Value of social media in travel questioned at Cimtig debate

Traditional media channels still rule when it comes to promoting holidays despite rapid growth in social media websites, according to Butlins parent company Bourne Leisure.

Allan Lambert, head of retail sales for Bourne, which owns park operators Butlins and Haven as well as Warner Leisure Hotels, said the travel industry had yet to produce good “case studies” for using social media.

And he said many companies are cautious about using social networking sites and doubtful of the authenticity of online reviews.

“It’s like Marmite. You either love it or hate it,” he told a Chartered Institute of Marketing Travel Industry Group seminar.

Lambert added: “We are very excited about social media but the industry is not good at it and for us traditional media channels still rule our budgets.

“We want to be where customers are looking for us but at the moment social media doesn’t have the scale we are looking for.”

He admitted some of Bourne’s own brands were unwilling to use social media. Butlins makes the most use of social media, which has helped develop consumer “brand advocates” for the company.

It has 8,623 followers on Twitter and has used YouTube to recruit Red Coats. Reviews by holidaymakers on sites such as TripAdvisor tended to polarise travel brands, added Lambert. “You are either the best experience since sliced bread or you are rotten,” he added.

Social media also has yet to play a big role for consumers researching holidays, according to the holiday park operator group.

In a recent survey of 1,000 Bourne customers, 29% said social media was either important or very important when researching a holiday but for the majority it was “not a massive consideration”.

Similarly, 39% viewed professional travel knowledge when researching a holiday as more important than social media.

Lambert said: “The view of social media is that it isn’t important in the initial research phase of choosing the right holiday.”

These findings come despite rapid growth in the use of social media sites over recent years. Robin Grant, managing director of We Are Social, an agency which helps brands use social media, said recent US data from Forester showed consumers were using the internet more than television for the first time.

He added: “Social media is becoming increasingly mainstream. It does skew towards the younger generation and higher income groups but it’s spreading across society.”

Consumers are increasingly ignoring traditional advertising, added Grant, by for example fast-forwarding ad breaks on pre-recorded TV programmes or using brands’ own websites less.

Social media is also affecting consumers’ buying behaviour, according to Grant. One example is the impact of Twitter on companies which advertised in the now defunct News of the World newspaper.

“The Co-operative Travel Group had more than 16,000 tweets aimed at them [for advertising in the NOTW] and these comments were drowning out their normal advertising activity,” he said.

However, some travel companies, particularly tourist boards, are using social media to their advantage, according to travel blogger Paul Steele, known as the Bald Hiker. He has been hiking and dog sledding courtesy of the Norway Tourist Board.

“I tweeted live and blogged daily. I’ve been on Twitter for three years and I’ve now got 200,000 followers,” he said.

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