Personal testimonials effective; also: leases for Napa Riverfront
Those within the hospitality and tourism industry are uniquely positioned to both embrace and benefit from the ever-increasing reaches of social media tools as a means to boost occupancy rates.
That was the message from the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau’s recent forum to address travel trends to local hoteliers at Santa Rosa’s Flamingo hotel, during which speakers exhorted the virtues and seeming need for incorporating outfits such as Facebook, Twitter and other niche market social media.
Kerry Rego, who advises about 60 clients for her firm, Kerry Rego Consulting in Santa Rosa, told the industry professionals that where other industries might often rely on word of mouth or local referrals for promotion, the hotel and lodging industry needs to seek out and convince a much broader, global audience by aggressively advertising themselves.
“It seemed to be that tourism was much more ahead and accepting of social media than other industries,” she said. “They’re predisposed to want to reach out as much as possible to people around the globe.”
Equally important is building a presence on the Web that consists of users who share peer reviews with one another and spread the word to others, Ms. Rego said.
“The odds of me listening to peers are much higher than listening to a marketer,” she said.
“Social media allows companies to listen to not only their customers,” Ms. Rego continued, “but it allows fans to sell you.”
She told the crowd of assembled hoteliers and hospitality professionals that, based on her research, 78 percent of Web users believe peers on sites such as Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and tripit, compared with third-party advertisers, of which only 14 percent believed more than peers.
Another key element of social media is the vast usage of mobile devices such as iPhones and other smart phones, from where an increasing amount of users obtain information as they travel.
The Sonoma County Tourism Bureau’s usage of an iPhone application, called iVisit Sonoma County, is a perfect example, she said. The bureau just days before the forum announced the launch of a similar application, Sonoma Insider, for Android phones.
“Mobile technology that seemed like a novelty two years ago is a necessity today,” said Keri Hanson, the bureau’s public relations and marketing manager.
Ms. Rego also provided a case study, touting the recent efforts of the Lake Arrowhead Chamber of Commerce. In 2008, the chamber had a $15,000 advertising budget. But in 2009, after using Facebook as a primary means of marketing, its advertising budget plummeted to just $500 a year, included no print ads whatsoever and saw more lodging in 2009 than in 2008.
Yet Ms. Rego did caution that a precise strategy is needed for maximizing social media, and throwing oneself at every available tool on the Web would likely result in disappointment. What works on Facebook may not work on Twitter, and so on, because of the varying audiences, she said.
“Just because one tool works well for some, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for others,” she said. “These tools are not one size fits all. You have to make a decision to see what works for you. You have to have a goal.”
Santa Rosa-based IRQ Consulting is similarly seeking to tap into technology as a way to assist excursion and tour companies with the launch of its Exclusive Management System service.