Social Media: Is It Really Driving Travel Decisions?

by Maria Lenhart

Travelers Engage in Social Media, But Are they Buying?
While consumers often engage in social media platforms such as Facebook for travel-related purposes, it is far less clear that social media is influencing travel buying and booking decisions, according to a new study from PhoCusWright. More than three-fourths of travelers turn to social networks to shop for deals, and 30% specifically seek out travel-related deals, according to PhoCusWright's Social Media in Travel 2012: Social Networks and Traveler Reviews. But travel suppliers that have added booking tools, widgets or full-fledged booking engines on Facebook report mixed results, citing a range of challenges.

Most significantly, travelers do not appear to engage in social networks with the primary intent of shopping for or purchasing travel. While Internet users are accustomed to using Facebook to share their travel photos and stories, making travel purchases is another matter.

"Everybody and their grandma may be on Facebook, but for many in the travel industry, that has not made social [media] into a reliably actionable and demonstrably profitable marketing medium," said Douglas Quinby, senior director, research at PhoCusWright. "The potential of social for travel may lie less in any one platform and more in the ecosystem of social data to socialize a traveler's experience across a variety of online travel websites and mobile applications."

Attn. Agents: Don’t Be Pretenders
“We’re seeing travelers do their research. There’s a lot more knowledgeable traveler out there. Agents can’t be pretenders – if they are, they will be called out. Do your research and bring things to recommend to clients. People want their agent to be there for advice.” – Roger Hale, president and CEO, ADTRAV Travel

Consistency Wins the Race
“You have got to love the process. You have got to love your ‘job.’ Because as much as you want to win the gold medal, you’re going to spend most of your time training. And so you better like it. The secret, for me, was to embrace the idea that time doesn’t exist. You’re out there as long as you need to be. You’re working toward a goal of perfect training, perfect competing – not so much for a result or an outcome. In the long run, consistency always wins out.” – Olympic decathlon champion Dan O’Brien (from an interview in McKinsey Quarterly)

Travel Industry Email Volume Skyrocketed in 2012
Travel-related email volume is increasing at a much higher rate than in other industries, according to a survey by Experian Marketing Services. Travel email volume during Q2 2012 grew by 12% over the same period last year and by 42% over 2011 as a whole. The travel industry also saw total open rates and unique open rates increase 13.1% and 9.7%, respectively, when comparing Q2 2012  with Q2 2011.

Looking at emails from all industries, the study found that emails with coupons had over 50% higher click rates and double the revenue per email than campaigns without offers. When emails mention a social media site in the subject line, Pinterest “pin us” mailings seem to be most effective. They generate unique click rates that are almost 25% higher than other mailings. Unique open rates for Twitter “follow us” mailings are 9.5% higher than for other mailings.

It Pays to Specialize
“With all the reams of deals out there, people are looking for an authoritative assessment of what fits their needs. That’s why specialization is important. You can’t sell every product out there. Really know a destination and product. Know the ins and outs and refine what you know.” – Roger Block, president, Travel Franchise Leaders Group

U.S. Travel Insurance Association Posts Consumer Tips
To aid consumers with questions about travel insurance and travel health and safety issues, the U.S. Travel Insurance Association now provides tips at The organization addresses such issues as getting quality care abroad, financial arrangements with hospitals in overseas destinations, communicating with family and health care personnel back home and whether a traveler’s own healthcare insurance is adequate for traveling abroad.

Be at the End of the Search
“People do value an agent even if they start their research on the Internet. What’s important is being at the end of that search.”– Chris Kroeger, senior vice president, Sabre Network

U.S. Travelers More Confident Than Europeans
While the number of U.S. travelers visiting a destination of their choice increased slightly this year (2%), the opposite is true of travelers in France, Germany and the U.K., according to a PhoCusWright study. Destination Unknown: How U.S. and European Travelers Decide Where to Go 2012 noted a growing trend for Europeans to stay with friends rather than pay for hotels.

"Though Europe continues to rank higher than the U.S. on many key travel metrics, year-over-year trending reveals that U.S. travelers are feeling relatively more confident than their European counterparts," said Carroll Rheem, PhoCusWright's senior director, research. "As many Europeans put their dream trips on the back burner, spare bedrooms and couches are hosting more visitors in 2012."

Approach Travel Review Sites With Caution
“Travelers need to be warned that Internet review sites should be approached with caution. We’ve had travelers be amazed at how nice a hotel is that had a negative review online. These sites do not tell the whole story.” – Robin Tauck, Tauck World Discovery

Let Clients Know Your Value
“In travel, things go wrong – people need a professional to take care of them. You need to tell the client all the details you’ve take care of. Communicate this.”
Roger Block, president, Travel Franchise Leaders Group

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