The recent TravelCom/Res-Expo, held in Las Vegas, saw keynote addresses by many ecommerce experts, and many were encouraging those in the travel industry to embrace social networking tools and user-generated content.
According to Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research, 83 percent of travelers are now online, compared with 71 percent of the general public. His research has shown that 90 percent of travelers will be online by 2011.
Travelers sharing stories of exploration is nothing new, but the internet is now allowing travelers to broadcast the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of their travel experiences in words, images and video.
In his keynote speech to delegates, Harteveldt said that travel marketers can’t ignore the power of user-generated content. He advised that that 41 percent of U.S. online leisure travelers use some form of online social tool in their travel research efforts, such as TripAdvisor.com.
No longer can travel agents hide behind glossy brochures when their customers can easily distribute “real-life” photos and videos online. Nowadays, travelers can investigate the downside of locations and make a more informed purchase. In fact, says Christine Petersen, senior vice president of marketing for TripAdvisor.com, a few negative comments can lend an element of honesty and authenticity to positive user reviews.
Harteveldt backs up the power of reviews saying that 30 percent of U.S. online travel bookers researching hotel accommodation would change their choice based on a user-written review. "The customer is the driver,” he said, “and he´s not letting go of the steering wheel."