How the new Facebook will impact travel (hint: massively)

NB: This is a guest article by Travis Pittman, co-founder and CEO of TourRadar.

Watching the livestream of the Facebook F8 event last week, I was curious to see what “BIG” news the young billionaire Mark Zuckerberg was about to announce.

Curious on one hand to know how their updates would affect my own business, but also curious to see how Facebook was going to extend its lead over the recently launched Google+ platform.

Facebook promised a lot and, in some ways, delivered on that promise.

As with any Facebook update (when you have 800 million users to please), there has been many an opinion already thrown out to the blogosphere and tech world.

Opinions ranging from praise for its Apple-like foresight of producing a product that we didn’t know we needed until they built it for us, to more angered opinions at how Facebook is attempting to further infiltrate everything we do by becoming the ultimate online receptacle for our entire lives.

In the last couple of days I’ve dug further into the new Open Graph developer documentation Facebook. In doing so, I have attempted to briefly summarise how the Open Graph changes may affect its users and the travel industry.

There is no doubt the Facebook Engineering team has given this latest Open Graph update some thought.

With its “Gestures” update, Facebook has gone from a single-dimensional “Like” button to something so multi-dimensional and limitless that it makes Google’s new +1 button look a little, well, basic.

A year ago, the use of the “Like” button went crazy as soon as Facebook allowed people to integrate it to any website.

Through its experiences of the past year, Facebook discovered that a “Like” button is now mostly clicked by a person when they are making an endorsement for a product or service to their friends.

So what started out as Facebook users going all out and liking everything and anything (of course creating tons of content for other Facebook users to additionally like and comment on) has no scaled back to a point where people are much more selective in what they appreciate digitally these days.

So, Facebook needed a way to turn this trend around and start another content sharing explosion. Now instead of just being able to “like” a book, users will be able tell friends when they have “read” a book. Or “listened” to a song. Or, in the case of the travel industry, “booked” a flight, “hired” a car, stayed” in a hotel, “‘done” a tour, “reviewed” a point of interest.

I think you get the point.

The possibilities are literally endless now as to what a user can share in a structured way using the Facebook Open Graph.

Now I’m no expert on the semantic web, but from what I can understand, this is one of the biggest steps I’ve seen to achieving the utopia outlined by Tim Berners-Lee ten years ago.

I believe the “Like” button was more of a macro action about any object, whereas with these gestures, we can get down to micro actions and determine relationships between distinct objects.

Essentially, Facebook is hoping that app developers will help them create a micro-structured way of bringing actions around every day objects to the web and, in turn, publish this to its user’s new timeline profile.

This might sound rosy, with some of you salivating at the possibilities. However, there could be some negative impact, too.

With the Gestures launch, and the new live Ticker on the top right of a user’s homepage, we are entering a new level of content consumption.

The Ticker is what I would call a live commentary to friends of your actions both on Facebook and on websites/apps outside of Facebook, but which you have authorised to connect to the system.

For example, as you “listen” to a new song using the Spotify app which you’ve granted permission, a message is automatically sent to the Ticker on all your friends home pages to say that “Travis is listening to Barbie Girl by Aqua on Spotify”, which you can click and start doing the same.

Ultimately, this means that after giving permission to an app, little messages are automatically (what they’ve named “Frictionless sharing”) being sent back to Facebook, your girlfriend, your co-workers and your friends about your actions on external websites.

For those of you who can remember, doesn’t this remind you very much of “Beacon”, Zuckerberg’s first and ill-fated attempt to capture every bit of info about our online activities?

Of course, this time around it has been much better thought out, with all of the correct permissions/opt-out options available for users (I’m sure privacy will still be an issue though).

However, I still believe there may be some ramifications from this latest update:

1. Caution

Users could become more cautious and hesitant when granting permissions to Facebook Apps they come across which may lead, initially, to less people using this new wave of apps.

On the flip-side, I guess Facebook is betting that the additional messages showing up in the ticker of friends will eventually mean more engagement and, hence, more people using the apps.

2. Information overload.

Don’t you think Facebook users are already overloaded with the updates from friends and businesses they’ve liked? Isn’t this freshly launched Ticker just the current News Feed on steroids? How much information can an average Facebook user handle?

What about travel?

So what does this all mean for the humble traveller? And for the businesses in the travel industry such as hotels, travel agencies, airlines and tour operators?

1. Travellers

As more businesses integrate the new frictionless sharing feature of the Open Graph to their websites and Fan Pages, there is an increased chance of friends being inspired by their friend’s activities during the planning phase and potentially joining them (or at the very least, telling them which sites their friends use in their travel planning).

