African nations were urged this week to engage with new media to attract more visitors. New Media Knowledge looked for examples of new media success in the travel sector.
The travel industry is credited by many to have been the first to recognise the potential of new media for marketing purposes, along with the financial sector. At a pan-African summit this week in Nairobi, African nations were encouraged to engage new media to draw in tourists. For example, payments over the Internet are not permitted in Kenya, a key drawback to the country’s ability to attract visitors at a time when its tourist industry desperately needs to attract outside visitors following political turmoil earlier this year.
But with the Internet increasingly the first port of call for most holiday makers – 22 per cent of Virgin Holidays’ bookings come through its website, for example - how can players in the highly competitive travel industry make the most of new media? And how can they avoid the pitfalls presented by social media, such as potentially negative blogs?
Cruise company P&O was quick onto new media. Originally its web strategy focused mainly on pay-per-click (PPC) and search, but it turned to digital media agency, Yucca, to further enhance its new media capabilities.
Yucca set to work on the firm’s search engine optimisation (SEO) positioning and the website, building a community for customers to feedback their experience.
“From an SEO perspective it helps that the company has the word ‘cruise’ in its title, but we still needed to be intuitive to keep it ahead of the competition,” Ben Martin, Yucca’s Managing Director, told NMK. “Search is live data, and there is a lot you can do with that data once you start to look into it.”
A cruise can be a complex product, Martin explained. P&O has 12 levels of accommodation and sails all over the world. The company can receive purchases of more than £45,000 via its website, meaning a simple cruise planning section was required on the site.
The website’s community section enables passengers to give their honest feedback on their experience in a publicly displayed forum. For Martin, the community element is the key factor in P&O’s success in a Web 2.0 world where word-of-mouth has such a strong impact on consumers.
“The strength of the P&O site is that it’s completely unregulated. Visitors can say what they like,” he said. The site also runs polls to gauge customer feedback.
But don’t unregulated communities like this run the risk of exposing tour companies to malicious bloggers? Martin disagrees. “You’re always going to get negative bloggers out there. In the first instance you should respond directly to the blogger, if that fails to generate the response you want, then respond publicly online. We always recommend honesty,” he said.
The rise of social networks specifically aimed at travellers, such as TripAdvisor or Where Are You Now?, have made it impossible for tour operators, airlines and national tourism boards to control public feedback on their product or service.
Could these uncontrollable domains have a serious adverse effect on operators or locations in the tourist industry? Faisal Galaria, Managing Director for Europe and Asia at online travel search engine, Kayak, does not think so.
“We’ve found that social networks are great for inspiration but not great for transactions. Currently, consumers use social networking sites for bragging about their trip and all the places they have visited, and for sharing photos - but not planning,” he said. “There’s a lot of distribution, obviously, but we’ve found [social networks are] not a good place to buy traffic that converts.”