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March 12, 2009

Top social media trends affecting travel, tourism and hospitality

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A snapshot of the twitter conversation carried on in multiple parallel threads, captured via TweetDeck

The ITB Conference session on e-Travel had an interesting panel discussion about social media and the trends that are most likely to affect the tourism industry over the next year or two.  It is a rapidly developing confluence of technology, content, business models and participants that is hard for any one person or company to keep a handle on, so having several leading minds talking through the latest developments and their uses (and relevance) provided some meaningful insight.

What is social media, you ask? It includes user-generated content like Facebook, blogs, comments, reviews and ratings. It includes the sharing of that content through social bookmarking sites (like Digg and Del.icio.us), YouTube, Flickr and other sites. And it includes decentralised, informal interactions between and among users like Twitter, MXit, Skype and other media.

The panellists were an interesting group:

Darren Cronian, Proprietor, www.travel-rants.com (a classic independent blogger)
Klaus Hildebrandt, Editor in Chief, FVW international, www.fvw.de/blog (big traditional media house)
Kevin May, Editor, www.travolution.co.uk/blog (sharp speciality online media)
Martin Schorbert, Head of R&D and CIO, Austrian Tourism, www.blog.austria.info (a destination marketing organisation (DMO))
Vasco Sommer-Nunes, Founder, mokono GmbH, mokono.blog.de (a network of consumer travel blogs)

From a broad discussion of possible forces at work and their comparative relevance, they reached consensus on the top three trends for travel, tourism and hospitality in fairly short order. So what are the top 3?

  1. A change in corporate strategic philosophy as CEOs in 2009 start to “get” social media
  2. Companies begin to hire dedicated social media experts as part of their communications teams
  3. PR begins to use more channels of social media, viewing it as another aspect of reputation management, crisis communications, and stakeholder engagement. No longer a “techie” or niche channel.

A couple of interesting observations: none of these is a technology (even though trend number 4 was the rise of Twitter and the “twitterati”). They’re all about strategy and the applications of technology. If these trends are on the mark it puts pressure on CEOs to get comfortable with these technologies and the culture that surrounds them.

Another observation is that South Africans are big MXit users, which may well stand in the way of Twitter. Will MXit integrate with Twitter? Will the big global appeal of Twitter kill MXit? Or will we have parallel social media networks?

What was interesting about all this was the parallel discussion and critique that was happening via twitter while this list was being worked out. If you’re tweet-savvy, take a look via TweetDeck at #ITB09 to see what was happening – very interesting dynamics.

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