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3 Ways to Social Media Market as Travel Business Returns

Caribbean near Tulum

Just because you know social media does not mean you know how to social media market for travel. Over the last few years, the recession put travel marketers through the ringer. But now, as we emerge from the bottom, social media marketing is more important than ever for travel PR Pros. If you want to know why, read this post.

Social media travel marketing was an advantage for hospitality companies competing for rare leisure and business travelers during the recession. For better or worse, fierce competition for hotel guests promises to persist now that travel spending is on the rise after years of pain.

Travel marketing is heating up again this season, with Bloomberg Businessweek’s Nadja Brandt reporting last week that stock prices for Marriott, the largest publically traded U.S. hotel chain, rose along with increases in vacation bookings.

Travelers are feeling better about the economy, a sentiment captured by the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, which has climbed steadily for a month in line with growing employment. Forecasts for the upcoming travel season will take clearer shape shortly as Wyndham Worldwide Corp. releases its earnings on April 27, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. (@StarwoodBuzz) on April 28 and Hyatt Hotels Corp. (@HyattConcierge) on May 3.

As the opportunity for growth returns, competition for customers will be as, if not more, intense than it was during the recession, with the leadership of major hotel chains already pledging not to lose market share to competitors as business picks up. It may be a good time for travel marketers to ask the question: am I prepared to make the most of the social media communications revolution that has taken place in the time since the travel recession began in 2008?

Social media PR became even more vital during the recession with consumers demanding “the big deal,” requiring more online touch points to make decisions and demanding service in real time, says Karen Gee McAuley (@gemtweet), executive vice president of Blaze PR (@BlazePR_LA), and a veteran of developing social media capabilities on behalf of hospitality industry clients.  Karen’s insights should prove useful as you craft travel marketing plans this spring.

1. Remember Recession’s Lesson:  Focus on the Real-time Deal

Recession marketing PR programs shifted as “the deal” became all important to consumers, who demanded a reduced rate, and at the luxury level, that extras be thrown in with the price of the room (a spa treatment or a round of golf).

Travel industry prospects should begin to recover shortly, but marketers will need to mindful that a cost-driven consumer mindset will linger.

Furthermore, there may be long-term strategic value in pursuing population segments that have continued to spend money on travel despite the recession, including baby boomers with intact nest eggs.

Online travel agents like Priceline (@THENEGOTIATOR), Orbitz (@Orbitz) and Travelocity (@Travelocity) grew dramatically through the recession because the new consumer is focused not just on the deal, but on the real-time deal. This change will continue to force consultants to create systems that promote discounts offered by the online services on their client’s properties with Twitter-like speed (too fast for traditional media).

2. Employ Social Media to Influence Returning Travelers

Social media travel marketing in the last three years has come to play a central role in outreach by public relations firms to media that customers consume, along with an upswing in direct communication to customers, Karen says.

Social media travel PR includes the pushing out of promotions via Facebook and Twitter pages that travel customer communities have learned to pay attention to, including online venues of major traditional media outlets.

Every major daily newspaper now has an online operation that often offers content not available in that newspaper’s Sunday travel section. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, has the Daily Dish and the Daily Deal blog. Perishable product does well online, and this impacts media targeting.

Online travel marketing gained added credibility when a survey fielded by the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International found travel consumers need seven online touch points to influence their travel decisions. Social media may provide the opportunity to have the required series of conversations needed to sway a prospective traveler, as opposed to a single interaction.

3. Use Measurement to Drive Strategy

Social media metrics can be captured by aps like Omniture and Google Analytics. The results of client social media campaigns can be measured daily or weekly, and should focus tightly on which sources drive most people to the website.

Click throughs are the key, and it may not be a mention in the Wall Street Journal that drives the most traffic. A niche online article may deliver more click throughs, and may keep delivering over time. Social media travel PR, more than ever, must advance client priority metrics, whether it be message delivery, preserving the rate charged, driving click-throughs to a website or capturing data to guide distribution of an e-newsletter.

During the recession, the key strategies to emerge included attempts to “keep the guest dollar on property” with stronger promotion of in-house spas, restaurants and golf courses.  Marketers also switched to a regional “drive-in” strategy to attract the “staycation” customers in their backyard who were less willing to fly.  If indeed a recovery is underway, marketers will need to quickly determine which trends are replacing these to succeed, and in part by listening to the marketplace via social media.

This post is a follow up to a podcast with Karen Gee McAuley and Joann Kileen Furtney on Travel PR in a Recession at the PRSA International Convention.

About the Guest Blogger

gregwThis is a guest blog post written by Greg Williams (@gregscience), an independent consultant specializing in public relations for medical science and technical companies. After beginning his career as an editor for the Associated Press, Greg has since served as a public relations strategist for two international public relations firms and two university medical centers, and as a writer for institutions including Eastman Kodak and the National Academy of Sciences.

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