The evolution of the social media has changed the way we live. For example, 18 percent of consumers use social networking sites before even getting out of bed. It has also changed the way people travel. There have been drastic changes in how people search, shop for and purchase travel. Today’s online travelers are content creators and collaborators, posting traveler reviews and actively sharing travel experiences through their social networks. This interactive sharing is affecting not only travel products and service but also companies that are in travel businesses.
Uses of social media have brought significant growth in online traffic to company’s website. Social media has played significant role in bringing people in the website. Website is one of the important customer touch point because it is primary entry point of potential customer. My personal blog, not travel related, receives almost 20 percent traffic through Facebook. Travel companies who use social media saw 69 percent traffic growth on their Facebook profile, and 46 percent on Twitterii. Southwest Airlines, American Airlines Company, is the leader in taking benefit of social media. As of 21st July 2011, it has 1.66 million Facebook likes and 1.15 million followers on Twitter. This means Southeast Airlines is always connected with 2.81 million people. Any new product or service the Southeast Airlines announce will be reach to 2.81 million people instantly and easily. The company can keep synchronous communication like hearing feedback, critics and responding back to them through their Facebook and Twitter.
Social media is internet-based application that allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content. User generated content can be in different forms including Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, microblogging, wikis, podcasts, photographs or pictures, video, rating and social bookmarking. In simple term, social media is website that facilitated content creation and exchange. But social media is not just website, it includes wide range essay like chat applications and many mobile based software. According to Kaplan and Haenlein there are six different types of social media: social networking sites (e.g. Facebook), blogs and microblogs (e.g. Bloger, Twitter), collaborative projects (e.g. Wikipedia, Travelwiki), content communities (e.g. Youtube, Flickr) , virtual game worlds (e.g. Farm Ville), and virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life). Technologies include: blogs, picture-sharing, Video Blogging, wall-postings, email, instant messaging, music-sharing, crowdsourcing, and voice over IP, to name a few. Many of these social media services can be integrated via social network aggregation platforms.
The travel industry, by nature, is slower in movement in terms of information flow. It has historically been an industry dominated by a group of “experts” (the travel agents) who controls the information that gets around. However this has been challenged by social media. Gary Arndt , travel blogger, claims that he is one man National Geographic. It is hard to deny his claim. As a fact, he has visited ninety nine countries and writes all his travelling experiences in his blog. More than 100 thousand followers in his Twitter account is a proof that many individuals and travelers relies on his information. Today, behavior of travelers has also been changed significantly. Unlike previous days, now most of travelers read reviews before deciding hotels and travel service booking. Suresh Manandhar told that he and his wife used TripAdvisor to find the hotel. He further explained, “We searched the hotel in TripAdvisor and booked one that is rated by more number of the travelers”. This is how social media is changing the way information is exchanged/shared in travel industry.
Newly entered players have been changing industry drastically. A collaborative project called Wikitravel was found in 2003 and by now it has user generated information of 50 thousand cities. The content in Wikitravel is updated every other minute and is considered to be reliable since it is edited by group of passionate travel writers. Review site called TripAdvisor has 50 million reviews for 500 thousand hotels. Those reviews are posted by individual who have stayed in the hotel. Travelers like Suresh Manandhar take help of TripAdvisor’s reviews to make decision. Among all social networking tools, Facebook has been quite dominant. According to Tripl , 72 percent of social media users access their social networking site while they are travelling. Tripl has conducted a survey among Facebook users to identify how their travel plan has been influenced by Facebook. 52 percent of user said that their friends’ photos inspired their next trip, 46% user has been invited by their friends to join their trip and 45% user said that Facebook made them visit their friends abroad. Airbnb has introduced completely new paradigm in travel industry, which allows booking short term accommodation in private house and apartments, not hotels. With Airbnb service, now travelers actually can stay in house of a local while they are travelling. In July 2011, the company had over 100 thousand listings of private homes, apartment and rooms in 16 thousand cities and 186 countries. Now Airbnb allows booking entire village, which is very innovative call.
Most of online travelers now cite traveler reviews as influential when planning their leisure trips. Knowing how travelers operate in the social web has become a prerequisite for success in the online travel space. A clear understanding of how to measure, manipulate and improve social media performance gives travel companies power to expand the business beyond conventional market. Travel companies need to understand the how the social travel sentiment and the underlying social graph increasingly impact the behavior of online travelers.
Note: This is part of EMBA work at AIM.