I’m sure it would be interesting/distracting for people who are about to plan a trip of their own, are having a bad week at work or haven’t taken a holiday in a while when they see a flow of messages like:

  • “Travis booked a flight on Expedia to Cape Town”
  • “Travis read a review about xyz hotel in Cape Town on TripAdvisor”
  • “Travis compared 5 tours of South Africa on TourRadar”
  • “Travis installed tripwolf’s Cape Town iPhone city guide”
  • “Travis booked his travel insurance with World Nomads”
  • “Travis read an article on about The Garden Route”

…to eventually things like:

  • “Travis boarded his flight to Cape Town on Virgin Atlantic”
  • “Travis ate a steak at a Cape Town steak restaurant”
  • “Travis was at Kruger National Park”
  • “Travis added 154 new photos to the album “South Africa Safari”

2. Businesses

Even before this change, Facebook provided a great channel for businesses to engage socially with its customers. With this update, the opportunity is now even bigger and it would be very naive for any business to ignore Facebook.

Whether this created easily by adding pre-built apps to your Fan Pages (where 3rd party app developers have to deal with the complexities and continual updates of the Facebook developer platform) or through custom apps built to heavily integrate into a business’s website, mobile apps, etc to capture and broadcast information back to Facebook about the stuff people are doing.

I see the challenges for businesses will be in what messages they push from their apps to the ticker. Too many messages about every single activity a user does will flood the ticker very quickly and cause a user’s friends to select the “Report story or spam” option – a move which no doubt will harm the performance of the app.

Conversely, too few messages and you’re information may be lost amongst your competitor’s messages as a person clicks around the many different websites and fan pages when researching their next holiday.

In short

It’s a fascinating and landmark move, which will affect every one of Facebook’s hundreds of millions of users, as well as the thousands of travel companies using it to engage with customers.

But what are your thoughts and how will it affect the travel industry?

NB: This is a guest article by Travis Pittman, co-founder and CEO of TourRadar.

NB2: TLabs Showcase – TourRadar.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of his employer, tnooz, its writers, or partners.



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  1. Micahel Adamson

    I have got a couple of clients in the industry who are interested in improving their profile online by working with some high quality websites.

    We’d be looking to place a guest post on your homepage. Would you be interested in this?

    Do not hesitate to ask me any questions by emailing me 🙂

    Kind Regards
    Michael Adamson

  2. ghid turistic

    Internet was use for promotig travel agencies and destinations, and Facebook should have to do something in this way, especially because Google already have Google Flights

  3. Jaclyn

    Brilliant article Travis – one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Whilst my initial reaction was to squirm with excitement for what I might be able to offer some clients, I fear that you are right and the information overload will get the better of people. Just this morning I groaned when I read my news feed showing that two of my friends had been reading the same articles on Yahoo. I can see the benefits for some industries more so than others, and I think it will work in the short-term for the ‘early risers’ in the travel space. As for how effective it will be – I think I will sit on the fence for now.

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  7. John Pope

    Facebook Update 2.0

    Here’s yet another gem that I just came across (already 6 days old), relating to and relevant to this already interesting discussion.

    A more thorough analysis of the updated Facebook Open Social Graph 2011… this time focused exclusively on the cons. Kind of makes you feel violated when you hear it articulated this way.

    Warning, not for the faint of heart… don’t say I didn’t warn you!

    It also brings into question, should brands engage with the present version of Facebook for fear of possible backlash from those who value their privacy?

    It might even be a viable way to differentiate your business by not utilizing Facebook Connect and all the extended intent actions that will supplement or replace “Like” buttons – you know, be anti-Facebook.

    Maybe not such a far fetched strategy to consider, after all. Would be an interesting contrarian story to tell, that’s for sure.

    I sense a new debate / possible Tnooz story brewing…

  8. John Pope

    Hey All,

    Just came across this video of Eli Pariser speaking at a recent Ted Talks Conference and thought it was relevant and could add something to the Tnooz conversation. If only to consider the wider implications of how today’s dominant web gatekeepers filter content and how we (Internet constituents), as a result, end up viewing the world.

    FYI: Eli got a standing ovation from the audience. It’s only 9 minutes, but may very well dramatically change a few perceptions.


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  13. Joe Sisto

    It is true, that not all comment posts to these travel sites are accurate. I travel a lot, and have noticed that some of the glowing comments about the facilities are quite off from reality. What is the best way to hold people to the truth?

