Joshua E. Bush grew up around travel – his parents had owned a travel agency since the mid-1980s – but he never intended to enter the family business. When his parents’ business migrated toward luxury travel, it got harder for Bush to ignore the industry’s allure.
In 2006 he stopped trying to resist. Today he is vice president of Park Avenue Travel in Swarthmore, Penn.
Bush brought fresh ideas to the business. These included new ways of marketing – like social media and Facebook. Facebook is simply the modern world’s version of word of mouth marketing, Bush told Travel Market Report.
It’s an effective one at that. Park Avenue Travel’s Facebook activity generates 5% to 10% of new business, attracting bookings the agency might never have seen otherwise.
The Approach: “Our business grew by word of mouth and referral, and social media is essentially the way of word of mouth and referral of this decade.”
The Strategy: “Our agents use individual pages, as opposed to one company Facebook page and one company entity. We’ve found this has been most effective on a personal level (though we’ve slowly started a company page).
“The inherent nature of a social network is to be social, and in that way you are relating with friends and family and other like-minded individuals, and the best way to do that is on a one-to-one type of level.”
Friends, Not Fans: “Our agents are socializing with their sphere of influence – so friends, family, in many cases their clients and suppliers as well.”
To Do, or Not to Do: “The business perspective has to be: what is the actual revenue at the end of the day that this activity has generated? Does it make sense? If not, it’s a big time-waster. Yes, it’s a lot of fun and it’s a great way to stay in contact with lots of people, but it also has to have some sort of measurable quotient at the end of it.”
Tangible ROI: “The tangible side of it is finding new clients and new relationships – new business that is generated because someone says, ‘Wow, I saw that and I want to do that.’”
Reaching Gens X & Y: “It’s not our main source of new clients or referrals, but it is big for generating new business, especially [with] Generation X and Generation Y, who originally thought travel agents were dead and extinct, and are now seeing, through what I’m doing and what my colleagues are doing, the value that we bring to the table.”
Intangible ROI: “Reinforcement of what I’m personally doing and what our agents are personally doing in their travels and their bookings is out there [on Facebook] as a constant reminder. It takes 12 impressions in order to make a buying decision, so it’s just another way in which we can continue to make impressions in people’s minds.”
Building Supplier Relationships: “We utilize Facebook and Twitter as tools not just with clients but with our suppliers. So often this business is based on friendships and being able to pick up the phone and say, ‘I have a client that wants to visit you and they need XYZ that is special or unique or exclusive.’
“In some cases there might be a problem. It’s far easier to call a friend and start off the conversation with, ‘Hey, I saw that your son Tim won the big soccer game this weekend,’ so you have that rapport. Then you can go into the business at hand and say, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith have a big problem with their room.’”
Describing Through Video: “We’re slowly utilizing YouTube more with videos of specific products or events or experiences that can only be described through video.
“The ability to use evocative images creates an emotion and a desire within people to say, ‘That’s really cool; I want to do that.’ It’s one thing if you just type a status update, but with the ability to share photos and videos we’ve seen an uptick in people that have said, ‘That’s something I want to do.”
Link Logic: “YouTube houses the videos, then we use the link from YouTube in the Facebook page. From a best practice standpoint, if you just embed the video in Facebook, only Facebook users can see it. If you put the video in YouTube and then link to it from Facebook, Facebook users and YouTube users can see it. You get a broader audience.”
Success Stories: “I had a friend from college and we had been Facebook friends forever. She said, ‘You’ve been everywhere, it sounds like your company is really fantastic; I want you guys to plan our trip to Costa Rica.’
“Also an African safari came out of Facebook. My mother is one of our agents and she had a number of African safari photos that were up on her page. A friend of hers who had been looking at her photos contacted her and said she had always wanted to go on safari. That got the dialogue going.”