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First Facebook, Now TripAdvisor

June 16, 2010 By: Michael Browne

For travel agents who work at home, the social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have been something of a godsend. Think about it, you have no real marketing budget, you don’t even have a signpost at your door announcing your existence, or a storefront filled with colorful posters and splashy deal announcements. The web— which was initially considered the death knell for the agent— is your only link to the outside world, other than that aging Rolodex next to the telephone. So yes, Facebook is actually a friend to the travel agent whether you want to acknowledge that or not.

There was some hue and cry in the last few weeks about how Facebook is the latest online intruder onto travel agency turf, and how regular everyday people were being elevated to the status of “travel  agent” on Facebook. But really, isn’t it just friends sharing with friends? If I go on Facebook and say, Michael Browne “is drinking Hurricanes on  Bourbon Street”—which is the kind of comment most commonly seen by FB’ers on vacation—is that selling a trip?

One agent wrote to us lamenting that this could be the end of the travel agent industry, going so far as to say, ““Everyone talks about us evolving. Well I think if we are not careful we are going to evolve ourselves right out of business. It’s just one more nail in the coffin, wait and see. One thing for sure, if we aid in this process it will be used against us.  Bet on it.”

Maybe he’s right, but I tend to side with travel agents who look on the bright side of this Facebook brouhaha. Take, for example, agent Sandy Mumm, who recently wrote on AgentNation in a dicussion thread on the topic, “With all the conflicting opinions that will appear on Facebook, travelers will be more confused than ever and look to a ‘real’ travel agent for advice and booking.”

Now that’s how an entrepreneur should be thinking, not throwing in the towel every time a new travel-related development pops up on the web. Because they’re going to keep on coming. Fighting it takes a lot more energy than exploring it and learning about it, discovering how you can capitalize on it and eventually using it to your advantage.

And in This Corner...

Meanwhile, the agents who are fighting the web to the death have another black cloud drifting over their sunny home offices. TripAdvisor, the world's busiest travel site, has launched a new Facebook service offering users travel tips direct from their friends. The new service, TripAdvisor Trip Friends, will enable Facebook users who are planning a vacation to identify —via the Cities I've Visited application—which friends have visited the location. Would-be travelers can then tap into their network of friends for more details.

Again, a death knell or boon for agents? My friends can tell me all kinds of great things about their vacation, but they can’t book it for me, they can’t tell me about every hotel in the destination, they can’t give me pricing options. They can give me just enough information to stoke my curiosity. And that sounds to me like a good thing for the agent community. 

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