A huge part of the digital environment are the social media channels that create connections between businesses and consumers that are often more authentic and personal. Over 500 million people are on Facebook. Youtube is the worlds' second most searched site and millions more twitter. Why is it so important?
Tourism, like all other industries, is changing dramatically in a digital world. From a marketing perspective, its now so much easier and cost effective to target the clients that want what you have to offer them. With 80% of North American travellers using the Internet as a research and trip planning tool and 75% of travellers looking for an experience, not a destination, not using, let along understanding social media leads to -and rightfully so if I can be so harsh - failure.
People google or yahoo or Bing an experience and it pops up. The more your business or experience offered is tagged in the online world, the greater the chance it has of coming up closer to the top of the search engines. Consumer behavior dictates that they shop starting at the top. Online media channels allow businesses to add content so easily, creating conversations with their guests or clients and adding to the search engine optimization of SEO. (tactics that allow search engines to ensure your business is easily discovered by clients)
The tourism industry regionally needs to embrace the change. I once witnessed a tourism operator stand up in a room of one hundred people declare that the Internet was a fad just three short years ago. I've heard others say they don't have time to return email inquiries because it wastes their time. I witnessed just two days ago a complaint from within the industry itself that we shouldn't use the Internet to communicate with the industry because not every operator has a computer.
While most are connected, the reality is that the regional industry is still largely dominated by a predominantly rural (remember that cell service and high speed is relatively new in our big beautiful wilderness landscape), established, older ownership group that finds the fast pace of digital media evolution a little bewildering. I'm 39 and spend hours every evening at home engaging, tweaking and learning the latest digital media trends and its a continual learning process. That's where we, as tourism professionals, have an obligation to help foster a learning environment and provide access to the solutions and resources.
There are some staples in the social media world that every tourism professional, whether a mom and pop operator or a major hotel chain, should familiarize themselves with.
1. Get a Facebook profile. Spend some time creating one online, invite your guest to join and engage them in online communications. By posting pics, stories and video, and inviting your clients to do the same, you create loyalty and give prospective new clients a window to the experience.
2. Start a blog. If you're reading this, you know what one is. Create one and communicate with your guests. Use the tags to ensure your content is discovered and use links to link to your website or those of your partners. For Tourism Thunder Bay, this is the tool we use to communicate industry news and performance. This is the format that media pick up story ideas from, that gives our industry partners the research links they need to make better decisions and that tells the story of the local industry. We've developed this as our main industry communication platform for a strategic reason and that is to encourage all of our tourism partners to embrace technology if they want to get ahead.
3. Youtube (remember what I said earlier about this being the 2nd most searched website on the planet?). You can buy a HD digital movie camera for $150 bucks, create video and post it to your own Youtube channel. Its easy and gives your guests the visuals they need to help them make a vacation decision. Make it informative, fun and entertaining.
4. Twitter. To me, every single tourism business in Thunder Bay should have a Twitter account (ours is www.twitter.com/visitthunderbay). This is the simplest online social tool you can employ to maximize that important online connectivity with your consumers and increase the search engine optimization of your site and product. I Twitter about 20-40 times per week, using the 140 character micro blog site to tell our loyal followers whats going on in the city, share interesting consumer focused tourism news and share little tidbits about the city. We have only been able to find 5 other local tourism organizations with Twitter accounts to follow and retweet.
Of course, all of your social media should support a well developed, informative and current website that is easily navigable and has lots of visual content.
I recently had someone from the tourism industry in my office dismissive about digital media, instead extolling the virtues of trade shows and destination oriented print guides......I'm not saying that there aren't other media channels that can be effective in reaching you consumer because select print shows are still part of our strategy. however, we increasingly scrutinize those investments and have reduced them, through performance measurement, to those that return on investment. The majority of our investment and effort has been shifting to digital in the past three years, with that shift continuing to comprise the majority of our communication strategy in the future.
If you're a tourism operator and you want to get more comfortable with engaging these great (and often free) communication and marketing tools, we're planning to bring in a series of professionally hosted workshops in the new year facilitated by people who know a lot more than me about social media. But if you just want to chat about social media for a few minutes, my door is always open. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org