Welcome to our series of interviews with local (and sometimes national) leaders in the social media and technology industry that will be featured on Social Mediarology. Today’s interview is with Troy Thompson of Travel 2.0, a Denver-based blog and digital consulting company focused on the travel and tourism industryTravel2dot0.com @Travel2dot0
Troy Thompson – Travel 2.0
Troy has been involved in interactive marketing for the past 13 years. After starting his career at NASCAR in Florida, he was integral in launching their interactive department in the late ’90s. After nearly a decade with NASCAR, Troy moved to Arizona to become the Advertising Manager for the Arizona Office of Tourism. During his time at AOT, Troy headed up the social media division and recently moved to Denver to manage Visit Denver‘s interactive marketing department, including social media, mobile, SEO and more. Earlier this year he decided to break out on his own and dive into tourism technology consulting.
The Travel 2.0 blog started while Troy worked for Arizona Tourism as regular email updates about interactive marketing to the AOT staff and quickly evolved into a blog that could reach people far beyond the Arizona Office of Tourism. Now, thousands of people throughout the world read the Travel 2.0 blog each week and Troy is considered a thought leader in the interactive travel and tourism community.
The consulting arm of Travel 2.0 launched in June, 2010 and focuses on social media strategy/social media audits, mobile strategy including iPhone applications, statistical analysis, training and tourism marketing plan development.
What are some current and upcoming trends in the travel industry as it relates to technology?
The two trends we’re in right now that are still progressing are mobile and location based services (LBS). They certainly go hand in hand, but mobile feels a lot like it did in the late ’90s and early 2000s, when everyone realized the web wasn’t going away so they started to shift more budget and create functional websites. I see this a lot within the mobile space. It’s following a very similar pattern where people are saying “I think this mobile thing is going to stick around, I think the iPhone is going to be a solid platform to build on” and they’re shifting some dollars over to address that need. The challenge is that you don’t want to fall into the same trap we all did when we built our first websites – looking for the cheaper option, just doing the basics and not thinking long term. I think a lot of us built a website in 10 years ago and have had to rebuild the site every couple of years, and I think we’re now getting to the point where people are thinking more long term and more strategically about what the site is and what it needs to be. I’m hopeful that we’ll start to take that same approach with mobile – thinking long term rather than short term. While I think there will be a lot of transition within the mobile space in the next decade or so, building a good base at the beginning will help set you up for success in the long run.
As far as location-based services go, Foursquare seems to be the media darling of LBS.
If 2009 was Twitter’s year, it’s fair to say that 2010 is shaping up to be the year of Foursquare. I think with the recent launch of Facebook Places, LBS’s will just become more important, particularly for the travel industry.
The fact that you’ll be able to have geographic information about your visitor while they’re in your area becomes very powerful. Right now, while the tools aren’t there to completely take advantage of that, those tools will surely come about soon. Taking advantage of a one-on-one communication with someone visiting your local Art Museum will be just as easy as setting up an email campaign or a Google Adwords campaign.
The final trend I’m seeing is tracking. It’s been the big demand of everyone, not just within the travel industry, but everyone who’s been involved in the mobile or social media field. How do we track all of these these things and connect the dots between websites, SEO, mobile marketing, social media marketing, and how do we get the accurate tracking to be able to quantify the ROI that we’re putting into these new spaces. I feel like that’s coming along. It depends on how much information the consumer wants to give out about themselves, but I think that’s an area where we’ll see some more big strides over the next two or three years.
Several years ago, the largest line item in most DMO’s budget was a printed travel guide. Do you see printed publications going away in the near future?
I don’t think printed guides will ever go away entirely. I know there are some agencies out there who have totally dropped it in favor of a all digital guide, which I think is a workable solution, but at this point a printed guide is still important for the people who want them. What we’re seeing now, is a case where 5, 10 or 15 years ago, there was just the printed guide, which was the primary way for people to get information from us, and now there are so many different communication channels out there. With technology itself, particularly social as well as the iPad and the iPhone, people have a lot more freedom of choice about how they want to receive information. From the DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) side, we need to look at it more as a project around information and the content we have, rather than it being just a printed guide project.
If we were to have a meeting about our guide, I’d start with all the information first, then, on the side, we;d discuss where all the different places are that people could get this information. There’s your printed guide, your website, potentially email, social, then you have the mobile side of things maybe with an iPhone or iPad application. It’s just trying to figure out the best way to get all the information to the appropriate channels so people can find it. The challenge with that since the technology is still so young, is that it takes a lot of time and resources to try and break out of a printed publication cycle and into more of an information dissemination cycle.
