By EyeforTravel Correspondent<br><br>As a marketing principle, turning customers into advocates is a key component in bu

By EyeforTravel CorrespondentAs a marketing principle, turning customers into advocates is a key component in building a successful customer-centric business.

Published: 05 Oct 2006

By EyeforTravel Correspondent

As a marketing principle, turning customers into advocates is a key component in building a successful customer-centric business.

In today’s `web-age’, sharing, socialising and collaborating seem to be the buzzword. And this can surely build or adversely affect any travel company’s positioning. The consumer-generated content (CGC), which enables monitoring of customer interactions and satisfaction levels, can eventually impact customer loyalty and retention.

Says Moshe Rafiah, chief executive officer, TRAVELfusion, “CGC is starting to transform the way users research, search and decide on their travel plans. By making CGC a rich and interactive tool with features commonplace on social networking sites: ranking, voting etc., the services are now offering users a vital tool in their online travel experience. The CGC tools, which have scored particularly highly with users are those that offer a high level of relevancy to the kind of questions which the users are looking for advise on.”

“CGC services are fast becoming vital tools for shopping on the web and travel is no exception,” says Rafiah. “The immense success of services such as Yahoo answers,,,, and the emergence of a whole range of CGC services such as trip planning, trip sharing and travel tracking has been fast adopted by online travel users.”

Jan Oetjen, manading director, acknowledges the fact that a decade ago the Internet was expected to be a revolution in the manner which people communicate, do commerce, consume content and live in communities.

“Communication and commerce were the first large drivers during late 90s. The boom in search engines in the early 2000s made the giant Internet content accessible for everybody and the past 12 months definitely have proven to breakthrough for virtual communities. Only few sites are really leveraging the opportunities for travel from those trends e.g. user generated content on destinations, hotels, airlines etc. together with their commerce strength,” says Oetjen.

Rafiah says CGC must be relevant and customised to the kind of content and/or service it aims to complement.

“So for hotel selection the critical items will be good ranking/voting/review features which are easily searchable. For trip planning, the platform must allow to share information, build itineraries, compare and suggest the travel options and keep in touch,” he says. On concerns related to such websites becoming targets for corrupted content as they get more popular, Rafiah says, “I am a big believer in the wiki style democratised user controls. If you utilise user control tools, which are extremely effective on community sites such as and where users self govern, you are likely to need very little editorial intervention.”

On whether consumers trust bloggers views more than traditional marketing, Gregory Saks, director – travel, Compete, Inc., says, “Consumers value information generated by their peers, and compared to traditional interrupt-style advertising messages, often find it more trustworthy. The issue becomes aggregating and categorising all of the content. There may be dozens of comments about a particular resort hotel scattered thinly across several websites, and the average consumer won't get access to all of it. Being able to find consumer generated content from people who share the same travel interests, likes and dislikes as oneself can be difficult. Knowing that two out of two reviewers gave a cruise ship a five-star rating is helpful, but more important is knowing if the ratings were given by a couple in their 60’s looking to relax, or instead by college spring-breakers!”

Travel companies are also being warned to keep a close eye on the growing popularity of websites promoting user-generated content.

National law firm Betesh Fox’s Mark Higgins says travel companies must keep up to date with Internet trends so they can protect themselves from holidaymakers with a grievance or embarrassing footage that could bring their company into disrepute.

“Peer-to-peer interaction is not governed by revenue, it’s governed by the interests of the people who post on the website and this is where the popularity arises,” says Fox. “Companies have been caught out by people posting negative stories about their business in online diaries or blogs but this new generation of interactive website allows users to post videos taken from camcorders and mobile phones. Holiday companies are particularly vulnerable to this kind of activity. It can only take one upset holidaymaker to upload a video of his so-called `holiday from hell’ to ruin the reputation of a company. Once it’s up there online it’s very difficult to get it removed.”

To sum up, Rafiah expects CGC to become a huge new part of online travel.

“Just in accommodation, it is estimated that at least half of the accommodation available worldwide is not available on the big CRS systems. That gives the opportunity for typically smaller accommodation providers to add their content to sites that offer this type of service. The key to this is that all content is today available on the web, but you need the relevancy of the marketplace to present the results to the user in an effective way,” says Rafiah.

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