5 years ago

Why social media in travel sucks and 20 things that you should now do about it

NB: This is a guest article by Professor Dimitrios Buhalis, director of eTourism Lab at Bournemouth University and president of IFITT.

In the last two years the proliferation of social media in tourism has brought a range of new tools and platforms for tourism and hospitality organisations around the world.

A new generation of marketing, sales, public relationships, professionals emerged to take on the task of communicating the company message across the new media.

What looked as innovation for the first six months soon become a commoditised and cliche type of interaction.

Lacking innovation and imagination many organisations outsourced this process to “experts” that are looking after the social media accounts, or they employed a typically young marketer to sort social media out.

Soon the message that was getting out was stereotypical and often meaningless, offering no value or no engagement with users.

How many times can a hotel company say “good morning” to you or show you bedroom photographs.

Social media is becoming a boring me-too, similar to Web 1.0 ten years ago when everybody started to imitate everybody else, essentially killing all sorts of innovation and failing to address the opportunities.

Research and professional practice from around the world needs to better understand and feed into the strategy of businesses so they can take advantage of the fantastic opportunities available to us all – and travellers – through social media.

So here is a 20 point plan (call it a manifesto):

1. Engage, engage, engage with the wider communities and stakeholders: employees, customers, local people, special interest groups

2. Consumers centric approach to absolutely everything – this means that:

  • TIMING – you cannot simply interact in the office hours of the marketing personnel but around the clock.
  • TOPICS – speak about what users/consumers want to engage with – not just promoting your products.
  • VALUE – engage with what consumers perceive as value.

3. Human centricity and connections – identify how people connect with people, whether these are employees, customers, tourists. Build the community feel and engage everybody in positive interaction.

4. Address criticisms instantly and fix things in real time, restoring the promised level of services as soon as possible and give alternatives to compensate inconvenience.

5. Harness the collective power and knowledge of the community to share solutions for all.

6. Facilitate co-creation at all levels: Consumers with business; consumers with employees and consumers with consumers.

7. Visual multimedia rules: encourage users to take photos, videos, drawings etc and upload to their social networks.

8. Offer genuine value and reward engagement through special offers, value added services, special experiences, engagement behind the scenes.

9. Challenge all operating practices and “normal” processes to reflect consumer dynamic requirements within the context of “now”.

10. Explain operating difficulties and issues and engage consumers in finding creative solutions.

11. Geo-tagged user generated content will demonstrate the real experience and maximise impact.

12. Facilitate interaction by offering FREE WIFI to guests. This is a preconditions for people to generate and share content, especially for travellers that do not want to pay data roaming charges.

13. Look after special markets and their social media, for example RenRen and Weibo in China, Odnoklassniki and Vkontakte in Russia.

14. Fully exploit the potential of Tripadvisor including its Forum and  listings.

15. Make guests, customers, and locals brand advocates and ambassadors giving them the opportunity to champion and defend the brand online.

16. Stop being paranoid on Return on Investment ROI in Social Media and focus on value generation and co-creation for all involved.

17. Develop context and location-based services that are integrated with social media. Use QR codes to direct people to deep links with special offers and engagement.

18. Create photo and video opportunities and incentivise sharing.

19. Fully integrate social media with web presence and aim to convert to bookings.

20. In-source and resource social media as the mainstream communication channel. Train most of the work force to contribute and engage in the dialogue, from the CEO/general manager to receptionist and front line employees.

Please make sure you do all the above with passion and integrity and with the genuine engagement principle at heart.

But, above all, innovate by providing rich and memorable experiences enhancing your competitiveness through offering incredible value for time and money.

NB: This is a guest article by Professor Dimitrios Buhalis, director of eTourism Lab at Bournemouth University and president of IFITT.

NB2: Like button image via Shutterstock.

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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. Paulo Caldeira

    I strongly subscribe this manifesto. The major problem at the Tourism sector is that decision makers don’t understand that TripAdvisor can’t do work, for destination or a product or a service, alone. When we talk about Social Media we need to be aware to all kind of connections we can do at the same time in different plataforms. This is a full time job! On other hand, most of mobile services that are available don’t have the proper contents and they look, in major situations, similar. It’s time to pay attention on contents, not on techonolgy.
    See you at INVTUR, Professor.

  2. don birch

    Absolutely all this and more, but when your customer speaks to you REPLY!
    I have posted over 200 reviews and only ever got one reply/feedback
    Shame on you hospitality industry

  3. Jason King

    With all due respect to Dr. Dimitros, I think he must like to hear himself talk. SOcial Media has been a boon to the Travel Industry.

