Travel Agents Desperate to Catch Up; Launch “Travel Blog Project”

Traditional travel agents come to the social media marketing party ... but is it too late? For these guys to have a shot, they'll have to change their thinking entirely.

Traditional travel agents are getting nervous. The rest of the world is going online, and they are being left back in the dust. Their suppliers – e.g., airlines and hotels – are doing well on their own by reaching customers directly, and online travel agencies (from Travelocity to CheapOair) have taken hold of the intermediary space, reaching buyers as they click and scroll in search of deals. Now that billions and billions of dollars in travel transactions are being completed online, the brick-and-mortar folks are taking it seriously … with an industry blog and tools for corporate blogging.

The Travel Blog Project represents an effort by traditional travel agents to get some attention in electronic form. The plan, it seems, is for the travel agents “to brand themselves through blog posts, social media posts, email campaigns and SEO efforts” … you know, the ways that just about every other company defines itself and attracts business opportunities on the web and in the social media space.

The project is intended to help the travel agents get ideas for what to say, as well, with tools such as “The Daily Post,” which serves up fodder for Facebook, Twitter and agents’ blogs.

The Travel Blog Project’s founder, George Oberle, says, “The travel agent industry is once again at a turning point. Suppliers are questioning the power of travel agents to adapt to new online marketing channels in the effort to generate sales. Yet travel agents have an incredible opportunity to sell better travel simply by telling their story consistently through posting on their blogs (and) social media sites and sending bimonthly email campaigns.”

But, is it really going to work?

What I’ve seen in social media marketing is that having a tool isn’t enough. Anyone can log into Facebook, pop registration data into Twitter fields and even tap out a few blog posts. The hard part is aligning these efforts with an underlying marketing strategy that is intended to define and bolster the brand and develop content loyalty as a precursor to deeper interaction and ultimately conversion.

Quite frankly, you need to think about your business before you embark on a social media marketing initiative of any kind.

The problem that brick-and-mortar travel agents face becomes even more acute when you look at Oberle’s plans. He explains, “Travel agents are not insignificant. They are the most powerful marketing force in travel.”

Well, the reality is a bit different.

If anything, the travel agents’ suppliers are the dominant force in travel marketing, as theirs are the brands that consumers encounter most. They increasingly own the customer experience, while the travel agent is an intermediary used to help secure low prices. So, it is true that travel agents need to brand themselves – and Oberle’s project may help – but to call this sector the most powerful marketing force in travel is a bit much.

Nonetheless, Oberle’s correct in noting that “the game has changed and agents know it,” as evidenced by the fact that he has already attracted some participants in this free program.

The biggest problem may appear to be that the travel agent sector hasn’t been sufficiently active in social media marketing, and The Travel Blog Project does provide a sufficient remedy, especially by making the startup process much easier. But, it’s not a panacea. Before posting to Facebook and Twitter, the traditional travel agents need to figure out what they want to accomplish – and how to drive conversions. That’s what their online competitors are doing, and they have been for quite a while.