Opinion: A travel brand that dares to question social media

Opinion: A travel brand that dares to question social media

Lee Hayhurst, head of news, Travel WeeklyGo to virtually any travel industry conference and you'll find a packed session on social media, with various experts offering their opinion on how best to harness it.

This usually comes with dire warnings about how those who fail to grasp the new medium will be left behind forever, out-competed by those who do.

In just the last few weeks there have been major talks on it at the UK Cruise Convention and the Advantage Conference in Madrid, both prompting a flurry of Twitter sign-ups.

At the Travel Distribution Summit last week one delegate told me the event felt like the 'social media summit' (he also added mobile, another trending topic) because virtually every session turned to the subject regardless of what the event programme said it was about.

But surprisingly, given TDS is a show for tech professionals, he said there had been a distinct lack of solid evidence presented about what the return on investment in social media is.

There’s a danger that the hype about social media, which is now reaching the mainstream, creates a sort of unquestioning herd instinct. When this happens the message becomes simplified and the nuances lost.

One recent speaker declared that social media is “free”, which is only true at a superficial level – there are plenty of people who stand to benefit from it, not least the agencies poised to charge big money to run your campaigns.

But listen carefully and there are dissenting voices in the crowd.

Yesterday, in a high profile travel industry forum in London attended by Travel Weekly, a series of industry experts were asked for their views on a range of topics including social media.

The first was Trailfinder’s managing director Tony Russell, who sounded a refreshingly blunt note when asked about social media. Simply, the company had looked at it and decided it was not for them. This wasn’t the knee-jerk reaction of a technophobic firm stuck in the past, it was a considered conclusion.

Trailfinders is a hugely successful high street travel agency specialising in a sector – long-haul independent travel – that social media advocates will tell you stands to gain most from the medium. So its decision to ignore it ought not to be dismissed as maverick or counter-intuitive.

It might be that, at the very best, social media takes its place in the long term as a communication tool in much the same way as telephone and email.

Its value as a sales channel is certainly unproven, so unless your customers are clamouring to talk to you through Twitter or Facebook maybe it's better to wait until they are before investing in it.


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