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Barbados using social media to lure travellers

Tony Best

Barbados using social media to lure travellers

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BARBADOS ISN’T STANDING STILL when it comes to using the new technology in general and social media in particular to attract and satisfy travellers to its shores and hotels.
Like several tourist destinations in the United States, Barbados and its small hotels are turning to smartphone apps and Facebook to market themselves, allowing prospective visitors to book reservations through the convenience of the technology in hundreds of millions of hands.
The goal of the growing trend of marketing and booking hotel rooms and services is to lure travellers who otherwise would have turned to online agencies such as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and Priceline which have seen their online hotel bookings jump to 46 per cent last year from 41 per cent in 2008.
That increase was largely due to heightened price consciousness and awareness of travellers and to a fall-off in business travel attributable to the global economic decline.
The switch to Facebook, Twitter and other social media Internet tools has attracted the attention of the New York Times, which told its million-plus readers the other day that Axses Systems Caribbean, a company in Barbados, “has helped about 30 small hotels and chains in Barbados and nearby make their reservations available on Facebook since early 2009”.
According to Ian Clayton, Axses chief executive, the company aimed to offer reservations directly to travellers through social media at the time they were attracted to a hotel property. It also seeks to stem losses of bookings to online travel sites.
“All too often, travellers will leave a hotel website and look for a better rate in an online travel agency,” Clayton told the Times. That was why some hotels were guaranteeing the lowest rate to customers who book via Facebook.
As Facebook itself sees it, social media and the travel industry were natural partners.
“Travel is inherently social,” said Jillian Carroll, a spokeswoman for Facebook.
After all, people ask their friends for hotel and restaurant recommendations and they share assessments afterwards. Just as important, travel firms use Facebook to respond to customer complaints, notify users of travel reviews posted by their friends, or run sweepstakes to win a free hotel stay.
Results are becoming increasingly clear. Hilton Worldwide estimated that about 615 000 customers have downloaded its mobile apps, and it makes new services like meals available to guests when they arrive.    The hotel chain also offers customers the ability to make and modify reservations.
Ivanka Trump, executive vice-president of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization, said that Facebook gave the company several advantages.
“We are a personality-driven brand,” she explained to the paper. “When I tweet out a hotel special, a million people see it.”
David Godsman, vice-president of global Web services for the Starwood Hotel, explained that the company’s Facebook page boosts its relationship with its customers, and it starts from the day they set foot on the property and continues year round.
“If they press the ‘Like’ button, we want to start a conversation,” He said.
Such conversations were valuable, said Glenn Withiam of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. For one thing, explained Withiam, they help hotels provide services tailor-made to the guest’s needs, such as the drinks in a mini-bar, the type of room and the pillows they prefer.
For another, they help the property to keep the room rate down.