Last week, I attended the World Travel Market for the first time. It’s an annual travel trade fair, or, according to the PR blurb, it’s “the leading global event for the travel industry.” In a former life, I was a climate change negotiator in the UN, so I thought I had seen my fair share of large numbers of people in one big conference centre. But nothing prepared me for the size of WTM at the ExCel Centre in London. Just short of 50,000 travel trade professionals attended over 4 days and there were 5,000 exhibitors. It’s huge!
I attended on Day 3, to participate in the “Social Travel Market” events. For the first time, WTM recognised the power and potential of social media in the travel and tourism sector. According to the World Travel Market 2011 Industry Report, which was launched at WTM 2011, social media will evolve into the key revenue generating channel for the global travel industry over the next five years at the expense of pay-per-click advertising.
The most interesting session I attended was about the return on investment of paid travel blogging. Andy Jarosz gave an inspiring and frank presentation of how he has made it from professional optometrist to paid travel blogger in the space of a year. His blog is at: http://www.501places.com. Also on the panel were a couple of Andy’s clients; travel companies who pay him to write short posts about their destinations. It was interesting to note, in a room of around 180 people, only a handful were being paid to blog and a another handful were travel company staff actively employing bloggers. I can only assume the other 150+ folks were those not yet getting paid to write or not yet writing online and interested observers.
Without a doubt, social media – not just sites like Twitter and Facebook, but also the process of creating something that people genuinely want to share – something that could go viral in hours – have a lot to offer the travel industry and customers alike. Many of us already sites such as Trip Advisor to inform our travel decisions; a Facebook page to change a flight booking, or a smartphone app or a blog post as a substitute for an old-fashioned guidebook or a tourist information centre. The question on my mind, however, is how to ensure that an increasingly digital experience remains genuinely social. It is now entirely feasible to plan and book a trip without any human contact. I have even stayed in a hotel without a receptionist! And then we can share our photos online without actually explaining the images to anyone. Are we heading for an era where social media actually makes travel less sociable? For me, the joy of travel is the opportunity to discover places, meet people and then share those experiences – fact-to-face as well as via social media. One of my motivations for this blog is to generate discussion and hopefully a sense of community which can lead to increased human contact; not less of it.
Unfortunately, WTM weren’t listening to their own research with regards to the interest in social media. The Social Media Programme sessions were in a room with a capacity of 90. Fortunately the organisers reacted quickly to the demand for a larger room and doubled the capacity, but it still wasn’t enough. The sessions were all recorded, so I am hoping that the ones I was unable to physically get into will all be posted online.
What do you think? Are social media making travel less sociable?
© Lynn Sheppard