Social Media will work better for Travel Agents than for Internet Travel Sites
The Writing is on the “Wall”
Sounds crazy doesn’t it? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Social media are after all “social” and no one is more sociable than travel agents. Sites like Twitter and Facebook are a series of interpersonal interactions, and often rebroadcasts of those interactions. Person to person is the name of the game (or person to person to person ad infinitum). Large companies are often struggling to understand this. Providing a personal view of the world of travel has been what my social media brand has been about from day one. Interacting with people and responding to comments and questions is how I built that brand.
Travel agents were preceded on Twitter by all the big names in the Internet travel business. The people tweeting for these companies have used a marketing and brand building approach with a few exceptions. Like many other companies in a variety of business sectors most are missing out on the most elegant aspect of the media which is the interpersonal nature of the communication. Would you rather talk to a person or a company? Advantage: travel agents.
Anyone who studies the industry of travel booking knows that the Online Travel Agencies have a very poor customer retention rate. The vast majority of people who book online express no loyalty to any one brand or web site. The very business model that drove them to early success is what is leading to their current problems. OTAs came onto the scene well funded with venture capital and stock market money. They used that money for traditional advertisement on all the big media outlets. What this gained them is shoppers and customers who are more than happy to shop elsewhere if the perceived bargain is better. They did a good job of selling the perception that they offer bargains which are most often the same bargains a travel agent has access to. They have not done a good job of creating and sustaining relationships.
Let me Recommend…
One of the great things that has happened to me on Twitter is getting personal endorsements from clients. Some of these have mentioned specific things I have done to add value to their personal travel experience. These are the hidden benefits of using travel agents many consumers in today’s Internet focused world are unaware of. When someone tells their network “Thanks @tomtravel2 for getting me a room upgrade and free breakfast for no extra cost!” the benefits of using my services are broadcast with a personal touch. Most people trust personal recommendations more than web site reviews and far more than advertisements. I see this happening to other travel agents I know as well. That is the power of social media. It also is the strong suite of travel agents who succeed. Most of us build our businesses by personal referrals from our satisfied existing clientele. Sounds kind of like #followfriday doesn’t it?
A knowledgeable travel agent can quickly and personally answer questions about travel. I do this daily and see other travel agents doing it as well. This publicly demonstrates how much easier it is to just contact someone who already knows the answers. Most people click through many different web sites before booking travel online. One tweet to a professional travel agent often gets a better answer than a consumer would find on their own after much time spent. We travel frequently to preview destinations, cruise ships and lodgings. We take extensive trainings on the above to constantly expand our knowledge. We are actual travel experts who spend our days helping people select, price, book and their travel. Many of us also provide assistance to our clients while they travel when the unexpected occurs. Online travel companies are experts at setting up and advertising do it yourself travel booking web sites. What do they know about travel beyond the prices?
The Numbers Game
As the travel agent community becomes more aware of the potential power of using social media, the number of travel agents grows. Recent trainings by Virtuoso at Travel Mart on the subject have prompted a ground swell of new users to join Twitter and Facebook. Many will choose not to participate for a variety of reasons. Considering that there are around 100,000 travel agents in the United States there is a potential for a large number of us to be on the popular social media over the next few years. There are already considerably more travel agents using social media than online travel agencies and our numerical advantage will continue to grow.
As the number of travel agents using social media grows their imprint will grow as well. It took me several months to get the hang of Twitter and develop a strategy to increase my impact. I am confident that other travel agents will also do well in the social media environment. Most already have a large client base to work with. A good travel agent is also a relentless networker. Think of the impact when we all have our Twitter profile and Facebook address on our business cards, email signatures, and web sites (why did I have to buy 1000 cards before I realized this would be important?). Travel agents are already winning back market share from the Internet booking sites. Our growing use of social media will help us win back even more over the next decade.
What do you think? Please leave me a comment and let me know!