FOR A long time, a statement that’s been heard quite frequently in the travel space is, ‘Personalisation is the way to go’. But how is this personalisation being achieved? The answer: social media. Today, every segment of the travel industry—tour operators, travel agencies, airlines, car rentals, etc—is employing social media to achieve personalisation, increase brand visibility and create a set of loyal customers.
By gaining access to travellers’ social media profiles, engaging with them and, above all, understanding their personality traits, companies are aiming to deliver more personalised services. “In general, we see airlines and hotels being ahead in terms of social media usage and fans/followers. This has to do with their increasing focus on customer service through social media,” says Chetan Kapoor, research analyst, Asia-Pacific, Phocuswright, a travel market research company, adding, “As far as travel agents are concerned, mostly online and larger tour operators have a meaningful presence and maintain high levels of customer engagement on social media websites. They have dedicated teams tracking customer mood and feedback.”
Today, the Internet has penetrated deeply across India. Also, people have started travelling more than ever. Needless to say, social media has become one of the major influencing factors for travel in the nation. Monica Samuels, a social media expert and digital marketeer, says, “Some years back, travel and tourism agencies were sceptical of how social media would fit in with their business. Over the last four-five years though, improved Internet coverage, especially in tier II and III cities, and e-commerce popularity have compelled the industry to match its strategy with changing consumer behaviour. People today
rely on referrals from friends and family on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter when they look for holiday destinations, hotels or packages. Therefore, travel companies are now focusing on engaging people, sharing compelling content, reviews and testimonials on social media.”
Not surprisingly, the number of Internet users in India reached 302 million by December 2014. “Social media usage in India has increased by leaps and bounds. The number of Internet users in the country reached 302 million by December 2014,” says Ankush Nijhawan, managing director, Nijhawan Group, a travel conglomerate, adding, “Trust in a company and brand is no longer dependent on company-controlled traditional mass channels, but rather on communities and peer groups on social media and other digital channels. This clearly indicates that businesses will have to allocate a significant percentage of their marketing budget to digital and social media marketing.”
Online travel agent Musafir.com has been active on almost all social media platforms. For the company, social media channels have driven changes in the most expected and unexpected ways. “We have been actively using platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Google+ and WhatsApp to reach out to potential travellers and create brand awareness. We are also looking at turning our video channel into a powerful and effective social marketing tool. It’s a simple rule: experiment and adapt,” says Vijay Kesavan, CEO, Musafir.com.
Musafir.com isn’t the only one experimenting and adapting though. Brands like travel company Riya Travels are also investing a lot of time on social media platforms. “Nowadays, to increase brand presence, it is very necessary to be active on all forms of social media. Social media marketing is the next big thing and an upcoming powerful trend. We are currently present on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn. Till now, we have received very good response and the focus is more on improvising it and having a tremendous payback,” says Manoj Samuels, CEO, Riya Travels.
In the past four-five years, almost every player in the travel industry has tried for a stronghold on social media. Some have attained success, while others are still trying to find the perfect formula. “Small and large travel agencies are taking social media seriously now. The return on investment (RoI) of social media campaigns is being measured in smarter ways, with engagement, reach and branding becoming key indicators of performance,” says Samuels.
Video and picture blogs, especially, are becoming extremely important, with tremendous following online. “Till about a couple of months ago, few companies would have been able to predict the present popularity of videos on social media channels. Moving away from static video uploads on Vine and Instagram, travel companies are now using live video streaming services such as Meerkat and Periscope to showcase products and destinations, and host celebrity talk shows to inspire travellers,” says Kapoor. Veena Patil, managing director, travel company Veena World, though believes that just posting videos and sharing destination pictures does not help always. As per her, it is the ‘X- factor’, which the audience is looking for. “If you are going to just keep posting destination pictures or videos on your page, you might not be able to get the most out of your digital marketing efforts. What we have found is that the audience will start talking about you only if you have something on offer, which no one else does. So many companies have started having contests and quizzes to keep everyone involved. It is one thing to get the audience to your page, the difficult part is to keep them interested,” says Patil.
With the tremendous growth of social media, a greater number of challenges have risen as well. Audience engagement/ retention is one of the biggest. Coming up with innovative and engaging content strategy takes constant and consistent brainstorming and effort.
There are also fears that in the near future, this medium of communication will kill the traditional mediums. “The major challenge today is over-reliance on social media. There is a lot of talk about social media being the next big thing, but it cannot be relied upon as being the whole-and-sole medium of communication with your target market,” says Patil.
Kapoor believes that privacy and context are the major challenges. While companies aim to deliver richer travel experiences by knowing their customers better through the use of social media channels, they need to keep in mind consumers’ right to privacy. In addition, targeted communication is likely to get more clicks than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ campaign.
Moreover, social media, as a tool of marketing, has not been a success story for everyone in the travel space. Samuel says, “Though we have gradually increased our activities on social media platforms, it is difficult to justify the RoI against the effort and time used on it.” Samuel feels that most of the travel companies that are jumping on the social media bandwagon without devising a clear strategy first fall short of their potential. Nijhawan explains, “As social media budgets increase, we will need more clarity on the effectiveness of activities and how to optimise our spend on social media. This will require investments in measurement and analytics tools, as well as training and skill development of our team.”
1.Personalise communication wherever possible
2. Create compelling, interactive content that’s shared often
3. Experiment with paid and organic campaigns—contests, polls, surveys, etc
4. Combine social media with other digital marketing channels—email, location-based campaigns, display ads, among others
5. Incentivise travellers to become content creators