"Travel 2.0 sites are more about branding, discovery, and especially research"

Social Media Strategies Travel 2008 SpecialSuppliers are increasingly getting represented in a genuine fashion on YouTube, Second Life, and Facebook.

Published: 11 Mar 2008

Social Media Strategies Travel 2008 Special

Suppliers are increasingly getting represented in a genuine fashion on YouTube, Second Life, and Facebook.

In order to assess the role of Travel 2.0 sites in consumer marketing, EyeforTravel.com's Ritesh Gupta spoke to speakers of Social Media Strategies Travel 2008 Conference in San Francisco. Here is what they had to say.

Victoria Treyger, VP Online Marketing and Product Management, Travelocity:

Travel 2.0 sites play several important and emerging roles in consumer marketing. First, they serve to build your company's brand and awareness. Whereas channels like search are more of a direct marketing vehicle to drive transactions, Travel 2.0 sites I believe are more about branding, discovery, and especially research.

Second, I think they are particularly useful as a consumer research tool to enable your customers to interact with your brands and products early on in the research lifecycle. This is particularly important for more expensive and considered purchases like travel, especially for long trips to new destinations or products like cruises.

Third, Travel 2.0 sites also enable true word of mouth marketing since you can get feedback form your friends on other places they have visited. And lastly, they may allow marketers to reach out to new consumer segments that perhaps you are not reaching in the more traditional branding channels like newspapers, radio, and television.

Jim Kovarik, General Manager, AOL Travel:

Very little, compared to their potential (role of Travel 2.0 sites in consumer marketing). There is a great deal of exploration happening in the industry to find the right balance between compelling consumer experience and valuable business application.

I think you'll find, as many of these sites are learning, that we are still in the very early stages of figuring out that balance and right now most of the focus is on the consumer experience.

As social networking sites aggregate and rank trusted reviews from other travelers, and as the semantic Web becomes a reality, how do you think travel suppliers should participate in the conversation and use the medium to address issues head on and to serve the needs of customers?

Treyger: First, I think the aggregation of reviews from other travelers is an excellent opportunity for travel suppliers to get a pulse on the strength of the customer experience that they are providing. Specifically, it helps them understand where they are strong, and what the areas that cause customer dissatisfaction are. This information is a great opportunity to learn from your customers. Travelocity's reviews by traveler type can also help suppliers understand how they are meeting their core customer demographic (e.g., business travelers), and what their opportunities are to expand beyond that to new customer segments (e.g., families).

At Travelocity, we were the leaders to launch proactive reacomodation where even before travel 2.0, we used the feedback we received from customers about problems at a particular hotel to insure that we correct that problem both for this customer and all other customers who have booked at this property. For example, if a customer booked a hotel with a pool and arrived to learn that the pool is under construction, we would use this information to rebook this customer and notify/rebook all other customers who are planning to stay a the same hotel. As part of the review process for each review, Travelocity will forward specific comments to our Customer Service team who can proactively reach out to future travelers.

The aggregation of rank and user reviews is another opportunity for us to identify any challenges at our properties and work to correct the problem for our customers. We use our traveler reviews to provide input to our Market Managers, who can then work with our hotel partners to improve service and meet customer expectations. After all, both OTAs and suppliers want customers whose expectations are properly set.

In a nutshell, the aggregation of reviews really provides opportunities to improve your service based on customer feedback, whether you are an OTA or a supplier.

Kovarik: Well, before joining the conversation the first thing suppliers should do, if they aren't already, is listen. Visit as many of these sites as possible, carefully read what consumers are saying about their brands and see if it aligns with the marketing message they're trying to convey. If it doesn't, you have a problem. Participating in the conversation is a little more risky as, depending on the site, consumers may or may not be receptive to having a supplier responding directly to their comments.

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