Monday, August 6, 2012

Social Media and Tourism

Before 2005 many planning a trip would rely on travel professionals/experts for advice about great places to go things to see and adventures to embark on. Most of us would go to trusted brands such as Lonely Planet and National Geographic for information and go to a travel agency to buy a vacation package. As such, the travel industry followed a traditional approach of innovation to create differentiation followed by promotion (marketing push) and sales. Travelers were herded by the industry as getting off the usual beaten path would imply a higher time investment to gather information and higher risks.

Rapidly evolving Tourist Landscape:  A world of Tourist 2.0
In 2005 when WEB 2.0 was introduced, Tourism 2.0 (T2.0) was born - revolutionizing the travel industry.  Although T2.0 is supported by technology, there are many other shifts and factors at play. This new approach to internet and commerce shifted the power from the service providers and travel experts to customers. T2.0 model is all about communities, networks, openness, peering, sharing, collaboration and ultimately customer empowerment.

The corner stone of this revolution is lead by User Generated Content, UGC.  Users can share information like never before and the industry can no longer harness it. People are engaged as they want to tell their trip stories, share pictures and experiences. According to Stacey Santos in the “2012 Social Media and Tourism Industry Statistics” regarding trip reviews:
  • 46% of travelers post hotel reviews
  • 40% post activity/attraction reviews
  • 40% post restaurant reviews
  • 76% post vacation photos to a social network
  • 55% “liked” Facebook pages specific to a vacation

These statistics help demonstrate to us just the large volume data that is available to consumers online. Travelocity, Expedia, TripAdvisor are just a few examples of Tourism 2.0 sites.  TripAdvisor, for example, connects directly with Facebook and, right of the bat, shows your Facebook friends reviews/activities and prompts you to write a review.

In this environment data becomes transparent: pricing discrepancies are easily spotted and false misinformation is unveiled. No more “Great ocean view” in between buildings. 

Online consumer’s reviews have become the second most trusted source of information for travelers only behind word-of-mouth and friends/ family advice.  Consumers are blocking push marketing and engaging more and more in social networks for travel advice.  The influence of T2.0 data on travelers is undeniably strong “Of those who used social media to research travel plans, only 48% stuck with their original travel plans” says Stacey Santos. Many consumers also feel more confident about their decisions which can now be supported by the unbiased opinion of fellow customers.

Now add collaboration on top of UGC. Customers are engaging and interacting with each other in an unparalleled manner. T2.0 implementations’ role expanded to facilitate that interaction among customers so customers can easily connect to each other and help themselves to get what they want. The collective intelligence and information volume that can be generated in this way exceeds the capabilities of any individual site.

The community concept naturally followed and spread. Gusto, iExplore and IgoUgo are just a few of community sites where users share itineraries, adventures, pictures and other travel information.

IgoUgo Sites even includes other providers (completion) links to facilitate comparison (see below). The speed with which you can consume the information has become such that providers can no longer profit of people’s lack of information or difficulties in finding it. T2.0 Sites that provide the best way for users to rapidly get what they want will profit from it.
A Provider’s perspective – HelloBC Case Study:  Social Media and Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO)
Tourism BC (TBC), British Columbia (BC)’s Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), and its online presence, HelloBC, is the first contact point for hundreds of thousands of tourist that visit the province each year.  It represents the province’s 6 tourism RDMO consisting of over 130 communities.   TBC is a leader in leveraging Social Media and Web 2.0 to engage an evolving Tourism landscape of Tourist 2.0.  As one of the first DMOs to include Blogs and User Generated Content (UGC), it won the 2007 Canadian e-Tourism Innovation award.  In a recent Social Media and Tourism book (2012) co-authored by a number of industry experts[i], Dr.  Volo, highlights that HelloBC demonstrates some good “best practices” examples of Social Media adoption, including successfully exploiting Blogs – a medium that has helped re-invent tourism communications.  A number of studies including Hays et al., Shao et al., and Hamill et al. highlight the wide variation and associated challenges DMOs face in Social Media Adoption.

