Published on Thursday, December 1, 2011
Social media is vital as a way of attracting would-be customers as well as engaging those you already have.
Speaking at the TravelMole Industry Question Time in London last night, Responsibletravel.com managing director Justin Francis said using social media to talk to potential customers means you can educate them on your product and ensure you close sales on factors other than price.
â€œIf you only compete at the booking level then you're very price competitive,â€ he said.
â€œIf you get them at the early stage then your people can dream about the type of holiday they will have.â€
Francis argued this is even more important in the case of the travel industry, which remains unique compared to others.
â€œThe consumer travels to the product rather than the other way round and that's almost why having some reference (through social media) from someone who's been there and done it is incredibly important,â€ he added.
Antony Martin, managing director for Rock Insurance, said social media is most effectively used to plant links across the web to drive surfers back to his own website.
He added: â€œAs a business we think social media is relevant but the relevance is quite small at the moment.â€
Guy Beresiner, head of partnerships for Yahoo, said as the internet has given the consumer far greater power commercially, so companies must respond.
He said: â€œThe (company's) reputation has slipped from people who own the brand into the hands of the consumer. You have to engage with them as part of the journey.â€
Meanwhile, the panel agreed one of the biggest difficulties in online marketing occurs when Google changes its algorithms for search engine optimisation without explaining the reasons why or what the new rules are.
Martin said such events prove why it is wrong to rely purely on search engine optimisation, adding: â€œIf you've got a business just built on SEO then the business is quite flawed in some respects; you need to have a mixture.â€
However, Justin Francis, Responsibletravel.com chief executive said such changes could be useful for flushing out companies from search results that have benefited from having the best SEO rather than the most relevance.
He added: â€œIt's not in the users' interest when some companies are always at the top.
â€œThe search engines are trying to improve for the best of reasons but it is difficult to know why you've done well or not done well.â€
Beresiner said the only reason why Google changes its algorithms is to ensure its users have the best possible experience.
While Nick Henley, media and planning director for Conrad Advertising, agreed the web offers a number of business opportunities, he urged them not to turn their back on older tried and tested forms of advertising.
He said: â€œA lot of people are still looking at brochures, it is part of the experience and indulgence of choosing a holiday.â€
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The recent insolvency of Low Cost Travel Group, one of the large players in the travel industry had a big impact on the travelers, hotels and all related players from both wholesale & retail arms. There were about 27,000 people on a holiday who had booked through the company comprised of a €200 million wholesale arm and €500 million OTA / retail arm.