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Tourism and social networking, Part 1
Zinc's user segmentation study offers new insights for tourism operators and marketers


Online vacation-planning and shopping are a familiar staple of the tourism industry, but without an active presence on the social media front - the far more intimate and interactive world of "Web 2.0" - tourism operators and marketers could be missing the best part of the party.

Applying the Zinc mantra: social media by the numbers
Marketing opportunities (and risks) like these are addressed in the tourism component of The Bridge, Zinc Research's annual omnibus survey of Canadian online user segments. This article, based in part on a recent presentation delivered at a Travel Alberta conference, uses data drawn from the most recent survey (December 2010). This and other articles in the series will provide a sampling of key tourism-oriented insights as seen from the perspective of five user segments; non-users are also included for comparitive purposes. (For a brief profile of The Bridge survey's user segments, click here.)
 
Are you on the hottest new channels?
Web-based and traditional marketing and communications are by far the mainstay of tourism promotion and public relations. What social media provides is another channel, and a drastically different way of reaching and connecting with potential new customers. As such, it should be considered an essential element of the overall marketing and communications program. Best of all, these networks - and the people who use them - will do most of the heavy lifting for you.

Spreading the word online: curse or blessing?
Canadians are not shy about expressing their opinions online, which makes social networks either a best friend or worst enemy of tourism operators. As shown in the table below, there is a sizeable number of social network users in each category, from the heaviest users to the lightest, who have posted a tourism business-related review. Equally important is the multiplier effect: the number of people each of these users is connected to... (For example, respondents in the Bridge survey reported having a mean average of 137 friends on Facebook - up from an average of 112 in 2009.)


"Have you ever posted a customer review of any of the following related to your vacation destination?"

FACILITIES/
ACTIVITIES
REVIEWED
TOTAL
(n=929)
HEAVY
USERS

(9% of market)
BUSINESS
USERS

(8% of
market)
SOCIAL
USERS

(15% of market)
FRIENDS &
FAMILY CIRCLES

(27% of market)
 
CASUAL
USERS

(32% of market)
 
NON-
USERS

(8% of market)
 
Hotel, Motel, B&B
  22%   25%   33%   29%   21%   18%   18%
Restaurant
  17%   27%   22%   25%   16%   11%   17%
Attraction   9%   17%   11%   14%   8%   6%   4%
Festival/Event   6%   15%   5%   13%   5%   3%   0%
Rental car agency   5%   9%   4%   9%   4%   2%   4%
Campground/RV park   4%   6%   3%   7%   7%   1%   3%
None of these   69%   61%   64%   57%   70%   77%   75%

Sharing the experience
Product or service reviews are one thing: even more personal, and more popular, are the comments, photos and other insights that people share across their networks, and which, in many cases, get passed on to their friends' friends, and their friends, and on and on it goes... 

These messages, stories and images often feature tourism destinations, attractions and  other vacation-related products and services, and they have the potential to reach hundreds, even thousands of receptive viewers.

Because sharing your adventures is part of the holiday fun, social networking is in itself an increasingly popular aspect of the vacation experience. As shown in the table below, Canadian vacationers arrive well-equipped to stay connected.


"While on vacation, have you ever done the following? How about once you returned home?"
SOCIAL
MEDIA
ACTIVITIES
TOTAL
(n=929)
HEAVY
USERS

(9% of market)
BUSINESS
USERS

(8% of market)

SOCIAL
USERS

(15% of market)
FRIENDS &
FAMILY CIRCLES

(27% of market)
 
CASUAL
USERS

(32% of market)
 
NON-
USERS

(8% of market)
 
Posted pictures to Facebook 49% 62% 60% 67% 62% 35% 7%
Reacted to feedback on Facebook vacation posts 36% 52% 48% 50% 43% 23% 7%
Vacation-related Facebook updates 30% 48% 41% 39% 36% 19% 2%
Posted pictures on Flickr/Picasa 17% 31% 29% 24% 13% 13% 7%
Joined Facebook fan page for offers & updates 14% 26% 18% 22% 15% 7% 2%
Vacation-related Tweets 11% 30% 12% 18% 9% 6% 3%
None of these
 
40% 15% 33% 23% 28% 54% 85%
 
Make friends, not foes
You can win the hearts and minds of prospective customers and visitors by enhancing their online experiences. Here are just a few of the best practices used by Web 2.0-savvy businesses:
  • Make it easier, not harder, for people to find information about the products and services they're interested in
  • Monitor other travel-related sites, such as Trip  Advisor, and be prepared to address negative criticism and correct the problems that cause it
  • Respond quickly to online inquiries
  • Provide links to related sites such as nearby attractions and shops
  • Offer free or low-cost Internet/wi-fi service to your guests
  • Publish an e-newsletter featuring product/service updates and special promotions
  • Maintain a blog or Facebook fan page that features (and welcomes!) guest comments and feedback
No matter  where they go or what they do, people will be talking - and blogging and posting, sharing and comparing. Tourism operators and marketers owe it to themselves to be part of those conversations - and to be an active, welcome participant on the networks in which they happen.
 
* * *

Upcoming articles in this series look at a variety of impacts and opportunities posed by social media - before,during, and after the vacation happens. For more information on The Bridge and other omnibus research opportunities, contact Zinc Research president Brian F. Singh.