Adding Value & Brand Loyalty by Embracing Social Media

September 19, 2010

Why the Australian travel & hospitality industry should become tech-savvy.

Having taken an immediate interest in social media from the very beginning, while Interning abroad in the USA last year, I was extremely surprised to observe just how much the Australian travel and hospitality industry were lacking when compared to the US in terms of social media. While witnessing first hand how US companies such as Southwest Airlines had embraced social media to generate interest within their company, I was silently hoping that Australia would echo such sentiments; sooner rather than later.

Fifteen months later and I’m back on Aussie soil and glad to see that the Australian travel and hospitality industry (well, part of it, at least) has finally come to its senses and is taking a walk on the tech-savvy side.

For those companies still lacking or refusing to get with the times, here is the link between using social media to attract brand loyalty and add corporate value to your company:

1. Discounts and Deal Offers

While the economy is on a mend, it is still not in tip-top shape. The average middle-class individual or family is budget conscious and constantly on the look out for travel discounts and deals; why spend more if you can get the same flight or hotel at a discount rate through a different travel agent, website or airline? While it pays to do your research, Twitter is breaking down the research phase by tweeting an immediate answer directly to your Twitter feed.

Having embraced the power of Twitter, Jetstar @JetstarAirways are a great example of this. Every Friday Jetstar tweets its Friday Fare Frenzy deals with a link back to its website for all of its 10,236 followers to see. Many of these fares are so cheap it is no doubt that many of Jetstar’s followers purchase on impulse either for a spontaneous weekend getaway or a planned vacation. Not only does Jetstar promote its Friday Fare Frenzy but also tweets other fantastic travel deals and arranges phone contact for customers that are experiencing difficulties or are unsatisfied with the service they have received.

Like Jetstar, STA Travel Australia @statravelAU is also a lover of all things Twitter. STA Travel promotes discount airfares and any travel tours they have on sale as well as running Twitter prize give aways for their 6,482 followers.

I can’t understand why travel and hospitality companies, or any company for that matter, wouldn’t want to embrace the communication powers that Twitter embodies; in essence, it is free advertising.

2. Communication of Catastrophic Events

With the ever-lingering concern of terrorism and natural disasters in the back of people’s minds while travelling, the ability of travel companies to deal with catastrophe and unplanned tragedy quickly and efficiently while still showing sympathy and concern to those involved is vital to their success.

On January 16, 2009 at 7:36am US EST, Janis Krums @jkrums tweeted these words accompanied by this photo he snapped on his cell phone:

Twitter user, Janis Krums was on a ferry used to rescue stranded passengers after the miracle landing of  US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River. His tweet was the first to make headlines; before any official media or news outlet was able to pick up on it. In fact, Twitter broke the news of the incident around 15 minutes before the mainstream media alerted viewers and readers to the crash.

As Twitter user @hrhmedia pointed out , the FlightStats information website was showing the downed flight as 26 minutes late, but still “en route” to its destination of Charlotte in North Carolina. And while Twitter’s trends page, which identifies the hot keywords used in tweets, was flagging up terms such as “US Airways”, “Hudson”, “plane” and “crash”, Google’s similar trending service showed no signs of those keywords an hour and more after the incident occurred.

While not being able to find any supporting evidence that US Airways @USAirways had their Twitter account back when this incident occured, it would have, on their part, been in line to tweet about the incident and that no lives were lost to reassure the families and friends of those on board. Another great and recent US Airways Twitter example can be viewed below:

3. Generate Customer Loyalty and Engagement

While the first real challenge for travel and hospitality companies is actually joining social media communities and developing a taste for how they work, the key goal of staking a claim in the social media world is to build a base of dedicated followers who will keep coming back.

Most travel and hospitality organisations are looking for more than just a transaction. They’re after loyalty; a long term engagement between the company, brand and the customer.

The key to achieving this is by the use of deals offered exclusively through social media channels.

Airtran Airways introduced Facebook Friday Fares giving its Facebook fans unique deals as well as the AirTran U Creeper game which gives its Facebook fans the opportunity to win a round-trip flight with the airline.

United Airlines @UnitedAirlines has cleverly combined a tweet and a fare to introduce twares. These are fare specials offered exlusively through Twitter. With a following of 116,638 and growing daily, it’s no wonder so many Twitter users are following United. Exclusive deals like this one keep the customer coming back again and again.

