Potentially, how important is the role of social media (Facebook, twitter etc.) in tourist consumption? Essay

To be able to understand the question and derive at an answer, one needs to divulge deep into defining the concepts of ‘tourist consumption’ and ‘social media. One has to also comprehend the continual changes in the demands of tourism consumers and the subsequent innovative promos, terms and notions in tourism that need to be propagated. One will also need to understand, the widespread dialogue over the web through the social media. This has prompted agencies to come up with novel ways to promote their business enterprises and regions.

Thus the births of terms like medical tourism, educational tourism, and creative tourism. These circumstances have made the tourism industry immensely dependent on social media for survival. I shall then lay out different forms, categories and strategies of social media and their measured influence and impact on tourism. The use of the word ‘potentially’ conveys the great importance of the role of social media in tourist consumption. Although the word potential depicts a positive surge sometimes it can represent a negative trait.

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Thus we will see that social media has become an indispensable tool for success of tourism. What is tourism consumption? I was enticed by the definition of tourism consumption in the ‘Journal of Travel Research ‘by Arch G. Woodside and Chris Dubelaar. They say, ‘A tourism consumption system (TCS) is defined as the set of related travel thoughts, decisions, and behaviors by a discretionary traveler prior to, during, and following a trip. ‘Humans tend to have lingering thoughts that eventually turn into opinions. Opinions pave way for the behavioral pattern that will ultimately affect the decisions.

Pleasant thoughts will lead to favorable opinions that in turn extract a good behavior and eventually generate positive decisions. It is here at this point the challenging shift in TCS has begun to occur. What is the shift in TSC? In the past, people choose a vacation destination based on the literature or the photographs in a brochure or magazine or sometimes based on the geographical or historical importance of that place. Beside the theoretical knowledge of the facts, their minds were open and receptive to the anticipation and the actual experience.

The expectations were reasonable. They were more than happy to have actually been there and seen the place of their choice in person. They too carried home a sweet or a sour experience at the airport, aircraft, hotel or the trauma of infrastructure challenges. But then it would get carried forward to their family and friends or to their colleagues at the most. Today the digital technology has raised the bar for the tourism agencies close to infinity. Cinematic locations and micropixelled images on LED and plasma screens have raised the expectations of the consumer.

If the colours of the oceans and the sky do not match the ingrained image in the eyes and minds of the consumer at the selected location, the tourist promotion campaign is doomed. Thanks to the prevalent social media and its instant vast coverage, one person’s TCS can become the make or break tool for the tourism enterprise. The journey and the favorable or fateful interactions of an individual traveler has the potential to build or break the reputation of airlines, hotels and resorts, tourism ministries of nations and governments of a country. What are the challenges to create a tourism market?

Since people have the option to see some of the best geographical locales sitting in the comfort of an air-conditioned theatre or on the life size digital screen in their home they are rarely excited by the colourful adventurous tourism advertisements. Let us not forget we are dealing with a generation that buys Wii fit to stay fit!! Therefore the need to think outside the conventional box arises here. The dearth of physically fit adventure seeking tourist should be compensated by abundant with health problems seeking medical treatments. Hence the birth of medical tourism.

When the students seek best education the region is said to have the potential of education tourism. Creative tourism comes in to play when a region is promoted as an ideal haven for creative or cultural developments; a latest trend in the times of dismal economy. An article on BT Yahoo news made me laugh at the desperate times we all are experiencing. It reads,” The remains of a roller coaster that was knocked off a New Jersey amusement pier by Super storm Sandy might be left there as a tourist attraction. “Are we that desperate? What will it be called ‘tragedy tourism? No matter what ideas or options one comes up with, the living experience of the same by a tourist will come under the microscope of social media. It will be dissected appropriately.

The role of social media cannot be ignored. What is social media? Heidi Cohen on her blog called Actionable Marketing Expert surveyed active participants of digital and direct marketing. Out of the 30 definitions she accumulated, two caught my eye because I agree with the content. The words sum it all up. “Social media is digital content and interaction that is created by and between people. ” Sam Decker – Mass Relevance. A Web Company) Their motto is to inspire brands to involve their audience. They do this by helping brands create visually compelling social experiences that drive engagement. Let us read between the lines, ‘involve the audience’ and ‘social experiences that drive engagement’. Basically it all about getting the people to talk about the products and services out there. Tourism and hospitality sectors too will have to catch this bus. “Social media is not about what each one of us does or says, but about what we do and say together, worldwide, to communicate in all directions at any time, by any possible (digital) means”.

