Travel suppliers are increasingly using Twitter to connect with consumers, travel agents and the media, and by doing so, solidifying relationships they hope will result in more business.
For travel agents, especially home-based agents, Twitter has proven to be an excellent way to communicate with trade partners with whom they don't have frequent contact. Agents following those hotel companies, cruise lines and tour operators with a presence on the micro-blogging site are among the first to know about promotional prices, special packages, completed refurbishments and more.
While most suppliers "tweet" similar content, many have found the direction their Twitter presence has taken to be quite different from what they expected
Southwest Airlines (406,091 followers)
Southwest Airlines felt the need to expand its presence on the Internet after it saw a lot of its passengers active online. The airline launched its Twitter page in July 2007.
"Our customers expect us to be innovative; they expect us to be quirky and different and fun," says Christi Day, emerging media specialist for Southwest. Day is responsible for maintaining the airline's Twitter account and most of its Facebook account.
According to Day, the content Southwest tweets has changed over time, and depends on what consumers want. Currently, passengers are seeking information about Wi-Fi, new city gateway information and up-to-the-minute fares.
The airline responds to anybody who reaches out to it on Twitter and a group of seven monitors all forms of social networking for conversations about the brand. However, Day says Southwest does not see Twitter as a great avenue for customer service issues.
Marriott International (13,446 followers)
John Wolf, senior director of public relations for Marriott, and the man responsible for the company's online presence, says he tested the waters when the company first launched its Twitter page and asked followers what they wanted to hear from Marriott.
Timing was everything, says Wolf. When Marriott began tweeting at the end of 2007, there were few people on Twitter, so its followers only numbered in the hundreds and the company could ask for feedback and try different things. By starting with a narrow agenda and then altering it, adding to it or subtracting from it as needed, Wolf says he learned how to tweet in a way that is authentic and transparent to its followers.
Though many of the Marriott properties have their own Twitter page, Wolf says the corporate Marriott site is the most popular. Content has expanded from simple PR and news releases to posting about trends and interesting or fun facts. Due to follower demand, Wolf has added food and beverage tweets as well. Additionally, Marriott tweets special deals, including sweepstakes.
Wolf says the company has no plans to use Twitter to address customer service issues, adding that such tweets are few and far between. When negative customer service issues do arise, Wolf says it's because guests need to vent their anger. In such situations, it's a great opportunity to go in and solve the problem, offering resolution and making the guest happy and satisfied. (http://twitter.com/MarriottIntl)
Pleasant Holidays (2,767 followers)
Pleasant Holidays first entered the Twittersphere because it was impressed by the website's ease of use and real-time communication, says Roseanne Landay, director of strategy and business development for the company.
Before launching, Landay researched who was using Twitter and what content would be most effective. But once she began managing the site, Landay found it to be most effective for communicating last-minute deals, which are typically difficult to get the word out about. Though some of the deals are only advertised on Twitter because of their time sensitivity, they are not Twitter-exclusive, Landay says, adding that travel agents are encouraged to re-tweet them and direct customers to their own websites for booking.
According to Landay, the company's Twitter page has been so successful it's looking to create a second page and separate the consumer and trade followers. (http://twitter.com/PleasantHoliday)
Carnival Cruise Lines (8,671 followers)
Carnival started using Twitter in May 2007 because the cruise line liked the communication value the website offered, says Stephanie Leavitt, manager of online publishing. But while the line began its site with the intention of "pushing" its content out to followers, Leavitt says she is finding that more and more of her communications with consumers are related to customer service.
Most followers ask simple questions, such as recommendations for shore excursions, but many come with questions about specific bookings. About half of the customer service questions that come through Twitter must be passed on to reservations agents, Leavitt says.
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts (4,550 followers)
Fairmont joined Twitter a year ago as part of its media relations strategy. But before launching a full-scale interactive presence, Mike Taylor, public relations manager for Fairmont, says the company began by only following people it considered influencers on Twitter and by reading their posts and seeing how they were using the platform. After about two months of "lurking," Fairmont began to engage its followers, and the site "took off."
Since then, Taylor says the hotel's strategy has changed. "Initially we viewed Twitter as just a way to push out information, but very quickly we looked at it as much more than that. as a way to create relationships and to engage with our followers," he says.
While Taylor does push news out, he adds that he communicates regularly with guests who tweet him to say that they will be staying at one of Fairmont's hotels or to describe an experience they've had, both good and bad.
Additionally, Taylor uses an application called TweetDeck to track the brand's appearance throughout the Twittersphere, so he receives an alert every time someone mentions Fairmont. Depending on the content, Taylor says he will jump into the conversation if he feels it's warranted.
In mid-July, Fairmont added hashtag tweets dedicated to travel agents. When appearing at the start of a tweet, the hashtag (#fhragents) alerts agent followers that the tweet is specifically applicable to the agent community. (http://twitter.com/fairmonthotels)
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company
Ritz-Carlton has been active on Twitter for almost three months, but its strategy is different from the other suppliers with whom Travel Agent spoke.