The iPad is pretty exciting in terms of its potential for digital visitors guides and the interaction we can have with the visitor through it. I think it’s the best example so far that non-technical people within the industry have seen that opens their eyes to the possibilities.
The challenge for a lot of us in the DMO space is that the printed guide is a huge KPI (key performance indicator) for us, and a huge indicator of our success throughout the year, so it’s difficult for us to make that transition and all of a sudden, you’re sending a report to your board that while you printed 1,000,000 guides last year, you’ve only printed 200,000 this year, but here are the reasons why. Without really accurate tracking/education about website visits, social hits and mobile/iPad applications it’s difficult to show people that the number went down so significantly and not have them raise questions.
For a lot of us, it’s still an issue of reporting back to our board and to make sure it still looks like we’re doing a good job. I think it will be interesting in the next few years. I think the iPad is a fantastic device and if you walk by any apple store in the mall, it’s absolutely packed – it doesn’t matter what time of day you go. The interaction that all age groups and demographics have, it ‘s just fascinating. Apple has done a great job with their interface design and have made it easy for anyone to use, not just someone who’s technically inclined. That’s why so many people are talking about iPhone apps and iPad apps all the time because it’s such a successful platform for communicating with people. I’m really interested to see which DMO comes out with their travel guide as a fully-designed iPad app first.
What are your recommendations on first steps in social media?
My first recommendation for a DMO in social, is to get started with either Twitter or a blog. Twitter is a very easy interface and program to learn and understand once you get started. It also gives you a good look into the social world and how people communicate and how people engage in that world. Whether or not Twitter works for every destination is still to be determined. Some destinations tend ot be more successful with Twitter than others, but I think a lot of that has to do with content.
I still really like the idea of a blog. It’s probably not as sexy as Twtter, Facebook and others now, but I like the communication channel of blogs. I think it works really well for the destination model. There are a lot of things going on in a destination – a lot of things we don’t typically get to talk about on the homepage of the website. The rodeo may not be large enough to go on to the official state tourism website, but that’s a great topic for a blog post.
My third suggestion would have to be YouTube because of the engagement you can get on YouTube. I wouldn’t recommend it first, only because it can be a challenge for DMOs to come up with the video content. That’s always the challenge – you have to have good video content to put up on youtube.
You didn’t mention Facebook at all, does Facebook have a place in DMO marketing?
I’ve been a slow adopter to Facebook. I wrote several posts a few years ago that outlined why I didn’t think Facebook was right for the destination industry and I’m still not 100% convinced that it’s right for us in the industry.
There are obviously a lot of people on Facebook – 500 million people are sure to garner some attention – but I have yet to see anyone feel that their Facebook campaign has been really successful.
I don’t know if it’s simply because ther isn’t enough research around it, but I feel that a lot of DMOs are on Facebook because they’ve seen other DMOs on there.
I also think a lot of the fans of the individual organizations (like fans of Visit Indiana, or Florida, or Atlanta) are just “bumper-sticker fans” of the state. It’s like when you see a car full of bumper stickers. They’re aligning themselves with a particular brand or organization, but that doesn’t make they’re going out and giving money to or financially supporting that organization. I think its similar on Facebook – people want to say I’m from Florida, I’m a fan of Florida, I’m just not necessarily going to do anything with the state. I get the feeling there’s a little bit of that. I struggle with whether or not its a good place for marketers to be.
There’s been a lot of conversation about how some marketing teams are pushing a lot of things to Facebook. Facebook has almost replaced the call to action in TV commercials. Like when people’s commercials would say “find us at AOL keyword: travel” or 4-5 years ago when organizations would say “visit our website at myspace.com/OrganizationName“. I still have a issue with putting a majority of my marketing influence on someone else’s website
I’m a huge proponent of protecting your brand on Facebook. I think there should be a Visit whatever page, a Visit Indiana Page on Facebook. I think you should own it and use some service that lets you update Twitter and Facebook at the same time. There are a lot of good things you can do with Facebook, but I’d definitately diversify my campaigns so not everything‘s focused on Facebook. I’d even spend some time on TripAdvisor or WikiTravel, the sites that tend to get left out of the Big Three conversations (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube). I think the forums on Trip Advisor alone, you could build an entire social campaign around those.
How does blogging fit in to a digital strategy?
