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A Social Net Primer – how to use Facebook in your travel business

Social network users made up 41.2% of the US Internet population in 2008. 60% of Internet users are consumers of all user-generated content (e-marketer).

The great success story for social networking in 2008 was Obama. Obama has 5 million Fans on Facebook and it clearly played a significant role in his campaign to win the USA election. Spurred on by his success, more and more businesses are using, or wondering how to use Facebook and similar Social Media services.

At AXSES, we began to track the Social Media a year or two ago. At first, it was the technology that we observed ‘it was going to change the way we communicate’, it was changing the Internet.

We began a Facebook project to see how we could use it. We became a Fan of Jennifer Figge, who is planning to swim from Africa to Barbados. Jeniffer’s manager contacted us and we put him in contact with the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA). The BTA launched a similar Facebook project shortly after.

Here is how it works: You sign up and then go about inviting friends who invite friends who might then become advocates and might follow your communications and special announcements.

Facebook is personal, so a real person, not a company, is expected to create a Facebook account. They may then add pages, photo galleries, groups and make comments which can be sent to others and seen on respective Facebook pages.

Facebook “pages” can be about company and products. In fact, we made the mistake of setting up a profile for the Barbados.org rather than a page, this, it turns out, may have some advantages (more details to follow). Many companies have also made this mistake!

In all, we quickly set up the following: A profile for the Barbados Tourism Encyclopedia (BTE) (http://barbados.org), pages for http://BookingsBarbados.com
and a photo gallery for http://BarbadosBoardwalk.com, to name a few.

We added Groups in several of these pages and started discussions on topics such as the St. Lucia marketing strategies, the pros and cons of dealing directly with hotels, etc.

We added RSS feeds, which will display our clients’ “Special offers” on Facebook. Anyone who looks and becomes a Friend of Barbados.org can elect to see these Specials directly on their own page. That is powerful!

4 million people use http://Barbados.org each year. If they choose to become a Friend or Fan of Barbados.org, they will see all our posts, news and specials. It will give us a useful way to communicate socially with travelers, on their terms, on their own sites and not with in-your-face advertising.

We plan to integrate Facebook with all clients and to link Facebook pages from our travel websites. We are now investigating how best to help hotels and operators use Facebook and all social networks.

Check back later to see our suggestion for a social network strategy for tourism.

Ian R Clayton, AXSES
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See blog of this article for a bit more detail:
Blog- SocialNet


TravelWatchNews

While over 80% of chain hotels get their business directly – 59% of online travel shoppers still stop at online agents, like Travelocity, first, presumably to comparison shop. The average consumer makes 12 searches and visits 22 sites before they book (Uptake, June, 2008). To be found you need to be seen, even if you don’t get bookings from the site you are shopped on.

95 percent of visitors to these sites do not buy on the site. In 2006, it was estimated that 70% of visitors to sites, like Expedia, ended up buying Direct from the supplier. This is why Expedia has moved into advertising, realizing that they do influence buying decisions at an important stage of the buying cycle. The GDS imposed minimum monthly billings as a way of charging for exposure.

Global Distribution Systems (GDS) are an important part of the market mix and are now affordable for small hotels. GDS is the largest travel distribution network in the world. Over 600,000 international travel agents use them. In addition, many Internet Distribution Systems (IDS), such as Travelocity, have traditionally pulled content from the GDS to offer booking for resorts not signed with them.

The GDS have acted, to some extent, as a channel management tool for thousands of IDS sites. This too is changing, as IDS favours direct contracts with resorts and always put their own direct contracts on top of the list. We expect that IDS will drop GDS content when they have a critical mass of direct-contract suppliers.

The issue, then, is how many systems will you, as supplier, be required to manage.

The role of marketing is becoming very much the role of controlling content, rates, availability and visibility on the Internet (Channel Management).
The new order is taking shape. New technology is driving direct business and making it easier to control and manage distribution. Technology is more accessible and affordable and Suppliers who use it are taking control.

Ian R. Clayton, AXSES
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For the full article see blog:
http://axses-ianclayton.blogspot.com/2008/10/distribution.html

Notes
1. PhoCusWright: “In fact, more than twice as many online travelers (36%) believe that the supplier-direct channel provides the best customer service compared to 15% who choose the online travel agency channel. Even offline agencies, which are coveted for their personal touch in a technology-driven world, did not fare as well, with 33% claiming they provide the best customer service….”more>>>


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Not so very long ago a traveler had few options and the world of travel was pretty straightforward and perhaps a little too expensive.

