Social Media Tips – As Guidebooks Move Online, Travel Agents Can Do It Better

booksIn a quick reversal, Arthur Frommer has reacquired the Frommer’s brand from Google and will resume publishing the Frommer’s guidebooks and running Frommers.com, CNET reports. After Google had announced that it would stop printing Frommer’s travel guidebooks, media outlets such as NPR were abuzz with the pros and cons of print versus digital guidebooks. But we’ve always known that a mere book can’t hope to match a travel agent’s intelligence and firsthand experience and, what’s more, with new social media tools you can deliver a better service than online guidebooks as well.

The NPR show focuses on the relevant, firsthand knowledge that a guidebook can provide. Hanya Yanagihara, editor-at-large at Conde Nast Traveler, tells NPR, “There's something nice and intimate about having a book. You know that someone's actually gone on this journey. You know that someone has actually researched and reported all these things. You can see and hear their tone in what they chosen to include and what they haven't. And it does feel like you are being led by someone, as opposed to just being led by the wisdom of the crowds.”

The Economist reports that a guidebook can also be a good means of sorting through the “information overload” of the Internet. “Most busy business travellers just want the facts, fast,” Bay Area Travel Blog Editor Chris McGinnis tells The Economist. “They don’t always have time to pick through the get-what-you-pay-for free or user-generated sites. Ripping a few pertinent pages out of an edited, fact-checked guidebook and packing them into my carry-on bag still serves me well. But I'm slowly replacing those ripped-up guidebooks with digital versions stored on my iPad.”

Sound familiar? Travel agents have been touting the advantages of getting information from a professional with firsthand experience since the rise of do-it-yourself online booking. But the very same forces that are pushing guidebooks online – rising smartphone access, ease of updating – can help travel agents help their clients in ways they never could before.

In an article we wrote for Hotel Management back in October, Noah Elkin, principal analyst at eMarketer Digital Intelligence, told us how smartphones were allowing travel brands to serve their customers’ needs faster than ever before. “You have travelers who are interested in solving an immediate need – ‘I need a hotel reservation today,’” Elkin said. “And the fact that, with location targeting capabilities, it allows for the consumer and the hotelier to connect in a much more direct and relevant way.”

Elkin was talking about hotels, but any travel agent with a Facebook or Twitter account can do exactly the same thing. Have a client with a problem on the road? If you have a well-developed Facebook or Twitter account, that can be a great channel for the client to contact you so you can help get the problem sorted out.

This opportunity works in both directions. Just a few weeks ago, John McMahon, EVP of Questex Hospitality + Travel, wrote about how travel agents are increasingly using technology to conduct business while they’re on the road as well.

Have you found social media to be a good channel for solving client problems? Let us know what you think in the comments below or on our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/TravelAgentMagazine

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