When it comes to winning over new customers, there is nothing like a post from another traveler.
Hyatt Hotels Corp., for example, is so convinced of the importance of user-generated content that in March it launched a whole online campaign based around it. “Customers seem to trust user-generated content more to drive down that conversion path to booking,” said Adam Gerstel, an account executive for the online marketing company Olapic, which worked on the Hyatt project.
Indeed, vacation travel choices are increasingly being influenced by the social media posts friends and family post on their mobile phones, eclipsing the importance of professionally produced travel supplier online content, Phocuswright said in a recent report.
“Mobile has completely changed consumer behavior forever,” said Phocuswright director consumer research Marcello Gasdia. “The end of one traveler’s trip often sparks the beginning of another’s.”
Most leisure travelers will take two or three trips each year, with half of them updating their social networks while on their trip. “A huge amount of new content hits the internet every day,” Gasdia said—and this constant stream of new photos, Facebook posts, and videos is growing exponentially with the increase in mobile technology. The result is an unprecedented level of influence from user-generated social media content.
Phocuswright reports that 59% of travelers say online travel reviews are influential, 54% say pictures and videos on social media networks shape their opinions, and 31% say Youtube videos are important. These preferences compare with only 16% for ads or posts sponsored by travel companies, and 11% for travel blogs.
Phocuswright tracks the travel and social media activities of about 1,200 leisure travelers annually. Gasdia noted how travel-related text messaging through smartphones was up 14% in 2015 over 2014.
“When you look at all types of online content, traveler submitted beats professional content,” he said. Morethan half (52%) of survey respondents prefer traveler photos, versus 43% for professional photos taken by, say, a hotel chain. “And this preference continues to get stronger and stronger every year,” Gasdia said. “Travelers are looking for authenticity versus what travel brands might work hard to create.”
Back at Hyatt, meanwhile, the hotel company is encouraging travelers to share experiences visually via hashtag #InAHyattWorld on Instagram and other social platforms as well as directly uploading photos on the site.
Indeed, the importance of peer travel reviews “can’t be understated,” Gasdia said. “Travelers place an immense amount of importance on travel reviews.” One in two travelers in the most recent Phocuswright survey have written at least one online review in the past 12 months.
Gasdia also tried to dispel what he termed “Facebook Fatigue.” Some experts have been saying the world’s largest social sharing site has been on the wane, but Gasdia said the percent of travelers regularly posting there still hovers around 80%. Instagram is prepared to displace Twitter this year as the second most popular social site for travelers.