Are we using social media for travel?
Peter Yesawich is one of the leading travel forecasters and researchers in the US. He was at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show last weekend to try and help the travel industry explain what was happening at the moment given the downturn in the economy.
Like us in the UK during the last 2008/9 recession, the travel trade saw it coming. Like us they discounted flights, holidays and offered discounts. There was a small boom afterwards. This time, Yesawich suggests, the industry hasn’t read the runes correctly and they have put prices up because they thought there wouldn’t be a decline. In the US consumers are telling the travel industry that things are expensive and they will be careful how they spend. That’s not dissimilar to our attitude.
The internet, he says, has given us more work. We alter our Facebook status, tweet, catch up on e-mails and spend an extra hour a day coping with social media. That means we’re “time poor” and is one reason why we are using travel agents more. And which group is using them more than others? The young. The reason, he suggests, is because they recognise how time consuming the researching and booking can be so they opt out and let someone else do it for them. For the last three years, the use of travel agents has been going up. In the UK usage is also rising but many of us thought it was because of the ATOL bonding system which gave comfort to bookers after a wave of collapses.
We have always opted for a week or fortnightly holiday. Now they are shortening. Americans have always had fewer holidays from work but now the trend is for long weekends, say four days. And 30% of Americans take holidays within six days of booking them. Why? They are looking for deals and, Yesawich says, 20% of people will respond to an unsolicited e-mail for a break. For the industry, it means they have to market to us all the time. We have noticed in the UK that the traditional booking time of January and February is still important but not as much as it once was.
For the American traveller who is time poor, they don’t want to spend too long travelling to their destination; 30% of them took a holiday within 50 miles of where they lived. We know in the UK and Ireland that those taking a short break will travel up to roughly two hours so maybe the staycation industry will see more of us. But in two hours we can be in southern Spain, Northern Italy, the Algarve and all of France.
The other feature of Americans is the amount of stress in their lives and he suggests that this is why spa holidays are growing at such a pace. Twice as many Americans will take a spa holiday rather than an activity one like golf. Is it any wonder that Romania, Turkey, Greece and other countries are promoting spa holidays to us?
The big question is how important is social media in persuading us what to do and where to go? Using research he has conducted across many years he calculated that only between 2 and 3% of Americans who travel and have a Facebook page have been influenced by social media to travel. This is way below what many proponents of social media suggest. But Yesawich says it is growing; it shouldn’t be ignored but print media, the magazine, the newspaper, the television story continue to be as important in helping us decide.
Just now social media seems overated.