When you are planning a trip, what do you do first? Research a city? Talk to friends or family for suggestions? Set a budget? Look at airfare? I am guessing at some point of your planning process, you look to online reviews and maybe you even post a Facebook status asking your network of friends for recommendations. Whether it is a Trip Advisor review of a hotel, an Instagram photo of a beautiful beach, or choosing Airbnb over a traditional hotel, our traveling habits are becoming increasingly influenced by social media and online reviews. Consumers can document every detail of their trip and share their experience with the world – the fun, incredible parts of a trip as well as the horrible parts.
According to a survey by Braun Research, 97 percent of millennials are now using social networks while traveling and 84 percent of Facebook users admitted in a PRSA Travel & Tourism poll that viewing their friends’ post actually influenced their own future travel plans. The transparency social media provides can have positive and negative results for a travel related company. Additionally, such companies can leverage their own presence on social media to connect with potential customers.
How Social Media Changes the Game of Travel for Consumers:
Companies have to work harder now to please their guests. Sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor provide access to millions of reviews. Users can post pictures of hotel rooms, amenities, and food. Consumers value the reviews and input of others. A picture of an average room at a hotel may deceivingly portray a spacious and open room, but a Yelp review will tell consumers what it actually is like. The same goes for airlines. Every few weeks there seems to be a viral Facebook story that has been shared by thousands of people either praising an airline or complaining about a terrible experience with an airline.
Companies have no control over what their customers post on social media. Take for example the Carnival Cruise fiasco of 2013 when passengers were stranded at sea for five days without working toilets. Of course news outlets will pick the story up – but hearing the real time narrative from passengers aboard carries much more weight. Watching news coverage might persuade customers to look at a different cruise line for their next vacation, but a detailed depiction of life on the stranded cruise ship can ruin Carnival Cruise’s reputation (and quite possibly the cruise industry in general) in some consumers’ books forever.
Interestingly, consumer generated content has even prompted a response from hotels, airlines, and restaurants in some cases. Instead of complaining to a customer service representative, consumers take to social media to rant about their experience. Delta will reply to a person’s tweet apologizing for delays, errors, and bad experiences in general. Other companies will try to offer discounts or refunds as a way to show users they have addressed the problem. This ultimately shows that companies value their perception on social media so greatly, they are willing to sort through and respond to even the smallest complaints.
Lastly, sites like Airbnb are changing the way people travel. Instead of booking a room in a hotel, consumers can book a room, an entire apartment, or an entire house in many areas of the world. Users can choose from all types of accommodations and narrow results by price, location, dates, and rating. Travelers can post their review of the accommodation. Airbnb offers diverse locations – some of which hotels could never offer like a tree house in Africa. Celebrities even use Airbnb. If you can afford $10,000/nightly rate, you can stay in the same New York City Penthouse as Kim Kardashian.
How Social Media Changes the Game of Travel for Companies:
Although certain developments, such as the rise of Airbnb, have hurt traditional travel, the mass adoption of social media do carry many benefits for companies involved in travel and tourism. Companies can engage with customers on social media by promoting deals, sharing photos and stories from users, and publishing travel tips and ideas. Instagram is a great tool companies can utilize to showcase destinations.
Furthermore, companies can utilize targeted advertising to reach their ideal audience on social media platforms. Airlines often track users searches and then buy targeted ads promoting deals to a particular destination that appear on person’s Facebook Timeline. Advertisements like this appear on my Timeline all the time. Sometimes they even have the lowest price for a particular flight I recently searched.
Personally, I like to read multiple reviews when it comes to booking a trip. I have definitely been persuaded by user’s reviews – sometimes it is the selling point for me and other times I continue to look elsewhere. I value the transparency reviews provide. However, I have never written a review myself. I always talk to family and friends about my experience so maybe one day I will be inclined to publicly praise or criticize a company.