Michelle Chmielewski – Synthesio (a web company). I like the stress on the pronoun ‘we’ in the second definition that resonates with the word ‘people’ in the first definition. So one can safely say that it is something that is collective in nature on one hand but it is an individual opinion that will send out the ripples of views and opinions that will be collateral. What is the magnitude of social media? A fact on YouTube (no surprise there) caught my attention. To reach the audience of 50 million radio and television took 50 and 35 years respectively. Those were my times.

It took four years for the internet and one year for Facebook. This reality cannot be ignored by any business and definitely not by the tourism sector. Any random business unit performance feedback may be a matter of concern for a part of human community at any given time but tourism is an experience most people undergo and although exchange of these experiences existed from times unknown it is now these experiences are broadcasted. If one types in the words ‘social media revolution’ on YouTube we are greeted with an amazing factoid video produced and posted by Socialnomics.

It had an impact on me. It became crystal clear that social media is a force to reckon with and that it is the greatest and most powerful tool so far in the hands of the consumers. They no longer have to plead and persuade to anyone for their voice to be heard. Consumer rights agencies have a lesser role to play in today’s times. The intangible dialogues trapped within the fiber optic wires and bouncing off the vacuum of space can have the most tangible desirable or disastrous effect on all business and most of all on tourism. What is he role of social media in identifying, targeting developing and broadening the tourism markets? According to Chris Anderson Ph. D. ,’ Social media has been touted as having an increasingly important role in many aspects of the hospitality industry, including guest satisfaction and process improvement. However, one of the more intriguing aspects of social media is their potential to move markets by driving consumers’ purchasing patterns and influencing lodging performance. ’ The idea that it has the potential to steer purchasing pattern of the tourist consumer needs more study and understanding.

I believe that this can be a general rule only if all the aspects of demand and supply factors of a business enterprise are carefully looked into. The hospitality industry will have to consider and devise their marketing approach and strategy based on some realities and techniques. Some of the tech savvy generation that are the potential tourism consumers who dwell and swear by the social media are the college goers, low and mid-level managers. The top level management if over 50 years still hang on to the old school of thought. They will pick up the phone to make a booking.

They also form different consumer segments based on their financial capacity and hence should be targeted appropriately by the tourism and hospitality sectors. There is no point in throwing advertisements of luxury in their faces if they cannot afford it. Mid- level management will have pockets just enough for a 3 star or a 4 star hotel. Dorms and hostels will have to target the youth. It may not be enough just to identify the consumers, the methods and modes to entice them will have to be carefully studied and put into practice. Jill Dyche writes for the Information Management Blogs. She proposes the five Es’ of Social Media Strategy:1.

Expose-create product and brand awareness. 2. Engage-use targeted conversations with customers and prospects-drive ongoing dialogue-make relevant offers. 3. Educate-help customers/prospects understand products-how they work-how to buy them-how to get support. 4. Entertain-use news of humour to deepen relationships-distinguish the brand. 5. Evaluate-assess the business value and impact of the strategy in a metrics driven and regular way. I would presume Evaluate is and should be a constant chosen E but the hospitality Industry can choose from the other Es’ depending on the age segment of the consumers.

One can pick any one or a combination of options depending on the business priorities; branding strategy, what one want from the customers etc. Once the method of marketing strategy is established one needs to look at the various modes or tools of social media. Although they are all grouped together as social media there is a distinct difference in each mode’s objectives, operations and eventual results. In his ‘social media musings’-a blog on word press about social media, digital marketing and community, Tom Humbarger clearly marks the social media platforms’ functions and tools.

He considers every mode of social media as a tool and demarks six functions namely public relation, customer service, loyalty building, collaboration, networking and thought leadership. He has complied and created a tabular structure that clearly projects how each mode of social media performs and excels in getting results. The table clearly depicts that only Twitter, Facebook and professional community have the power to deliver all the said functions. LinkedIn profiles do a great job in three aspects namely public relations, networking and thought leadership and LinkedIn group does all except customer service.

