The marketing executives of the travel industry convened in Las Vegas at the TravelCom Conference 2011. The theme this year was “Reservations: Some Have Them… Everyone Wants Them.” The conference was hosted at the Palms Casino Resort from March 30th to April 1st with Jeff Hazlett, celebrity CMO and author, as the emcee. Presentations and attendees seemed generally optimistic about the travel industry recovering from the lows of prior years, but many expressed concerns about the uncertain impact of the new social media marketing forces on the industry.
The opening and closing keynotes by the Jones brothers provided truly inspiring right and left brain perspectives on the future of the industry. The opening keynote speaker was Terry Jones, founder and former CEO of Travelocity, one of the original online travel agencies (OTA) that completely changed the way travel reservations would be conducted by consumers. Jones reminded his audience that a number of early Internet ventures were failures, but e-commerce has now grown beyond what anybody expected. He reasoned that when technique follows technology, revolutions happen. Travelocity and other OTAs provided a “short circuit” that bypassed a loop that traditionally involved a travel agent, creating a revolution that empowered the consumer, but also forced 18,000 travel agents to make a career change. Now, some of these 18,000 former travel agents are empowered with another new technology called “social media” where their knowledge and experience can have an interesting and powerful influence over consumers. Jones suggested the key to success in the current networked world is by building “digital relationships” where trust is critical.
In fact, almost every speaker at TravelCom addressed the forces of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. However, leveraging social media to generate sales has been elusive. With so many technologies and products able to track almost everything consumers do on the Internet, companies such as Experian and ClearSaleing are able to get precise data on the effectiveness of different marketing promotions. So far, no significant impact from social media on travel sales has been measured.
However, new technology startups, such as Klout, have figured out how to understand the “network value” of socially influential people. Klout was founded by a Las Vegas native, Joe Fernandez, who recognized the value of social media while recovering from a jaw surgery. Using an innovative method, Klout is able to determine the social credit score of individuals and identify the “social network VIPs” with thousands to millions of followers. Fernandez’s company believes that targeting and reaching out to these socially networked VIPs could have a tremendous ROI for any marketing campaign.
Wildfire, another technology startup, has built a platform for engaging users on Facebook and Twitter with interactive campaigns such as sweepstakes, contests and giveaways. As the company’s name implies, the viral effect of social networks has the potential to exponentially improve the effectiveness and reach of marketing campaigns.
In addition to new social media, companies such as Google and iPerceptions sent teams to TravelCom to educate the attendees on the value of tried and true “search” via new mobile smart phone platforms. Although smartphone users are expected to reach over 73.3 million in the USA by the end of 2011, 80% of large online advertisers do NOT have websites optimized for these devices. The effectiveness of search on smart phones has tremendous potential for the travel industry. Google reported that over 10 million people have booked travel arrangements via mobile devices, and this trend is clearly expected to grow.
Dewitt Jones, the older brother of the opening keynote speaker delivered the closing keynote. He is an internationally recognized photographer for the National Geographic Magazine. As a creative artist, he inspired the travel executives and challenged everyone to be open to the possibilities, even with uncertainties and undesirable conditions. So, instead of just accepting what appears to be a bad situation or a wrong answer, Dewitt demonstrated how he would change his perspectives to discover what is “right” about a situation and find the right answer… and then, find the next right answer!
Brian Lim and Max Aceituno, Maximo Media