TOURISM TRENDS: ON LINE MARKETING ON THE RISE

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“If you are not on line, then you are not on sale”
Technology is playing an increasingly important role in the tourism industry. Within the past ten years the number of worldwide internet users has more than tripled. According to authoritative reports currently approximately 3.17 billion consumers access the internet with increasing ease and frequency. This new landscape has radically altered the way tourism business is conducted. A new market place is evolving that is at once more accessible to the consumer and more competitive for the supplier.
Invariably, it has been amplified in another piece that “tourism as the world’s largest business is a complex system of integrated parts. Technology not only facilitates this integration, but attracts people to travel.” The internet has provided a new platform for conducting business. In recent times the message to destination marketers is that if your destination is not on line, then it may well be ignored by the millions of people who now have access to the internet and who now expect that every destination will have a comprehensive presence on the web thus the saying “if you are not on line then you are not on sale.’ The internet has introduced the information age and it costs no more to distribute to a continent on the other side of the world than it does to a neighboring region. According to authoritative studies some 52.2 million on line revelers used the internet for travel planning by the turn of the century and on line travel industry was worth 6.6 billion in 2016 based on authoritative studies.
Thus Tourist Boards with a strong online presence are not only attracting lot of visitors, but more importantly they are attracting consumers. At the centre of the debate is web 2.0 essentially a collection of tools to make online content more accessible. Blogs – written commentary on a particular subject and Vlogs – the video equivalent of the former are key components available to the tourism and hospitality industry. According to a keen industry watcher “blogs are the greatest thing that has happened to the tourism and hospitality industry on the web in the recent past. Finally customers are talking to customers and it is free”. According to authoritative studies “tourism website blogs are a key provider of dynamic content and 57%of companies with a blog have acquired a customer from their blog. Moreover, 81% of businesses report that their company blog is “useful to critical” for their businesses (Anderson 2013). At the same time integrating video in to blog posts is a great way to inspire and delight the audience.
On line phenomena’s like Google, Face book, Instagram and Twitter allow marketing advertisement to only those interested in the certain product or service offered like never before. Advertising has become less intrusive and more targeted to specific and interested groups.
The internet allows consumers to find you, that is as long as you have built up a strong enough presence on the internet, and allows the advertiser to spend those coveted marketing dollar where they will really see a true return on investment. Online social networks such as the Face book, which are interactive groups where people typically post information about themselves and connect through common interests, don’t even require any capital investment. Only time and creativity are required to make your information available to those that are really interested. Face book has grouped communities from all works of life.
For example people from all over the world may join a Face book group for people who love “Extreme Surfing” or ‘adventure tourism’ or “bird watching” to exchange views and share experiences. Invariably the social media has become an extension of traditional word of mouth (WOM) marketing that has been known to marketers over the years as having a significant impact on consumer’s decision making process and satisfaction. Social media has grown in popularity in the past 20 years to become an integral component of comprehensive tourism marketing strategy. It is sometimes referred to as electronic word of mouth (e WOM) because of the way that information travels and the impact it can have on behavior. The volume of global social media users have increased exponentially marked by simultaneous increase in the level of activity in terms of content that circulates across all platforms.
As such the Gambia Tourism Board has also joined the fray and it has been underscored in the latest Gambia Country Guide that “in today’s business environment, social media and e-platforms have proved that they are marketing forces to be reckoned with” and further crowed “Get onboard or be left behind” – “this is the view that the Gambia Tourism Board has adopted and we are committed to setting the pace in The Gambia social media using the powerful electronic marketing tool. We believe in the value for money concept that the social media accords tourism destinations like ours especially amidst the ever growing uncertainty of the true value inherent in international media advertising of tourism destinations”. This is very apt because according to the GTBoard 2016 customer satisfaction survey “ internet is the leading source of information for our visitors accounting for 51% and followed by Travel agents/tour operators (20%)”.
TIPS FOR ONLINE MARKETING
• Try to post something very new at least once a week.
• Keep your online marketing networks connected. For example be sure to have your face book, Twitter and blog account on your website.
• Never stop looking for new communities. Stay creative with your search as you seek for potential clients from various facets of life.
• Try to spark interaction. Keep your Face book pages and blogging interesting and lure viewers in to postings, comments and starting online discussions. The use of interesting facts and news stories that are related to your product and service are always a great way to draw attention.
• Keep your marketing strategy organized and focused. Online marketing is not just fun and games, when you look at the real potential ROI – (return on investment) you have to make sure you stay on top of communicating with your target market.
Remember social network marketing is a great place for direct communication with your customers. So don’t forget to listen in closely and be ready to learn.
By: Lamin Saho Tourism and Marketing consultant. Formerly Senior Tourism Officer: National Tourist Office, Former Director of Marketing, GTA/GTBoard/ and briefly served as Director of Planning, Ministry of Tourism & Culture.

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