message across each channel. Even a small subsection of the industry, such as a hotel chain, faces hurdles when entering the social media arena.
Take the example of Highgate Hotels, a chain operating forty franchised properties across the world. An audit revealed that the organization had 200 different social media profiles being managed by 41 marketing professionals. This situation may sound crazy, but in order to stay connected with as many customers as possible, Highgate needed to have a big online presence.
The biggest challenge facing internal business operations is managing a vast array of new communications channels – and delivering high quality, engaging content through each. To help provide some consistency across each social account, Highgate employs a social media manager who manages the activities of a global team of “ambassadors” to execute campaigns and updates.
The Highgate team is linked via the Falcon platform, giving them a common workspace, tools, and a shared resource library from which to work – and providing much-needed consistency and quality at every point of contact.
Social media and travel – the consumer side of the equation
For the modern tourist, social media is an integral part of their travel experience. From initial destination research to mid-trip updates to posting reviews upon their return, every detail of their experience is likely to end up on social media, or a review site like TripAdvisor.
Travel businesses must stay on top of customer updates to ensure that they are having a high-quality and enjoyable experience throughout. A tool like Falcon’s Listen platform provides a way to monitor conversations and step in when something appears to be going wrong.
This kind of listening is vital for dealing with unexpected travel interruptions, allowing travel companies to help their customers get the assistance they need – and manage their own reputation.
TUI Nordic are a great example of a business that has a well-developed social media strategy, allowing them to engage with customers at every stage of their trip, and step in when disaster strikes. More importantly still, this strategy is embedded at every level of TUI, with a heavy emphasis on customer experience – every activity is focused on the client’s needs.
Social media’s golden rule for travel
In the travel industry, no matter who your customer is or where they are going, they expect a personalized experience. Most people save up all year for their annual holiday, and they want their investment to be worth it.
The importance of knowing each customer and their preferences cannot be understated. One study found that nearly two-thirds of travelers want offers targeted to where they are and what they’re doing. And that over half of travelers want offers tailored to their needs and interests.1
“Passengers expect a tailored and personalized buying experience, similar to their online experience with major retailers.”
Allison O’Neill VP Passenger Services, SITA
Social media, travel and the future
Just as TUI demonstrated, your activities across every channel need to be focused on creating the best possible customer experience. The better you know them, the better equipped you are to meet their needs.
This means breaking down internal silos and aligning processes across all of the business units. Even the creation of new processes that are focused entirely on the customer.
Moving forward, the travel industry will need to take a lead from LateRooms.com and their innovative, award-winning Magic Making Dept. program. This campaign delivers personalized experiences for socially-engaged customers, turning them into brand advocates who willingly promote LateRooms.com to their friends and family.
The Magic Making Dept. program has grown out of the realization that broadcasting sales messages, no matter how targeted they may be, are only partially effective. By engaging customers as brand advocates, businesses will see their messages carried far beyond their own social reach. A focus on creating experiences, stories, and memories allows customers to continue to enjoy their holidays long after they return home.
In return, LateRooms.com reports a rise in brand engagement, customer loyalty, and direct website traffic.
Travel companies will also need to investigate how software tools can be used to help them meet these new goals. A platform like Falcon cuts through departmental boundaries and allows every business unit to engage with customers, share resources, and access the resulting insights. This information will then help everyone brainstorm and implement new ideas and services for the benefit of their customers – making social media management tools vital.
To learn more about social media and how any travel business can start to reap benefits like those reported by TUI and Highgate Hotels, arrange your free demo of Falcon today.