Here is my commentary on the importance of social media in travel.
It is a tremendous achievement for the four star Southern Sun Al Manzil Hotel to be voted ‘Most Popular Hotel in Dubai’ and Top Business Hotel in Dubai in the Trip Advisor 2009 Popularity Rankings. This gives a customer driven sense of the quality of service and facilities on offer. These rankings are far more than an interesting curiosity now – such Travel 2.0 sites as they are known are a critical part of the search process for a growing number of travellers’ when looking for a hotel or flight.
Huge importance is placed on the opinions of other guests – highlighting the growing importance of word of mouth from trusted sources in a world where we are constantly bombarded with so much information. TripAdvisor’s own research shows “consumer opinions posted online” are trusted more than those in the newspapers. I think other hotels in Dubai will start to pay a lot more attention to such sites if they are not already doing so. Some hotels actively encourage guests to post their reviews on the site. Others monitor the site very closely and act fast to address service concerns raised by travellers. Comments on Trip Advisor and other such sites can make a huge difference to booking levels.
TripAdvisor is part of a growing range of Travel 2.0 offerings on the web – these are interactive travel sites that offer far more than just travel booking. They reflect the growing desire of consumers to get a lot more information, share their opinions, rate their experiences, hear the views of others and take more control over the design and planning of their trips. A 2008 research study from Uptake shows that the average consumer makes 12 searches and visits 22 sites before they book.
The rise of social media in travel is a core trend over the next few years and the industry needs to make sure it is not left behind. In our own study on the Future of Travel, 95% of respondents said it was likely or very likely that they would book the bulk of their travel online by 2015 and 74% said it was likely or very likely that would use social media to research their trip before making a purchase. Given the rapid rise of internet penetration – there are over 1.7 billion internet users worldwide and estimates of over 1 billion social network users – the message is very clear for hoteliers in the region. They need to be paying very close attention to their social media strategy, monitoring the comments made about them across the social networks – particularly the specialist travel sites and responding to any service concerns that are raised. Figures fromPersonalize Media[i] below give a sense of the true scale of the growth of social media:
• 20 hours of video are uploaded every minute onto YouTube (source YouTube blog August 09)
• Facebook claims it is adding 600,000 new members per day, and 700 million photos and 4 million videos per month (source Inside Facebook February 09)
• Twitter has added 18 million new users in the last year, with 4 million ‘tweets’ sent daily (source TechCrunch April 09)
• 900,000 blogs posts are put up every day (source Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2008)
• YouTube claims 1 billion videos are watched every day (Source SMH 2009)
• In Second Life, US$250,000 worth of ‘virtual goods’ are traded daily (source Linden Lab release Sep 09)
• 1250 text messages are sent per second
• An estimated US$5.5 billion is spent annually on virtual goods (source Viximo Aug 09)
• Facebook gift purchases have reached US$70 million annually (source Viximo Aug 09)
• Flickr has 73 million visitors a month who upload 700 million photos (source Yahoo Mar 09)
• There were 92.5 million mobile social network subscribers at the end of 2008. This is forecast to rise to between 641.6-873.1 million by the end of 2013 (source Informa PDF)
• Over 2.3 trillion SMS messages were sent across major markets worldwide in 2008 (source Everysingleoneofus sms statistics).
[i]Personalize Media, October 19th 2009 http://www.personalizemedia.com/garys-social-media-count/