According to Allison Sitch, Ritz-Carlton's senior corporate director of public relations, before launching its Twitter sites the company hired an agency of record to help it determine a way to fit itself into the social networking site in a way that would be honest and have a personality. The hotel company did not want individual hotels simply slapping up new promotional pricing every day. Instead, Ritz-Carlton wanted its presence to enable personal conversations with its followers. Therefore, instead of one global Twitter account, Ritz-Carlton has five, each written by an executive at the company and segmented by subject matter.
The site most similar to other suppliers' Twitter pages is RitzCarltonPR (1,653 followers), managed and written by Sitch. Though Sitch interacts mostly with journalists, she says she also gets a fair amount of consumers. She refers to her tweets as "a hodgepodge of global activity, what's going on in our hotels everywhere." (http://twitter.com/RitzCarltonPR)
The company's most popular Twitter micro-blog is overseen and written personally by its CEO, Simon F. Cooper, whose page (1,902 followers) offers a look inside the day-to-day life of the man behind the brand, and people follow him because they're fascinated by him.
A third page is overseen and written by Bruce Himelstein (346 followers), Ritz-Carlton's senior vice president, sales and marketing. Himelstein tweets about marketing campaigns, new service initiatives, his views of new hotels and similar sales or marketing topics.
The fourth Twitter page is written by Ken Rehmann (169 followers), the company's executive vice president of operations, who tweets about food and beverage, celebrity chefs, spas and hotel refurbishments, among other operational subjects. (http://twitter.com/KenRehmann)
The fifth site is RitzCarltonCSR (342 followers) and is dedicated to the company's philanthropic activity. (http://twitter.com/RitzCarltonCSR)
Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts (4,157 followers)
Four Seasons maintains one global Twitter site and 22 local sites for each of its properties. According to Susan Helstab, executive vice president of marketing, the company's Twitter strategy has been to drive business to the individual hotels.
Tweets are focused on specific initiatives for each hotel and can include news, promotions and packages and fun facts about the properties. Helstab says that in the near future Four Seasons will add insights from corporate executives. Any tweeted promotion is available from all channels.
The company also views Twitter as a search engine optimization tool, as tweets are strategically written to improve Four Seasons' placement results on search engines.
Four Seasons does not follow any of its followers and keeps its engagement with them to a minimum. If somebody sends an inquiry or comment to the corporate Twitter account, a Four Seasons staff member will reply privately by direct message. (http://twitter.com/Four_Seasons)
Holland America Line (1,472 followers)
According to a spokesperson, although Holland America launched its Twitter presence in January, it is still experimenting with the site and figuring out how to use it.
From the start, the cruise line knew there were lots of media on Twitter and so approached it from the viewpoint of using it as another channel for connecting with media. Many of its followers are publications and cruise writers, but travel agents also quickly began to follow Holland America. The two groups currently make up the largest percentage of the line's followers, and tweets are often directed at them.
However, consumer interaction is starting to grow as well, and a dedicated Holland America staff member responds to any queries it receives. (http://twitter.com/HALcruises)
Karisma Hotels (826 followers)
While the Karisma Hotels main site offers a global overview of the company, the brand-specific Twitter pages are its most popular-twitter.com/ElDoradoResorts (1,611 followers) and twitter.com/azulhotels (1,366 followers).
When Karisma first launched its presence in January, it was followed mostly by members from the media, but its followers now include trade partners and consumers. According to Many Chomat, vice president of sales and marketing, the company established its follower base by first following individuals with whom it wanted to engage in conversations.
Twitter is one of many social networking sites out there right now. Here at Travel Agent we actually launched such a site just for you, called AgentNation, where you can ask each other questions, blog and upload photos and videos.
In our effort to help you navigate the social networking we also hosted a webinar on the topic a few weeks ago in which we were joined by two top travel agents: John Clifford, the president of International Travel Management.com, and Sherry Laskin, owner of the Vacation Shoppe.
To see how Clifford and Laskin are using Twitter as a free marketing device, log onto to the site (signing up is really easy-visit www.twitter.com) and read their tweets. You'll see how they are positioning themselves as travel experts. Both are using different tactics and you can learn from each.
Here's a synopsis of our Twitter discussion from the webinar, with some top tips and websites that will help you, as a travel agent, get tweeting, which means you'll have access to your own free marketing venue.
What Is Twitter?
* Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read each others' updates, known as tweets.
* Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters, displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to other users-known as "followers"-who have subscribed to them.
* Tweeters can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access.
Why Use Twitter?
* It lets you grow your personal knowledge and business.
* It gives you connection to high-level travel writers, executives, CEOs of travel companies, and expands your reach globally.
* It lets you receive information from local contacts.
How To Get the Best Out of Twitter
* Stay regularly engaged in posting, responding and RT'ing (re-tweeting).
* Make your profile short, fun and descriptive.
* Post what you know most about.
Twitter Do's and Don'ts:
* Do post regularly and take advantage of trends like "Travel Tuesday" where travel postings get top notice.
* Do refer your favorites to others on "Follow Friday" to recommend those you admire.
* Don't over do #hashtags-A #hashtag is a user-created way to identify a topic by using the # sign at the start of a topic.
* Don't advertise blatantly.
* Do keep it professional: Don't share what you had for breakfast.