    • John Pope


      To your question “What is the best way to hold people to the truth?”. I think that authenticating the source of the review or comment will lead to a higher degree of truth on the web. That authentication process can be validated from both the supplier and community (site, social network, etc.) side.

      Trip Advisor’s policy, for example, to allow anonymous reviews along with their growing influence on consumer purchase behavior naturally leads to fake reviews and gaming of the system. However, I believe, if TA’s policy doesn’t change soon to ensure authenticity, it will not be relevant to travelers for much longer.

      As Buddha says, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” My guess is the sun will set on all brands who do not, or will not, insist on authenticity.

      As far as Facebook is concerned, I agree that its improved Open Graph API will open up tremendous new opportunities for brands, travel and otherwise, to reach a large and growing audience with more engaging apps. On the flipside, Facebook will also face higher scrutiny relating to privacy issues if they’re not more transparent about their data tracking and user profiling policies.

      I think the web, in general, is becoming more transparent and honest… netizens are too savvy to not make it so.

      • Stuart

        Think there are two main issues with review verification.

        a) The budget accommodation area (hostels/guesthouses etc) who may not be integrated into any kind of scalable verification system. Many of the places in remoter areas that we list don’t even have a telephone and certainly don’t have a reservations book. What happens to those? They’re just as entitled to a review as a Sheraton.

        b) Who determines the authenticity of a review? The hotel? Good luck with that one. And given one shouldn’t have to stay in a hotel to be able to review it, why does identity even matter?

        Separately if sites opt for something like Facebook comments, then yes at least it is theoretically tied to a guests real identity, but the site in question loses ownership of those comments and they’re instead poured into FBtron. If you take a look at a popular site that makes use of FB comments (say TechCrunch) you’ll see forcing people to reveal their identity doesn’t stop them from being obnoxious.

        A better solution would perhaps be better commenter profiling so that readers (who are interested to) can get a better idea of where the review is “coming from”.

        At the end of the day though, from a user perspective, the platform is irrelevant. I ignore the best and the worst and see what the middle crowd has to say. If they’re badged as prolific posters, more power to their comments.

        Works for me.

        • John Pope


          I agree that with you that remote, more technically challenged properties are a difficult problem to solve and so it’s not practical for those venues to be part of the authentication process. In those cases, the community’s authentication processes would be the sole validation medium.

          Your idea that more trusted reviewers or sources are emphasised (aka their reviews and comments get pushed to the top of the results because they’re more trusted and engaged) is a strategy that I wholly embrace. I won’t go in to any further details cause then I’m talking about our future business models and strategies but recognise that as a problem just waiting to be solved in travel.

          I’m also not suggesting that the hotel be responsible for authentication completely. That would be like letting the fox take care of the hen house. What I am saying is, similar to OTA review systems, the hotels initiate the authentication process by permitting only verified guests to be eligible to submit a review. Nothing too complicated about that.

          Then the issue becomes having an agnostic, third party host the reviews to ensure hotels can’t censor any of the negative reviews. Providing those reviews for the hotel to display on their own site would also add credibility and authenticity for prospective consumers, especially to those consumers who are affiliated with the community or platform where the reviews originated from.

          I suppose what I’m saying is the platform itself, if designed correctly, can be seen as a credible source and, therefore, be very relevant. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message”, and I think that concept applies here as well.

          Hope that might work for you as well. I’ll be sure to give you a sneak peak of what we’re doing to see what you think. Be very interested on your opinion.

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  15. Rosemarie DeSaro

    well, it all comes down to “everyone loves the voice of the people, but can you trust them?”
    For example; Trip advisor is owned by Expedia, and people are getting wise to know that not all posts are REAL. As the saying goes, throw out the best & worst remairks and somewhere in the middle is the truth.
    I for one would rather hear what my friends are commenting on their trips and showing their pictures. I’m not interested in the moment they purchased, etc but how was the resort in terms of conditions & customer service, food, etc, etc
    Case in point: I visited the Hard Rock Resort in Punta Cana when it first opened earlier this year. The place is gorgeous and massive but they still had lots of construction going on. Wouldnt you want your friends to know that? Construction is a major turn off for many but you would never see that in any pictures on travel websites now would you?
    As for suppliers, my company is helping them tremendrously and will continue to do so even more, when we launch our social media travel platform.
    It is interesting watching how this will all unfold

  16. Ghid turistic

    Globalize Travel Incorporated. Tomorrow Facebook will aquire, in the meantime google gets its hands on expedia. Microsoft will soon follow getting tripadvisor and amazon will have orbitz. This is the future, going on bytes per second. New trends, old habbits 🙂

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  18. Robert Gilmour

    I see from the wide diversity of view, bigger than i would have thought, that the jury is clearly still out on the relevance of Facebook in travel sales and marketing, my point all the way along, and not a basis for expensive strategic decisions in this area on the supply side i’m afraid.

