By David Graham, head of digital strategy, Arena
Holidays remain a big purchase; they are few and far between, and travellers want to be sure that in parting with their hard-earned cash, they’re making the right choice. Research is key, and with the sale of guidebooks plummeting by almost 40% in the past five years (source: Nielsen Book), online and smartphones are becoming the default tool.
According to a recent paper by The Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality & Tourism, in addition to friends, family and social connections, sources with high social cues and restricted reach, such as Facebook, are among the most trusted online resources (mean score of 2.1 out of a max of 4). Travellers turn to them for destination information and recommendations.
Broader and less socially connected platforms, like blogs (1.8) and Twitter (1.4) are the two least trusted. Destination sites and tourist board sites don’t fare much better with 1.9, while hotel and tour operator websites hold up well at 2.4 and 2.3 respectively.
Bucking the trend are sites like Tripadvisor and Hotels.com which, despite having limited social cues, are considered trustworthy (2.4).
Post-holiday, holidaymakers create their own content – they naturally have rich experiences in the form of memories, recommendations, photos and videos to share. The majority of social content created and shared by travellers is done after the holiday and not while at the destination (though sharing during holidays is more prevalent with younger travellers, with 65% doing that).
So, what can travel operators learn from this, and how can they use the findings to their advantage?
- The power and influence of sites like Tripadvisor is undisputed, so don’t resist it, embrace it.
Many hotels now respond directly to every single post – it might sound time-consuming but it shows they are listening and caring. Large hotel chains like Accor, Best Western and Wyndham also incorporate Tripadvisor reviews into their site. This move has potential to go deeper than just the hotel reviews – reviews of specific rooms and other services offered could be deeply embedded into these sites.
- Be open to emerging and expanding social sites that are quickly gaining momentum.
The likes of Hotels.com also have their drawbacks; reviews are often anonymous and reviewers’ profiles are not always socially enabled. Expect to see other social platforms being used in this way, such as Foursquare which is increasingly promoting its reviews and encouraging people to leave tips and pictures of the places they check in to. Offering larger rewards or more points could be a way to encourage people to add a byline to their reviews.
- Social channels don’t operate on a level playing field; some are more trusted than others.
If Twitter isn’t trusted as a source of holiday information then focus your activity on using it as a customer service channel. Prioritise and figure out a role for all the social channels you use. You may even find that some become redundant.
- Don’t expect too much of people when they are on holiday.
To do so is to work against the tide of behaviour that sees us posting reviews, photos etc. when we get home. Keep it light and easy. Better to encourage people to put their phone or tablet down and enjoy their holiday. Are there other, more light touch ways of facilitating actions that are still visible in social? Consider post-holiday activity to encourage people to review, post, comment etc. Build this into the post-holiday eCRM, and don’t forget to acknowledge and reward customers who provide honest reviews.
- While social is important, your website is still critical.
Getting the two to work together is key, such as embedding 3rd party reviews, as mentioned. Alternatively, consider flipping this and creating a branded presence within sites such as Tripadvisor or Expedia.
- Stoke social media channels as a counter balance to a less-trusted platform.
This particularly applies to Destination Marketing Operations (DMOs) whose websites are viewed as the least trusted resource. Rather than pontificating about yourself; better to encourage real customers and impartial experts to do the talking; telling their stories and sharing their experiences. By listening to these stories, DMOs, in fact any travel/hospitality business, can act on what they hear, amplifying the positive and addressing the negative. When done as part of a coherent content marketing strategy activated across social (paid and owned channels too) the key to building trust is in identifying and filling content gaps with content that’s seen as at least helpful and at most, inspiring.