Frederic Gonzalo’s Blog

Biggest trend in travel marketing for 2012? Embracing SoMoLo

Early January, I saw a tweet from Troy Thompson asking: What do you think will be the biggest trend in travel marketing for 2012?Without a doubt, I answered: “The rise of SoMoLo”. That is, the convergence of a Social, Mobile and Local customer mindset with the necessary adaptation that will be required by travel marketers and decision-makers.

The Tourism industry has certainly embraced each of these three pillars to some extent, perhaps lagging somewhat on the mobile front, but the challenges ahead will lie in how we successfully integrate all three into a unified approach. See below for this infographic detailing the rise of the SoMoLo shopper:

How will this translate for travel marketing and the traveler mindset in 2012? For one thing, you can take a closer look at the above infographic, and replace the word “shopper” by “traveler” and the word “store” by “hotel”, “destination” or whatever service you provide in the tourism industry. I believe the data remains valid in many ways across industries.

Social

In 2012, social media is no longer a buzz word, nor should it be only a marketing or PR responsibility. It’s just how we do business now, and various departments ought to be involved, from front line employees to HR, including customer service. More importantly, it needs to have a senior-level champion to ensure alignment with corporate objectives and strategies.

The connected consumer no longer calls the airline to require about flight information or log in a complaint, he will tweet about it. Wondering where to head for on your next vacation? You will probably ask your friends and network on Facebook, check out some reviews on TripAdvisor, compare prices on one the various online travel agencies, i.e. Kayak, Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, Hipmunk, etc.

New sites and applicatons keep appearing every day, to tap into your social graph for travel recommendations: try Gogobot or Trippy, for example.

And beware of nay-sayers who pretend there is no ROI with social media, or not enough tangible transactional components to justify efforts in this field. For example, in February 2011, Edelman Digital conducted a survey with over 3,100 Millenials, those born between the mid-1970s and late 1990s.

It found that when considering a purchase, Millenials seek input from Family (77%), Friends (64%), Search engines (21%), Co-workers (20%) while social networks accounted for only 13%. The problem with this percentage, like in many similar surveys conducted on the topic, is that social interactions are often included in the percentage attributed to friends and family. As social media becomes commerce-enabled, just as Facebook is poised to become, we will see a greater shift towards social media based transactions, changing the distribution landscape dramatically.

Mobile

When I attended Eye for Travel’s Social Media Strategies for Travel conference back in March 2010, speakers and panelists were saying that year was going to be “The Year of Mobile”. Apparently, that was also the buzz last year at that conference, and probably many other conferences and seminars you may have attended too.

Well, lo and behold, it seems like 2012 will indeed be the “Year of Mobile”. With mobile devices now accounting for some 13% of all web traffic in the US, we have reached the tipping point. Yet this is happening almost despite of cell phones and smartphones since the game-changer seems to have been the launch of the iPad and other tablet devices since 2009.

According to a recent study from mobile ad network Greystripe, 60 percent of tablet owners have booked a trip via mobile. Expedia developed an application built specifically for iPad and Android tablet devices after recognizing that a significant portion of its bookings were made via mobile. Hotels.com and Orbitz also offer tablet-only booking capabilities.

9 out of 10 Americans own a cell phone, with 44% of them owning a smartphone. Tablets were the most sought-after gift and best-selling electronic device two years in a row, in 2010 and 2011. Of all mobile bookings made for hotels, 70% are made within 24 hours of arrival. Knowing this, it’s no wonder most hotel chains have embraced mobile marketing in order to reach potential and loyal customers alike. Also read: Which luxury hotel brands stand out in mobile travel?

Local

Location-based applications have also been part of the travel landscape over the past two years, with many doubting it would ever pick up. Gowalla came and went, just like Facebook Places did. There is also SCVNGR, Loopt, Urbanspoon, Yelp and many more, some doing better than others. The clear winner, however, is Foursquare. Ever since launching in 2009, it has kept up with the times, adapted and improved. Recently, it launched its “Explore” feature, taking another step in providing expert local information competing against Yelp and Zagat, among others.

Various hotel brands have embraced Foursquare as a tool to add customer value through insightful information. Ritz Carlton was one of the first luxury chains to do so, using it as an online Concierge feature. Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts is also making a savvy use of Foursquare, not to mention many Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO). Just recently, Orbitz also launched its mobile-only booking application with last-minute deals.

Mobile is not a channel, it’s a behavior

Now, as mentioned earlier, the challenge will lie in the convergence of these three pillars, social, mobile and local. A mistake that we musn’t make is to consider them as three different channels: mobile is not a channel, it’s a behavior, a way of life and communication. Same can be said of social, which is much more than just media.

Identifying key touch points and capturing customer data will be central to achieving a true form of social CRM, leading to a marketing strategy that will not only provide quality content but also allow for relevant context. As they say: if content is king, context is queen!