    Perhaps if Facebook stopped trying to compete headlong with Google and became more of an independent brand again, it would greatly improve my confidence/trust in it. Right now it is crawling up its own backside if you ask me.

    • John Pope


      Big fan of your cynicism and perspective.

      Your clients are lucky to have a sensible and skeptical advisor working on their behalf.

      Don’t stop fighting the good fight. 🙂

  19. joe sisto

    This will be an important improvement in working with customers in a 360 degree view of their experience with travel. A great challenge for people in the travel industry, and an important improvement in customer experience.

  20. MrTShirts

    “this is one of the biggest steps I’ve seen to achieving the utopia outlined by Tim Berners-Lee ten years ago.” Tim Berners-Lee hates this kind of stuff, it goes against what the internet is supposed to be, an open platform based on open standards, not a the walled garden Facebook is trying to create and push further with these updates.

    To be honest I think it is going too far now, most people seem to be at first put off by seeing what cr@p people are listening to as well as all the other info overload, and also people are strarting to get weary of all of this personal info being shared online. Yes you can turn it off but it is never off by default.

  21. Davo99

    These are some pretty major changes and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. I think the biggest downside is information overload as too much information starts to get posted through. To take your example whilst I might be interested in a friend going to South Africa I would have no interest in what news articles they read about it, tours they compared, hotel reviews they read. Nor would I need to know what they were doing every minute of the day whilst away.
    If most bookers are visiting 15 websites before booking a trip imagine how out of control that could get – so and so just checked a price on Expedia, or compared hotel rates on etc. And that’s 1 person. On average people have over 230 friends on Facebook!
    Keeping the flow of info relevant is crucial otherwise I think a lot of people will be put off.
    Still that’s just my view – looking forward to seeing what happens.

  22. KT

    I think this is the 1984 that George Orwell was referring to. Crazy!

  23. Robert Gilmour

    All the travel ‘hype’ about Facebook is almost entirely on the customer side and is not matched in any way, shape or form by the same appetite or enthusiasm on the supply side. Why – because suppliers are failing to see any material connect between social media activity and increased sales/transactions, and until they do, the jury is out o the commerciality of Facebook to a travel supplier, and there are far greater marketing priorities for the current tight marketing budget and budgetary constraints due to current economic conditions.

    And on the reputation management side, there have been as many negatives as positives.

    • AirBoss

      As described, a refuge for the self-absorbed FB exhibitionist. For travel suppliers, a mixed blessing at best, who had better prepare to play a full court press defense, as well as offense.

  24. Norris

    Good God! I can’t think of anything worse. Yes, it will probably affect my travel, as now I will know WHERE to avoid travelling.
    And if I start getting a stream of crap of the Travis sort, I will definitely be deleting myself from FB.

  25. Rosemarie DeSaro

    Travis, you are right on the money. Thanks for taking the time to share your sharp insights.
    Our company has been working a very long time on developing a travel-centric social media platform. It is close to launch. It will create an enormous tool to help individuals decide where to travel and how to book it. People will be more inclined to listen to their friends and their friends friends, etc on what they thought of their trip with all the pictures included. A wealth of information will be shared by millions.
    This confirms we are on the right track.

    Thanks again and all the best in using these new tools

  26. Denise Canon

    I agree with your statement about this having a huge impact on how Facebook users will be inspired by their friends during the planning phase of their trip! Looking forward to all the possibilities!

  27. Lindsay

    I want to be Travis!!

    Sounds like a very cool concept, will be interesting to see how it comes about.

  28. Robert Gilmour

    Facebook currently isn’t influencing travel decisions ‘massively’ and i doubt if it ever will. Show me the evidence when you have it, otherwise its only a hypothesis

    • Rosemarie DeSaro

      I will keep you in mind when our company launches our own travel centric social platform. It will definitely influence travel massively. You’ll get to see where everyone is travelling, their likes & dislikes, their deals, their pictures, etc.

    • Travis

      Hi Robert,

      You’re right – at the moment Facebook ins’t influencing travel decisions ‘massively’… unlike of course Google which does a fantastic job of driving traffic to travel websites. However, as travel is inherently a social activity where many decisions are based (or originate) on friend’s recommendations and tips, these recent changes by Facebook will only facilitate this influence.

