So often we hear stories about what the travel industry can learn from other industries when it comes to customer experience and implementing online technologies, so it was nice to see something recently taking the opposite stance. I’ve selected a few relevant paragraphs from the article in Hospitality Times.

The report cites numerous airlines, including AirTran, Delta, Southwest, United, and Virgin America, that use Facebook and Twitter to make last-minute offers, announce fare specials, or just keep passengers informed about delays and weather conditions. Hotel chains like Carlson’s Country Inns & Suites, Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott also actively use Facebook and Twitter to communicate and, more importantly, to keep customers involved. Hyatt’s Twitter account serves as a “virtual concierge,” allowing guests to ask and receive answers to inquiries and requests about the hotels and the areas surrounding them. Some travel providers are going even further by getting into location-based services. InterContinental, for example, is using Topquest to offer customers loyalty points simply for showing up at any hotel, restaurant or bar operated by the hotel chain. The gimmick is that the customers are required to alert friends on Facebook Places or Foursquare.

So what can online marketers learn from the social media experience of the travel industry according to Hospitality Times?

  1. Social media has moved well beyond casual friend-to-friend connections into the realm of legitimate usage as an important communications channel for business.
  2. Adding social media to the media mix is a good strategic move for a time-sensitive, highly competitive business, where it can be used to disseminate late-breaking news and make last-minute offers.
  3. Using social media for its generational appeal – to reach a younger demographic that’s more socially connected – is smart, but not to the exclusion of other media that may have broader applications to diverse age groups. It’s important to know your audience and utilize the specific media channels that they embrace.
  4. Figuring out ways to leverage location-based services, if they’re relevant to your business, can create new opportunities to drive customers and their friends to local establishments.

Earlier this week I made a reference to Tripit and how over 20% of Google employees are registered with this itinerary sharing service, but what I had meant to add at that time was a comment on privacy. I was pushing Tripit to work with Linkedin years ago, but now I’m becoming a bit more wary of sharing my itinerary data – I don’t always want everyone to know which airlines I am visiting, and seeing which city I am in pretty much gives the game away. 

Which leads me to changes Google have recently made to Orkit. I’ll finish with the video below, as it seems like Google are thinking along similar lines – social is great, but it needs to kept in context. I might share my itinerary with work colleagues, but sometimes I don’t want to share this with every person within my Linkedin network. That network contains journalists, competitors and others for whom this information is not always appropriate. Great contacts, and people I enjoy keeping in touch with, but this leads to me underutilizing the benefits from both Linkedin and Tripit because I am now uploading fewer and fewer travel itineraries.