Does your bottomline like social media?

For today’s travellers, social media has become one of the key influencing factors while planning a holiday. Express TravelWorld explores the social media savviness of the Indian travel trade and its marketing strategy to monetise this social channel By Akshay Kumar

For today’s travellers, social media has become one of the key influencing factors while planning a holiday. Express TravelWorld explores the social media savviness of the Indian travel trade and its marketing strategy to monetise this social channel By Akshay Kumar

Chetan Kapoor

For a long time one statement which is quite frequently used in the travel space is, ‘Personalisation is the way to go’. Social media has created an avenue where this personalisation can be easily achieved. With easy access to social media, every segment in the travel industry namely tour operators, OTAs, airlines, car rentals, cruises, etc, are using social media to increase their brand visibility and create a set of loyal audience, who can later become potential customers. By gaining access to travellers’ social media profiles and engaging with them, understanding their personality traits, companies are aiming to deliver more personalised services. Speaking on this current trend, Chetan Kapoor, research analyst, Asia Pacific, Phocuswright states, “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. Specific to travel agents, mostly online and larger tour operators have a meaningful presence and maintain high levels of customer engagement on social media websites. They have their dedicated teams tracking customer mood and feedback, producing and curating content for social channels, which smaller tour operators can’t typically keep up with.”

Monica Samuel

Today, Internet is penetrating rapidly across India. Also, people have started travelling more than ever. In such a scenario, social media has become one of the major influencing factors for holidays. Monica Samuel, a social media expert, freelance digital marketer and trainer, Web Marketing Academy, Bangalore, says, “Some years back, travel and tourism agencies were skeptical of social media’s fit with their business. Over the last four – five years though, improved internet coverage, especially in Tier II and Tier III cities along with e-commerce popularity have compelled the industry to match their 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. Travel companies are focusing on engaging people, sharing compelling content, real stories, reviews and testimonials on social media as they have realised that these are the main influencing  factors  today.”

Ankush Nijhawan

Ankush Nijhawan, managing director, Nijhawan Group of Companies explains, “Social media usage in India has increased in leaps and bounds, as number of internet users in India reached 302 million by December 2014. Over 75 per cent of India’s online population are digital consumers (who use digital for all, or part, of their purchasing journey). Trust in a company and brand is no longer dependant on company-controlled traditional mass channels, but rather on communities and peers through social media and other digital channels. This clearly indicates that businesses will have to allocate significant percentages of their marketing budget to digital and social media marketing in order to successfully reach and market to these customers. Going with the trend Nijhawan Group will further strengthen their social marketing roadmap through team work and development of apps to build community, generate leads, enhance customer service and highlight our latest news and updates.”

Vijay Kesavan

Online travel agent 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. Vijay Kesavan, CEO, claims, “Building a strong social media presence is a key focus area for 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. In this ever-changing segment, a brand like us has to stay ahead. We are looking at developing new social media tools to connect with our current and potential customers. 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.”

Manoj Samuels

To increase brand presence and monitise by using the power of social media, brands like Riya Travels are investing a lot of time to enthrall its audience on social media platforms. Manoj Samuels, CEO, Riya Travels states, “Nowadays to increase brand presence, it is very necessary to be active on all forms of social media platforms. Social media marketing is the next big thing and an upcoming powerful trend. We are currently present in Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn. Till now we have received a very good response and the focus is more on improvising it and having a tremendous payback.”

#Currently trending

Within the past four to five years, almost every player in the travel industry – small or large – have tried to have a strong hold on all the social media platforms. Some have attained a lot of success in monitising, while the rest are still trying to find out the perfect formula. Monica Samuel explains the trend which she has been witnessing since a couple of years, “Small to 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 as important KPIs as closures. Also, customer service is becoming an important aspect of social media management for travel agencies. Social media is becoming a community building platform versus one-way communication. Travel companies are experimenting across multiple social media platforms, even new ones. One of the most important trend is that, video is proving its power and travel companies are catching on.”

The travel segment has also realised the power of videos and pictures, which indeed says a thousand words. The video and picture blogs have tremendous following online. Kapoor avers that social media trends continue to evolve and two-way communication is getting more nuanced. “Instead of looking back, companies should predict what’s next instead. Few months ago, very few companies would have been able to predict the present popularity of videos in 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 their products and destinations, and host celebrity talk shows to inspire travellers,” adds  Kapoor.