      Some evidence that may help prove that the shift is happening can be found here –

      “Created in partnership with Circos, Compete and Travelport, PhoCusWright’s Social Media in Travel 2011: Traffic, Activity and Sentiment finds that average monthly unique visitors to social travel category websites – travel review sites, traveler review pages of online travel agencies and travel blogs – grew more than 35% from 2008 to 2010. And Facebook’s reach in online travel appears to be gaining as well; the social network referred more than 15.2 million visitors to hotel websites in 2010, a 35% increase from 2009, and a 428% jump from 2008.

      “Social media and social content are no longer a trend in online travel. They are pervasive and essential components of the traveler search-shop-buy process,” says Douglas Quinby, senior director, research at PhoCusWright.”

  29. Stuart

    Good write up – tho it seems the furore about them tracking you even when logged out has legs.

    That aside, I love the look of the timeline and the travel planning site that mimics that first should do well.

    • Travis

      Hi Stuart,

      I had seen a little bit about this tracking issue in the news, but hadn’t seen that writeup you linked through to.

      It does seem though that the patent…

      “- Logging the actions taken on the third-party website in the social networking system, each logged action including information about the action; and

      – Correlating the logged actions with one or more advertisements presented to the one or more users.”

      …contradicts what the Facebook spokesman said:

      “no information we receive when you see a social plugin is used to target ads.”

      Will be interesting to see how it pans out over the coming weeks.

  30. Molly

    Brilliant analysis on a new phase in FB development, thanks for taking the time to think it through and post. I agree completely with your assessment that those who adapt quickly (you didn’t say that directly but think you meant it) and use it to their advantage (i.e. get messages pushed to the ticker that is then read by fans of the businesses FB page and potentially re-pushed on individual tickers… then folks who are friends re-push on their tickers… etc.) will possibly get some increased exposure and possibly increased income from use of their services (that have now become more popular due to the ticker explosion of those who like them) over competitors who don’t have a presence on FB, or a less substantial one.

    But that is for the ‘Big Guy’ businesses… and probably will be short-lived. Look at it this way: how affective is Twitter and twitter tweets now for marketing exposure in comparison to when Twitter first went live? From what I understand, not very affective, lost its shine and folks primarily want to push their own info, interests, not hop on a corporation bandwagon. Same will probably happen here.. initially will get coverage, folks ‘using’ it etc. then will become an annoyance and fall off the radar, with individual users focusing on their own interests, etc. making few ‘pushes’ to a ticker
    For the little guys travel websites may be more significant, in that even a small increase in traffic, exposure means more and they already have users who are focused on their ‘interest’ (i.e. topics of niche websites/fan sites) so will most likely continue to follow the site, and ‘push’ new, exciting (or the dull and mundane) things to a ticker that others will most likely not mind reading.

    • Travis

      Cheers Molly… you’re right… as with all of this stuff – adapting quickly is the key.

      In terms of the big guy vs little guy – yep the big guys will naturally receive most of the exposure, however for niche topics/interests like you mentioned – this is where the small guys will really benefit from this change. People who are friends on Facebook tend to have overlapping/similar interests and when they start noticing a friend’s actions around these interests, that is sure to prick up their ears and click to find out more.

  31. Travis

    Hey Jeremy,

    If you go to the new beta Open Graph documentation here – you’ll find that all of what I mentioned above is possible now.

    At the bottom of that article you’ll see:

    Get started now and define your actions and objects in the Dev App (which links through to where you can create whatever actions/objects you like).

    So it seems Facebook are keen for everyone to get cracking on this asap…

    • Jeremy

      Well that’s great, thank you! I had tried last week after the conference and could not create any new Object type, I got errors every time I tried.

      But it seems to work now! That will indeed be great to play with!

      • william el kaim

        That’s where the power of the platform is … Like GDS some years before, we are back to verbs and objects … But here what is HUGE is that you can then lest all apps interact from a shared object.
        What could be the best example? Define a “profile” object and then enable tripit, Worldmate, etc. to access and use that information … Then go to one of this app, log with facebook connect and you’re set. Now, another object … Air ticket … Family Trip … Lodging …

        May be also a good chance for OTA to be reused….

        Let’s see who will be the most agile …

  32. Jeremy

    This sounds great indeed. However I can’t help but wonder when Facebook will start supporting such object types that would make your ideas possible. Indeed, for now the Open Graph protocol only supports a handful of object types, listed here: Open Graph Object types.

    While I have no doubt that Facebook will work on adding more types to the model in the future, my guess is that they will add only those types for which they developed a partnership with one big player in the industry. We will have to wait until big players work with Facebook before we can really use the Open Graph as you described in your article.


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