Travelers went to their neigbourhood agent and poured over brochures, got advice and booked with the agent. Agents knew the traveler well and could recommend vacations that suited. Travelers were well served, although the service was not necessarily timely or convenient.

Today the traveler is overwhelmed with armchair choices. Travelers who still go to agents often will first research on-line, and more and more of them are booking on-line. Arm-chair booking a holiday can be a tedious and time-consuming process. Travelers will look at several sites, consult friends and agents, read reviews on social sites, check airlines and look for the best value. Back and forth, they go looking at maybe a dozen sites.

Most people begin their holiday research by searching for destination guides (typically through Google. i). Many start with Destination sites such as Tourism Authority sites, where the information is general, helpful but often limited in its ability to offer real in-depth comparison shopping and travel planning services. The destination sites are generally excellent for finding official resort websites, but the resort websites don’t present information in a consistent form and they are hard to compare.

Travelers move on to shopping sites like Expedia to compare resorts, to Trip Advisor to read reviews and to other sites to get more information and find deals. In the process they have a confusing and muddled array of information. The sites that help them most stick. The sites that don’t stick fall off the radar.

In the end the traveler will narrow down the options to a few preferred resorts (unless it is an opaque site) and many will want to review the resort website, if they can find it. The traveler soon learns that it is impossible to get back to the actual resort because the shopping sites like Expedia, are a closed loop. All too often a search for a particular resort links them back to a shopping site. The big online portals have the budget and the know-how to get listed on the Internet search engines (SEO); small hotels often don’t.

Many travelers prefer to book direct and most like to see the resort website. Convenience, value, service and after sales support drive the decision of where to buy, but all to often the hotel website is not convenient, does not offer the best value and can be difficult to find.

This buy cycle is not well documented, but it is intuitively understood. Its implications for travel websites are important.


The Destination site is a pivotal point. Shoppers often use it first and return to find the official websites of the resorts that they have subsequently selected. The questions we ask are; how can the destination site hold onto that traffic or how do they get people to come back. It is unrealistic to expect the destination site to be the only place travelers go. So the real question therefore is, how do they get them back.

Building a compelling reason to return!
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1. Provide online shopping
The challenge is in balancing integrity of information with on-line shopping, channel conflict and channel competition. The cost of a good destination site is rising. So operators are moving towards a business model that stresses income generation in an effort to make the site self-sustaining. But this comes at a price of muddling the roles and creating conflict with destination trade partners. Destinations can involve trade partners with affiliate marketing, but it is not always equitable and the question is who are the affiliates and where do tour operators fit. Destinations are reluctant to cut out the tour operator and agent and they don’t for the most part want to be either a travel agent or a tour operator.

2. Offer the tools travelers need.
Destinations can help travelers research by providing expert intelligent systems that learn who the traveler is and configure the experience based on unique requirement. These tools will necessary include offering comparison-shopping. Ideally the result will be to give the traveler the option to choose the channel, including dealing direct with the supplier. Word of mouth reviews and a traveler forum will also help keep them on the site and give the site top-of-mind recall. It is not appropriate for a destination site to link to Trip Advisor and such, as these are shopping channels that will not keep them coming back. Cost conscious travelers are always looking for a deal and the destination needs to offer a list of specials and deals and the ability to sign up for newsletters on specials and deals.

3. Award & create loyalty
Destinations have a great opportunity to reward repeat travelers and cooperate with airlines point systems to encourage them to book a destination hotel directly

4. Offer travelers their own website itinerary and own planning tools
There are huge opportunities for destinations to lead this charge by providing destination specific planning and a place to return to manage and share a holiday itinerary and the memories. Travelers should be able to build a personal website brochure by adding any page they look at to it.

The traveler website should also be a comprehensive personal information resources and planning tool. Travelers may read and add reviews here, see a calendar of activities and events taking place during their holiday, and link to other social media sites and services like Tripit and Traveldk. It may include personalized maps showing the options they are interested, ranking them according to preferred and final selection etc.

5. Offer the Best Value and Guarantee it.
All too often the suppliers website and destination site offer the very highest price with no compromise!. Shoppers are not impressed. All shoppers want VALUE!. Chains are now offering Best price Garantees and extra benefits for buying direct. All suppliers need to show Value in buying direct, it need not always be price, but if you have a special make sure that your website delivers it and let all guests know this!

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Ultimately the Destination site is the key portal to support direct marketing for the destination suppliers. It must move beyond being a information site to becoming a system to help shoppers plan, compare and book, in harmony with its trade partners.

