A US travel agent has tripled her client base in the last three years by using social media websites to generate extra revenue.
Speaking at the Advantage 2011 conference, Stacey Small, president of Elite Travel International, a luxury travel agency based in California, said: “I know there are cynics out there but I am living proof that social media is good for your travel business.”
One in 13 people globally is on social networking site Facebook, she said. The site has more than 650 million users, with around half active users.
Micro blogging site Twitter was launched in July 2006 and by March this year had 225 million registered users, compared to 3 million users in 2008. More than 100 million tweets are made every day.
Travel agents can use Twitter to send messages to suppliers to let a hotel know a client has been booked at their property for example, said Small. “Every time I book a luxury hotel I send them a direct message to let them know a client is coming. They usually thank me on Twitter,” she said.
Small said Twitter was a way of increasing brand awareness and attracting new customers rather than a hard-sell approach to sales. But she added: “I do make money out of it and it generates new clients. The best thing about it is that it’s free.”
Small, a former travel trade journalist who set up a travel agency six years ago, set up a Facebook account three years ago and a Twitter account two years ago. She has a blog on which she posts five or six holiday deals each week. She has a website but does not take bookings online.
Since setting up accounts on Facebook and Twitter she has enjoyed hundreds of business referrals from friends and colleagues. An old school friend who married a Hollywood screen writer referred Small to her group of friends after finding her on Facebook, resulting in a $40,000 honeymoon sale.
She added: “Twitter is also an opportunity to connect with people you want to know. It gives me a thrill when I get a tweet back from people I think of as celebrities; some of them have now booked through me.”
Agents should choose a name for a Twitter account that includes the word “travel”, for example, to ensure it attracts as much business as possible. She also recommending “retweeting” messages to reach a wider audience.