  4. Peter Syme

    As with a lot of things it is the execution that is the important part. Theory and designing of social programs and ensuring it is a integral part of the business are essential but ensuring the execution day in day out from everyone on the team is the hard and fluid bit. When done well you get great results , then the next day things have moved on again!

    Big business get it wrong all the time even with money and resources, it is hard for the small business to allocate the resources especially when they see little return, and that is why huge opportunity exists for businesses small and large who get it 75% right.

  5. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    And then there is the big dirty secret… returns on Social Media are not there for many players.(I am tempted to say most but there is no metric that can quantify that). I know several players who invested considerable sums only to see ZERO return. (in one case NO Traffic at all).

    Some of this must be put down to bad advice and lack of skills. However how long before we realize that the Social World is not the “Perfect” World.

  6. travelsoft

    great post, we have to use our sense of common

  7. tourism consulting

    I think no need to encourage the user to take photos.

  8. Paul Johnson

    I’d like to pick up on point 16. Whilst I wouldn’t say I’m paranoid about ROI, I don’t think it’s also something you can completely ignore. If done effectively – and particularly if you’re to encompass all the other 19 points with conviction – social media takes up a huge amount of time and, if you’re in business, rather than working from the comfort of a desk in academia (sorry, Dimitrios… 😉 ), this will be at significant cost, particularly if, as with my online travel business, you’re running over 200 travel sites and juggling multiple different travel brands. At some point in proceedings, I think it would be a little naiive if you didn’t at some point take a step back and ask yourself “Is this really time well spent?”

  9. Oman Tourism

    you could also add engage with the client in the language they speak

  10. Dimitrios Buhalis

    Really appreciate the comments and the dialogue that this has article has started
    I am pretty sure that we will have the opportunity to enrich the list with more innovations in one of our interactions somewhere soon
    Keep innovating and engaging

    Dimitrios Buhalis

  11. Brian Swanick

    It’s easy to forget about a lot of these tactics but essentially this has been covered for years. The likes of Gary V, Godin, and countless others have been calling our for EVERY industry to be remarkable and do things that we know how to do in a way that people care about. I appreciate the list but I think it comes down to leadership and culture and less about tactics. How will we lead our organizations into the future (or maybe just catch up to other industries) from our respective positions?

  12. Reinhard Lanner

    Great collection of essential points, for me it´s fine to call it Buhalis´ Manifesto!
    Now – we have a great compilation of “what to do”, the next hurdle is “how do we do it”

    In my former role as director of a DMO we had this great opportunity to be part of an etourism program of the “Fachhochschule Salzburg” (University of applied Services) – a great training program for the SME tourism industry, lasting for 3 years.
    Now, myself an a few others changed job which results in a “lack of etourism driver/engine” within the former destination .
    My learnings: If you start a training program as a DMO, make sure that local industries are invoveld in the management team and that you do not only depend on the DMO staff.

    Now, in the DMO of Salzburg State Tourist Office, together with the numerous regional DMOs, we try to overcome obstacles like working hours, traditional working processes, silo thinking etc…
    Challenges which we share with other industries, I would say…
    From my point of view: it´s time to work on the system, not in the system

  13. Wandering Educators

    I think one of the most useful things that we can think about is to ENGAGE and build relationships. Just as in real life, the more you put in, the more you get out – and in surprising ways.

  14. Joe Bühler

    Nothing wrong with these points but those people in travel and tourism – and it looks like only few – who have paid attention for the past, oh let’s say three years or so, would have realized that many of the experts – self appointed and legitimate – have made exactly these points. Instead, it seems, they wasted their time lamenting about the likes of Trip Advisor and other tools customers use to introduce much needed transparency, upsetting their status quo of control over their brand which has rapidly shifted to the customer.

    And, no, responding to this radical shift by hiring an intern because she is familiar with Facebook does not qualify as a social web strategy but then again the first response to the web challenge in the late ’90s was to hire some nephew to put together a website. Plus ça change!

  15. Pete Meyers

    @ Professor Dimitrios Buhalis –

    I sure wish you would’ve been in the audience at last weekend’s SATW social media panel in Brooklyn to hear feedback from the apparently incapable, young social media “experts” employed by some of the largest online travel brands.

    If you had been there, you would realize there’s actually quite a lot of innovation, deep thinking, heavy analysis and high level social management being provided by a very capable group.

    And yes, many of them are young, but I’d argue this makes no difference at all and, for that matter, can serve as a benefit to brands and their customers.

  16. Loren

    In a way Professor I hope your article is not read by to many of my competitors, They simply love to tell everyone every day how nice and sunny and warm and what temperature it is over and over and over…. I like having the attention of my market focused on us by doing a good portion of what you prescribe here. Congratulations on a nicely developed list.


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