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ATWS Delegates Go Head-to-Head with the Digital Future

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Photo © Harald Haaland

On the final day of the Adventure Travel World Summit in Killarney, Ireland, the ATTA brought to the stage four digital leaders in the travel industry to share with delegates what they see when they peer into their modern-day crystal balls: swirling images of big data, website analytics, social media madness and a sliver of the dreams that travel plans are made of.

The plenary session was conducted as a panel discussion with Matador’s Ross Borden moderating. On the couch were Google’s Scott Field, Facebook’s Victoria Heaton and TripAdvisor’s Minesh Shah. The 90-minute session covered a lot of ground, but participants made it clear that things are moving toward mobile devices with more bite-sized chunks of content but an enduring focus on excellent customer service.

Mobile Devices
“There are more mobile phones in the world than toothbrushes,” Facebook’s Victoria Heaton told the audience in one of the most tweetable moments of the entire Summit. Perhaps no other comparison could hone in on the point that mobile devices are ubiquitous and if a company’s marketing, sales or service strategy doesn’t address mobile needs, it will fall behind. Mobile is especially important for travel brands because mobile is personal and so is travel. To illustrate this point, Google’s Scott Field had the audience stand and swap phones with a neighbor. Holding a stranger’s phone felt awkward, like a violation of privacy. “See. Phones are personal, right?” said Field. The point was well taken.

Shorter, More Sharable Content
The moderator and all panelists reinforced the trend toward more bite-sized content. When an audience member (a travel writer) asked if the digital future was one where words were completely absent, Ross Borden delivered the verdict: shorter is better, images are better, short videos perform better than long videos. And just hours before delegates watched and voted on travel videos in the ATTA’s first short film contest, Scott Field reminded everyone about the importance of video, saying “You can much better portray the feeling of your offering through sound and motion than you can through words.”

“People are using YouTube like a search engine,” Field informed. “And they are looking specifically for travel content. That’s a massive opportunity.” He called Visit California’s “Dream 365” YouTube campaign “best in class” and recommended delegates use it as inspiration for creating their own destination videos.

When it comes to sharing content, Facebook’s Victoria Heaton addressed user concern that the social network is getting really noisy and businesses aren’t seeing their messages reaching as many fans as they’d like. Heaton explained that the algorithm prioritizes messages from family and friends in users’ newsfeeds over businesses. She suggests being consistent in your posting but not posting more than once or twice per day. “It’s very inexpensive to boost a post,” she said (referring to the option for businesses to pay to get more views of a post). “A little money will go a long ways in getting you more exposure as a brand.”

Good Customer Service
Google’s Scott Field told delegates that a good search engine optimization strategy starts with excellent customer service. Before companies even start planning digital strategies, they should have their customer service dialed in. “Have honest content, solid website architecture and a good reputation and digital strategy will follow,” he said.

Minesh Shah with TripAdvisor quipped, “The customer is always right but they’re not always reasonable.” He said most customers read an average of at least eleven reviews before making a booking on his site and he said not to fret bad reviews. “People are looking for consistency and commonality,” he said, “so bad reviews can get drowned out in the noise of good reviews.”

If the social media sharing of these tips during the session are any indication, delegates were listening closely and taking the advice to heart. According to the panelists the digital future of travel is taking place on a small screen, is highly viral and continues to depend on a high standard of good old-fashioned face-to-face and tweet-to-tweet customer service.

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