How the Travel Industry Is Making the Most of Social Media
Business Traveler|March 2016
How the Travel Industry Is Making the Most of Social Media

Everyone’s attention is turned to social media and travel is making the most of it.

Ramsey Qubein

The line weaves around the corner; the din of whiney passengers is more raucous than a swarm of teenage girls queueing for a Justin Bieber concert. The electronic boards are bright red with the long list of canceled flights.

Expert road warriors know exactly how to handle such a situation. There is no lounge for my airline here, and the 1-800 number offers nothing but endlessly looping on-hold Muzak. So naturally I turn where more and more travelers these days are looking for solutions: I take to social media. Within minutes, my itinerary for tomorrow’s travel is rectified.

Wandering through the terminal, I notice a Centurion Lounge from American Express. Since I am not a Platinum cardholder, I bemoan the fact I must wait by the gate and take to Twitter to voice my frustration. A minute later, my phone buzzes with a reply; someone in the lounge offers to guest me in since I have a long wait. Score!

Everyone and their grandmother seems to be connected via social media these days. We live in a mobile society, one in which the lack of being looped into the universe via a smartphone can almost be painful. So it comes as no surprise that travel companies have embraced the trend to find ways to connect and engage with customers – both past and potential.

There is no guidebook for how travel companies should connect with consumers. It all comes down to internal resources and know-how. The most active brands invest in a dedicated staff focused on connecting with consumers online and ‘socializing the brand.’

“Social media forms a core part of how travel companies build and sustain brand images and customer relationships,” according to Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group. Harteveldt says travel brands that succeed on social media find their own way to be creative, relevant, responsive and, most importantly, authentic.

The way the consumer experiences and understands a brand is the result of its online communication, which can lead to increased revenue down the road.

It’s Not Just for Millennials

There’s no doubt that social media efforts are geared toward the Millennial crowd, which will become the bread and butter of many a travel provider in the next decade. But that doesn’t mean everyone else gets ignored.

To the contrary, Millennial trends are fueling the behavior of other travelers, as witnessed by the almost universal grasp of technology like airport kiosk check-in and mobile boarding passes. It’s even crossing over to hotels, with many offering the option to bypass the front desk and use a smartphone to unlock the guest room door. Travelers across the board are taking to these new modes.

Take for example the Aloft Liverpool, which followed the lead of its Manhattan sibling to introduce a room service menu known as Aloft TiGi, derived entirely from emojis. The acronym means “text it, get it,” (get it?). Guests simply text the dedicated TiGi number with the pre-set specialty menus (bangers and mash anyone?), which is confirmed back via text. No need to even touch the in-room phone.

“We’re always looking for ways to shake up the hotel stay,” says Brian McGuinness, global brand leader of Starwood’s Specialty Select Brands. “We look to consumer behavior and think about how to integrate these trends into the Aloft experience. The rise of emojis was a logical next step, the perfect new wave of guest communications.”

Hyatt has launched a program that allows guests to Facebook message a hotel to make a request (perhaps to arrange a late check-in) or ask a question (nearby restaurant reservations, for example). A speedy response is assured thanks to the brand’s “global control room.” Many travel brands rely on a multi-person team (for Hyatt that means 60 people in three locations) to monitor and address social media concerns and requests at all hours.

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March 2016