People are moving and travelling all the time. Meanwhile sharing online where they are, whom they are with and what they experience; it has become an everyday activity to share online. According to professor Dimitrios Buhalis, this is an emerging future in the tourism business: interaction with the environment and find information about the environment.
In many product categories, information sharing, word of mouth, interaction and assistance from other customers post acquisition, it can significantly affect others’ behavior through increased persuasion and conversion of others to customers. This is the so called customer-influencer value; value contributed by a customer influencing other (potential) customers (V. Kumar, L. Aksoy, B. Donkers, R. Venkatesan, T. Wiesel & S. Tillmanns, 2010).Tour operators could increase customer engagement via their existing customers.
In the gross outline this is loop shows how engagement and interaction create value and new customers. But also how other customers are influenced by experiences from current users. Can we make other consumers being ambassadors for tour operators’ products in their environment?
The first phases practically all tour operators should be familiar with. In short the first phases; it starts with inspiring a customer to book a tour with your agency. Research shows that currently search engines and YouTube are top online sources of inspiration. Travelers rely on social/video/photo sites and search engines for trip inspiration (Google, 2014). On these online platforms, besides the factual information provided by a tour operator, also the previous experience of a consumer will provide inspiration for the next consumer to travel to the same destination. In a research conducted by D. Bowie and J. Chi Chang (2005) inspiration also creates a certain expectation.
Followed by expectation is the execution phase, where the customer wants their expectations to meet reality. When a tour operator executes a tour, each customer involved will have a different experience.
The experience is influenced by the weather, people involved, overall circumstances, by the business organizing it etc. Therefore it is a challenge for a business to ensure, though each customer has a different experience, to create a positive experience with their brand. If a tour operator positively influences the actual experience of one customer, they automatically influence the information flow towards the next customer.
The experience and the sharing phase; during or followed after the experience is the sharing phase. How they experience a tour will live up to how they share it online. When sharing online via a businesses’ social media platform, a customer automatically interacts online with your business. Indicating that they are engaged with your tour operator and interested in your offerings or online behavior. This is why social interaction increases customer engagement.
It is now the time for tour operators start an own online platform where customers can interact with each other. Find creative ways to distinguish yourself from other tour operators, here are some examples.
Start vlogging on YouTube
Making videos: The next frontier. Travelers engage heavily with online video and watch more than just travel content. Online videos are viewed throughout the travel journey, particularly before decisions are made. Online videos from brands are viewed by more than half of travelers.
Even though travel vlogs are the most viewed and engaging type of travel videos, only 14% of vlogs on YouTube are created by brands; 86% come from YouTube creators. There is a large opportunity for tour operators to attract customers with modern age technology. Understand the future in a very different way, it is not one product fits all. Adjusted to situation of consumer, to the context and environment. Make sure you are creating content that speaks to the needs of your audience in engaging formats. This is a way for a tour operator to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Be unique.
Create an app
Move from traditional to new media. People increasingly turn to devices for help. And more and more of this time is spent researching the details of trips on mobile. As of the first quarter of 2016, 40% of U.S. travel site visits come from mobile. Travelers extend their activities from desktops and tablets to smartphones across all stages. Smartphones are used throughout the travel process. A poor mobile experience forces travelers to move elsewhere (Google, 2014).
An example was made by TUI, they created an app; digital assistance app. The overall goal of the app is to enhance customer experience pre-during-post travel. Nowadays millions of customers book online, the digital assistant is a tool which links TUI’s points of contact with their customers. In order to do so, this app registers the customers’ searches and preferences. But also enables their customer to share their experience on a destination, which are left for other app users to read.
To conclude, tour operator enable your customers to share the experiences they had with your business on an online platform created by you. Not an the average type of app, but one which is appealing to people to share experiences with others, such as the Digital Assistance App. Enable them to share experiences, post online reviews and leave comments. This increasing online social interaction will also increase the level of customer engagement.
- Gesenhues, Marketing Land. April 9, 2013. Survey: 90% of customer say buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. Accessed on September 23, 2016, via [ <http://marketingland.com/survey-customers-more-frustrated-by-how-long-it-takes-to-resolve-a-customer-service-issue-than-the-resolution-38756> ]
- Bowie & J. Chi Chang, Oxford Brookes University. January 2005. Tourism satisfaction: A view from a mixed international guided package tour. Accessed on September 23, 2016, via [ <https://notendur.hi.is/stefanva/Skrar/Tourist%20Satisfaction_%20A%20view%20from%20a%20mixed%20internatinal%20guided%20package%20tour.pdf> ]
Google, June 2014. The 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision. Accessed on September 25, 2016, via: [ <https://storage.googleapis.com/think/docs/2014-travelers-road-to-decision_research_studies.pdf> ]
Google, July 2016. How micro-moments are reshaping the travel customer journey. Accessed on 25 September 2016, via [ < https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/micro-moments-travel-customer-journey.html >]
Kumar, V., Aksoy, L., Donkers, B., Venkatesan, R., Wiesel, T., & Tillmanns, S. (2010).
Moran, G. G., Muzellec, L. L., & Nolan, E. E. (2014). Consumer Moments of Truth in the Digital Context: How ‘Search’ and ‘E-Word of Mouth’ Can Fuel Consumer Decision Making. Journal Of Advertising Research -New York-, 54(2), 200-210.
TUI Group, November 13, 2013. TUI Travel begins international roll out of the ‘TUI Digital Assistant’. Accessed on September 25, 2016, via: [ < http://www.tuitravelplc.com/content/tui-travel-begins-international-roll-out-tui-digital-assistant> ]
Undervalued or overvalued customers: Capturing total customer engagement value. Journal. Of Service Research, 13(3), 297-310.
Professor Dimitrios Buhalis on critical Technology and Marketing developments – eTourism
Futures. Accessed on September 20, 2016, via: [<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mrha2nS76Hc> ]