TBC has a progressive strategy to remain relevant with Tourist 2.0.  Its efforts focus on interacting with past, present, and future visitors as well as other stakeholders including residents, in relevant ways, and joining their conversations to build “long-term engagement around an appreciation of British Columbia and its many tourism assets.”  A direct review of HelloBC and its history, coupled with insight from (1) 2008 - 2011 interview and Blogs from HelloBC’s prolific strategist, William Bakker (now Chief Strategist  at Think! Social Media)), and (2) Volo’s expert observations highlight the following points:

  • TBC’s strategy included incremental steps, with experimentation and refinement. The Blog effort migrated from DMO content, to partner content, and finally to the successful 2007 UGC introduction.

  • The importance of a “Web 2.0” culture is echo by a number of other experts including Wollan et al. In addition to having a progressive, internal culture, HelloBC updated its systems to support this effort in a scalable manner. Volo advises DMOs to adopt Web 2.0 social media cultural changes, internally and externally, including Blogs which are integrated with other Social Media platforms. This adoption includes accepting customer empowerment, partnership, open communications, mutually beneficial information sharing and to openly acknowledge cases of promotion.

  • The UGC effort (1) “added a whole layer of credibility”, (2) created insightful, directed, timely and engaging responses, (3) leveraged mass collaboration/engagement of the community, and (4) created a virtuous engagement cycle which enabled HelloBC to gather more insight on consumers, their segmentation, and to identify important tourism activities and assets. The power of UGC is in its authenticity, in its storytelling, and in its ability to engender an emotional connection to people, places and things. Tourism experiences are especially well communicated in a multimedia storytelling format (Yoo et al. 2011).

  • Usability is paramount for both content creation and usage. Tips, ideas and guides are provided to simplify UGC creation. Extensive UGC blog filtering tools are provided. The extensive support for other Social Media platform (Google Maps, Flickr, YouTube, content feeds), enables greater content reach. Furthermore, TDC campaigns leverage other social media platforms with special offers, contest and events. Volo notes that DMOs should encourage repeated visitations to Blogs and the cross-usage of social media platforms. HelloBC also has extensive user privacy protection policies with opt-in/out for contact, unsubscribing and information request.
  • In addition to engaging all of its community, TBC actively sought out and leveraged key social media influencers.
  • Field Reports feature Video-Multimedia content targeted at generating Buzz - awareness, discussion and site traffic - of a particular offering or experience. Field reporters had some level of video technology proficiency (to generate a UGC style Youtube Video). They were contest winners, influencers and others who were passionate about BC. The reporter and other stakeholders would typically blog on-board and off-board to amplify the Buzz.
  • Field Reports feature Video-Multimedia content targeted at generating Buzz - awareness, discussion and site traffic - of a particular offering or experience. Field reporters had some level of video technology proficiency (to generate a UGC style Youtube Video). They were contest winners, influencers and others who were passionate about BC. The reporter and other stakeholders would typically blog on-board and off-board to amplify the Buzz.

  • 2010 Winter Olympics feature multimedia content generated around the world class event. Influencer blogging helped to raise Buzz. Pre-Olympic events included Twitter contest with Olympic ticket prizes. Twitter was a key tool to engage and to make event and general planning recommendations to followers. According to Volo, Tweetdeck was a key tool used to keep track of follower profiles. HelloBC succeed in tripling its Twitter following.
  • Podcast feature event and tourism related events from local communities
  • Tips From Travellers and Tip from Us enable visitors, residents, and stakeholders to propose and post informal traveller styled blog entries covering travel stories and experiences. The site has clear non-promotional policies and other posting policies as well as posting aids as described earlier.
Finally, Volo notes that although the amount of viral marketing generated was enormous, “the full exploitation of these efforts, through monitoring and measuring of the results are still under investigations.”  This view is consistent with the rapidly evolving state of both DMOs, specifically and with Social Media Metrics in general.