4. Real-time Monitoring

Airlines are able to notify all followers via Twitter of any cancelled or delayed flights as they happen. This may save you a few hours of sitting around at the airport or driving to the airport to pick someone up only to wait around for hours and spend countless dollars on rip off parking fares because of a delayed flight.

Newcomer, The Honey Bar @theHONEYBAR is a purpose built hospitality venue in the South Melbourne precinct. They have taken an immense interest in Twitter to communicate to their rapidly growing list of 506 followers. The Honey Bar has even suggest it will go above and beyond to satisfy its customers…

@deltachris tweeted The Honey Bar informing them that he had past by earlier in the night but didn’t have the time to stop in. The Honey Bar tweet back informing Chris that…

Twitter has made it possible to be in the know as it happens. Imagine how satisfied one would be if they could tweet in their meal in advance to their favourite restaurant and not have to sit around and wait for it to be cooked.

Later this month, The Honey Bar will play host to the @socialmelb Tweetup (Twitter meet up); another intelligent way of generating interest and followers amongst the Melbourne scene.


So what are you waiting for? Embrace your inner tech-geek and reap the benefits of social media today.


April 22, 2009

This morning I woke at the unGodly hour of 6am in order to catch the 6.50am train into the city. I had an 8.15am appointment at the U.S. Consulate General on St. Kilda Rd in Melbourne and was advised to get there a half an hour before my appointment time. I managed to find my way to the Consulate and upon entry into the building, I noticed a queue had already formed. I was maybe the tenth person down the line. They took us in five people at a time. We entered our passport numbers into the computer systems and were issued a sticker with a barcode to wear on our shirts before our belongs were scanned through the x-ray machine and we had to walk through the metal detectors. Our bags had to remain at the security desk and we were only allowed to take out paperwork and our wallets in.

We were all told to take a seat and just wait until our number was called. In the mean time, we watched a security measures video and a montage of immigrants who had set up home in the U.S. and looked all happy and pleased with their new lives… it was on replay so I watched it no less than 15 times. Number 12 was called to window one so I made my way over. The old man behind the window asked for all my documents and my passport. He then took electronic fingerprints from both my hands and told me to sit back down. That was easy enough. Another hour or so passed before my number was called up again; this time to window two. The American lady behind the window asked a what reason I had to return home, asked to see financial proof of how I would support myself and then asked to see a copy of my University degree. She also asked if my previous trips to the U.S. were just for pleasure to which I nodded. I was rather nervous but that was soon forgotten when I saw her look up and smile at me… “Congratulations, I see no reason to not give you a visa. Everything is in good order.” To which I responded SWEET! Thank you! I left with the biggest smile ever plastered across my face!

I caught the train back home and headed straight over to STA Travel to purchase my airfares. At this point, I was still feeling a tad iffy about the response I had received from U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week. I didn’t want to risk flying into Los Angeles Airport then have the Customs Officer try to enter me on my J1 visa (even though I had been advised that I could enter on a Visa Waiver), so I decided to not take any chances and purchase a direct flight to Canada without any stop overs in the U.S. It was a tad more expensive than flying into L.A., but at least this way I know it will be hassle free and I get to fly my favourite airline, Air New Zealand! Yay to having a personal entertainment unit and movies and TV on demand the entire way!

Departure is June 28 flying from Melbourne > Auckland > Vancouver > Montreal… woah, what a mouthful!

I have my return flight booked in also flying Air New Zealand from Los Angeles to Melbourne however, I have to call closer to my return date (which, at this point is August 15, 2010) and push the date back further as they couldn’t issue the ticket that far ahead of time yet.

I’m so excited! Not long to go now! EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Visa update Part I – Visa Waiver ESTA and J1 Visa dilemma

April 17, 2009

For the last week I have been racking my brain and emailing every U.S. visa and immigration contact I could find an email address for online. It was driving me insane that everywhere I searched online, I could not find the answer to my one very important question. This question was the difference between a $1600 (inc tax) airfare or a $4000 airfare so receiving a response was imperative to me financial wellbeing.

