Digital Marketing - Can Travel Advisors Achieve Sales Through Social Media?


Lauren Maggard and Julia Douglas in the courtyard of The Elysian Chicago.
Lauren Maggard and Julia Douglas in the courtyard of The Elysian Chicago.

Jet Set World Travel Owner Julia Douglas is a staunch believer in social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter and, increasingly, Instagram, the photo-sharing site. The Chicago agency actively maintains its own Facebook page and Twitter account, while its seven individual travel advisors have their own individual pages and accounts.

She and other agency owners have been pondering how – and whether – to make the jump from using social media primarily as an informational tool to something more aggressive, promotional and clearly intended to generate revenue. While they’re not opposed to producing more income, they worry that a more aggressive strategy could alter the style and culture of their agencies as they seek that delicate balance between soft sell versus hard sell.

Listening to presentations at Questex Hospitality + Travel’s ULTRA Luxury Exchange conference in Miami last month, Douglas was captivated by the concept of converting Facebook “likes” to leads. She was intrigued by reports that her agency could realize up to a 30 percent greater close rate on new business, just by already having potential clients’ email garnered through an online sweepstakes or some other tactic promoted via social channels. She now can imagine the agency becoming even more engaged in Facebook, Twitter and other such tools in the months and years ahead.
“The primary reason we’ve participated in social media up to now has been to help ensure we remain top of mind to our clients, friends and followers,” she said. “We want them to know we’re out there, pounding the pavement so to speak, to demonstrate our destination expertise.”

Douglas prefers that her agency expresses its own point of view rather than reposting third-party reviews from TripAdvisor, a popular consumer social media site. “We want what we post to be more about our experiences and opinions, rather than what someone else thinks,” she said.

Douglas cited a recent trip taken by two of the firm’s travel advisors to the Dominican Republic. The pair conscientiously “posted and tweeted about the experiences they were having and posted photos of the sites they were visiting,” she said. “It just shows people that as travel advisors, we’re out there ‘tasting the cooking’ and not just ‘selling from a green screen’.”

In other words, it has helped establish the agency’s credibility, even its seriousness.

As Douglas ponders her agency’s approach to social media, she’s aware that a majority of the firm’s clients are Gen X and Millennial travelers and that this percentage will only grow. Most are in their 20s-40s, many booking bachelorette weekends, honeymoons, couples getaways and related kinds of trips.

According to a Boston Consulting Group survey conducted in March entitled “Travel with Millennials,” this group will become the core customers in the U.S. for hotels, airlines and travel companies by 2023. BCG also found that, as a group, Millennials have grand travel ambitions, expressing the intention of visiting each continent (75 percent say they want to travel abroad as much as possible).

“They’re involved in social media in their own lives, so it makes sense that when they think about travel, they’d pay attention to what’s on social media as long as their friends are posting on it,” Douglas said. “These generations rely heavily on recommendations and referrals and are less inclined to go blind into a new relationship.”

As Douglas noted, Millennials rely heavily on recommendations and referrals. But just how receptive they are to a hard sell from a (hopefully trusted) travel advisor is the question.

Learn more about social media and the luxury travel business from the best minds in the industry at the Luxury Travel Exchange, September 10-13, 2013 at The Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas.
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