Ian R Clayton, AXSES
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Destinations First (i)


TravelWatchNews

Global Distribution Systems, Social Networking, Local Knowledge, Vertical Search and Meta Search are encroaching on the traditional search territory. Meta Search travel sites, like Kayak, offer better search for travel. Social networks and consumer sites like TripAdvisor, are improving the travel experience by offering relevant unbiased advice, much favored over paid search results.

Social networking sites, like TripAdvisor (acquired by Expedia) and IgoUgo (acquired by Travelocity), are taking searches away from traditional search engines.
Kayak now receives more than 6 million unique visitors a month. Expedia has caught Google’s attention, but for now, seems not to be a takeover target! They are moving, instead, to create more social media and community content. Already, about 50% of travelers use some sort of online social media site to research their plans, says Rob Torres, Google’s Managing Director for Travel.

And now, we have Web 3.0 agents like Uptake, a variation on Meta search, promising to simplify the travel research and planning process, by amalgamating and personalizing the whole lot.

The erosion of search in favour of these sites is with good reason. The travel technology platform has developed far beyond the capabilities of generic search.

Travelers need to know details on costs and features that are specific to their own unique requirements.

Travel Search engines, like Kayak and Sidestep (acquired by Kayak), do this. Underlying is a travel platform, including bookings and quotation systems, like http://arcRes.com, and integrated solutions. like http://BookingsFranchise.com.

Traditional search engines just don’t deliver these precise results. Try looking for a hotel near Bridgetown, in Barbados, in the price range of $250 to $500. Google will give you a lot of results, mostly links to booking sites. You need to go to a booking or quotation site like http://BookingsBarbados.com for this. Try searching for Barbados 5 star hotels, chances are that Sandy Lane, voted one of the top ten Hotels in the world, will not be in the top lists. As the search engines move further down the road to paid clicks, search results become even more eroded, less relevant and still imprecise.

In addition to these trends, their is a growing list of specialty local sites like AXSES’ own BookingsStLucia.com, Barbados Bookings and reservations center and RealHolidays.com trip planning. These sites put users in contact with Hotels directly. More and more travelers want to contact their host. They feel they have better communications with a hotel as opposed to a Meta site dealing with thousands of properties and thousands more travelers. The smaller regional sites also provide better on-the-location information, giving local knowledge and advice. Sites, like http://RealHolidays.com, help travelers put together their own, made to measure, itinerary, with options that may not be found anywhere else. Like stargazing with Leo: bring your own wine, he supplies the telescope and the story of the stars. You will not find that on Expedia or Kayak.

“Seeking information and looking for perspective–like-minded experience and judgments–are currently trumping the straightforward hunt for the best price”, says Douglas Quinby, Senior Director of Research at PhoCusWright.

What we need is more consolidation through advanced information engineering. The future web will be about bringing services and technology together in a powerful information delivery system. New technology, such as Farescast.com and Uptake.com, using advanced Web 3.0 techniques and creating expert systems from layers of knowledge and professional understanding, are doing just that.

Ian R. Clayton, AXSES
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Links

Connecting You With Your Intimate Bot (Semantic Web 3.0)
The Gap In Google’s Defenses (virtual search)
Travel Web Sites Get Personal
Advertising at a Crossroads
Bookable-ads.com


TravelWatchNews

Who is the supplier of travel?
It worries me that many of our small hotel and tourism customers do not perceive themselves as suppliers. They often see themselves as a product, supplied to the market by middlemen. Nothing is further from the truth. The tourism operator and hotel owner is the supplier of rooms and of an experience. Together, these make up the core product of a holiday. The hotel owner should choose to be inventive and create total packages that fulfill the traveller’s dream.

Ultimately, travel marketing is about selling a dream, and each hotel is distinct, offering a unique experience. All of the tools the hotel needs to package an experience, including airfare, are available for direct bookings.

Believing that middlemen are suppliers erodes the hotel brand and places market leadership in the wrong hands. When consumers go to online channels to book reservations, they are influenced as much by the channel used to book the reservation as they by the hotel they selected.

It is time to take control.

Control of the channel is not about getting more sales out of middlemen; it is about offering a service, marketing your own brand and engaging customers directly; getting high-margin sales at lowest cost. It is about being in control of your market and your brand.

Max Starkov, Chief eBusiness Strategist, Hospitality eBusiness Strategies, writes, “The Internet is all about transparency, efficient distribution of information, and inexpensive e-commerce transactions. It is, simply, the best direct-to-consumer distribution channel ever created and it definitely favors supplier-buyer relationships.”

