India’s first conference on travel technology got underway today with a call to tourism and allied businesses to utilise social media, the blog world and digital apps for marketing their services to the new, tech-savvy global traveller.
Social media and online marketing were the focus of today’s discussions at the International Conference on Travel Technology (ICTT) India which was inaugurated on Friday at The Leela in Kovalam.
As travel decisions become increasingly influenced by peer reviews and opinions on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest, experts are advising businesses to factor in the internet in their marketing strategies.
“Social Media has become a constant presence throughout the traveller life cycle – from decision and planning stage, to the actual vacation, to post holiday,” said Ms Selina Power, a social media specialist from Australia. “It has become our information network and our source of news.”
A large proportion of travellers today use smartphones when they are travelling, to take photos, use maps or search for restaurants, she said. “They post photos and reviews for others to see and be influenced by; which travel businesses need to take seriously.”
Her advice to those in the industry is: “create engaging social conversations with the traveller, ask customers to share images with you on social media, ask them to get in touch with you for new deals, create mobile applications for tourists, and write content for the traveller’s friend”.
Ms Power also put emphasis on quick response to complaints. “There is lot of power in what people say. There are surveys that show more than half of travellers revise their original plans if there is negative social media feedback about their chosen destinations.”
Mr. Chad Wiebesick, Director of Social Media and Interactive Marketing for the tourism agency of Michigan state in the US, who spoke about opportunities in tourism marketing using social media commended Kerala Tourism’s use of Facebook to engage with customers, both existing and potential.
“Kerala Tourism is doing a phenomenal job by making its fans heroes on Facebook. By posting good, user generated content, particularly photographs it is able to constantly generate likes, shares and interest from people,” he said.
Mr Wiebesick pointed out that smartphones have for the first time overtaken desktops and laptops as the most popular device for using social media. “Companies can drive traffic to their website from multiple platforms if they have a responsive web design – a template that looks the same whether it is on the desktop, or a tablet or a mobile phone.”
He said firms should measure social media impact not simply by the total number of followers, but by the number that are actually talking about them and the demographics of the followers.
Blogs were also cited as one of the best tools for increasing visibility online. “Google SEO loves blogs because they have fresh content and lots of it,” said Mr Wiebesick said. “A blog is the only social media channel you own. Facebook and Twitter change their algorithms periodically so you need to keep up with it, but a blog is your own space. Integrate it with your main website and you will generate more leads, opportunities and customers.”
Mr Adam Franklin, Marketing Manager for Australia-based Bluewire Media, described blogging as an inexpensive medium to generate leads and value for websites.
“Use your blog as a business tool. Have social media buttons on it, have people you network with comment on it,” he said. “More than three-quarters of people on a website are there looking for information and for research. Make your blog content rich in information.
He said since blogs show up high on search engines, it was essential for firms to keep them active, have keywords inserted in articles, connect with other bloggers and preferably have the blogs on their own websites because it generates backlinks and leads.
Mr Philip Calvert, an author and social networking entrepreneur from the UK, spoke about the benefits of LinkedIn for travel professionals and companies.
“LinkedIn is a massive mine of data and one of the best social networks for lead generation,” he said. “It allows you to demonstrate expertise, increase visibility, networking and contacts, research target markets and is an excellent search engine.”
He said one of the biggest advantages of social media for businesses is that it “humanises brands”.
On LinkedIn, Mr Calvert said, professionals should take the time to thank people who have looked at your profile, make sure the most relevant keywords are inserted in all the important profile sections, set up a multi-media professional portfolio, upload pictures and videos. He advised business owners to have separate company pages on the website and to personalise requests sent out to other people to connect.
ICTT India is being organised by the Association of Tourism Trade Organizations, India (ATTOI), with the support of Kerala Tourism. More than 250 delegates, including tour operators, travel professionals and bloggers, from around the country and abroad are attending the conference which features 17 eminent speakers from countries such as the US, UK, Australia and UAE.
Over two days the conference will cover around 23 topics including mobile applications, pricing and distribution strategies, managing reviews and handling competition, revenue management, business intelligence and the future of technology.
An exhibition is also being organized on the side-lines of the conference to provide an opportunity for travel and tourism businesses to showcase their products and services.