The issue at hand…

Granted I pass my visa interview next week, before heading to Disney, I want to swing by Montreal, Quebec to visit some friends I made last summer on Contiki through Europe. Pretty much every airline except for Air Canada have a stop over in Los Angeles, meaning I would have to clear immigration at LA airport. I had been advised by Disney that I was not allowed to enter the U.S. on my J1 visa then fly to Canada as it would cause issues for me in regard to the Disney College Program. So the question I was desperately seeking an answer to was…

“Can I clear immigration at LAX on a Visa Waiver (ESTA) in transit to Montreal, Quebec, despite having the J1 visa in my passport? (I wouldn’t be leaving LAX, I’d just need to change flights there). Then, when I fly from Montreal back into the U.S. at this point I will enter the U.S. on my J1 visa to avoid interference with the Disney Program.”

If the answer was going to be a no, then my only option would be to purchase a ticket with Air Canada as they fly direct from Australia to Vancouver which means I would be able to by-pass U.S. immigration. The only problem with this is a one-way ticket from Melbourne – Vancouver flying Air Canada is $3000 AU! And that is only one-way, I would still need a return airfare which would more than likely be another $1000 AU! Ridiculous. On the contrary, however, if the answer is a yes and I can transit through LA on a Visa Waiver ESTA, then I could purchase a return Melbourne – Los Angeles airfare for $1600 AU including taxes!!! $4000 and $1600… BIG difference!

The solution…

On my quest to find a response to this question, I was kindly directed to the (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) website. I searched every inch of pixel on that website trying to find the answer to my question, but no such success. However, what I did find was a nifty little section where you could ‘Find an Answer, Ask a Question‘. I searched through the question and answer database but still had no luck with an accurate response. After several search attempts, I noticed a new tab had become available which allowed me to submit my own question… PERFECT!

I submitted my question last night and was extremely impressed to see a response waiting for me in my email inbox today… less than 24 hours, amazing! The best part is, it was the response I wanted to hear!!!

“What your immigration “intent” is to do, is to make entry at LAX as a traveler for business / pleasure for which as an Australian citizen, if eligible, you may use the Visa Waiver Program and ESTA. You may do this because your “intent” is not to go to work at this time. Then after your holiday, it will be your “intent” to make entry as a J1 in Orlando.

With this scenario having the J1 visa in your possession is not a problem.

So, may you do this, yes.”

Problem solved. I am, however, going to print this response out and carry it with me through immigration in case I am given any hassles. I applaud the speed in which my submission was attended to, it was amazing, especially given the fact that they must receive a plethora of questions on a daily basis.

Five more days until my visa interview! Excitedness! Once I get the all clear, I’m off to STA Travel to purchase my airfares! YAY! I can’t wait to be done with all this paperwork…

Visa papers taking up my bedroom floor space!

STA World Travel Internship – Top 20 Announced!

March 19, 2009

Back in January I blogged about the STA (America) World Travel Internship. STA Travel is the largest student travel organization in the world and over the last few months, they have been on the hunt for two world travel interns to traverse the globe and experience a number of travel adventures showcasing their experiences daily via journal/blog, video and podcasts.

Unlike previous years, this years entrants did not have to be undergraduate students. Entrants needed to be aged 18-26, hold a US passport and submit a video to STA Travel outlining why they think they deserve this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Well, the STA Gods have finally spoken and hand picked the top 20 finalists, all of which can be viewed at the STA Travel Wire Blog. Two of these 20 finalists will experience the opportunity to travel from the tropical waters of Fiji, to the red rock outback of Australia, India, Eastern Africa, Berlin, Scandinavia/Russia, Scotland and to the luscious greenery of Ireland.

Any feedback on the entrants videos is much appreciated by the judges to help them narrow the competition down to determine the two winners, so head over to the STA Travel Wire Blog and get watching and commenting!

My personal favourites:

Melissa Landry

Dana Arschin

Best of luck to the top 20 finalists!

ISIC Card – STA Travel

January 25, 2009

So you consider yourself a crazy traveler, hey? Well, I’m sure you’ve already heard about STA Travel’s ISIC card then, right? What! You haven’t? Where have you been living??? Dude, get with the times!

ISIC is an International Student Identity Card and is the only internationally accepted student ID card around the world. That’s right, the world! The ISIC has helped over 40 million students to get the most out of their travel experiences. If you have ever purchased travel from an STA branch, one of their friendly staff would more than likely have introduced you to this handy little piece of plastic. With access to a global network of affordable and specialised student services, the ISIC is your passport to more than 40,000 discounts and benefits in 106 countries worldwide. As a frequent traveller, I must say that the best perk this baby has to offer are the discount international airfares! I’m terribly saddened that my ISIC card and student status will come to an end in March of 2009. I will forever cherish the wonderful memories, dollars saved and travel discouts we have encountered together over these last few years *sniff*.