The trend is clear: the Internet is revolutionizing marketing with more and more travellers choosing to go to the supplier’s website and book direct rather than with a middleman. Travellers say they feel they have more control working with the supplier directly, but they expect rates and services to be comparable.

There are now new tools and services for travel suppliers to help them provide the full set of interactive and social networking solutions expected. AXSES has been a pioneer, providing ‘supplier-centered tools’ to manage and distribute travel products. These can be installed directly on the supplier’s own website. They include:

Airfare Search and Book, that can be put right on the hotel website;
Dynamic Packaging for suppliers, that adds activities matching travellers’ profiles;
RSS feeds, blogs, travellers’ comments and travellers’ ratings;
Website Booking Engine;
Rates Management; and
A range of travel components that hotels can put on their sites.

All of these may be integrated with:
Hotel Property Management Systems;
Global Distribution Systems (GDS); and
The Internet Distribution Companies, like Expedia.

What the middlemen do well is offer comparison shopping and search capabilities. AXSES bookings and reservation portals, like http://BookingsBarbados.com, http://BookingsStLucia.com and http://CaribRes.com, provides this also, but with this twist – requests and bookings are made directly with the hotel. (see AXSES arcRes Supplier Travel Suites).

Unlike middlemen systems, the supplier is not hidden and travellers can go direct to the supplier website at any time. There are pop-ups and standard views of the information which travellers like, as supplier websites follow no standard and it is confusing to compare several. All information on the direct channel (including website’s content, amenities and features) is under the control of the Hotel.

These new tools are different to middlemen solutions for suppliers and destinations. The supplier-centered tools are designed from the ground up for suppliers, i.e., hotels, apartments, villas, activities and all tourism operators. They are configured to any set of rules and rate options. The tools are a powerful set of integrated suites to give tourism suppliers more high profit DIRECT business.

But be wary, not all who claim to be direct are! Some marketers are jumping on the bandwagon, without credentials. A direct channel will not hide your brand; in fact, direct is about marketing your brand. A direct channel will allow users to go to your website and will not require guests to prepay the booking, deposit it in their bank, and pay you the balance less commissions. A direct channel gives you control of revenue, payment options, terms, content, rules, branding and customers.

In 2007, 60% of online travellers chose to BUY Direct from the supplier, bypassing the middleman. The trend to direct is expected to continue. Merrill Lynch forecasts that it will exceed 65% in the next 2 years. Currently, the large chains receive over 80% of online business direct (see trends).

We need to gear up now for this market and take control!
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Ian R. Clayton, AXSES


TravelWatchNews

At AXSES, we have been musing about the Internet advertising business, wondering how it will evolve. With Google losing ground to other choices such as Social Networking, Meta search, bookings and interactive services, it will not be long before they morph their business to give travellers what they want. For now, Google has decided not go the bookings route. They did not buy Expedia, as had been rumoured. Google opted to move more into social networking; see Google Travel Plans. MSN in contrast is moving to interactive shopping, with its purchase of Farecast.

In our view, the days of static ads and lists that link to websites are limited. We expect to see this change even on the search engines. Travellers need to be able to compare options and get fully-costed holidays at a click. Google is retiring its AdSense referral program, that allowed almost any website to display Google static ads and get paid per click. In its place is the Google Affiliate Network, which pays based on a purchase.

Hitwise, the Internet statistics company, recently noted a significant shift in searchers favouring Branded searches. “I looked at the top 300 search terms sending visits to Travel websites and found that more than three-quarters (77 percent) of visits from these queries were from branded search terms such as Hilton hotels or Expedia in the four weeks ending April 26, 2008”, reported Heather Hopkins, VP Research, Hitwise UK.

Simply put, the Hitwise findings mean searchers are now looking more for names they know and not relying as much on generic terms. If the trend continues, it will mean that we can’t rely on the search engines to help people discover our hotels for the first time. We can’t rely on a middleman to market us! Marketing ourselves is something we can’t avoid.

In light of the trends to buy direct, it is interesting that Expedia is a top of mind search term. Yet, Expedia reports unofficially, that 70% of visitors to their site use their list to find resorts matching a budget, and then go directly to the resort website to make a contact and book. Ninety-five percent of Expedia visitors do not buy from Expedia.