I think blogging is a great opportunity to give your destination a personality and to give an actual voice to the people who make up your community. A lot of us have made it a bit difficult for consumers to find the people behind the DMOs and attractions – primarily because of spam and email concerns, more than anything else. Blogs allow consumers to see that there are real people behind the organization, people who are passionate about the destination and they’re they local experts.
I think that in the next 5-10 years, that’s how DMOs will remain relevant. by highlighting and focusing in on that local knowledge. By saying, “here’s Jeremy. He lives in Indianapolis, he goes to these restaurants and attractions, he knows all about them.” Who better to ask when you’re looking to travel than someone who actually lives in the area and talks about these things for a living? The blog is an excellent way to show personality and to show off some of the charm of the destination. a website homepage tends to do very few things – promoting a big event coming up or specific hotels – but if you have space on your homepage carved out for a blog, it helps bring out the smaller things, more of the niche things that are going on. More of the local info and local knowledge that people really want to find out about. It can be a real differentiator between your destination and another destination.
I think going back to your last question about where to get started with social media, and for a lot of small marketing teams, with one or two people, that’s what makes Twitter such a good place to get started. Twitter is, after all, microblogging. I think that gives you a nice intro into what you’ll see and the impact you might have. That gives you the confidences to see that it’s actually worth your time to spend a couple hours a week writing a good blog post and then posting it on the blog. That’s a great way to intro from Twitter, to Blogs then to YouTube and Facebook.
What are some DMOs that come to mind who are doing a great job with social media and digital strategy?
There are a few of them out there. I love what Portland, Oregon is doing a great job communicating with their actual visitor. Not specifically the technical things they’re doing, but they do a great job actually listening and communicating with the visitor – forming the relationship that is the basis of social media.
I like what Columbus, Ohio does – their team does a great job on their blog and Twitter streams. From a state level, not to stroke your ego too much, but I think Indiana does a great job. You guys do a good job with your social presence and the way you go about it. I like what Oregon is doing as well. As much trouble as Florida has had, I really like the way they’ve tackled the oil spill via social media. They’ve really confronted it head-on an haven’t tried to say “don’t tell people there’s oil on this beach”. They’ve actually posted maps that show people where the oil is and I think that’s important to be open and transparent in the social space.
I think that how organizations respond in a time of crisis shows a lot more about their organizational strength than how they do when things are fine.
The oil spill is a great example of that. The volcano from Iceland earlier this year is another example. When we have natural disasters like that, it’s fascinating to look at the Air France Facebook page, which they weren’t really updating at the time – that gives consumers the message of: “Hey, we’re not updating this – go away!” That was their message to people. You can’t really start communicating with people when you want to, then shut things down when a disaster (natural or a PR disaster) occurs. I think a lot of people have overlooked crisis communications as part of their social media strategy. Hopefully, with the example of Florida and the volcano in Iceland people will start to incorporate crisis communications.
Another example is the recent incident with JetBlue where an employee yelled a plane full of passengers, pulled the emergency slide and ran away – JetBlue received a lot of criticism for their slow response to that.
JetBlue (along with Southwest Air) are the two stars of social media in the airline industry. They respond to everything and it was very strange to see something happen to them and they didn’t immediately acknowledge it. Two hours is the maximum amount of time you have to respond to something that has happened. You no longer have a couple days to craft your message. People expect you to respond immediately.
I think a lot of business are struggling with that. For so long you had a corporate communications department and everything went through there, and now you have different communication channels and the public is okay with the transparency. When something bad happens, most consumers realize that people are working at the company and they just want to know what’s going on. For the JetBlue incident, they could have said: “hey, we know there was an incident, our team in New York is investigating it”. That’s okay to say at this point because it’s part of open communication back and forth with consumers.
Any final thoughts?
It’s a very exciting time to be in the tourism industry in general. We’ve always been very passionate about the tourism industry, but it’s even more exciting now with the technology that’s coming into it an they ability for consumers to communicate with us while they’re actually in the destination. It’s really interesting to see how people are using social tools to connect with like minded travelers while they’re on vacation. They’ll take recommendations from a stranger or a local about what restaurant to eat at. The more adoption we see in social, mobile, geolocation and the like, it really becomes a benefit to our travel, and not a detriment.
Troy Thompson, a self-described technopologist, is a respected blogger, consultant and thought-leader in the Tourism / Travel industry. Owner and consultant at Travel 2.0 Consulting, Troy has been providing unique interactive and marketing solutions to a variety of clients for more than a decade. Be sure to check out Travel 2.0. You can even follow Troy on Twitter (@Travel2dot0).