Key points for a perfect social media strategy

  • Use social media to research your audience and understand what attracts them. Come up with unique ways of delivering value – make the experience from enquiry to trip completion memorable.
  • Focus on meaningful engagement on social media pages and conversions will follow. Personalise communication wherever possible.
  • Create compelling content that strikes an emotional chord. Such content is shared often.
  • Experiment with paid and organic campaigns – contests, polls, surveys, quizzes, early bird gifts, limited period offers, ads, videos, travellers’ stories, best photos, thank your guides, co-branding offers, online scrapbooks, etc.
  • Listen to social chatter and address negative feedback first. Too many travel agencies ignore disgruntled customers, choosing to focus on people sharing positive sentiments alone.
  • Incentivise travellers to become brand ambassadors and content creators.
  • Understand the scope and potential of different social media platforms to use them well – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
  • Use call to actions strategically across content to drive desired actions.
  • Combine social media with other digital marketing channels – emails, remarketing, location-based campaigns, search and display ads, etc.
  • Creativity is key on social media – use attractive images and videos, build useful how-to and informational content, etc.
  • With social media, travel brands can extend their reach beyond geographical borders of states and countries.
  • Build content that oozes life. Don’t bore your readers.

Courtesy: Monica Samuel

Monitoring social media channels to deliver real-time resolutions to traveller’s feedback remains a priority for most travel companies on social media. “Increasingly, companies are also updating their CRM to integrate with customers’ Facebook and LinkedIn profiles so as to provide richer personalised services while travelling,” points out Kapoor.

Veena Patil

On the contrary, Veena Patil, managing director, Veena World believes that just posting videos and sharing destination pictures do not help always. According to her, novelty is the X- factor which the audience are looking out for. Patil advises, “Today if you look at the travel industry in India, all of the major players have an active social media presence. However, some have been successful in their social media endeavours whereas others just have a presence to check that box. If you are going to just keep posting destination pictures on your page or videos on your channel, 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 your audience to your page, the difficult part is to keep them interested.”

One of the fastest growing OTAs in India and the Middle East, is focusing extensively on social media to gain an extra edge over its competitors. Kesavan states, “The e-commerce ‘Book Now’ button is an interesting marketing tool on Facebook that has picked up and is expected to be the most powerful tool for the travel industry. The steady shift towards mobile social media has worked to our advantage for the last two years. Content marketing on social media has also helped us a lot on this.”

Challenges on the Wall

With the tremendous growth of social media, a greater number of challenges have risen which needs to be addressed. Audience engagement and retention is one of the biggest challenge that the industry is facing. Coming up with innovative and engaging content strategy takes constant and consistent brainstorming and effort. “We have to connect, inspire and earn their trust for life. Your future is based on your online reputation today,” says Kesavan.


Patil fears that in near future this medium of communication will for sure kill all the traditional mediums and that will create a hurdle. “The major challenge today is over reliance on social media. There is a lot of talk about social media being the next big thing. No doubt, the conversation with your actual guests in more in depth on social media, however it cannot be relied on as being the whole and sole medium of communication with your target market. You have to have a well thought out strategy from the very start to be successful in this space.”

@ a glance

  • With consumers connecting with a travel brand via multiple touch points such as a website, social ad, physical office visit, mobile ad, etc, tracking and measurement of social media campaigns becomes complex.
  • Keeping up with technology trends (from social to mobile) as well as new social media platforms are challenging.
  • Brands are still focusing more on customer acquisition versus retention.
  • Travel companies in India are not handling consumer grievances on priority. This has detrimental long-term effects.
  • Response time on social media should be very low for optimal engagement. Brands are not on par yet.
  • Creating a genuine culture of customer service through the ranks is a huge challenge, one that cannot be overcome without leaders walking the talk and developing work policies that support this ambition.

Courtesy: Monica Samuel

Kapoor believes that privacy and context are the major challenges. While companies aim to deliver richer on-travel experience 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 and conversions than a ‘one-size fits all’ campaign. Social networks are getting efficient and providing companies with better tools to target customers based on geography, demographics and device. Social media, as a tool of marketing, has not been a success story for everyone in the travel space. Samuel claims, “Though we have gradually increased our activities on social media platforms but it is difficult to justify the ROI against the effort and time used on it. But as we move forward and have more social engagements as compared to now, we will have a system in place to quantify 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 explained, “One of the major challenges we face is to successfully measure effectiveness of social media engagements. As social media budgets increase, we will need more clarity on the effectiveness of social media activities and how to optimise our spend on social media, analysing the ROI for the amount spent. This will further require investments in measurement and analytics tools as well as training and skill development of our team.”

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First published on: 14-07-2015 at 17:29 IST