Aware of this trend, Expedia introduced a Cost per Click (CPC) advertising option, similar to Google. Interesting indeed! Has Expedia seen the writing on the wall? Perhaps they got the idea that they were the new search engine for travel. So now, instead of paying 25-30% in commission, advertisers are paying 30-40% and don’t have any control over their brand.

The Cost per Click (CPC), is the cost to deliver a single customer to a website as a result of a paid listing or advertisement on a medium such as Google or Barbados.org.

In a recent study of advertising costs, AXSES revealed that the Cost per Click on Barbados.org is now often less than 20 percent of costs on sites such as Google.

Barbados.org advertisements, up until now, have been static ads that link travellers to the advertiser’s website. In addition, Barbados.org offers a free listing for every resort in the destination of Barbados – all of them, not just advertisers.

This will not be so for long. Our next release will make these ads interactive and link directly to dynamic quotation, reserve and book options. Of course, all links go directly to the advertisers.

What this means is that Barbados.org advertisers will have interactive advertisements that allow travellers to get an immediate quote and to reserve or book a holiday package, including air, online, on almost every advertisement and listing on Barbados.org. Travellers will now be able to click a button on the advertisement itself and make a booking directly with the hotel right there and then, and this is right across all media, even on Google Maps. Pretty powerful, when you consider that Barbados.org Maps are on the Google website: (Google Maps)
as well as on Barbados.org Map pages (http://barbadosbymap.com)

This facility significantly enhances the Direct e-commerce bookings that have been a feature of the Barbados.org suite of websites for the past three years.

Typically, marketing services that include quotes and booking are available via middlemen channels, such as Expedia, which take 18-30% of every sale.

The trend is clear: the Internet is revolutionizing marketing with more and more travellers choosing to go to the supplier’s website and book direct rather than through a middleman. Travellers say they feel they have more control working with the supplier directly, but they expect rates and services to be comparable.

Couple low CPC advertising with bookable ads and the supplier-centered technologies now in place with arcRes Suites, AXSES travel platform and other supplier-centered features, and you get a powerful direct marketing solution.

Enhancing supplier’s brand and delivering commission free business directly to the tourism operator.

Giving control back to the supplier.

We look forward to hearing from. Do you agree, do you have a point of view? Please let us know what you know!

Ian R. Clayton, AXSES
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See PowerPoint concept and rational: http://axses.com/Axses-bookable-ads.ppt.
http://www.barbados.org/stlaw-accommodation.htm – example of classification list

http://www.barbados.org/hotsites.htm
– feature
http://www.barbados.org/surfing.htm – – – banner/body text box

bookable maps


TravelWatchNews

TravelWatch

Over the next few weeks, I will be laying out our view of what we, at AXSES, think is in store for travel marketing on the Internet, what works and why.

Our vision is tempered by current research, the opinions of people in the business and our own experience. It is an optimistic view, one that holds that the Internet is drastically changing marketing to the advantage of the supplier. The Internet does level the playing field and every small operate has a voice.

The articles are supplier-centered. With travel buying moving to the Internet, it is important that we understand how the Internet is changing and what it will mean to suppliers. The articles will deal with how best to optimize your Internet marketing, your brand and your control of distribution.
We look forward to your comments and feedback. Your ideas for new articles would be greatly appreciated. Please also let us know if you prefer not to get the emails.

The following is a list of what the first articles will address:

Who is the Supplier anyway?

This article explores the changing face of who is in control, how control is shifting to suppliers, and why.

Travel Advertising at a Crossroads

Are static links and Banners ads still relevant? This article explains how advertising is changing and how AXSES is leading the move to fully interactive advertisements, that allow visitors to look and book, even from a map.

Travel Search at a Crossroads

Search is losing ground to other media. This article explores how that shift is happening and what it means.

Destination Marketing at a Crossroads

Destination guides are one of the first places travellers look. We consider how to keep them on the site and get them back when they leave.

Travel Distribution at a Crossroads

We will look at the changing relevance of GDS and its role as supplier of content to other Internet Distribution Companies. Our emphasis is what should the supplier do to optimise distribution and why. GDS history | 2-Way Seamless Integration | Chain Codes | IDS will be covered.

Marketing at a Crossroads

The 4 P’s of marketing are no longer Product, Price, Place and Promotion. The Internet has changed all of that. Jason McNamara, CMO of Alterian, says there are now 5P’s: People, Process, Platform, Partners and Passion.

Internet at a Crossroads

Web 3.0 is here! What will it mean to the travel supplier? This article will explain what Web 3.0 is all about and how it will change the way travellers use the Internet.