How Facebook will impact the Summer Tourism Season.
Written by Patricia Brusha
Tuesday, 22nd May 2007
A discussion around how the new social media websites like Facebook-dot-com will affect the planning decisions of millions of consumers over the upcoming summer travel season.

The Summer vacation planning time is quickly approaching and many of us are eagerly awaiting a chance to wind down, unplug and reconnect with our families. With that coveted week or two that we allow ourselves not to feel guilty to have a "real life" – it is critical that we choose the right destination or experience that will maximize the little leisure time we have.

Researching travel online has dominated the top search activities for a number of years now, so it would only make sense that the resources and ways that we research our travel options have conformed dramatically to the Web 2.0 online marketing space.

Originally in the online arena, there were three top ways travel was researched, general search through Search Engines, perusing individual websites, and the influence of an email blast promoting travel specials. The new consumer is finding that this no longer meets their needs as search has become cumbersome and frustrating to extract the correct and relevant information.

General search is becoming cluttered with sponsored links and results that too often do not seem relevant to the initial search query. Even though websites in general have improved in appearance and content, the core communication is still a one-way marketing message that has on average about 8 seconds to capture the audience's attention. The novelty of receiving a personalized email message alerting you to a special or package is not only getting lost in the barrage of other emails, but is often impossible to read on a blackberry, or caught within spam filters.

Enter the powerful world of online social communities, and the subtle way they are influencing our travel decisions. Such sites as Tripadvisor.com and MySpace.com have been on the online radar for quite some time now. Tripadvisor has been a leading reference for the ability to "hear" a real person's critiques and endorsements about hotels and destinations. Yet for the hungry traveler waiting that much anticipated holiday, it seems that Tripadvisor has morphed itself into yet another one-way communication.

Realizing these reviews are heavily influenced by all of the other unknown factors during the traveler's experience (delayed plane, sick children or just a bad day), and that many hoteliers have started to add marketing messages as posts - how can you base such an important decision on a stranger's opinion that you are not certain isn't an indirect marketing message coming from the supplier?

MySpace.com has quickly gained the reputation of being the "community of teens." However popular it has become; it has not been able to elevate itself to a level of credibility, especially when it comes to researching travel. Facebook is the second largest social network on the web, behind only MySpace in terms of traffic.

Facebook was originally developed as an elite college and university social community, requiring a valid university email address to join. Since it's inception in 2004, Facebook has since allowed others without a school email address to join and as of February 2007 boasts 8 million users in the US, and over 18 million registered members worldwide.

Let's take a step back and look at this demographic. Those who joined the Facebook phenomenon were primarily University students in 2004 & 2005. Fast forward to 2007 where a majority of these members have not only graduated and entered the work world, but are approaching their 10 year high school reunion.

The ability to re-connect with high school friends and even those who weren't really friends in high school, is nostalgic for the individual working 50-60 hours a week and presumably either raising a family or starting to think about the next stages in life. The common thread of High school or University provides a reflection of the different stages of ones life, and contact with people that we can instantly relate too.

This association with someone related to your past creates an instant "click and trust" that is becoming a social phenomenon and is impacting how people consume the internet, and specifically how they research purchases such as travel. Facebook allows those individuals with similar interests to not only connect and share their life experiences – but to share their travel experiences, discuss their upcoming travel plans and actually partake in a travel adventure through the sharing of pictures and stories.

With over 1.5 million photos uploaded daily, Facebook could very rapidly become a major player for travel research among all of the other social communities and blogs that already exist within cyberspace. Imagine the impact that a recommendation from a high school friend has on influencing travel decisions over an anonymous post to a website such as Tripadvisor?

My partner, the "other chick" who is within the "facebook demographic" recently joined the online community, and has been actively connecting with people from her high school and beyond. She shared with a friend who she had not spoken to in ten years that we would be traveling to Nova Scotia on business last week. Immediately she received an instant message over Facebook from him stating, "My wife and I were planning on going there this summer…can you let me know where we should stay, and some names of good places to stop when you return?"

Her ability to influence their travel plans will now supersede millions of dollars of marketing dollars being spent to promote the many travel information sites, hotel websites and portal websites offering relevant travel related information for travel to Nova Scotia. That being said – there is still the opportunity for these supplier websites to properly "close the sale," which is still an important point to note within this discussion.

Word of mouth has always been the one of the most powerful forms of advertising. What hit home to my partner and I during our travels in Nova Scotia was the people and experiences we had during our time there. Beyond the absolutely outstanding scenery and unique accommodations and dining available in this beautiful Canadian Province, there was a genuine pride and sincere hospitably we felt from all of the people we met. This is what will be communicated with an instant message through Facebook – or within many of the "conversations" happening every minute online.

What differentiates one travel experience from another can be as simple as a warm, welcoming reception from the people who live there. A reminder that tourism has become so competitive that making a memorable impact one person at a time, can virally spread through millions within a social community and beyond.

Patricia Brusha is the co-founder of
A Couple of Chicks e-Distribution Marketing offering a non-intimidating approach to marketing online – and the Co-Chair of the 2nd annual Online Revealed Canada Conference to be held this May 28th and 29th in Toronto, Canada. The Online Revealed Conference will present practical application workshops and leading industry speakers from Phocuswrite, Google, and Yahoo among others, who will offer solutions to marketing within a global online marketplace. Visit www.acoupleofchicks.com for more information and articles.
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