I shouldn’t start crying just yet though because STA Travel offer this card in various forms:

1. ISIC – International Student Identity Card: You have to specifically be a student to take advantage of some 40,000 global discounts this card has to offer.

2. International Youth Card: If you’re not a full time student and under 26 *raises hand* then you can still experience a plethora of global discounts by obtaining one of these cards.

3. International Teacher Identity Card: Need a holiday after dealing with screaming kids? This card offers a whole list of benefits and discounts for teachers who hold one of these babies.

What are the benefits of owning an ISIC you say? Well, here are just some:

– Internationally recognised poof of student status
– 1,200 discounts on flights, buses, trains and ferriers
– 2,800 discounts on entrance to the world’s leading museums and cultural sites
– 2,700 discounts on entertainment and attractions
– 2,400 discounts on youth hostels and hotels
– 21,000 discounts worldwide on bars, restaurants and shopping
– Access to a free 24 hour, multilingual ISIC Emergency Help Line
– ISICConnect an all-in-one discount communications package including phone, SMS, email and voicemail
– Access to a global network of 5,000 travel organisations that specialise in the needs of student and youth travellers in 106 countries

Sounds pretty cool, right? I’ve saved thousands on international airfares just by having one of these cards and purchasing my airfares through STA Travel. They really do cater to the student and young adult market and take care of everything to ensure your trip is an enjoyable one!

Where can you get yourself one of these cards? Well, you can either go directly into an STA Travel branch and get one made up or you can apply for one online. They only cost $25 which, in all honesty, is peanuts when you compare it to the dollars you will be saving with this card in the future. Easy peasey.

Travel is always more enjoyable when you know you are getting the best deal on it!



STA World Travel Internship

January 13, 2009

STA TRAVEL WORLD TRAVELERS INTERNSHIPSTA Travel Australia, I have always been a loyal customer to you; never have I ventured off to Student Flights or Flight Center when in need of airfares, accommodation or travel advice. You see, I only have eyes for one travel agent, STA Travel, and that, my friend, is you! Just recently though, my love for you was tainted upon finding out that STA Travel USA has beaten you to the podium in all things cool. STA Travel Australia, I suggest you listen up and take a page out of STA Travel USA’s book. Apparently it is what all the cool kids are doing.

STA Travel is the largest student travel organization in the world. They recognize the personal growth and unique perspective that young people gain from global experiences; they believe travel changes people’s lives for the better. On the contrary, STA also recognizes the reason that most young people do not travel are finance-related issues. In order to solve this dilemma, STA Travel USA is searching for TWO World Travel Interns to traverse the globe experiencing a number of travel adventures and showcasing their experiences daily via a journal/blog, video and podcasts.

You are in with a good chance if you are able to:

– capture some incredible video footage and shoot some awesome snaps
– not embarrassed to freely interview fellow travelers and locals
– share your travel experiences to other fellow travelers through video, travel blogs and podcasts
– have the best time of your life

Unlike previous years, this time around you don’t even have to be an undergraduate student to take part; you just have to be aged 18 to 26 and hold a US passport. This is a once in a life time opportunity that will see you travel from the tropical waters of Fiji, to the red rock outback of Australia, India, Eastern Africa, Berlin, Scandinavia/Russia, Scotland and to the luscious greenery of Ireland. This is something you should not even have to think twice about.

To be in with a chance to intern for STA Travel, simply create a two to three minute video explaining why you would be the perfect World Travel Intern for 2009. To read more about this amazing prospect, you can visit the STA Travel World Intern site or visit the STA Travel site directly.

This really is a once in a life time opportunity that is too good to miss. I would eat my own sock to be able to enter into something like this! STA Travel Australia, I hope you are listening… err, reading. Learn from your overseas brother!

Applications cease on March 8, 2009 so get a-working on your video entries. What are you waiting for?

There must be something in the water…

January 8, 2009

‘Cause this is just insane. I just checked my email and saw this…

Insane STA Travel airfares at $999 AU inc taxes, Sydney to LA

Valid for travel: 01 – 31 March 2009.
My birthday is in March. Anyone feel like purchasing me an insanely cheap birthday present? *wink wink, nudge nudge*