Like most service businesses, luxury or otherwise, travel agencies are finding social media to be an important communications tool. But several travel advisors who met last month at Questex’s ULTRA Luxury Exchange conference in Miami questioned social media’s usefulness as a sales tool.
That skepticism was confirmed by a keynote speaker, Peter Yesawich, vice chairman of MMGY Global, a leading marketing services firm, who said social media influences the decisions of few travelers. “The degree of influence that social media content has on choice is a lot more modest than you would think” – less than 10 percent of all travelers, he said.
“People are not on Facebook to find a deal on a cruise, period,” Yesawich said. “They’re there for some other purpose, which is more social in nature, and we as commercial interlopers are there to attempt to distract them, give them an offer and hopefully do a transaction.”
Betty Maclean Travel in Naples, Fla., deliberately avoids the hard-sell approach on Facebook, instead taking a more nuanced approach. “If the truth be known, we never try to sell anything on Facebook,” said Roy Ramsey, the agency’s director of operations. “In fact, we don’t find any of the social media sites to be particularly productive in the sense of making sales.”
Ramsey does, however, believe it is important to maintain a presence in the social media arena, notably Facebook. “We share information about interesting places, we post about our personal travels, both photographs and commentary,” he said. “Our advisors tend to be very well traveled, and Facebook has given all of us an opportunity to share what we have experienced.”
For Betty Maclean Travel, Facebook represents a means of enhancing its reputation, creating all-important visibility for the agency’s brand and elevating its prestige among its luxury clients.
“We have something like 2,000 Likes,” he said. “We don’t necessarily know who all these followers of our page are, nor do we need to. But whatever it is we’re posting, they clearly find of interest.”
Another ULTRA keynoter, social media consultant Lane Douglas, observed that whether social media is used as a direct-marketing tool expected to have an immediate financial return or, as in the case of Betty Maclean Travel, to achieve subtle marketing and brand-building objectives for the long-term, both approaches cut to the heart of why social media is having such a transformative impact on society.
“In the early days of the Internet, it was about what marketers said to consumers about the product or service they were promoting; that was what was important,” Douglas said. “That’s no longer the case. With the rise of social media today, it’s become about what consumers say to one another about a product or service, when the marketer is nowhere around.”
Betty Maclean Travel’s clients are computer literate, carry laptops and iPads and use social media primarily to stay in touch with family and friends. That approach has begun an evolution in which social media will play a greater role as a means for searching information and getting answers.
Ramsey likes the idea that, down the road, the agency’s presence on Facebook and, to a lesser degree, Instagram and other sites might lead to new clients coming on board. “But it’s nothing we’re counting on right now,” he said. “In the future, possibly.”
Instagram, with its focus on photographs, has a special appeal to him. “A large part of our postings is visual,” Ramsey said. “We’re always posting photographs. People want to be engaged that way, and with travel it underscores the core of what the experience is about.”
Many travel advisors work remotely, including 10 to 12 at Betty Maclean Travel who work from their homes in Texas, North Carolina and elsewhere. For advisors in the field, the agency’s Facebook presence has come to serve another important, though unexpected, purpose, Ramsey said.
“It’s come to bond everyone together,” he said. “It’s like we’ve created a community separate from the physical office. We don’t see each other on a daily basis, but social media has come to connect us.”
Part 1 of a two-part series. Next week: Agents who say they achieve sales directly as a result of their social media efforts.
Learn more about social media at Luxury Travel Exchange International