What is next?
The industry has leveraged analytics to benefit from all that information produced by customers. Analytics have helped find ways to present the data in a way that facilitates the customer’s life without influencing results as to preserve trust/credibility. For example, besides the average hotel rating, a review site could show rating inflection points over time. Let’s say that due to change in management the average rating of Hotel X drops from 4.5 starts to 4.3 in two months; looking only at the average over a long period of time will hide the fact that Hotel X presented a 2 starts ranting for the last 2 months. As business continue to place high priority on strategic performance tools such as the balanced scorecard, these ratings and consumer feedback have and will continue to prove to be useful in defining and evaluation consumer satisfaction metrics.  Consumers would like to know their comments and rating are taken seriouslyand that root causes are identified. This will keep T2.0 providers busy searching for small innovation increments.
Tourism 3.0, as the analogy suggests, will piggy back on WEB 3.0 concepts:

Web Semantics is a fundamental block of T3.0 which will make possible for web sites to identify relationships between independent pages’ contents. So if one site contains the entry Rio de Janeiro is in Brazil and another site tell Carnival happens in Rio de Janeiro the programs will be able to identify the relationship between these pages and web searches will be way more effective and efficient.  The question “I live in Ottawa and I want to plan a trip to watch a Soccer World Cup game and the Carnival” could generate way better results than it will today.

The focus on Mobile is truly expanding. Ubiquitous computing and the innovation that is accompanying it, such as the “Generically called “software-only positioning,” Skyhook’s new replacement for (or supplement to) GPS takes advantage of the prevalence of wireless internet consumer products in cities” mentioned by Christian Sandvig – MIT press- Wireless Play and Unexpected Innovation, will create many more options for people to use social media.DMOs will proactively (or ultimately be forced to) climb the maturity stages to adjust to the rapidly evolving landscape of T2.0 and future T3.0.

According to Ian Yeoman “The traveler will want more in less time or with less effort – this has implications for everything from the format of events through to booking processes and the nature of breaks.”

Authors: Glauco Barcotti, Robert Chan and Natalie Strittmatter

Bakker William (2011) TG4 Interview. Accessed on July 14, 2012.

Bakker William Personal Blogs (2012) Accessed on July 14, 2012.

Bakker William/Think!Social Media (2012) 5 levels of social media sophistication at the DMO. Accessed on July 14, 2012.

Budd Stephen (2009) Travel and Web 3.0 - What Does This Mean?. January 2 2009.

Etlinger Susan (2011) A Framework for Social Analytics. Altimeter Group

Grossman David I2007) Travel 2.0: Social networking takes a useful turn. USA Today

Hays Stephanie, Page Stephen John, Buhalis Dimitrios (2012) Social media as a destination marketing tool: its use by national tourism organizations. Rutledge

HelloBC Website (2012) Accessed on July 14, 2012.

Sigala Marianna, Christou Evangelos, TEI Alexander, Gretzel Ulrike (2012). Social Media in Travel, Tourism and Hospitality: Theory, Practice and Cases. Ashgate

Santos Stacey (2012). 2010 Social Media and Tourism Industry Statistics. Stikky Media -

Wollan Robert, Smith Nick, Zhou, Catherine (2011) The Social Media Management Handbook, John Wiley & Sons, Inc

World Travel Market (2011). The World Travel Market (WTM) Industry Report and Global Trends Report.

Yoo K H, Gretzel Ulrike (2011) Influence of personality on travel-related consumer-generated media creation. Computers in Human Behavior 609-621

[i] “Social Media in Travel, Tourism and Hospitality:  Theory, Practice and Cases” has 35 leading Tourism and related Social Media industry contributors (both practitioners and academics) and is edited by industry experts Drs Sigala, Christou, and Getzel.