In a digital environment where nearly everything is shared on social media, long trips and weekend getaways are not to be excluded. Travel, tourism and hospitality brands have latched on to this trend for marketing purposes, but the question is, is it working?

Although social media should be part of the marketing mix its influence is less than expected. The fact is social media has a long way to go to become the dominant form of recommendation for travel and tourism destinations.

A new research study by customer experience agency Network Research looked into the influence of positive and negative endorsements within the travel and tourism industry. The study exposed that trust in recommendations made on social media lag significantly behind those from family and friends, TripAdvisor and other traditional media in influencing holiday and leisure choices.

Where are travellers actively looking for advice?

Of course, as a high involvement purchase decision, consumers like to research travel destinations and attractions to seek advice and recommendations. So these brands are using social media to reach their consumers. But the fact is that less than a quarter of consumers actively consult Facebook for holiday recommendations, followed by 11% on Twitter and 9% for Instagram. However, for younger consumers aged 18-24, social media recommendations are more commonly sought after, with 40% stating they would consult Facebook, 23% for Twitter, and 28% for Instagram.

Of course, travel brands should never turn their heads from social media as its sheer presence and reach offer reward. Around 80% of people claim to have some social media interaction – and 15% even claim to post daily. The predictable age skews are present, but perhaps not as marked as you might expect – nearly three quarters of those aged 55+ claim to use social media – albeit at a lower frequency than their younger peers. So, whilst its dominance overall is perhaps less than expected, it’s clearly a channel on the rise with great impact especially on younger consumers.

Who do consumers trust the most with their holiday planning?

Overall respondents are less likely to trust recommendations made on social media compared to almost all channels surveyed. Of social media, Facebook is seen as the most trustworthy, with a third of respondents claiming to trust recommendations on Facebook, whereas only 20% of respondents claim to trust Twitter and Instagram. However, Millennial trust in these channels is significantly higher at 43% for Facebook, 31% for Twitter, and 38% for Instagram.

So what’s the good news for travel brands? PR activities by travel companies still appear to have a positive influence on holiday goers with around two in five claiming to trust newspaper articles.

Other sources are also still hanging strong with four out of five holiday goers trusting recommendations from friends and family and two-thirds of respondents trusting review sites such as Trip Advisor.

In addition to the source, it makes a difference who’s doing the talking. Travellers tend to trust people they know over celebrities. In fact, three in four consumers state that friends and family have a positive influence on holiday and attraction bookings, whilst six in 10 state that endorsements by celebrities have no influence at all on holiday or attraction bookings.

Bad-mouthing has consequences – what’s the solution?

The ease of digital word of mouth has meant that bad reviews, whether on a rating site such as Trip Advisor or on social media, have more exposure than ever before.

The good news is that despite what we may think the most common motivator for posting on social media or TripAdvisor is sharing a great experience, with around half posting for this reason. On the other hand, bad experiences still drive a third of people to share negative reviews – and this certainly has its consequences. If consumers read a negative review on social media, it will lead 23% of people on Facebook, and 19% on Twitter, to avoid the holiday destination or attraction. Comparatively, around a third of consumers will avoid a destination from a bad TripAdvisor or newspaper article review.

So when eluding all negative experience isn’t possible, how can brands manage these consequences? The solution is to address the complaint head on. If a company fails to respond to a complaint, or denies the complaint, more than half of consumers are less likely to consider the destination or attraction. On the other hand, if the company in question leaves a full apology almost three in five would be more likely to still consider the attraction or destination.

What does this mean for travel and leisure brands?

This research points to massive opportunities for leisure and tourism brands, big and small, to engage with customers more, and get them talking about their experiences. It’s clear that recommendations and reviews from personal contacts trump many other influences, so those companies that deliver great experiences and encourage customers to talk about them, in whatever forum, will be more likely to succeed. The role of social media is definitely growing but it hasn’t taken over, even amongst the young.


By Clare Chamberlain, senior development consultant at Network Research

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