YouTube does everything except collaboration. Slide share lacks only customer service. Word press delivers in areas of public relation, loyalty building and thought leadership. Flickr lags behind in customer service collaboration and networking while collaboration and networking are the only two specialty of delicious. One interesting fact to be noted at this point is that bearing delicious all the modes of social media tick the box of public relation and thought leadership. Now that is what can be deemed as healthy engagement between the enterprises and the consumers and the empowerment of the consumers respectively.

Thus the social media can play a positive role and can help expand the tourism market provided it is used in a specific designed manner. Given the current gloomy economic scenario, travel and holidays are at the bottom of ‘things to do ‘list. It has become imperative in these times that the tourism agencies constantly rejuvenate their products and infuse intense marketing strategy. Social media give them the platform to be ‘in the face’ at all times. Creative and constant promos’ and offers can melt stubborn hearts. Once they are successful in capturing new consumers then the mammoth task of meeting the standards come into play.

This can be a make or break deal for the tourism agencies. They have to keep to their end of the bargain. If they squirm out, the consumers will shred them apart with their most powerful tool: social media. I would like to share an article I read in one of the local newspapers at the Muscat International Airport while in transit in Oman. One of the journalist talks of how he planned a trip to Athens. All his friends and colleagues trashed his idea saying it was the wrong time to be there. They had seen some images of anti-government protests and marches on the news channels.

At the same time his colleague planned a trip to Cairo. She faced a bigger resistance. The anti-government protests there were violent and disturbing on the same news channels. Both the journalists decided to proceed anyway since all the booking were done. They both came back having an excellent time and pleasant memories. In fact the hospitality of the local people of these places was ranked highest by them. I am sure that by now they would have started a wave of discussion on Facebook and twitter. By now so many more would have planned their trips to Athens and Cairo.

Mass media did the damage for the tourism sector of Greece and Egypt but the social media holds the power to heal their tarnished image. I had an instant dose of nostalgia. I was transported back to my school and into the classroom with my friends in the Civics (a part of social studies) class . Back then, we had to study the role and impact of mass media on the society and I remember having fiery discussions and debates with our teacher and classmates on the positive and negative role of television, newspaper etc. I am 22 years old and there was no sign of social media 10 years ago.

I can imagine the additional matter in the school textbooks that must have been added now and the additional questions the current generation of students have to be prepared for. The students must be engaging in more fiery debates and discussions. Social media has the potential to be the biggest boon to the tourism consumption . The tourism agencies have to frame and follow the step by step program and agenda. The tourist needs and demands have to be clearly understood. The tourism agencies have to take stock of what they can supply and how to improve on it. Appropriate segment of the consumers have to be identified and targeted. Selection and use of the right tool will deliver apt results. Survey and feedback cannot be ignored. The hospitality business sector must keep their end of the bargain and stand up to the expectations of the consumers so as to keep the cycle of tourism flourishing.

References:

– ‘Journal of Travel Research’ November 2002 vol. 41 under the heading ‘A General Theory of Tourism Consumption Systems: A Conceptual Framework and an Empirical Exploration- by Arch G. Woodside (Carroll School of Management at Boston College in Boston) and Chris Dubelaar (Department of Marketing at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia).

Heidi Cohen: Actionable Marketing Expert (Blog). Sam Decker – Mass Relevance . ( Mass Relevance is the first curation partner licensed to re-syndicate Twitter content for display purposes, providing a singular platform for brands and media to curate, integrate and monetize social integration into TV, web, mobile and large screen. ) Michelle Chmielewski – Synthesio( social media monitoring and engagement web page company co-founded by Loic in 2006 with the original idea of providing marketing and communication departments with monitoring and analytics services tailored for the web. Eric Qualman – the brains behind Socialnomics and author of the best-selling Socialnomics the Book. Chris Anderson Ph. D. (Cornell University: The Center for Hospitality Research -The Impact of Social Media on Lodging Performance. ) Jill Dyche (Expert writer for Information Management Blogs) Tom Humbarger- ‘social media musings’-a blog on word press about social media, digital marketing and community. www. ehotelier. com