Agencies book social media on their itineraries

Like other businesses, travel agencies are harnessing the power of social media to increase their reach and name recognition. Some are testing the waters, while others have developed a sophisticated online presence with content that is fresh and engaging.

It’s hardly a secret that an increasing number of travelers are going online to do much of their trip research and planning. Rather than view the Internet as competition, savvy travel agencies are using it to communicate with potential clients. According to an April 12 article in Travel Weekly, Facebook’s 350 million users share more than 3.5 billion pieces of content every week. If travel agencies aren’t on Facebook, chances are they’re not where their clients are.

Social media gurus preach a common theme to businesses: Don’t use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and other media to troll for new customers. Instead, provide worthwhile content that establishes your expertise. Over time, sales will result from people who realize your value.

Based on discussions with several agencies using social media, that advice is being followed. Agencies are filling their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and blogs with travel tips, up-to-the-minute travel trends, destination information, photos and last-minute specials, enabling travelers to follow agencies whose online content is useful, find an agent with expertise in the type of travel they’re considering and easily communicate online with travel professionals.

Barry Richcreek, owner of Richcreek Vacation Center in Lower Paxton Twp., has utilized social media for the last four to five years. He mostly provides information and shares videos, such as the “Carnival Paradise Flash Mob” from YouTube. He occasionally posts travel specials, but only if they’re really good. His primary goals are to increase his agency’s name recognition and establish his reputation, so that when followers are ready to travel, they’ll contact Richcreek. “When someone wants to take a trip, I want them to think of us,” he explained.

His emailed newsletters often serve as the start of a new relationship. The newsletters invite readers to find the agency on Facebook. Once they join, they become ambassadors by sharing Richcreek’s travel tips and video postings with their friends. That, of course, is one of the main advantages to any business that uses social media: Information sent by someone the recipient knows and trusts is a priceless endorsement for the company that provided it in the first place.

Social media is the future of new travel business from younger travelers, said Rosemarie Malpass, president of Uniglobe Travel Management Consultants in Mechanicsburg. Malpass, who has been in the travel business for many years, but is relatively new to the social-media game, has used her Facebook page, Twitter and blogs to tout her agency’s expertise in destination wedding planning, list travel deals and promote her agency’s “Referrals Cash Back Program.”

Wings Travel Group in Blue Bell, jumped on the bandwagon about three years ago after staff members participated in a trade conference whose speakers told the attendees that social media was their future. Sue Stechman, branch manager of Wings Travel’s Lancaster office, agreed that social media is the way to connect with younger travelers. But she’s also finding an older audience that’s well-connected.

Wings Travel’s strategy includes a Facebook page, blogs and a biweekly radio show that’s archived and available to listeners anytime through its web site or at Stechman recently blogged about her Azamara cruise to Greece and Italy, including photos. She also puts material from Wings Travel’s Facebook page on her personal Facebook page, which draws in more people.

Holiday Tour and Travel in Lemoyne has been developing its social media strategy for about a year and a half, tying together its website, Facebook and Twitter. “We try to have a mixture of travel information, tips and travel offers that are just good deals or last minute deals,” said Richard Prether, marketing vice president for the agency. A recent post listed “12 tips for avoiding lost-luggage nightmares.”

The agency also blogs weekly, mostly featuring major destinations and inviting travelers to write about their trips, even if they haven’t booked them through the agency.

Wings Travel and Holiday Tour and Travel made a point of noting that social media is just another way to communicate with their clients, not a replacement for traditional channels. “It came as no surprise to us that some [of our regular clients] couldn’t care less about the social media and web site,” Prether said. “They like visiting their travel agent face to face. We like that, too.”

Annette Reiff, a certified travel counselor, can be reached at [email protected]

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